To Be, or Not to English Major

Student, Greencastle High School

Sep   2015



You’ve finally found the perfect college for you—not too big, not too small, involved faculty and students, nationally recognized, and winning athletics. After several sleepless nights of research and e-mails to an admission counselor, you log on to the university website ready to apply. You fill out the mundane information like your name and address, when all of a sudden you reach one of the most difficult decisions of your post-secondary career: what major are you interested in?

Luckily, for me, picking a major came pretty easily. I’ve been interested in literature and writing practically since I entered this world. Books filled my heart; writing gave me a confidence I never knew I had. So when my college applications started asking for my intended major, the decision was already made: English.

But what about you? English is in the back of your mind? Or the front of your consciousness? When you picture an English major, you might picture a hipster with chunky glasses lounging at Starbucks with an enormous, boring book. Or perhaps English falls in the same category as art and theater majors, viewed as impractical and a waste of time and money.

“We live in a time when college enrollment in the humanities is declining precipitously, in good part because majoring in such subjects seems unlikely to result in gainful employment in a strapped economy and thus would be a waste of hard-earned (or usuriously borrowed) tuition dollars,” writes Gerald Howard in his opinion piece for The New York Times Triumph of the English Major.” Living in a time where students are increasingly encouraged to major in technological, medical, or legal studies—so they’ll be seen as successful—is challenging enough. But for those of us whose hearts and heads aren’t drawn to such majors, we’re typically left feeling inadequate, unimportant. Howard, however, goes on to say that for English majors, your financial state isn’t the point of your studies: “The point is truth and beauty, without which our lives will lack grace and meaning and our civilization will be spiritually hollowed out and the historical bottom line will be that future epochs will remember us as a coarse and philistine people who squandered our bottomlessly rich cultural inheritance for short-term and meaningless financial advantage.”

And if you think you can’t make a living for yourself as an English major, think again. Roosevelt University claims that English majors are, in fact, sought out by employers, graduate schools, and professional schools “because they are versatile, able to utilize their training as writers, thinkers, editors, and teachers in fields such as medicine, law, business, media, and public service.” Even though, as an English major, you will be reading and writing more often than not, you will be honing skills that many other majors often do not, e.g., writing clearly and engagingly, analyzing quickly and accurately, and accepting and implementing criticism. And these skills won’t just give you an academic advantage; they will make you stand out among other applicants and aid in your personal life outside of school and the work force. Everybody needs to communicate—but not everyone learns how to do it well.

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About Cecily Girton

Cecily is a senior at Greencastle High School in Greencastle, Indiana. Besides writing for CollegeXpress, Cecily writes for her school newspaper and participates in her school and community theaters. After high school, Cecily plans on attending a liberal arts college to major in English.