If you were looking for the Avenue Q lyrics, try here.
I’ve heard it often “Don’t major in English.” And then as someone who did “What are you going to do with that?” On the other side, I had a professor who said that people majoring in English were the best prepared for life—they knew how to formulate arguments/conclusions, they knew how to write, and most importantly they knew how different people were (because we read so many novels).
And frankly, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for people who like to read. You have to be willing to do something else too, like edit or write or shelve/check out/find the books.
For those considering an English major or who’ve already started one, I have some reflections and advice for making yourself more marketable after college while still majoring in English.
First, consider a double major. If not, find a minor or two.
The English major tends to have a small course load (at least at the schools I checked out). There’s plenty of room for another smallish major or a couple minors.
Find another field that interests you. Maybe you like biology but don’t want to be a biologist. Well, if you can survive a biology minor, you can market yourself to science journals and the like. Pre-law? you could write/edit at a law firm our journal. Business? My business writing professor had an English major and a business writer. He got a job he absolutely loved in corporate communications. And he taught one class on the side.
If you’re thinking about being a librarian, you can add on just about anything, since there are all kinds of librarians needed. You’ll have to get your Master’s too, but a background other than pure English may help you down the road.
If you’re not sure about doing a double-major or having some minors, start out with classes that look interesting. Work from there. Maybe you won’t have time for a full minor, but getting in a lot of classes is a good start.
Make use of your major.
If your English department offers some practical classes like business writing, take them. You don’t have to take magazine writing if you’re not interested, but business writing is applicable to many lines of work. Also, if they have some kind of professional editing class, take that too.
Find an internship.
Talk to your professors and your college’s internship center. Internships say “This person doesn’t just have classroom skills, they can apply them in the real world.” They’ll know that you’re an English major who works, not just one who reads.
Use quotes from your manager/supervisor in your cover letter to support how awesome you are. Appropriately, of course. It really helps if you can say something like “My internship supervisor commended me for my attention to detail in editing while still taking in the big picture of the document’s structure.”
Those are my thoughts on majoring in English. I do agree with my professor that English majors can do anything. However, they have to prepare themselves for what they want to do by thinking ahead.
What I would have done differently:
I would like to have done a business minor as well. I started off trying to minor in Bible/theology and history. The history minor stopped offering good classes, so I dropped it. I picked up more religion and philosophy classes which complemented my other minor but wasn’t necessarily practical. Business would have been useful.
I also wish I’d taken a class on CSS, but I have a feeling that one wasn’t offered.
As it is, I’m qualified to go on to graduate work in Bible, theology, or possibly religion. Or to edit for a relevant journal, if they take B.A.-level editors. I’m also qualified to edit other things and am building my academic editing experience sheet one paper/thesis/dissertation at a time.