In Defense of Majoring in English

The jokes associated with majoring in English are well known. Search up a video about the different majors available, and you’ll see how English is viewed as a useless field of study. While there’s no harm in poking fun, the jokes actually accurately represent how it’s regarded in society. As an English and French major, choosing my field of study personally sparked a bit of drama in my family, and my dad still hasn’t given up on teaching me computer science (which, for the record, I’m actually not against). Some in my family are even ashamed of me, because English and languages are regarded as easy and worthless—subjects that don’t carry the same social prestige as engineering and medicine. While I can’t change its place in the fields-of-study hierarchy, I can speak about how English in particular is useful, what it actually teaches, and the jobs you can get by studying it (besides the obvious ones). 

 

What it teaches: 

Studying English allows students to really master the language, and become critical, independent, and analytical readers and thinkers. It teaches students how to effectively and concisely communicate, as well as a wide range of other diversely applicable skills like researching, creativity, and speaking abilities. 

 

Why it’s useful: 

What I wrote above might sound misleadingly fancy, like a sly commercial, but these skills are actually very useful and not readily found among the general public. They’re why English majors in particular make excellent lawyers who are capable of accurately analyzing laws, making compelling arguments and defenses, and solving complex problems. Also, English is absolutely everywhere, which means that there is a use for English majors everywhere, even in unexpected places like Apple, Google, and Nintendo. The skills learned in English are also highly transferable, making them desirable to most employers. 

 

Jobs you can get: 

As previously mentioned English is absolutely everywhere. Of course, it’s the predominant language in North America, but it’s also a popular global language. So jobs are really available everywhere—the only trick is to find them. The obvious jobs that everyone talks about are those in teaching, copywriting, law, journalism, academic writing, editing, and publishing. 

But what other jobs can you get? Really, with an English degree, you’re better off asking what can’t you get. This is the greatest benefit as well as the greatest challenge of studying English. It’s part of the reason why this field of study is considered to be jobless—it’s not that it’s lacking in jobs, it’s that it’s lacking in jobs with titles that are directly associated with English. This is a  huge contrast against the more highly regarded fields. For example, when you major in Engineering, your job title is clear: engineer. But when you major in English, you are not going to find a job as an “english.” 

You can, however, find a job in any company working in departments that focus more on company image, marketing, customer interaction, presentation, etc. You can work for the government, in tourism, in radio, in television… You can work in the video game industry, in the cosmetics industry, in the animation industry… You can even work in tech related jobs. You don’t have to take my word for it—check out this pie chart. 

While the wide variety of jobs can be comforting (as well as intimidating), there’s still the question of whether or not most English majors are able to find available jobs in their field or if they’re forced to work in fast food restaurants due to low demand. Rest easy—English majors are actually less likely to end up working in food service than more “prestigious” degrees. 

But the future is still unclear. The fact that the variety of jobs available to English majors aren’t directly related or considered to be directly related to English can make them difficult and confusing to find—like I said, it’s not a direct path. As I’m getting closer to graduation, I’m also getting increasingly worried about this aspect, and unfortunately I don’t have the foresight to be able to give advice regarding how to find those potentially elusive jobs. But I can say this: no degree will work unless you do. As English majors, we don’t have the advantage of co-op which brings field-related experience, but we do have more time on our hands than science majors. Use this time wisely to heighten your skills and work on specialized skills pertaining to your particular field of interest. For example, if you do plan to work in tech, some computer science knowledge will likely be useful to you. If tech isn’t your cup of tea, dedicate yourself to other interests that can boost your resume. For example, Lucie Fink from Refinery29 did stop-motion animation on the side. It’s unclear if this sealed the deal regarding her employment, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Projects like this, regardless of your major, can make you stand out as a candidate and can be directly useful in employment.  

 

If you’re considering a degree in English, or you are currently studying English, let this article be a starting point. Do more research in preparation for graduation, and make sure to check out these articles/lists/books in particular:

 

1. “Want a Job with That English Degree?” by Paul T. Corrigan

2. “English Majors, Listen Up! Here’s How to Make the Most of Your Degree” by Wyatt Dalton

3. “Why ‘Worthless’ Humanities Degrees May Set You Up For Life” by Amanda Ruggeri

4. Stanford’s list of possible careers

5. Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People by John L. Munschauer

 

 

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