“So you’re going to be a teacher?”
“You’re going to live in a cardboard box when you’re done.”
“Sooo… you want to be poor?”
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for English majors. It’s a tough world out there for the language and lit lovers.
My first semester of college, I declared a major in English, focus in Literature, Language, and Culture – the “super major,” as my adviser called it. I was set on the idea of being a writer or an editor, but after picking up a second major in Professional Writing and getting an internship in the field, I realized it just wasn’t for me. I changed my major and minor (now Psychology and Art) and completely switched paths for myself.
While I’ve abandoned the world of allegories, metaphors, and literary analyses, I will always have a little English major inside of me – a person who has heard too many people say there’s nothing a person can do with an English degree (besides teach) and that it is useless. What many people don’t know is that English majors are all over the place in the working world and not living in cardboard boxes lamenting their poor choice in a degree.
Skills You Gain as an English Major
Increasingly, employers are beginning to say they love hiring English majors. In a world so focused on science, engineering, and business, having employees with the skills that English majors acquire is invaluable. As an English major, it is important to recognize the skills you have so you can learn how to showcase your experience and represent your value.
English Majors Know How to Write (shocker)
The writing internship that made me change my mind about being a writer was something that I initially thought would be useless to me after changing my major. I want to go into counseling, not writing. What I realized by speaking to different counselors and advisers is that writing skills are valuable no matter where you go. Given the large amount of writing required in English classes, it’s obvious that English majors acquire incredible skills in writing. English majors are taught how to write in different styles, for different purposes, and to different audiences, giving them the ability to effectively persuade or inform others.
English Majors Know How to Communicate
Whether it be on paper, one-on-one, or to a group, English majors can communicate. English majors spend their time critiquing other students’ work as well as accepting criticism. They discuss ideas and learn how to articulate their opinions or thoughts to others. English majors know how to construct and present an argument effectively, something they learn in classes and out of necessity. When you have to defend your choice in major on a regular basis, trust me, you learn how to argue a point and win a debate (while using advanced vocab words and impeccable grammar along the way, I might add).
English Majors Know How to Think
Thinking creatively, analytically, critically, and individually – English majors can do it all. They are trained to look at a problem or an idea and analyze it, dissecting it and considering different perspectives. They are taught to look at the obvious answer, and then question it. Most importantly, they are taught to come up with their own ideas and ways of thinking and solving problems.
English Majors Know How to Manage Their Time
While I’ve taken a wide variety of classes during my time here that have all required plenty of work, the English classes I’ve taken here remain some of the most time- and work-intensive of them all. One English class alone could require 50-100 pages of reading every week, and trust me, reading 50 pages of Moby Dick is no simple task. English majors hone the ability to schedule their assignments, manage their time, and work under deadlines. For one research paper I did in an English class, I had to check out more books from the library than my backpack could hold. Literally. It unzipped itself and the books fell out as I was walking toward my dorm. Think working through that material in a timely manner is easy? It’s not.
English Majors Know How to Relate
The ability to understand, relate to, and connect with others is a skill that may not immediately present as useful in non-human services fields, but it is one that employers in all different areas are citing as a valuable trait they look for in employees. Reading works of fiction, something English majors do regularly, has been shown to encourage and build empathy and understanding. English majors study works that represent and explain different aspects of the “human condition,” including different cultures, time periods, and social issues, to name a few. They learn to think outside of their own experiences and consider those of others, something that gives them the ability to work effectively with all kinds of people.
English majors may not learn how to test for statistical significance or explain the function of different neurotransmitters, but they have skills that are just as important. As a student working toward an English degree who is looking to get a job, get an internship, or further your education, being able to recognize and talk about your skills is essential.
Part 2 of “Confessions of a Former English Major” will look at how you can connect your skills to a career and show those people who tell you your degree is worthless that you aren’t, in fact, doomed to reside in a cardboard box for the rest of your life.