An English Major’s Future

(Warning: this post is almost entirely made up of me ranting and worrying about the future. Read at your own peril.)

I love English, and because of that, I can’t think of anything I would love better than to study literature in college. All of my friends and family know this, and everyone says that they can’t see me majoring in any other field.

Now. Here’s the problem. My father and my best friend have been annoying me lately with their talks about how English majors can’t do anything once they leave college. Both of them start of by telling me that English is a critical skill that everyone should know, but then they say that I should double major in something else because I’ll make no money and I won’t have a good future.

However, I know that if I was planning on studying physics or chemistry, I would have no problem, which is so stupid since there are as few jobs in physics or chemistry as there are for English. I love English, but I hate that people always say that I can’t do anything except be a high school teacher. And what I hate most is that I truly admire my father for doing a job that he loves so much and gets so much joy out of, but then because my passion isn’t as financially stable, he thinks I need to tweak my passion.

Please don’t get the wrong idea though, my father is incredibly sweet and he’s only doing this because he doesn’t want to see me unhappy and poor in the future. But he’s given me so many talks now about how, after college, I should think about going into Law, or getting an MBA, or doubling majoring in science as well as literature, that I don’t think I can take it anymore.Β I love English, and it would be my dream to be an editor of a magazine or in a publishing house (which my Dad says is a disappearing job because of blogs and such), but I get so much flak over wanting to have a job in literature that I get so sick and tired of all of these people telling me that I should be studying something else, or something in addition to English.

So, after all of my rantings and ramblings, I was wondering if any of you current or past English majors can tell me about your experience as an English major. Is life as an English major really worse than any of the other majors? Are the editing/publishing jobs really dying out? And for those of you who are English professors in colleges, my Dad is under the impression that English professors have the lowest salaries and find it harder to get hired–is this true?

I’ve been getting so much unwanted and unfounded advice, that I would love to hear from people who actually know what they’re talking about.

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27 thoughts on “An English Major’s Future

  1. I was a history major. I spent over a decade in educational publishing–a field I didn’t know existed until I was working in it–and then moved into project management and marketing. I’ve never taught school. In both careers, what I could do (think, analyze, explain, express) was much more important than the subject area of my major.

    Take as many courses outside your major as you can. Take a minor if something is particularly interesting. Focus on building skills as well as knowledge. But don’t miss out on what you love because of someone else’s perceptions.

    • Thanks for the comment! I’ve had some time to reflect on it, and I agree with you; I think that I do have to do what I love, and that I’ll probably be working at a job that uses the analytic side of my English skills and that I never would have even realized I could do for a job with my English major.

  2. I think you should do what makes you happy. I have an English degree and I’ve never had any trouble finding jobs or changing careers. I’ve done things such as project management, programming, training, tech support, etc. I’ve even been told by employers that they liked my English degree because it showed not only analytical thinking but creative thinking as well.

    About the publishing field, I don’t think it’s going anywhere too quickly. There will always been the need for editors either in publishing houses or magazines, even when things become mostly digital. My feeling is you need to look for and take advantage of internships while you’re in college to make those contacts and get some experience. That’s what my sister did. She wanted to be a newspaper reporter so she majored in English, interned at several papers she was interested in and one offered her a job upon graduation. My brother in law used his English degree to move from editing into public Public Relations. A friend of mine has an English degree and got a masters and taught community college until she had a baby. Being a professor is an option and from what I understand doesn’t pay bad, but it’s very competitive and they expect you to publish. Also as a professor you have to move wherever you can find a job which until you get tenure, if universities still give that, could be difficult. These are the reasons my friend gave me for not pursuing her doctorate.

    Lastly, do a quick search. You’ll find stuff about careers link this link from UNC http://englishcomplit.unc.edu/english/undergrad/careers Good luck! Sorry about the long ramble. πŸ™‚

    • No! I love your long ramble, and it definitely helped! That’s what I figure, it’s just a little discouraging when people who don’t have your kind of experience look at me as if I won’t have any job five years down the road. And yes, I definitely plan on getting internships during the summer. In fact, I’ve already looked at a few around the East Coast (where my college is) and I’m so excited by the all of the possible opportunities!
      That’s what I thought about becoming a professor, and that’s what still scares me about the possible avenue as a job, because, while I enjoy writing, and I don’t think my writing is good enough to be published. I’ll probably get better over the years, but still, I’ll never be a best seller or anything of that sort. And while I’m fine with that, it would be hard to get a job as a professor without being published, as you said.
      I understand what you’re saying about not getting a doctorate, but honestly, I don’t know if four years of college is enough to prepare me for the real world. I feel like I’d need many more years of education to have me ready to take on the world. Of course this will probably change in the future, or at least I hope so πŸ™‚
      Thanks so much for your post and your link, and now I’m the one who has to apologize for the lengthy reply!

