So, how can you be sure that you won’t be unemployed after graduating college with an English major?
Let’s be honest: in this rapidly changing world, discussing books written hundreds of years ago and writing essays about obscure literary movements seems…well, kind of quaint. In fact, according to my advisor, who has been a literature professor for longer than I have lived, the number of students who have chosen this major has noticeably dropped in recent years. Students today are worried about not finding decent careers after college, so they stick to more “practical” areas of study like science, math, and business.
As a freshman proudly pursuing an English BA at Ursuline College, I can argue for hours about how English is as useful a major as any other field of study; the ability to write well and think critically is essential for most professional occupations. Since we don’t have time for that, let me say a few words to my fellow English students and the others who are seriously considering this major. These tips cannot guarantee that you will find the perfect job after college, but really, no major is a sure ticket to a successful career. It takes hard work and a good attitude to find a rewarding job in any field—and if reading books and interpreting classics is your passion, you should follow it!
1. Learn to write well
Whether you are pursuing an English major to become a teacher, lawyer, or professional writer, one thing is certain: you will write a lot. Between the two English classes I am currently taking, I have to write around 10 papers, including a play review and a written final exam. Assignments like these can be time-consuming and just painful—even to weird people like me who actually enjoy writing—but these should be taken as priceless learning experiences. While you may not have dreams of becoming a bestselling author, knowing how to write well and logically defend arguments are skills needed for a variety of jobs. Also, if employers know your major is English, they may automatically assume you are competent at these things—an expectation you’ll want to meet or exceed. Personally, writing papers in college has helped me become a better and more effective communicator. It has helped me become more confident in performing everyday tasks like composing e-mails, writing my résumé, and editing other people’s work.
2. Make connections
Networking with professionals, especially faculty members, is an essential ingredient of a successful college experience. You may not have the slightest idea of what you want to do after graduation, but academic mentors are priceless resources. Besides offering valuable advice and information about possible career paths, these individuals are usually eager to help students attain jobs and internships. A good place to start networking is with the college faculty you are familiar with, namely your advisor and other English professors. Moreover, I recommend that you attend events on campus or around the area that pertain to your interests, like writing workshops, book club meetings, and career fairs. A few months ago I attended a symposium geared toward English majors with a number of different schools in the region. I had to get up early on a Saturday morning, but this tiny sacrifice was well worth it. The symposium was full of professors, professional writers, and business executives eager to give advice, resources, and résumé help to students pursuing my major. I left the event with a better understanding of what it means to have a passion for the written word and opportunities for employment in this area.
3. Don’t limit yourself
“You can do anything with an English major,” Hannah Hardy, the Assistant Director of Counseling and Career Services at Ursuline College, told me enthusiastically. This advice, coming from an experienced career advisor, was not what I was used to hearing. When I tell people I am studying English, I get some enthusiastic responses, but usually people are less encouraging. “What can you actually do with that?” some fellow students have asked me quite bluntly. Other people are more assuming: “So you’re going to be a teacher, huh?” While it is a valuable and necessary profession, there are more fields open to someone with an English degree than teaching. It’s fine if you don’t have a clue what you want to pursue after college—most students, whether they admit it or not, don’t. Just follow your interests and truly believe that you have a purpose in your studies. Also, expand your horizons by taking different classes in business, technology, art, and science, to name a few. It may take a lot of time and perseverance, but there will be opportunities for you to use your talents and find fulfillment.