A Practical Major
When your relatives ask what you’re going to do with your major, just show them this.
By Christine Ascher, University of Southern California
When asked about their major, a student pursuing an English degree will almost invariably receive one response: “So, are you going to be a teacher?”
It’s a common misconception that the only career available to the English student post-graduation is one in education. While this does tend to be a popular choice, it is not—contrary to popular belief—the only one. Unlike majors such as Finance, which lend themselves to one specific career sector, English is broader and can be applied to a wide range of areas.
For this reason, there are actually several areas that English students often pursue outside the realm of education. Before you second-guess your decision to follow your passion for literature and opt for something supposedly more practical, consider some of the following possibilities.
To be a successful lawyer, it is crucial to be able to think analytically, formulate a successful argument and pay attention to detail. Lawyers also tend to do a lot of writing, so it’s important that they improve their competence in written communication as well. As an English major, you’ll spend a lot of your time learning how to write argumentatively. Just mastering that will put you ahead of the game when you’re heading to law school.
In addition, most English classes are small in size and focused on discussion. This provides you with the perfect opportunity to practice verbal debates. You’ll have to be able to choose a position and back it up in the face of dissension; while as an undergraduate, you’ll learn how to do so in discussing nineteenth-century literature, the skills that you develop in the classroom will nevertheless be applicable later on in a courtroom.
In studying English, you’ll be well-prepared for a career in publishing. You’ll know what makes a good piece of writing and what qualities great literature has in common, and you will be able to apply this knowledge to producing content that is well written and marketable.
In the publishing industry, an English degree will come in handy in almost any division, whether it’s marketing, editorial or subsidiary rights, to name a few. Years of practice with close reading makes great preparation for becoming an editor, for instance, while the creativity that you’ll develop as an English major is useful for both marketing and subsidiary rights. The publishing industry encompasses newspaper, magazine and book publishing, meaning there are many options that you can pursue depending on your interests.
If you enjoy writing, an obvious next step after obtaining an English degree is to go into journalism. You’ll need to be a sharp writer and to be able to handle the pressure of writing under a tight timeline—skills that you will hopefully pick up throughout your undergraduate career. Furthermore, when majoring in English, you’ll conduct a lot of exhaustive research when writing papers that will come in handy as a journalist, a profession that requires the constant pursuit of research and primary sources.
You’ll also need to be able to communicate well, as you’ll be conducting interviews and will need to pose thoughtful questions. A large part of studying English is learning how to question yourself and others; through class discussions, you’ll be well-experienced in the art of inquiry. As a result, you’ll be readily prepared to take on the duties of a journalist post-graduation.
English majors focus on both written and verbal communication in their studies, and learn the importance of thinking critically. Though as an undergraduate, these skills may seem to apply only when analyzing literature or writing an essay, they are actually essential to becoming a successful businessperson. If you cannot communicate effectively, you won’t be taken seriously in a business setting, and it’ll be much more difficult to garner respect.
While it would help if you have also taken a few math classes during your undergraduate career, a degree in English will prepare you for many aspects of the business world. One of the most imperative characteristics that comes with being a successful businessperson is leadership, and being a good leader means being open to other ideas while also remaining firm in your own opinions. Years of discussion in small classes while pursuing an English degree should prepare you well for this.
Bruna Martinuzzi, the president and founder of Clarion Enterprises, Ltd. explains that she likes to employ candidates with English degrees in her business for five reasons: their communication, writing, researching and critical thinking skills, and their empathy. Studies have shown that reading literature can make you more empathetic, which is fundamental in businesses that are trying to bring in customers. Though you might have thought that Marketing degree would be more useful in business, you might have a unique advantage as an English major.
If you’re interested in the entertainment industry, this does not necessarily mean that you have to major in an entertainment-related field as an undergraduate. Improving your overall writing ability while studying English will allow you to apply these skills later on however you choose, whether that’s in writing novels, screenplays, or theater scripts. The Stanford University English Department states that “a degree in English teaches an empathic understanding of human motivation.”
Understanding the motivations of others is the first step in producing meaningful and relatable content; in reading and learning how to relate to others, your work in entertainment will touch a much wider audience. Whether you come in doing rewrites of scripts or have a major breakthrough into the industry, an English degree will have taught you the expertise necessary to succeed.
Regardless of your plans for the future, majoring in English as an undergraduate will help you improve on your writing skills, your ability to conduct research and incorporate it into your writing, your ability to think analytically and your overall ability to communicate. With all of these skills, there are a variety of paths that you can pursue following graduation. If you’re passionate about literature and writing, don’t be discouraged by the negative connotations that come with being an English major—remember that you can make whatever you what from it.