Everything suddenly goes quiet. You see the look of disapproval and judgment in their eyes. If this were a scene in a movie, you would think that you had just admitted to murder.
Was it something I said? You wonder. All I did was tell them that I’m an English major.
English is often viewed as the “easy” major or the major that you can go on to do, well… absolutely nothing. As an English major, I may come across a tad biased–but I have to disagree with these stereotypes. Did you know that both Conan O’Brien and Mitt Romney majored in English? See these guys as a warning: English majors are not to be underestimated. Truth be told, if you’re majoring in English, you’re opening yourself up to unlimited possibilities–you just have look for them. I set out to find the best ways us English majors can take advantage of our unique skills to shake things up both in and outside the classroom.
Double major or add a minor
I sat down with Dr. Randy Ontiveros, who teaches various English courses at the University of Maryland and leads a workshop called “The Job Market for the English Major.” “First thing,” he said, “is to either double major or do a minor. It really helps when you go on the job market if you can direct your English degree towards a particular industry.” So if you love being in the action of current events and social controversies, slap on a second major in communications. If you’re a child at heart and never want to lose your summer vacations (sigh), consider adding a minor in education. Sprinkling a little spice on top of your English major will help you appear more marketable to future employers (and like a super cool overachiever).
Learn a second language
Knowing another language can broaden your job possibilities after graduation. “Either learn a second language if you’re monolingual or pick up a third if you come in multilingual already,” said Dr. Ontiveros. “It’s hard to underestimate how much knowing a second language again helps you stand out from other candidates.” Many jobs are in need of bilingual employers and having that on your resume will put you at the top of their list. Also, how awesome would it be to say you have job offers in Spain or Argentina straight out of college just because you can speak a little Spanish?
Look for an internship
Dr. Ontiveros recommends looking into internships as early as freshman and sophomore year. “Get connected with [internships] because there’s very clear data that says that students who do internships do better on the job market out of college,” he said. Nothing says sweet revenge like scoring that coveted internship to prove all those who doubted your English major wrong.
Participate in activities outside of the English department
It’s easy to stay cooped up in your English Building (shoutout to Tawes), reading away until the dark hours of the night. But it’s time to put down the book, walk outside and explore new hobbies, clubs and organizations around campus. “Make use of the tools that you learn as an English major and participate in other areas of the university,” said Tyler Goldman, a fine arts graduate student at the University of Maryland. “This could mean something as simple as going to public lectures in other departments. A big and important thing is to be a part of the larger creative community at the university.”
Make your professor and peers your new clique
I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again: office hours are lit. Professors want to talk with you about the things you are mutually passionate about (like proving to all the haters that English is the best major, duh). “As an instructor, [we] relish the opportunity to get to talk [with students]. Most people that are teaching are teaching because they love what they do and will jump at any opportunity to talk about it with anybody that’s interested,” Goldman said. “Develop relationships with people both inside and outside your department and find people who are interested in stuff that you’re interested in.” Who would have thought your Jack Kerouac obsession would make for the perfect ice breaker between you and that hottie reading a copy of On the Road?
View English as more than just a major
At the end of the day, you’ll get the most out of studying English when you remember why you chose it as your major in the first place. “Even when the workload is overwhelming, take a moment to appreciate that you are getting the time to read, discuss and write about great literature. The more you put into your classes, the more you get out of them,” said Elise Auvil, a graduate student at UMD. Dr. Ontiveros adds, “As early as you can, understand that you’re a professional in training. When a person sees your resume, what they think first is ‘This person is a writer.’ That means that English majors should see writing as their craft and they should work on it with the same consistency and intensity that engineers work on understanding formulas or developing skills.” So when you feel like ripping your brain out while working on a ten-page essay, remember that this is the same struggle shared by authors like John Green. Embrace your writer’s block, your fifth cup of coffee and your blood-shot eyes. You’re a writer. Own it.