Imagine this: you’re at a party speaking with someone. You engage in small talk, and inevitably, the question, “what’s your major?” comes up. You answer English, and immediately, you sense a shift in your acquaintance. Two things happen: he or she says, “English? That’s so brave! I love reading too!” or “So what are you gonna do with that?”
I get it. I understand the incredulity; sometimes, I’ve even felt it myself.
I’m sure English majors everywhere are acutely aware that their future job prospects don’t look amazing in this economy. I’m sure many of them, myself included, worry about being stuck living in a squalid, decrepit apartment in Brooklyn without central heating in the future. Worse yet, many former English majors may be currently living that reality.
Here’s the thing: true, maybe historically and statistically, English majors don’t make as much money as their STEM counterparts, maybe I won’t have as much job security, but I genuinely love my major. My classes fascinate me, my professors often feel more like friends than instructors and, many times, I even get excited about doing the work and projects assigned.
In short, my major doesn’t feel like school. It doesn’t feel like work.
So yes, we English majors certainly do understand the future risks when we declare our majors; however, we also usually are passionate enough and dedicated enough to our love of literature and the art of writing that we still choose to go ahead with it, even after we have taken into account the myriad of unsolicited advice handed out to us.
To flourish in a major like this, I truly believe you have to love it, have to be passionate, hungry for it.
However, looking more broadly at the question, the English major has its own strengths as well, and it teaches students a set of diverse skills that help create both creative and analytical thinkers. Fundamentally, an English major tends to be a very diverse employee, able to both look at problems analytically and innovatively in order to best utilize his or her resources.
In the (apparently) many ways in which we English majors are not well suited for the workspace, here are also some important ways in which English majors are very useful.
1. English majors tend to be articulate, not only skilled in organizing their thoughts on paper, but also through verbal communication, both skills integral to the workforce. After all, communication is often at the heart of a business.
2. English majors tend to be very passionate. We get invested in the novels we love, and the characters we create. The girl crying in the corner holding a paperback? Very likely an English major. The boy staring off into space at Saint’s Cafe, fingers poised over his laptop? Also very likely an English major. That same passion is easily translatable into our career ambitions and aspirations.
3. We are good proofreaders and editors for the most part. Copyediting is an invaluable skill nowadays when; alarmingly enough, many people have unconsciously started integrating shorthand into their formal emails. Moreover, writing is important in any industry, technical or not.
4. English majors are often very empathetic (likely tied to their ability to get unbearably attached to fictional characters) and the ability to communicate with and understand other people is an important field in most businesses. After all, can an employee really flourish if he or she can’t cooperate with others?
5. Most importantly, and perhaps most frightening, the English major doesn’t necessarily come with a set career path at the end of your college career. However, that’s also the beauty of it, I think. English majors have been trained well enough in a broad range of skills and are diverse enough that they can choose what industry they feel most attracted to.
And, if sometimes, that means going into an industry with a smaller paycheck, that’s okay too. After all, we didn’t choose this major for the money.