Why English?

If you are a student reading this page, you probably already know why you want to study English.

You already feel the pull of the word and the image. You already know the pleasure afforded by language shaped into stories, poems, memoirs, and essays. You already experience the thrill of entering other worlds, adopting other perspectives, and grappling with big questions. You already experience the satisfaction of getting a sentence just right, expressing your idea, articulating your vision.

What you might not yet know is that English represents a pragmatic course of study as well as a fulfilling one. After all, there are some widespread misconceptions about how English majors fare on the job market. When you tell friends that you want to study English, some of them might have asked, “what are you going to do with that – teach?”

True, some English majors do choose to teach the subject they love. You will find English majors at all levels of instruction, from grade school to graduate school. But to suggest that English majors face limited career options is simply false. In fact, as a discipline that provides rigorous training in writing, research, and oral communication, it opens doors to all sorts of rewarding careers. Employers respect the undergraduate English degree because it cultivates a creative and flexible mind.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Employers themselves acknowledge the value that English majors bring to their organizations.  Matt Asay of Business Insider advises that “every technology company, and certainly every startup trying to make its imprint on the world, needs English majors.” Entrepreneur Steve Strauss, who writes a column in the Huffington Post, says:  “I love English majors. I love how smart they are. I love their intellectual curiosity. . . Most of all, I love to hire them. . . . what I appreciate most . . . is that they are taught to think critically.” The President of Clarion Enterprises, Bruna Martinuzzi writes that “Employers are looking to hire English majors because these applicants bring a set of skills that businesses need”:  communication, research, critical thinking skills, and the “soft skill” of “cognitive empathy” – the ability to know how someone else feels, something facilitated by the study of literature.

And read through the recent articles featured below for a broad view of the job market for students of English and of the humanities in general.

The world’s top economists just made the case for why we still need English majors

The Washington Post (19 October 2019)

"Contrary to popular belief, English majors ages 25 to 29 had a lower unemployment rate in 2017 than math and computer science majors.

That early STEM pay premium also fades quickly, according to research by David J. Deming and Kadeem L. Noray from Harvard. After about a decade, STEM majors start exiting their job fields as their skills are no longer the latest and greatest. In contrast, many humanities majors work their way to high-earning management positions. By middle age, average pay looks very similar across many majors."

The New York Times (20 September 2019)

"According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the three attributes of college graduates that employers considered most important were written communication, problem-solving and the ability to work in a team. Quantitative and technical skills both made the top 10, alongside other “soft” skills like initiative, verbal communication and leadership. In the liberal arts tradition, these skills are built through dialogue between instructors and students, and through close reading and analysis of a broad range of subjects and texts."

The Myth of the English Major Barista 

Inside Higher Ed (6 July 2016)

“To establish themselves in their careers, English majors need to show a bit more resourcefulness than do majors in narrowly preprofessional degrees. And year after year, that is exactly what real English majors do. They do not possess this resourcefulness in spite of their English degree or as a mere coincidence with it. Creative and independent thinkers are attracted to the English degree, and that course of study helps to develop their creativity and their initiative -- the same personal qualities that serve them so well in the working world after graduation.”

Why I Was Wrong About Liberal-Arts Majors

The Wall Street Journal. (1 June 2016)

“My point isn’t that we don’t need qualified, formally trained engineers with university degrees. Rather, I’m suggesting that if more tech hires held a philosophy or English degree with some programming on the side, we might in the end create better leaders in technology and life.”

Creative and arts graduates have the soft skills needed to make them 'work ready'

The Independent. (22 June 2016)

“Subjects like English and drama produce well-rounded candidates that have academic, practical skills combined with real-world knowledge”

Why America's Business Majors Are in Despereate Need of a Liberal-Arts Education

The Atlantic. (28 June 2016)

“Businesses want workers who have ‘the ability to think, the ability to write, the ability to understand the cultural or historical context of whatever business decision they’re making,’ added Rachel Reiser, assistant dean at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. If undergraduates want to find success, they need to master those skills. ‘We’re trying to help them understand there may be so much more to a business education,’ Walker said.”

The Myth of the Unemployed Humanities Major

Association of American Colleges and Universities (11 Nov, 2015)

“For the last time: No, earning a degree in English, philosophy, art history, name-your-humanities-discipline will not condemn you to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty.”

What Can I Do with an English Major?

ADE & ADFL (18 May 2016)

“The takeaway? [. . .] Students should study what they love, work hard, learn a lot, and they will find employment success.  We have become so vocationalized in our thinking about higher education that we have come to believe that a major is a career.  It is not.”

Five Careers That You Should Hire An English Major For

Will McPherson

"Businesses are finding more and more that the technical writing and grammatical skills should be secondhand in their workplace. If given the opportunity, you may find that your aptitude extends beyond technical or creative writing careers."