      • Ugh I had a great reply and crashed! :/

        When I started college I told everyone I wanted to be a lawyer but secretly wanted to be a writer. My counselor even said to just major in whatever I did best if I wanted to go to law school so that was my excuse. By the time I was graduating I told everyone I wanted to be a writer and they all laughed. Only my aunt seemed to believe me and she offered to talk to her friend for me who was an editor at Cosmopolitan, I wasn’t crazy about working for a magazine I didn’t read but still thought about it. My mom though convinced me that commuting into NY sucks and that I should pass on it. I kick myself to this day for not taking advantage of the at a minimum, a connection. Anyway my point is, you have to do what will make you happy, even if it doesn’t work out. No regrets.

        I think if you’re thinking about graduate school, its best to do it straight after undergrad. You might even be able to get a graduate assistantship to help with tuition. I always thought being a professor would be cool but I know I never had it in me to stay in school for that long. Of course once you finish your masters courses, you’re pretty much done with classes because a lot of doctorate will be working on your dissertation. Anyway that’s a ways off but what I meant before about the doctorate is that unless you plan on being a professor, I don’t think there’s much you can do with it…except of course for going around saying you’re Dr So And So. πŸ˜‰ Some jobs will look at your doctorate and and move on from you because they’ll think they can’t afford you but that’s really only if you decide to do something outside of the English world.

        About publishing as a professor, you don’t have to do fiction or be a best seller, doesn’t hurt of course. You could become an expert on Chaucer for example and write books analyzing the Canterbury Tales or even work on text books. You don’t need to be Toni Morrison at Princeton. I think the publishing side kind of comes as part of being a professor so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

        Its great that you’ll be on the East Coast because I think if you’re close enough to NY, that’s where you want to be for publishing. I think it sounds like you’ve thought about everything and honestly, things will change. Once you start college you’ll find out even more and have an easier time making these decisions. Anyway I think you’ll do great! I really don’t think most people put this much thought into college or their future and I think it sounds like you’ve got everything under control. Ok I’m done before I keep babbling on and on or lose everything again. Bye! πŸ™‚

      • That’s kind of like me! I told everyone I wanted to be a pediatrician (and I actually did for a while), but then when I shadowed a pediatrician and realized that that’s not a job I wanted to do, I struggled with telling people that I actually wanted to study literature instead, because being a doctor just has the prestige that studying literature doesn’t.
        Wow! A job at Cosmopolitan! Oh man, if I could get something like that, I would go crazy. You are definitely rightβ€”every opportunity counts and I should definitely make the most of any chance I get.
        Yeah, that’s what my best friend says too, that if I’m too qualified, I might get passed over. So, I guess we’ll see about getting a PhD. But I’m fairly certain that I’ll get a Masters just because my mom has always said that I can’t just get an undergraduate degree, I have to do something more. And if she’s willing to pay for it, I have no complaints about that! πŸ™‚
        Thank you so much!

  3. well, am not sure whether i’m qualified to respond since i’m based out of India and the conditions here are different. still, for what it is worth, let me say that though i got an MBA, i realized almost half-way through that i don’t have enough commitment to enjoy my work and so got myself an easy job that’ll give me time enough to write and have fun. wish i had realized it sooner and got into Eng lit at graduation itself. money matters but only so much. so, go for what you love.

    • Thank you! I almost made the same mistake as I wanted to be a pediatrician, but thankfully I was able to shadow a family friend who was a pediatrician and I realized that being a doctor was not the right job for me, even though it has all the prestige attached to it. So now, I’m following your advice and I am only going to do what I love!

