CM’s Guide to the English Major

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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.

Upsides

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

Downsides

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

Career Opportunities

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.

1. Paralegal

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

3. Copywriter

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

Meaghan is a junior English and Communications major at Boston College. She enjoys going to concerts, taking photos, catching the train home to Cranston, Rhode Island to play outside with her three nephews and dining hall cookies.

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