As an English major, I’m not immune to the “and what are you going to do with that?” question that follows after I report my chosen field of study to others. Personally, the decision to major in English was both easy and difficult. It was easy because reading and writing were always personality-informing to me; nevertheless, the “and what are you going to do with that?” question slapped me in the face with a big wet fish. For those of us who majored in English despite having feelings of doubt, congratulations: we are doing what we love. And regardless of the stigma that attempts to undermine our degrees, there is room for English majors on the career front.
Here are 5 (of the many) perks of being an English major:
English courses (unsurprisingly) assign a lot of reading material. While the material is mostly in the form of novels, these classes also engage epics, plays, poems, literary criticisms, essays, articles, and supplementary sources. The wide range of genres and media make it so that we get many different perspectives, i.e., ways of understanding the world we all inhabit.
In his Ars Poetica, philosopher Horace describes poetry — and implicitly, other forms of fictional prose — as having the ability to both instruct and delight. Indeed, reading gives us the opportunity to expand our minds, whether it be by becoming more aware of the sociopolitical issues that affect us or learning something new. And yes, reading is often a form of entertainment. There is a particular joy in stumbling upon clever writing, in being intrigued by the context that envelops a narrative, and in being moved by the profoundness of its characters and universalities.
2. Having an intimate understanding of how language shapes our world
It goes without saying that English majors engage very intimately with the language. If you think about it, language, in general, is an inescapable construct. We process all sorts of stimuli as words in our heads. Our conscious thoughts, however abstract and amorphous, are translated in accessible terms. Language is binding; it is employed in the chartering of laws — in our street signs and in the Constitution itself. Language, to put it simply, is the ability to communicate. And this ability is crucial. Communication helps us establish relationships, to inform and entertain one another. English in particular is thought to be the universal language, which affords us the opportunity to communicate more broadly, with — as our degrees will prove — effective rhetoric.
3. Drawing connections between literatures (and the world)
As a student who is exposed to a plethora of literary works, you are bound to encounter intertextuality. Biblical allusions and Shakespearean archetypes are ubiquitous in Western culture, and the ability to recognize these parallels and draw significant connections between them is an elevated skill.
And identifying literary references in pop culture is also extremely satisfying.
4. Writing (and speaking) intelligently and beautifully
This perhaps caters to the stereotype that English majors are pretentious. But we just call it being smart. Engaging with literature allows us to expand our vocabularies, and reading a compelling voice on the page allows us to adopt similar tones of conviction in our own arguments. The more we read, the better writers we become — by virtue of acquired wisdom and inspiration.
5. Having a wide range of career opportunities — whether you believe it or not
The great irony behind the stigmatization of artists is that those who question the value of humanities degrees are those who consume art. Where would the great movies and television shows be were it not for great writers with English degrees?
Contrary to popular belief, our degrees grant us opportunities beyond teaching jobs. According to a 2012 survey, employers generally prefer liberal arts graduates, and English majors comprise the majority of law school admissions. Our degrees are also preferred for jobs in publishing, writing, information and research, media, politics, and public service. Regardless of the career you pursue, the critical thinking and writing skills that you’ve gained make you a valuable asset. Our task is to find a place where we can apply them, happily.
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