  4. I was an English major at university up until July last year. I worked on the university newspaper for 3 years to build up as much experience writing as possible to help me secure a job after my graduation. I am currently in a writing/publishing job and I absolutely love it. As a writer, experience is the most important thing and as long as you keep building and stabilizing your writing style, you will be able to find a job in your preferred field.
    On a different note, studying English Literature is an amazing experience. The analysing and exploring of different eras, combined with writing and discovering different genres is an experience in itself. I would definitely recommend studying what you love because it certainly helps enhance your university experience. Good Luck!

  5. I graduated in December with a double-major in Creative Writing and English, and English Language and Literature (yes, it’s a mouthful…). Right now, I am working in a convenience store, but I’ve also been too chicken to apply to the job ads I have found, so don’t get too depressed about that possible future πŸ˜€

    Part of the problem I’m having is I don’t actually know what I want to do. There are so many options for an English/Creative Writing major that it’s hard for me to choose. I could be an editor or writer somewhere, and those two options alone have hundreds if not thousands of possibilities. The problem I am having with my own dad is that he wants me to use my degree in whatever job I get, but he refuses to understand that I would be using it in any job I get (i.e., I don’t need to be a teacher/professor to utilize my degree). I know someone who got a Creative Writing degree and is now a web designer!

    The point of an English major (and also a Creative Writing major) is learning and developing excellent communications skills. Sure, you write essays, but you are graded on how well you make your point, how well you use the language, and how well you express your ideas in general. Just having those skills, even without experience, makes you more desirable to a company. And if your dad doesn’t believe that, just ask him how many people your age he thinks will be able to write in anything other than texting shorthand….there aren’t many people my age (22) that can!

    Apologies for such a long reply. I guess what I’m trying to say is do what sounds fun or interesting, and just be aware that there are jobs out there for any major you choose.

    • Wow! So you are a recent college graduate? Oof. I think that’s the period that I’m scared of the most.

      I hope you are able to decide on what you want to do! I completely understand what you mean, because there are so many opportunities with an English major that I didn’t really know before. Like with a physics major, you’re kind of boxed into physics or at least science. But with English, well we can do anything!

      No, my Dad understands how important writing isβ€”in fact, he is always complimenting me on my writing, which is always great to hear πŸ™‚ I think he’s just worried about the lack of job opportunities, but from what you’ve said, I think he should be worried about the amount of job opportunities!

      Thank you so much for your long reply! πŸ™‚

  6. Stopped by a yard sale last Saturday. The young graduate (English Major) was moving to Spain to teach English. She not only gets a job, but gets to experience another country’s culture and get paid for it. Bottom line – do what you love, the money will follow if you just believe (it really works – it’s in every self help book and even the christian bible). Hang in there and good luck.

    • Ahhh that sounds so fabulous, and I would love to do that. Thank you so much for this encouraging post.
      And I’m getting to believe that more and more, that if you love something and you work hard, things will happen for you. You just have to be patient.
      So here I am, trying not to be too stressed out, and waiting patiently for what the future has in store for me.

      • I’ve heard of a program like that for Japan also. I’ve been thinking about looking into something like that (teaching English overseas), but I’m not sure I’d want to be away from home for so long.

  7. My degree is in American studies with a literature concentration. Basically, I only took English and Art History classes with a little bit of history, sociology, and anthropology thrown in. I planned on becoming a professor because I absolutely loved being in school. I loved reading and my classes and I wanted to share that passion. But when I was in graduate school, I realized that being a professor was not the right occupation for me. While I loved it, I also loved so many other things (including having my own free time) and getting a doctorate requires a very high degree of dedication. Plus, you have to choose one topic that you are very passionate about (and hopefully that no one else has really written about yet because you have to find something new to say), and I was interested in too many things to ever really decide what to focus on. I decided to quit graduate school after my MA. To be perfectly honest, I have struggled over the last 5 years to decide where I want to go with my career. I ended up getting a job as a technical writer (my experience in editing and writing during school really helped a lot with getting into the field), but it’s not something I love. I do like it, and I like that it’s a good field for a career, and I like that it affords me lots of time to pursue my other interests as hobbies.

