The rules of English majors

Why my English literature major is advantageous

Whenever someone asks me what my major is, I always brace myself for the inevitable question: “So, you want to be a teacher?”

English majors have, for some reason,  a bad reputation. People often say to me that’s what you major in when you don’t know what you want to do with your life. There are no jobs for English majors besides teaching. The few jobs that exist don’t pay well, especially in regards to literature, so it’s an impractical major that doesn’t translate to the real world. Furthermore, it’s often described as an easy, blow-off major. All you do is read and write book summaries, leaving plenty of time to party.

It pains me every time I hear someone judge me poorly based on their misconceptions of what an English major means. While there are many wonderful advantages to this field of study, I will focus primarily on refuting those four misconceptions I often encounter.

To start, it is not easy at all. Yes, we do read. But we read A LOT. On average, I have to read two to three books per week, and that’s only for my literature classes. General education requirements have more readings. Furthermore, the papers I write after the readings are not just summaries of the book. At the college level, I am expected to write in-depth analysis and research essays connecting multiple works.

And yes, I do have a career plan for after graduation. No, it is not teaching. I want to be an editor of young adult fiction novels in a publishing house or work in journalism.

What an English degree tells employers is that you can communicate effectively. This is a skill that is highly coveted in all fields of work. An English major doesn’t limit my options—it expands them.

In fact, an article published by the Huffington Post cited data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce saying that, “right after graduating, English and history majors reported 9.8 and 9.5 percent unemployment, respectively, while economics and political science graduates came in at 10.4 and 11.1 percent. ‘Practical’ computer science degrees didn’t make graduates more employable, with the ‘comp sci’ unemployment rate coming in at 8.7 percent.”

The article later said that a 2012 survey showed employers prefer liberal arts graduates.

Jobs that are regularly occupied by English majors include corporate communications directors, editors-in-chief, content marketing managers, web producers, technical writers, journalists, lobbyists, paralegals, lawyers, ambassadors, judges, public relations managers, senators, screenwriters and lyricists.

Famous English majors include actress Emma Watson, actor Hugh Grant, director Martin Scorsese, Executive Producer and news correspondent Barbara Walters, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner, 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and many others.

An article from Dear English Major cited data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2014, claiming “English majors had an average starting salary of $33,574.” The article followed that with date from the United States Department of Labor stating that as of May 2014, the national mean annual salary was $47,230 for all occupations regardless of level.

In regards to the argument that there are no ‘real life’ applications for an English degree, I refer back to the Huffington Post article. The article cited neuroscience research which found that “reading fiction improved a variety of brain functions, including enhanced empathy and improved imagination and visualization abilities. Reading also improves cognition and mental health, helping us to destress, sleep better and even helps you stay sharp.”

The article later quoted David Skorton from Scientific American arguing that English majors can help solve the world’s environmental and humanitarian crises.

“Even the most profound scientific knowledge won’t solve world problems such as hunger, poverty and environmental damage if we fail to respect, understand and engage cultural differences,” Skorton argued. “Combined with the fact that research has found reading fiction to boost empathy and social skills, English students are poised to become powerful and effective defenders of human rights—to shape the global cultural conversation and respect individual and cultural differences and rights.”

So no, I do not want to be a teacher. Yes, I do know what I want to do with my degree. It isn’t just a filler. Yes, I can be just as successful as anyone else. Maybe even more.