Don’t let the online articles advising against studying English steer you away. Your parents might think “studying” means lying in bed reading a novel (which it sort of does) but it’s so much more. Check out the real lowdown on the upsides, downsides and opportunities of an English degree.
What You’ll Be Doing
In an effort to ensure students don’t just study contemporary novels and call it a day, most English degrees require a certain amount of core classes revolving around literature of different time periods, places of origin or genres. Whether or not it’s required, every English major should take a few writing workshops, whether in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction or another workshop unique to your school. Degrees are typically completed with a choice of electives, which range from a semester of studying one author (or even book), to classes studying a particular genre or style, to word and language studies, to theory courses.
1. “The biggest upside, in my opinion, is learning to read and write critically, which leads to thinking outside the box. Those kinds of skills help when you start writing as a profession. You want your writing to be different and stand out. All those random English classes from college teach you to create your own thoughts and opinions, and even more than that, they teach you how to back it up.” – Jillian Bolduc, B.A. from Saint Anselm College 2013, Copy Writer/Office Assistant for ad agency
2. “The upside of my English major was that I enjoyed my work and so it motivated me to pursue intellectual work in graduate school. I want to teach college, but I’m meeting more people who have been able to do many things with their English major. I just met one of my classmates in downtown Boston. She’s working in financial investment now.” – Alyssa Bellows, B.A. from Messiah College 2010, studying for PhD in English Literature at Boston College
3. “In between my degrees I worked for a publishing company where the English degree was ultra-relevant, and not simply because I can identify the passive voice or incorrect grammar in an essay. My B.A. helped me organize manuscripts and agendas, whether they went into books or only circulated through the office. I organized my notes and memos more clearly, was able to communicate effectively through email, fax, etc., as well as had a solid foundation on which to find sources, finding answers for myself as well as my colleagues, clients and bosses. Believe it or not, these skills are not ubiquitous…Employers in many, many fields will see you as someone who is able to think deeply and productively about problems and concepts. I can’t stress the research and organizational (in terms of your ideas and proposals) qualifications that are a hallmark of English majors.” – Emma Hammack, B.A. from University of California, Santa Barbara 2009, M.A. from Oxford 2011, studying for PhD at Boston College
1. “Of course, there were some required courses that I did not particularly enjoy because of certain works that were covered and/or the professor teaching that course. Personally, I think that one of the downsides was not having enough time to take more electives that interested me. Saint Anselm did a great job of preparing their students for ‘the real world’ but there were so many core curriculum classes that students had to take which limited the English electives that I was able to take.” – Stephen Moran, B.A. from Saint Anselm College 2012, studying for M.A. in Special Education, planning volunteer and service opportunities for college students
2. “The downsides: the negative rhetoric around the job market and the labeling of English as an “unpractical” major, which is absolutely not the case. Or just the general bad rep it gets in the hierarchy of undergraduate fields of study. At times, it made me feel like I’d made the wrong choice with English, when in fact I’d made the right one.” – Colleen Taylor, B.A. from Fordham University 2012, studying for PhD at Boston College, writer for Irish Echo newspaper
3. “The university system is changing, and since before the Great Recession jobs and department resources have been cut. It’s not impossible, but pretty improbable, of finding a secure position right away. To those not looking to go on to higher education, there may remain in society a slight (if any, really) connotation about the dreamy English major who is supposedly writing the next great American novel…but this has never been my experience. Once the skills of the degree have been articulated, many avenues and opportunities open up, and a degree in English can put you in the best position to capitalize on these opportunities.” – Emma Hammack
Since the skills you cultivate while studying for an English major (reading, writing, analyzing, communicating) apply to so many different areas, career options can seem endless if you keep an open mind and broaden your horizons. Check out some jobs that will hone your English major in different ways.
Assists lawyers in researching legal articles and other documents, preparing legal documents, transcribing
2. Technical Writer
Rewrites technical information in understandable language for user guides and manuals, arranges layouts, gathers research
Writes advertisements and slogans with clients, involving research and editing
4. Public Relations Writer
Writes newsletters and news releases, researches content, assists in political campaigns and policy explanation if governmental
5. Social Media Manager
Plans social media campaigns, operates social media channels and programs to involve customers
Still not convinced to major in English? Learn what this degree can do for you in 2019.
Written by Selina Scott.
Well, now you’ve done it. You want to be an English major and so it shall be. Your love of that old book scent and unquenchable thirst for devouring words has finally pointed you in this direction. Everything feels better on paper, your novels coming along somewhat, everything is a metaphor and over-analyzing is your forte. So ignore those looks of skepticism from your parents and read on and learn everything you need to know about being an English major.
What you’ll be doing
Ok, so you’re an English major, now what? What does that even mean? Lucky for you- some of the courses turn out to be incredibly interesting. Some of these classes are incredibly tough to get in since there are only so many available seats, so you need to go in with a game plan. Some English majors are encouraged to base their pattern of coursework with models of study. These models of study can range from the classical and most popular British and American Literature to African American/ Africa Diaspora Studies, Creative Writing, Children’s Literature and Film and Media Studies. If you decide to take the Creative Writing route, you can take classes like Shakespeare, fiction writing, folklore, American literature and poetry. Expect to write at least two papers for each class and prepare yourself for some workshop criticism. Get yourself a copy of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” and get comfortable reading a variety of short narratives weekly. You have such a wide and fascinating range of options; you just need to find your right niche.