    I’ve thought a lot about what I would do differently if I were going to start all over. Here’s the thing, I would not give up the classes I took in literature and art history for anything. I absolutely loved them and I can’t imagine going to school and taking classes in something that you’re not interested in. BUT I wish that I had been more open to different career choices. I didn’t even know what options there were. I always just assumed I would be a professor. I wish that I had looked into so many different fields and tried them through internships (as others have suggested) or even just taking some additional classes in things that looked interesting. I think the key is to not get locked in to something too early. College is about experimenting intellectually. I would also recommend visiting your campus career center early on and speaking with the counselors there. I never did this, but I wish so much that I had. Personality has so much to do with finding happiness in your career. I think it’s important to find something that is suited to your personality. Not what you think your personality is, but what it actually is. Your friends and family can give you advice about what types of careers they think you will enjoy but sometimes those closest to us (including ourselves) see us subjectively based on their experiences with us and the interests that we have projected over the years. A career counselor who doesn’t know you can look at your strengths, skills, ability, personality, etc. more objectively and has a wider scope of experience. (At least, ideally that is how it should work.)

    I definitely agree that you can find a career with an English degree. Like other commenters have said, it’s really more about the skills you develop than the actual degree. (I had a project manager once who had a degree in vocal performance.) BUT I would also recommend realizing that your love of literature and writing is something that you can pursue outside of your chosen career. You don’t have to do what you love for a living. In fact, sometimes it can take the joy out of it. Find something that suits your personality and skills. It might be writing and editing, etc, but there are also SO MANY options. I just wish that I had looked into those other options.

    Sorry… this is not very well organized for a comment. The key things: 1) Take the classes you love! 2) Develop the ability to analyze, think critically, and write clearly because these skills will serve you in any career choice. 3) Explore careers. If you have even the slightest interest in, I dunno, landscape architecture or being a librarian or city planning or whatever else, look into it. Talk to people in different careers and find out what they like/don’t like about it. 4) Visit a career counselor early and take the Myers-Briggs personality test. Remember to be really honest in your responses and not respond how you want to be but how you really are (I have to say that because I know it’s my weakness).

    Anyway, this is such an exciting time for you! I’m sure it can seem overwhelming and stressful at times, but four years is quite a long time. (Oh, and if you have a chance, try to do a study abroad somewhere… see if you can do two or three of them πŸ˜‰ ) People will try to tell you that you need to declare a major and have your career in mind, etc. You don’t. Not yet. Good luck!

    • Just as an example: Because I always loved reading and writing, whenever I talk to my family or friends about deciding on a career, all they can think about is a career that uses reading and writing or is typically English-degree. However, as I’ve come to know myself better, I know that I love working with children and I love helping others. I know I want a career that gives me free time and a more flexible schedule. I know that I like something more active than sitting in front of a computer, and I know that while I want to interact with people more than I currently do, I also need my own space. These are the personality traits that I wish I had taken into consideration when I was thinking about possible careers. I wish I hadn’t just thought about the things that I love to do (which, again, can be satisfied through hobbies) but that I had thought more about how I like to be.

      Ok… I’m seriously done! Sorry for taking up so much space, but it’s definitely something I have thought a lot about over the past few years. πŸ™‚

      • Wow, thank you so much for your elaborate response! I had never thought about how you had to really narrow your interest to do a doctorate… that kind of puts me off of that. Unless I find some narrow field that I am extremely passionate about, I don’t think I want to head down that road.
        And thank you for telling me to talk to counselors! As a rule, I normally never talk to counselors because the counselors at my high school are really not good at all for people who already have an idea of what they want to do. They’re mostly only good for the students who are lagging behind, which does suck when I want to go to someone for academic advice.
        And I did take the Myers-Brigg test and it seemed to describe me pretty well, so I’ll look into what jobs they recommend for people like me.
        Thanks once again!

