What English Majors Wish You Knew

It’s finals week. I’m supposed to read two full length novels in seven days. I have six papers due (the shortest being ten pages), and a poetry portfolio, and three months worth of journal entries. I have spent more time in my professor’s office, debating my comma placement, than I have in my own dorm room over the past three days. My mind is a black hole of Atwood and Braddon, quotes and plots and annotations scrambling over one another for a space on one of the one-hundred and seventy pages of work that I have due this week.


Alas, I’m “just an English major”.


I don’t study textbooks. I study poems more intricate than the human ocular system. I make six pages of annotations on one stanza. I have to dig between the lines until my brain is literally sore. And then I have to dig some more. 


It’s constant writer’s cramp. 


It’s the exhaustion of trying to create where everyone else can just regurgitate.


It’s a tear-stained chapbook that contains every beat of my war-torn heart.


But here’s the thing: I love it.


And I am sick of being told that such passion is worthless, or impractical, or simplistic. 


As an English major, I’m constantly trying to justify my path to business majors, nursing majors, engineering majors. I’m not doing anything important in the eyes of others. I’m just “reading” and “writing”. What we wish you’d understand, though, is that you are also just “reading” and “writing”. Someone wrote and edited the textbooks. Someone published the research. Someone effectively communicated and translated so that language could become an adequate vessel for the meat of your chosen career. 


You could literally not do anything without English. English is the backbone of your existence. 


“But I know English!” you say, as you sit in the library for seven hours, trying to write a four page paper. As someone who wrote the same paper in one hour, and got an easy ‘A’ on it, I can guarantee that you do not, actually, know English. I’m not trying to speak with conceit. I’m just trying to make you understand. The things that you say are so “easy” are the very things that you whine about, and, yes, English majors find that pretty agitating!


In our culture’s current overwhelming support for STEM fields, it’s easy to discount those of us who choose a career more geared towards the arts as “unimportant”. I will never perform a life-saving operation. I will never help a man step foot on Mars. I will never discover a cure for cancer. 


But you know what I will do? 


Report on those things. Document those things. Make people care about those things through carefully crafted rhetoric that my degree absolutely perfected. I am the tie between your laboratory and the world outside, the generations to come, the history beneath our feet and the future floating through the sky. 


When you ask me, “What are you going to do with an English major?”, I don’t even know how to respond, because the possibilities are endless for me. I can write, teach, edit, report, speak, communicate, research, document, debate, politicize. The “Bachelor’s in English” on my resume shows that I can think critically, I have a wide range of knowledge and also can interpret any new knowledge placed in front of me, I can communicate directly and effectively, and I can write a well-worded email and make the company look smart. If a job lists it as an important skill, chances are, English majors have it. We’re more likely to be employed (without risk of underemployment) than business majors. And we’re also more likely to actually use and develop our skills in the workplace than STEM majors, 75% of which don’t even work in their fields after college. I’m versatile, I’m communicative, and I know how to talk myself up and make best friends with the interviewer that you bored. And that’s the tea on that. 


So next time you want to laugh at us for being English majors, just know we’re probably laughing at you, too, because you’re twenty years old and still use the wrong version of “effect”. 

All jokes aside, though, let’s just be kind to each other. I can’t whiz through calculus. You can’t whiz through a thirty page thesis. So when the time comes, we’re all going to have to help each other out. We are intertwined, every skill building upon another to maintain the forward progress which defines our success as a human race. You matter, but hey, so do I.