The classes you’ll take
You, of course, need to have at least one traditional Shakespeare class since, you’ll come to find out, Shakespeare’s influence can be found in many writings. In a class like Advanced Exposition, you can learn how to structure different forms of media and how media is evolving while utilizing new language and writing skills and mold them for different mediums. Literature for the Adolescent (if your school offers this) looks at the ways YA literature uses culturally found ideas of what an adolescent to create their intended character and how these works as a whole are targeted towards teenagers. If that doesn’t make you want to sign up immediately, discover the writing voice you never knew you had with Fiction Writing. You can develop your plot, characters and overall story while helping others workshop through theirs. It’s nerve racking to sit there and have others critique your story right in front of you, but as a writer you know that you need constructive criticism in order to grow. You should also definitely take a Survey of Literature course on a genre you have interest in since there are so many and its likely you’d only enjoy the class if you enjoy the material. This means, despite my earlier claims, if Shakespeare isn’t your cup of tea, don’t drown yourself with him because you feel like you should. Take advantage of the different classes offered in your major and tailor them to you.
Internships for this major
You mastered the arts of oral and written communication which benefits more jobs and internships than you’ve realized. The versatility of an English degree allows you to make it whatever you want, while tailoring it to the job at hand and your own personal goals. As a writing intern you can use your writing skills and work for literally anyone. Openings exist for magazines, clothing companies and even Disney that could use strong writers. In an editorial internship you’ll learn all the ways in proofreading, editing, fact checking, writing and paying attention to detail. A marketing internship should be a breeze for you; you have a way with words, now utilize them. You need to successfully and clearly communicate with consumers and clients and gather research data about products while creating creative content based on the research conducted. You can also help construct and promote a marketing strategy for a certain organization.
Despite popular belief, not every English major has to become an English teacher or professor upon graduation. Job markets everywhere desperately need people with skills like yours, they just haven’t realized it. The skills that were beaten into you during college—your intense knowledge of writing skills and rules, including your adept way of analytical reading— are skills needed for many positions. You just have to find the one most applicable to you. You do have career opportunities— just learn how to sell yourself with your English major degree.
You know how to read, and you certainly know that a comma shouldn’t go there. Editors rewrite, copy edit and proof to find errors in spelling, grammar and context that disrupt the flow of what is written. They aim to improve the readability of the story for the audience to enjoy and understand.
Take your love and respect of books to the ultimate test. Librarians decide what literature should be part of the collection, stay up to date on the resources and publications and, have a wide scope of literature knowledge to make informed decisions of what should be in a library. They also catalog resources and help others find the information they need and make recommendations. Through their own experiences with books, they help others discover what they are searching for based on their interests. As a librarian, you know that books are more than just words on a page; they feed you knowledge while keeping you entertained.
3. Advertising Account Executive
You, more than any one, know the importance of words and how to wield them. Here you need to do so in a persuasive manner, so get. ready to use all those pretty words you learned in college. Advertising account executives are the middle ground and contact between the client and the agency. You have to quickly understand what the actual goal of the client is and effective use of the resources available in the agency. You are the glue that keeps everything together and your communication skills gets the project running smoothly.
Yes hunny, take all those writing skills you’ve learned and put them to work. However, there is an incredible amount of hard work and dedication that goes into this career path. An author composes their own works of literature, be it an essay, poetry, movies, songs, advertisements, fiction or nonfiction. They choose a subject matter, conduct research to include accurate details and credible sources and work with editors and clients to get the final product published.
There are so many fields within journalism that English majors should have no trouble fitting it to where they want to go in life. Become a reporter to find interesting stories, track down and analyze information, interpret said information and relay it in an easily understood way for a specific audience.
- “One of the best things about an English major, I think, is that I don’t have to take exams! I usually have classes with the same people so you get to know your major, and you can often take a number of classes with a professor you like,” said Beth Heidrich, a senior English major at UF.
- “The thing I love the most about being an English major was recognizing that no two people ever read the same book. When we read, we fill the pages with our own history; our own social, political, racial and economic history. So when you don’t like a text, it’s because you didn’t connect to the history you brought to the pages. Texts are more about us than what is written,” said Rachel Harnett, an English PhD student at UF.
- “The best part about studying English was getting to understand the purpose and mechanics of stories. I guess most people hear the word story and associate it with some childish thing like a fairy tale, or at least I did. But everyday I saw a little more clearly what stories are meant to do, which makes us feel connected. Studying literature is a beautiful thing because it not only shows us how people are, it shows us what human language can really do: make us laugh, make us cry, put a picture in our brains and give it life, take us places we’ve never been and might never go. It’s amazing,” said Shelby Fintak, a recent FSU English graduate.
*Updated on January 17, 2019 by Selina Scott to include “Still not convinced to major in English? Learn what this degree can do for you in 2019.”