The Versatility of the English Major

Posted by Julia Caldwell, Poetry Reader for 8.1

It’s your first year in college. You’re a business administration major and an athlete practicing more than fifteen hours a week. You’re discovering that the amount of work you did in high school will not suffice for college-level academics. Furthermore, you’re not a “test person.” You meet with your advisor. He tells you to either switch majors or transfer. You are lost and feel like a part of you that was solidified for so long, has been taken out from under you in an instant. Then you remember how much you loved your 11th grade English class. You switch your major to English and the following years are filled with close readings, endless writing, and interesting discussions. You’re finally doing well and you’re happy. But when Senior year comes, you have no idea what you can do with this degree.

English majors…what do they really do? Read? Write? Sit in a circle and dive into texts?

Scott Carlson, a senior writer at The Chronical of Higher Education, whose writing focuses on the costs and values of college writes, “Does the study of the liberal arts — or, more specifically, the humanities, since those subjects are usually the “useless” ones that pundits dismiss — really deliver skills for a job or civic life?”

Carlson raises a valid point and one that most liberal arts majors hear and fear every time they state their major. This fear seems to apply more often to liberal arts students who don’t want to go into teaching, writing, or publishing. Maybe they are interested in public relations, hospitality, or business. Should these students be at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for jobs? For not taking up a communication or business major? The English major helps develop important skills for students entering the workforce after college. The development of analytical thinking, evidence-based writing, editing skills, communication skills, and the ability to process complex ideas. Not only do these skills make a person more desirable for a career position but they enhance their intellect for life beyond college.

President of Bates College, Clayton Spencer says, “‘I wanted to make sure…that kids who wanted to major in English or philosophy would get the reflective skills and the confidence that they could take these true interests’ and find work” (Field). To build this confidence, we can begin by praising the skills developed by the liberal arts by relying on stories of successful graduates, “which might help some students see how they could turn a degree in classics into a well-paid corporate position” (Carlson).

At the end of the day, there are so many great jobs and opportunities for any student with any major. As Carlson says, “you’re always going to do better at something that you enjoy, and you get intrinsic motivation from.” I finally have confidence in myself (as a student and future employee) and in my major – but when in doubt, I always remember what Scott Carlson preaches, “an above-average English-literature major is likely to get a better job and earn more money than a below-average business major.”

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