English majors can overcome the stereotype, use their degree in the job market

Posted by Dashiell Paulson on Wednesday, May. 9 at 11:30 pm.

Three students walk into a bar: a business major, a chemistry major and an English major. They order drinks and talk about what they will do when they graduate. “I’m going to start a company!” says the business major. “I’m going to get my Ph.D!” says the chemistry major. The English major, meanwhile, catches the eye of the bartender and asks “Hey, you guys have an application I could fill out?”

Students earning a degree in English may feel this way about their future sometimes. Reciting 17th-century poetry and and analyzing iambic pentameter will impress your professor, but may leave potential employers underwhelmed. So where do English majors go after college?

“The short answer is they go a lot of different places,” said William Rossi, director of undergraduate studies in the English department. “We’ve had students build careers in teaching, business, law, journalism, administration and the sciences, to name a few.”

According to the department’s official “Program Assessment Plan,” the goal for English majors at the University is to learn “critical reading, writing and thinking” skills and to acquire a broad education in the liberal arts. This same versatility, however, and resulting lack of job-related skills can make job hunting difficult for even the most dogged English grad.

English student Alex Fus is a junior in the Clark Honors College and has been a declared major since her freshman year. She’s confident in her choice.

“I think studying English prepares you for life, no matter what you do after college,” Fus said. “I don’t know if being able to analyze iambic pentameter will get me a job, but the critical thinking skills I’ve gained will help me in any career.”

Expected fields for English majors used to include writing, editing and teaching. However, as the job market changes, many look into less traditional fields such as the business sector. Here they can put their top-notch writing and analytical skills to use in areas like marketing, PR and sales.

Many English grads still seek out opportunities to teach. Completion of a state certification program is usually a requirement to instruct in elementary and grade schools, while they’ll need to complete a masters or Ph.D. program to enter the world of higher education.

Professional degrees, especially law, are well suited to the enterprising English major. Law schools put a premium on communication, critical reasoning and analysis, all areas in which English grads are taught to excel.

What the English degree lacks in job training it makes up for in adaptability.

“The English degree can open up a lot of opportunities for me,” Fus said. “It’s a little like the business major; it will open the door to a lot of different opportunities, but won’t necessarily get my foot in the door.”

Though Fus appreciates the flexibility of her major, she has some particular goals in mind for where to go with it.

“Ideally I’d like to get into publishing. I’d love to be a literary editor,” she said.

Such intrepid English majors face many challenges after college, but with their sophisticated writing abilities and a boundless knowledge of literary trivia, they stand as good a chance of making it as any other major. And there’s always that bartending gig to fall back on.