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Becoming a Marketable English Major

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.

Diversify.

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.


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Queercents » Blog Archive » Queercents Weekly Roundup: Takes the Metro
March 1, 2008 at 2:13 pm

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Sjean February 26, 2008 at 3:51 pm

“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).”
But you don’t need to major in English to learn those things. I’m sure English majors are, on average, superior than the rest of us with these things. But these are things you can become quite proficient without spending four years on it.

Good advice though. Majoring in English (or other humanities) can lead to a great and fulfilling career–but you do have to have a plan. Something like accounting is more straightforward.

Elizabeth February 26, 2008 at 4:00 pm

I’m a big believer in the liberal arts. I majored solely in English, have never had trouble finding an English-related job, and now make a fairly good salary in publishing. That said, it would have been useful to have a second major or minor so that I could claim expertise in a second field– particularly for writers, having a “credential” in something besides writing/English seems to give one an edge.

cybele February 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm

As a fan of the liberal arts, who majored, if you can call it that, for it was long ago, in Greek, philosophy, maths (but the old-fashioned kind) I found that mastery of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) was what one really needed to be successful, whatever that means, in business. Grammar makes sure you can say things clearly and directly, rhetoric gives the ability to enlist/enroll/influence others, and logic…well, without it, where would we be? Having mastered, as OJT, “enough” mathematics…it was good. But you want to know the truth? I don’t think it matters what you study. What matters is what you DO with it. and if you can show people that you have a strong record of achievement, in almost whatever field, you will often get a chance to duplicate your success/ability to contribute in another field. So…English, philosophy, whatever…don’t let it limit your thinking…just get out there and go for it. As they say. πŸ™‚

Rachel February 26, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Couldn’t help but chuckle on this one. I completely agree with “diversify!” I was an English major, with a Religious Studies minor. After graduation, I did happily work for a publishing company and part time as a journalist. Then, the publishing company sold and the new company was 3,000 miles away and the paper folded. After a few other miscellaneous jobs, I now work in the field of… ductile iron pipe! Hah. There are no other publishing companies around here, and no solid jobs in print journalism. C’est la vie, I suppose — I’m now going for a program in legal assisting — at least the English helps me there!

Diversifying one’s field(s) is always, always a good thing for marketability.

Christine February 26, 2008 at 7:30 pm

I’m interested that your english major had a relatively small course load. It’s a bit different at U of T.

At my university, you need 20 credits to graduate (where one credit is one full-course equivalent, and you typically take five credits/year, split between full- and half-courses).

Our programme requirements are such:

Minor = 4 credits
Major = 7 credits
Specialist = 10 credits

Degree requirements are as such:

1 Major + 2 Minors OR
2 Majors OR
1 Specialist + 1 Minor OR
1 Specialist

I started as a double-major between English & History, but then realised how much I hated writing History papers. So I bumped my English up to a specialist and the History down to a minor (I didn’t need it but had already finished 3/4, and so kept it). Now I’ve finished my minor, and just need three or four more credits to finish my specialist.

How did it work where you were?

ms. m&p February 26, 2008 at 7:51 pm

I 100% agree with your suggestions. I also think it’s important to major in something that you’re passionate about. If you do that and you have some ambition, I don’t think your major will ever hold you back.

I majored in the liberal arts and it’s never hurt me…I do wish I’d taken more science and math (and maybe some financial planning courses!) but that’s a separate issue πŸ˜‰

Ashley February 26, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Yay for English Majors! πŸ˜€ I would add to your list, (or have it go with the internship part), that if you want to go the librarian route work at your school’s library. I’m pretty sure that’s how I got the job I did, and why they hired me so quickly.

Funny about Money February 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

Studies have shown that most high-ranking business executives have degrees in the liberal arts, not in subjects like accountancy. Real education is not voc-ed.

