I’ve always been baffled about why the English major gets such a bad rep. Perhaps this is because it’s an open-ended degree that requires the recipient to ask him or herself, “what would I like to do with these skills I have acquired?” rather than existing as a degree with a built-in career path like marketing, finance, or real estate.
If you majored in English in college like I did, then you’re probably used to people asking you if you want to be a teacher… all of the time. While some English majors follow their own individual desire to work in education, teaching in secondary schools is actually only the third highest occupational field that employs individuals with only a B.A. in English. The first? They are artists, broadcasters, writers, entertainers, and public relations specialists. The second? They are top and mid-level managers, executives and administrators. As I mentioned, teaching in secondary schools is the third occupational field shown on the list (and all teaching combined is only a bit more than one out of every ten English majors). Despite all of the occupations listed here, I’ve still heard time and again that there isn’t much that one can do with an English major.
Are these people crazy?!
For all of my Oscar-Wilde-reading, Shakespeare-reciting, Plato-referencing, journal-scribbling, fellow English majors out there in the professional world, here are 5 reasons why you can be proud that you received your undergraduate degree in English:
1. You are a good writer.
Being a good writer is one of the top ten most important skills that job candidates are encouraged to have in order to be competitive in the job market. Companies are looking for good writers, and there’s no question that English majors heading out into the workforce have this skill in the bag. It’s nearly impossible to succeed as an English major without being a good writer. Moreover, students choosing this major probably really like writing. When you like something, you do it more often and the more you do something, the better you become.
2. You are an effective communicator
English majors tend to be overall successful communicators, which is why it makes sense that so many of us go on to work in media and communication. The major provides individuals with the critical thinking and public speaking skills required to excel in these positions. Even if you aren’t planning to work in communications, the argument has been made that oral communication competency is the most important skill for business students in the workplace. It may also go without saying that having keen communication skills is absolutely necessary in order to be a good manager in the workforce.
3. You are capable of processing complex ideas
English majors are well practiced in uncovering themes and complex ideas in texts. The kind of thinking that accompanies studying humanities grapples with both big ideas and details. Businesses and hiring managers acknowledge the benefits of this type of thinking. Ernest Suarez, professor and chairman of the English department at The Catholic University of America states in this article that, “Businesses tell us they like to hire English majors because they feel that they can think. They’ve got the writing and analytical skills they need. The rest they can be trained to learn. “
4. You understand people and are able to connect with them
We generally got to read a lot of fiction as English majors, which may have had a positive impact on our ability to connect with people. A study by the Journal of Research in Personality uncovered that frequent readers of narrative fiction score highly on tests of empathy and social acumen. Another study finds that people who read narrative fiction stories score higher on tests involving social reasoning skills than those who are assigned to read a non-fiction essay from the same magazine. This article sums it up, describing English majors as “outgoing, community-spirited individuals who strive to understand culture, society and human interactions.”
5. You are a philosopher, artist, editor, historian, and a provider-of-content.
I’ve based this last point off of a great blog post by Alex J. Tunny called, “In Defense of the English Major.” The wide array of texts that we study as English majors have introduced us to the traditions, values, and methods of thinking from various cultures and points in history. As general Jacks-of-all-Trades, we tend to know a thing or two about several different subjects. Check out this list of famous English majors. You may be surprised by the diversity of the career paths of the folks on this list. If you are an English major, though, you probably won’t be too surprised.
A Bachelor of Arts in English is an open-ended degree providing versatility that might scare folks who are hesitant to pave their own career paths. For those who are willing to take matters into their own hands, though, an English major provides students with skills that are critical in the workplace. Let’s continue to be proud of the skill set that we’ve acquired and keep proving to skeptical folks that English majors have the ability to succeed and excel both inside of the classroom and in the working world.