Undergraduate Certificate in English Literature (from 2025)

Course details

Do you love reading a wide variety of books? Are you looking for a new challenge and enjoy English literature?

Taught part-time over two years, the Undergraduate Certificate in English Literature is equivalent to the first year of a full-time undergraduate English degree. It is modelled on the first year of Oxford University’s BA programme in English Language and Literature, and is taught mainly by members of the University’s English Faculty. The course can be studied in person or mostly online.

The course covers a range of English literature from the Early Modern period to the early twentieth century. Among the authors you study will be Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, the Brontës, Seacole, Mansfield, Joyce and Woolf. During the two years, close analysis of works by these and other authors, reinforced by general discussion of modern literary theory, critical practice, and canonicity, will provide the basis for an enhanced appreciation of the pleasures and problems associated with the serious reading of literature.

Please note:

This page is intended as an overview of the course, and some information listed may be subject to change before applications open in September 2024. 

Quick links

Who is this course for?

This course is for those with a keen interest in literature, who love reading a wide variety of texts and who have a strong motivation to study at degree level. After completing the course, you will be able to apply for second-year entry to an English Literature degree. More than 50 of our students have moved on to full-time study at Oxford University since 1995, while others have gained places at universities such as Warwick, Exeter, UCL, Birkbeck, Oxford Brookes, Cardiff, St Andrews, York, Leeds and Birmingham. (Please note that you will need to apply for entry into another institution and go through their entry process.)

This is an intensive and intellectually challenging course, which demands a high level of commitment. You will need to devote around 15 hours a week to private study. If you have little or no recent experience of study or exams, please don’t let this put you off. Although relevant qualifications will normally be favourably regarded (particularly if recent), formal qualifications are not essential and other considerations may be more important.

You must demonstrate an effective command of written English and some proficiency in discussing your reading. If you have not had experience of formal study of English literature, we recommend taking a short course in Critical Reading before applying for the Undergraduate Certificate. Critical Reading is available as a weekly class in Oxford, and as an online course (please note: the course content for these two courses differs – check each course page for full details).

How you will study

There are two study options for the Undergraduate Certificate in English Literature:

Option 1:

Option 1 is taught mainly in person. Each week during term you will take part in a two-hour evening class, usually held on Tuesday evenings, 7.00-9.00 pm at Rewley House. There are ten of these classes per term. 

Option 2:

This option is taught mainly online. A variety of online resources, including recorded presentations, will be provided, and you will engage in collaborative group work exercises with other students on the course. On four Saturdays of each term, you will take part in live teaching sessions, usually from 1-4pm (UK time). These will be delivered remotely, using Microsoft Teams. In the six teaching weeks a term where there is no live session, you will be encouraged to attend a group tutorial, usually on Thursdays 7-8pm (UK time). These will also be delivered remotely, using Microsoft Teams.

All students (both options) also attend a one-week, non-residential Shakespeare Summer School, usually held in September between Year 1 and Year 2.

There are also six weekend day schools over the two years, usually one per term. These will either be hybrid (in-person and online) or fully online, so you do not have to attend in person if you are unable to.

Each term you will have two one-hour tutorials, in person or online. There are usually no more than two students in each tutorial group.

The course in detail

The course covers a range of English literature from the Early Modern period to the early twentieth century. Among the authors you study will be Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, Dickens, Tennyson, the Brontës, Seacole, Mansfield, Joyce and Woolf. Close analysis of works by these and other authors, reinforced by general discussion of modern critical theory and practice, and canonicity, will provide the basis for an enhanced appreciation of the pleasures and problems associated with the serious reading of literature.

Year 1

Section 1: Approaches to Language and Literature I

In this section of the course, we will consider fundamental questions of why and how we should study literature. There will be an emphasis on techniques of close reading, through detailed analysis of poetry, drama, and fiction. Students will also be introduced to some important frameworks and wider contexts for thinking about literature, such as the literary canon, gender, and imperialism.

Section 2: Victorian Literature

In this section of the course, students will have the opportunity to study works by a diverse range of authors from the British canon such as the Brontës, Charles Dickens, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, BAME authors including Mary Prince and Mary Seacole, and voices of colonialism. Both fiction and poetry will be related to their social and intellectual contexts. 

Section 3: Early Modern Poetry

The third section will be largely devoted to the study of Early Modern poetry and to the contemporary critical debate about its form and purpose. We will examine a selection of poems by writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, John Donne and George Herbert. In this term a special day school will be devoted to preparation for the first-year examinations.