  8. In today’s economy, there isn’t really job security in any field. I remember hearing a news report recently about medical school grads that couldn’t find work because there were enough doctor jobs. So you might as well do something you will love and be motivated to pursue a career in, because no matter what you study, having a successful career these days involves a lot of work, searching for opportunities, marketing yourself, developing new skills, and being creative in using your skills.
    I’m a recent creative writing grad who did a double major, trying to be safe by also studying something practical, and having worked a few years in the something practical, I was miserable, hated my job, and it ended up being insecure anyway with all the budget cuts going on across all fields. Now I’m looking into transitioning into publishing, editing, writing, communications related work as soon as my contract ends and I’m actually surprised by the amount of jobs I’m finding. Your dad is right that there are less “traditional” publishing jobs, such as being an editor with a publishing house or working at newspapers. At the same time because of blogs and social media, there are a whole bunch of online publications which need content, need people to make sure that content is written well, and need people to market that content.
    You can work as an online magazine editor, a content or blog writer, a social media specialist, etc. Being an English major does not mean limiting yourself to being a professor.
    Don’t just study English though, be active in developing skills both in the classroom and out – get involved with campus publications, do an internship if you can, see if you can take courses which will teach you copy-editing standards, continue building your social media presence, do research into the publishing/communications field to find out what jkind of jobs are available and which you might be interested in.
    I really believe that if you are willing to put in the effort and are passionate about what you do, you can make any career work, but it’s hard to put in that effort if you are doing something you don’t like.

    • That’s very true, and I hadn’t thought of that before! I should say that when people give me disparaging looks about studying English, that nothing is secure right now, not even being a doctor.
      Actually, being an online magazine editor sounds like a lot of fun! I think I need to take some computer classes (like website design) in college, because that’s definitely where the future is headed.
      Oh definitely, I’ve already looked into the publications my college offers (and there are so many I start jumping up and down), and I’ve already looked at internships in NY where my college is relatively close by.
      Thank you so much for your advice, and I hope you find a job that you enjoy soon!

  9. I’m going through pretty much the same thing. I’m in my last year of college, doing Science, and I’ve been wanting to shift over to English. I really, really want to teach (and write), but all I keep hearing is that teaching doesn’t pay well. And that “learning” English is a waste of time. I’ve had so many people tell me that English is just a tool, and nothing more. That there’s nothing special about it.
    There’s also the whole shifting from Science to English factor. The “why would you give up something that you’re good at, that you like, especially since Computer Science pays well – to something that might possibly ruin all prospects of you having a happy future, even if you love it?” I hate that most people associate wanting to study English with temporary happiness and long-term disappointment.
    At this point, I think if I choose to stick with Science, I’d be more likely to travel the what-if route than if I choose English.

    • Ahh that’s so true. I can’t imagine the responses I would have gotten had I decided on going into English in college. I am so sorry, and I hope people realize soon that English is NOT a waste of time (though I don’t think they ever will).
      I totally know what you mean about the temporary happiness and long-term disappointment. It’s like they think that all English majors are just people who don’t know what else to major in, so they pick studying English.
      Best of luck with whatever you choose, though I have to tell you that I do hope you decide to study English πŸ™‚

      • Exactly! They see picking English as a sign of being terrible at everything else.

        I think I’m leaning that way, and I hope YOU decide to study English. From what I’m seeing of your blog, you write really, really well. πŸ™‚

  10. I’m not exactly an English major (MA in the Teaching of Writing); however, I think you are receiving great advice and ideas from everyone so far. I’ve taught at all levels of school form preschool to college (right now it’s high school) and my love of literature goes with me at what ever level I teach. Even if teaching is not what you want to do, consider these options:
    1. working in a library (surrounded by books–I’ve worked at libraries and loved it)
    2. publishing houses (use your lit love for editing authors in the making)
    3. corporations (as in website writing, editing, etc)
    4. bookstores (a natural fit)
    5. overseas positions (teachers I know leave the States for larger opps and paychecks)

    It comes down to finding a job/career that you like and using the knowledge you’ve attained and make it fit the work.

    By the way, thank for stopping by my recent post!
    Happy Pages,
    CricketMuse

    • Working at a library always struck me as a little dull though because it’s more shelving books instead of reading books (please correct me if I’m wrong). But the idea of working in a publishing house or even a bookstore sounds amazing, and if I could do that, I would be a very happy worker πŸ™‚

  11. There is definiately work out there! It’s just tough because English can be encompassed in many different “jobs,” so it’s hard to figure out where to look first (unlike studying Nursing, where you know you will be a nurse). But I made the decision to go back to school to be a high school english teacher, not because there wasn’t anything out there, but because it is more directly applicable to working with literature every single day!

    Cheers to the search!
    Courtney Hosny
    http://www.oneweektocrazy.com

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