“What are you going to do with a degree in English? What sort of job are you going to get? Are you going to be a teacher?”
Even though I had heard all these questions before, they were constantly on my mind during the final semesters of my bachelor’s program in English. They may have crossed your mind, too. I’m here to tell you: that’s normal! In fact, these questions probably should be on your mind, since you’ve been working so hard for your degree and want to put it into action. But how do we put an English degree into action?
Many people assume—we all know the phrase about what “assume” makes us, don’t we?—that students who major in English are limited in their career options. They hear “English major” and think “teacher.” That’s simply not the case! While teaching English can be very rewarding, it isn’t for everyone—and it certainly isn’t the only career option for students pursuing degrees in English.
We, as English majors, spend much of our time reading, writing, and thinking about texts, which gives us a very special skillset. We are highly attentive to minute details. We are very strong at communicating. We know how to edit and revise quickly and effectively. Most of all, because our work as English majors includes so many different styles of writing and thinking, we are able to stay flexible and adapt to any situation that arises.
Our skills prepare us for careers in any number of fields! I have personally worked in management positions in: hospitality, contracting, food service, and higher education. Although each of my positions has been different, the skills I developed as an English major have been useful in every single one of them.
Each of these positions has required effective communication: reading and analyzing materials for accuracy, giving employees clear instructions and feedback, and thinking quickly and logically—the same skills one develops as an English major.
Even in positions that aren’t writing or English-based, the skills you develop as an English major are still useful. Whether you’re drafting a cover letter for a job application or you’ve been on the job for 25 years, writing and thinking clearly and efficiently will always help you.
Life is short. Don’t spend it on a job you don’t like. Maybe you’ll find something you love right away, or maybe you’ll explore several different career fields, as I did. Working in different fields helped me understand what I wanted to pursue. In the end, I realized that I enjoyed writing, research, and helping others, so I decided on the academic route, teaching English at the collegiate level. (I guess that after all this time, my answer to “Are you going to be a teacher?” is “Yes.” Go figure!)
What can you do with an English major? You could ask Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, who was an English major. So were Steven Spielberg, Emma Watson, and Conan O’Brien. Some English majors have gone on to be professional writers, editors, and publishers. Some have become leaders of companies across various industries. Some work in the public sector, aiming to improve the lives of others. Some are lawyers, some work in advertising, and some, like Sally Ride, are astronauts. Any career you can think of usually has at least one famous English major.
And, of course, some become teachers.
Whatever your personal preferences and goals—always keep those in mind—an English major can help open the door for you.
Take a look at the following pages to see a few more examples on the possibilities that exist and may await you!
Sarah Young, English Instructor