Year 2

Shakespeare Summer School

A favourite part of the course for many students, this one-week summer school gives a flavour of life as a full-time student at Oxford. It focuses centrally on two comedies, two tragedies and two history plays, combining close textual analysis with an exploration of the wider contexts of Shakespeare’s work. The central texts are likely to be: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III, Henry IV Part I.

Section 4: Approaches to Language and Literature II

In this section we will spend five weeks on critical theory, considering the ways in which structuralist, post-structuralist, gender, Marxist, and other theories raise questions about and challenge concepts such as the production of meaning, reading, literature, and literary value.

During the next five weeks of term students are introduced to the concepts and methodologies of the history and varieties of the English language.

Section 5: Modernist Literature

In the fifth section we will explore the rise of Modernism in Britain and Ireland, looking at writing by literary modernists, including Mansfield, Eliot, Woolf, Joyce and Yeats.

Section 6: Early Modern Drama

The sixth section explores Early Modern drama, through the contemporaries of Shakespeare. In this term, a special day school will be devoted to preparation for the second-year examinations. Many of these are now available online, and students have access to these too.


As well as the lectures arranged specifically for the Undergraduate Certificate, you will be entitled, for no extra payment, to attend the wide range of lectures organised by the University’s Faculty of English.

Course structure

The course structure is the same for both study options.

Year one

  • Michaelmas term (Autumn): Section 1, Approaches to Language and Literature I
  • Hilary term (Winter): Section 2, Victorian Literature
  • Trinity term (Spring): Section 3, Early Modern Poetry

Our Shakespeare Summer School runs for a week in September before the start of Year 2.

Year two

  • Michaelmas term (Autumn): Section 4, Approaches to Language and Literature II
  • Hilary term (Winter): Section 5, Modernist Literature
  • Trinity term (Spring): Section 6, Early Modern Drama (excluding Shakespeare)

You will also attend six weekend day schools, usually one per term. Some of the day schools will be part of the Public Programme, while others will be designed specifically for Undergraduate Certificate students. Each day school will be linked to the syllabus, usually by its subject matter, though the third will focus on preparation for examinations.

Examinations will be held at the end of each year of the course.


Assessment will be based both on coursework (usually two 2,000-word essays submitted each term) and on written examinations, usually held in June of each year. The exceptions are the Approaches to Language and Literature I and II sections, both of which are examined by a Portfolio of written work.

The Shakespeare Summer School, between Years 1 and 2, also has a coursework requirement. One essay, written immediately after the Summer School, will count towards the final total of 11 assessed essays.

Examinations: you will have to write four papers, two on each of the topics below:

a - Early Modern Literature

b - Victorian and Modern Literature

Your two Portfolios of written work will demonstrate practice, use and knowledge of comparative criticism. The first will be up to 3,000 words in length and the second up to 5,000 words.

IT requirements

To study at this level you are expected to have some IT skills, as well as access to a computer and the internet. Your course requires you to engage with the Virtual Learning Environment for course materials and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. Students need to have regular access to a computer and the internet, and some level of experience and skill including the use of Microsoft Word or similar word-processing package, email and internet browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome.

The computer you use should meet our recommended minimum computer specification.

Teaching staff

The Course Directors are Dr Sandie Byrne and Dr Tara Stubbs.

Professor Sandie Byrne was formerly Fellow and Tutor in English at Balliol College, Oxford, and Professor of English at the University of Lincoln. She is the author of a number of books and articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature.

Professor Tara Stubbs is Associate Professor in English Literature and Creative Writing at the Department. She has published widely on Irish and American modernism, and is the author of American Literature and Irish Culture, 1910–1955 (MUP, 2013), and The Modern Irish Sonnet: Revision and Rebellion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Dr Ben Grant is Departmental Lecturer in English Literature at the Department. His research interests include colonial and postcolonial literature, literary brevity, and life writing. He is the author of Postcolonialism, Psychoanalysis, and Burton: Power Play of Empire (2009) and The Aphorism and Other Short Forms (2016). He is currently writing a book on the contemporary British-Jewish writer Jenny Diski.

Most other tutors on the course are drawn from the English Faculty at Oxford University.

As well as being experts in their subjects, teaching staff understand the pressures on students who are combining part-time study with other commitments. Much of the academic support you receive will come from the Course Directors, whom you can contact at any time during office hours to discuss matters relating to the course. In addition, the Department runs a programme of Study Skills workshops designed to enable you to develop and improve the skills needed for effective study. Some of these workshops are free to students enrolled on the course. For full details please contact +44 (0)1865 280892 or email studyskills@conted.ox.ac.uk.

