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What You Should Never Say to the English Majors in Your Life

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at TCNJ chapter.

I have discovered that children have hidden superpowers. They are able to, without fear of recompense, proudly state their future career with the same broad smile as if they were showing their parents a missing baby tooth. Around middle school, this trick seems to vanish as teachers prod you towards the ever growing STEM fields and parents pick up the phrase, “let’s try to be more realistic.” (Make no mistake, the A in STEAM is a neglected development). By forcing children to contemplate their back up plan, adults may be encouraging well planned futures with high success rates, but it results in a deteriorating sense of pride and self belief. 

While parents have been forced to attempt to balance this tightrope for decades, once a young adult in college has chosen their major, they have selected their intended career path. In some cases, instead of being met with congratulations, this new chapter is met with unnerving doubts. There is a clear difference between constructive advice and criticism that is not always respected by the adults and peers in an English major’s life. I promise that, most of the time, the negatives to entering this field have already been considered. 

Any college student, particularly those in a non-STEM field, can describe the crippling sense of self doubt that major declaration forces you to overcome. For those who are constantly confronted with the reality that the pursuit of their passion will not be expeditious or secure, replacing potential support with cynicism can be detrimental to their self worth and career satisfaction.

“So, what are you going to teach?”

While many English majors do become teachers, you should never assume their career path! Not only does this make English majors feel pressured into becoming teachers for job security, reducing the number of truly passionate teachers, but it takes away from their faith in their own ability to pursue different options! Most people outside of the field do not consider the variety of skills that this major educates provides: intensified reading comprehension, above average communication skills, the ability to write in a professional manner, an attention to detail, and thensome. English majors are vital to a variety of fields, including journalism, public relations, library science and the legal system, in addition to education.

“Oh. I don’t like to read.”

English majors have an undeniable love for words. These students, this community, is in the program because they were prompted by a fondness for literature. Naturally, anyone who voluntarily signs up to go through, in some cases, two or three books every week, does not dislike reading. In my experience, it makes me long for when I had time to read for leisure. I genuinely miss picking up a book without having essay prompts in the back of my mind. Telling an English major that you would rather watch the movie, or worse —that you refuse to read altogether— is practically a slap in the face. 

“You’re never going to get a job.”

This is downright unsupportive, anxiety inducing and a sure way to reduce self esteem. Anything along these lines is similar to muting a television show that you dislike. It is a sure way to prevent hearing it, but does not necessarily change the channel. In other words, this negative phrasing discourages English majors from sharing their interests and accomplishments with you, but it will not change their passion. Nobody is going to respond, “wow, why didn’t I think of that?” and immediately change their career path. This also goes along with the other popular options, including, “have you considered trying something with more job opportunities?” and “aren’t starting salaries for those jobs really low?”, both of which are popular among relatives and STEM majors.

“Can you edit my essay?”

If the English major in your life chooses to edit your essay, especially without asking you to edit theirs in return, they must truly care about you. Additionally, you should probably be aware that they are procrastinating at least one essay of their own. These students have a near endless stream of essays to prepare, which is part of the reason that their writing skills are so well developed. But regardless of skill, they have absolutely no need to add another paper to their agenda. If your friend agrees, it typically means that they are very desperate for a distraction from an assignment of their own, and you should probably ask if they are okay. 

“You must really like Shakespeare.”

Yes, some of us do enjoy Shakespeare. Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing are great plays, they have complex characters and interesting story lines. But at the same time, I despise Romeo and Juliet. Any generalization concerning literature is dangerous, especially for English majors. This is typically because they tend to have strong opinions about their preferred novels or authors of choice. Specifically, anything that you read in high school is bound to contract a reaction out of an English major. Whether they loved The Great Gatsby or despised The Scarlet Letter, they will have a clear opinion. High school curriculum, “classics” especially, are potentially hazardous topics of conversation.

“I wish I could read all the time. You must have so much fun.”

As English majors, we are encouraged to read between the lines. This comes with an unspoken dosage of “my major is more important than yours” and a sprinkle of “your schoolwork, and by extension your passion, is easy and you have no reason to struggle or complain”. Yes, our major is fun! Yes, we do enjoy our work! But not only does this imply that you are of a higher caliber because you chose to pursue a field based on monetary gain, but it is also condescending in the sense that it implies that the English major is not rigorous and genuinely challenging. The major of a student should not change the manner of respect you deign to their efforts.

“Wow! I could never be a liberal arts major. Good luck.”

Typically served in a condescending tone, this statement is often spoken by STEM majors. It is the gift that keeps on giving, considering it will make you second guess your career path for a solid month. As it is also invalidating the academic efforts of English majors and undermining the influence of literature as a whole, this works as two insults in one!

“What is your favorite book?”

This, depending on the person, is a loaded question. At the very least, the English major in question will contemplate their options and give a title, accompanied by a brief summary. In most cases however, as these are often the most well read students on campus, it will result in long winded and concerningly passionate rants. While learning someone’s favorite book could tell you a lot about them, it will inevitably be followed by them asking for your opinion in return, which will doubtlessly be judged. Be aware that this has the potential to end friendships. For your own good, do not prompt this discussion unless you have a considerable amount of time on your hands. The only thing that could potentially be more treacherous would be requesting book recommendations.


Hey! I'm McKenzie, an English and Journalism double major at TCNJ who loves to read and write! I’m an obsessive Harry Potter fan, a Marvel enthusiast, and have a minor in women, gender and sexuality studies.
Sameen is currently a Campus Correspondent for HCTCNJ. She is a junior majoring in Biopsychology and is on a pre-med track. When not studying, she can be found curled up with a good book or trying her hand at a new hobby (e.g. playing the guitar, coding, learning a new language).