I guess, though, if I knew at 30 what direction my life would take, instead of getting the Ph.D. in English I would have done the B.A in English or French (my B.A. was in French but when I moved to marry my husband the only university in town had no adequate graduate program in any Romance language, so I had to switch majors), and then I would have gone for a J.D. or an M.B.A. Or possibly a master’s in journalism, though unless you’re pretty exceptional pay there is poor. If you like working in libraries, an MLS would be good — at some universities, librarians are tenurable, and also there are decently paid real-world jobs for librarians, such as in law firms.

In other words…IMHO you should get your vocational training on the graduate level. Use the first four years to get some actual old-fashioned education. That’s what hones your mind.

Mrs Micah's Mom February 27, 2008 at 11:08 am

I used to teach linguistics at the University of British Columbia. One day, I met a former student and asked what she was doing. She said that she was working in a bank, not having been able to find a job relevant to linguistics. I said we had not expected her to be able to work in linguistics with just a B.A., but that showing she could stick with something and follow things through was important. She agreed and added, “You know, all those arguments and counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments–that’s when I realized that if something is believed in science it’s because someone made an argument for it.” That’s the sort of thing you hope a student will learn. And that sort of realization is why I think liberal arts are so important even if the facts you learn aren’t directly useful on the job. As Funny About Money says, it ‘hones the mind.’

Jessica February 27, 2008 at 2:48 pm

High ranking business execs probably also went to prestigious schools where they meet other important (upper class) people to network with and get on the fast track to high ranking exec. They could have majored in field hockey and probably done just fine, because it’s about who you know.

Also, what Mrs M’s professor said about English majors could be said about most of the other liberal art major.

Jessica February 27, 2008 at 2:49 pm

That’s liberal arts majors, apparently I used up my s ration in my previous comment

plonkee February 27, 2008 at 4:01 pm

I think that being flexible about what you might be interested in doing for a living, and how you can sell your degree is the most helpful thing.

For what it’s worth, most people I know with English degrees work in marketing, in a variety of industries.

jr February 27, 2008 at 6:04 pm

I majored in English literature and have no regrets. My job experience was actually more important in getting my first job. However, my ability to think, communicate and write helped me in terms of promotion. I did grantwriting and fundraising for many years. Now I work in marketing (and love it). There are a lot of options if you work hard.

wealthy_1 February 28, 2008 at 5:46 pm

I was an English major, too. Although, I’ve never worked in publishing, I’ve never had an issue landing a job that I wanted.

A liberal arts degree shows that you’re well-rounded and most likely have excellent communication skills.

Anitra February 29, 2008 at 12:45 pm

As someone who got a B.S. in Computer Science, I think most of your points are true for ANY major in college. Everyone needs to know how to write & speak clearly, and everyone should have some diversity to their education and some real-world experience.

I went to a technically-oriented university, so I know plenty of people with degrees in engineering or the sciences who didn’t realize that their major(s) wouldn’t necessarily give them an “in” to the work they’d find interesting.

Emily March 1, 2008 at 3:28 pm

I was an English major who double majored in geology. 14 years later, this was a very good decision – but here is some advice to help somebody survive the process of double majoring.

* Get started freshman year on being an English major and at least choosing a substantial minor that you can expand into a major. I decided to double-major junior year, but I already had a lot of coursework done from taking Geology as a minor.
* If you are double-majoring in a science, lab time will add to the time you spend in class and the work you have to do. After making my junior year decision, I spent my summer between junior and senior year working and filling in on requirements for my science major.
* There was no “semester abroad.”
* Second semester Senior year is going to be really busy, especially if BOTH your majors require a thesis. I was taking four courses, two with labs; luckily, I only had one thesis to work on at the same time.

Kathrine December 29, 2008 at 3:06 am

Hey! I recently started college and I’m really confused with what I want to be.
Last week I did an interview with one of my co-workers and my teacher, who graded my paper, said that I have a gift in writing and encourages me to take journalism.

However, I came in to college wanting to be a Secondary Education Teacher focusing on English Language Arts.

So, my question is — Is it possible to get a B.Ed AND Minor in English? HELP >_<

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