Contact information

If you would like an informal discussion on academic matters before applying, please do get in touch. You can contact:

Dr Sandie Byrne: sandie.byrne@conted.ox.ac.uk

Dr Tara Stubbs: tara.stubbs@conted.ox.ac.uk

For general guidance, application and admissions advice, course specific information, or credit transfer: undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk, +44 (0)1865 270312.

For information about disability support or sources of funding: student.support@conted.ox.ac.uk, +44 (0)1865 280355.

For information about Study Skills courses: studyskills@conted.ox.ac.uk, +44 (0)1865 280892.


How to apply

Applications will open in September 2024.

Once open, clicking the 'Apply’ button will automatically notify us that you want a link to the online application form. We will email you that link together with a code to waive the application fee and guidance on completing and submitting your application.

You will need to upload the following documents as part of your application:

  • A written statement of 300–400 words stating why you wish to undertake the course
  • An outline of your literary interests, detailing books you would be willing to discuss in some depth during the interview and explaining your choices
  • Your CV

(You should be prepared to discuss these submissions during your interview.)

  • proof of English language ability if a non-native English speaker. Further information on English language requirements can be found here. Please note that candidates are required to have the higher-level score.
  • contact details for one referee

If possible, your referee should be someone who can comment on your academic ability and background, but where this is not appropriate, please choose a referee who can vouch for your motivation, commitment and potential. A reference from a family member is not acceptable.

Admissions decisions will be based on an assessment of knowledge, relevant experience, academic ability, potential and suitability for a course of study. We welcome applicants without traditional qualifications, including those with relevant career or life skills.

Selection criteria

Even if a course has no specific academic entry requirements then: (a) assessment of an applicant’s academic ability and suitability for the course of study will still take place and (b) since applications for many courses often significantly exceed places available, each application will be judged against the gathered field of applicants for each course each year.

The University is committed to promoting diversity, equality, inclusion, and widening access, including during the admissions process. We fully endorse the Equality Policy and our admissions procedures are kept under regular review to ensure compliance with this policy.

Short-listed applicants will be invited for interview.

The final decision on admission to the course rests with the Department.

Award and credit transfer

An Undergraduate Certificate will be awarded on completion of the course. You will be invited to receive your Undergraduate Certificate at the annual Awards Ceremony of the Department for Continuing Education, held at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

The syllabus and teaching of the course are aimed at first-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 4). Students who successfully complete this two-year course will be awarded an Oxford University Undergraduate Certificate in English Literature, equivalent to 120 CATS points at first-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 4) in the Department’s Qualifications and Credit Framework. Outstanding performance will qualify for a Distinction. These credit points are widely recognised in terms of credit for transfer to other higher education institutions, including the Open University and modular universities such as Oxford Brookes University. 

Opportunities vary for the transfer of credit, so students who are considering taking this course in order to transfer credit are advised to discuss the possibilities with the Course Administrator at undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

Learn more about the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS points).


The course fees will be published once applications open.

Please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For a price guide, see last year's fees here: £3,620 (Home, Islands, and Republic of Ireland students) or £6,210 (Overseas students).

Information for applicants from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

On 11 May 2021 the UK Council for International Student Affairs published new regulations and guidance to be used in assessing the fee status of students commencing courses in August 2021 and later. We will be using this guidance to carry out fee status assessments for students commencing courses in 2021/22 and later, including students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland. 

If you are an EU national and do not live in the UK then you are likely to be charged Overseas fees. Students with settled and pre-settled status in the UK and some other categories of students who work in the UK can qualify for Home fee status as long as they meet the residence criteria.

Students from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland

If you are from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland, you will be classed either as an ‘Overseas’ or 'Islands' student.

Information on financial support can be found on our website here.


Specific non-repayable bursary funding is available for this course for students from lower-income households; you will be automatically considered for this if you apply for a Departmental Bursary.

Information on other forms of financial support can be found on our Funding pages.

English language requirements

Please check the information on the specific English language requirements for this course. Applicants are required to have the higher-level scores.


The Department for Continuing Education offers day and weekend courses, weekly learning programmes and summer schools in English literature, creative writing and film studies.

In the undergraduate programme, as well as the Undergraduate Certificate in English Literature, we also offer the Certificate of Higher Education and the Diploma in Creative Writing. At postgraduate level we offer an MSt in Creative Writing and MSt in Literature and Arts, along with the DPhil in Literature and Arts.

If you are planning on embarking on a new career as a result of your studies, or hope to progress in your current field, you can access help and advice through the University Careers Service.


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