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What I Wish I’d Known Before Declaring An English Major

I’ve always been fascinated by books. As a kid, I always had a book in hand, I was constantly scribbling down stories and poems, and my favorite day of school was the annual read-a-thon. I absolutely love reading and learning and the capability of language to create entire worlds and change history. Naturally, I became an English major. However, I quickly realized that majoring in English takes a lot more than writing skills and love of literature. For those book lovers out there who are still undeclared, here are some things to know before taking the plunge into the life of an English major.



My first semester as an English major, I was taking two 3000 level classes, and I had to read anywhere from 80 to 200 pages a night for those classes alone. This takes a lot of planning, including carrying your books with you to read in those 5 minute gaps here and there. Sometimes, you have no choice but to use Sparknotes and then catch up on the weekend.

2. Instead of final exams, you’ll end up with a bunch of 10 page papers.

I’ve always been a strong writer, so I didn’t think I’d have any trouble pumping out essays, but when you have three 10 page papers due on the same day, your passion for writing can fade. Try to plan ahead. A three-week deadline can feel like a lot, but trust me, writing an essay that will get you an A will take every minute you have.

3. Class feels like a competition.

I love talking about books, but when you get into an upper level literature class, you find yourself in a ‘who’s the smartest’ competition. People will raise their hands and try to show off with all of the obscure quotes that they know and all of the fancy authors they’ve read. Don’t let it discourage you. Trust me, professors can see right through this. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. Trust me, everyone else is just as confused as you are.

4. Attendance is mandatory.

A lot of your theory classes especially will have really small class sizes, so professors will notice when you aren’t there. In my experience, a sizeable chunk of your grade is attendance and participation, so make sure you’re there and paying attention. My English professors tend to be the biggest sticklers on cell phones, too, so make sure to be on your best classroom behavior.

5. It’s not all Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

Like with any major, you’ll have to take classes that you will absolutely dread. You wont spend your whole college career reading things that you enjoy, in fact, a lot of what you read will be wordy and boring. That’s okay. I suffered through The Iliad and The Odyssey twice in one year, and both times I thought it was a colossal waste of time, but as I got into more upper division classes, I was able to understand and appreciate so much more of the literature I was actually interested in because of my experience with those dreaded epics. It might not seem like there’s a payoff now, but trust me, it’s worth it.


If you’re thinking of becoming an English major, don’t be discouraged! Though it’s a challenging major, it’s also really rewarding. My critical thinking and writing skills have improved tremendously, and I’m able to study a wide variety of topics and see the world from all perspectives. However, don’t be fooled: there is no such thing as an “easy” major. College is hard, but if you’re studying something that challenges and inspires you, then you’re doing something right. 

Madison Adams is a feminist, a tea enthusiast, a friend to the animals, and a lover of words. Mostly, though, she's a young woman who's still trying to figure things out. 
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