English Careers English Studies Far Western Region

Majoring in English: Do You Have What it Takes?

by Alexander Daley
Far Western Student Representative, 2012-2013
California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA

“Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”- The Name of the Wind

On most days I walk around campus, breathe in the fresh air, and wonder: why am I majoring in English? Did I choose the right path? I am no stranger to the trepidation of majoring in English. Some days, I reaffirm my literary path by reading a part of my favorite book, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Some days I turn to Google and ask: Why should I major in English?

I have found that I am the kind of person in constant need of reassurance, even three years into my major. Google is a fun way to get a quick reassurance “fix” for most questions and concerns. But for this particular question I find myself looking at a very long list of every perspective jobs:  lawyer, teacher, journalist, and so forth. Utterly unhelpful.

Given that Sigma Tau Delta is my new forum for talking to English majors about English, I thought it might be helpful to address those of you who may be reconsidering your major, or have not yet declared your major. Instead of giving you a list of job opportunities, let me give you a realistic view on what the English major expects of a student:

“You will be required to read a lot. I cannot emphasize this point enough!”

1. An English degree requires more than just creative writing. Majoring in English will mean a rigorous amount of reading and writing. Both are necessary, and you cannot do one without the other. If you love to read, but dread the thought of writing, be aware that you will have to do both.

2. An English degree requires more than just reading books. You will be required to read a lot. I cannot emphasize this point enough! But remember that a lot of what English majors do is interpret literature. When you major in English, the way you read will be transformed to look for patterns and symbols. The major will shape your mind to think in different and exciting ways that makes summer “fun” reading all the more enjoyable.

3. An English degree will give you skills beyond the ability to analyze and interpret literature. It’s simple: you will be able to write and speak convincingly. For example, I have a relative who works for a major insurance company. She hires a lot of English majors. Why? English majors know how to write and speak, whereas most people lack the ability to communicate face-to-face.

4. An English degree goes well with a double major, or a minor. Of course! Most likely, you will have elective credits left over after you have completed your English major. Your elective credits can be utilized to your advantage. Consider combing your English degree with a major or minor in  Philosophy, Psychology, or History. Employers tend to look favorably upon those students who put forth the extra effort to obtain a second degree. To plead my case for a Philosophy minor: eventually one of your professors may tell you that your writing is great, but the structure of your paragraphs is illogical. It happens. With a philosophy minor you will probably need to take logic. So, your minor has the potential to improve the quality of your major.

5. An English degree is practical in the job market, given the proper amount of schooling. Given the state of economic affairs in the United States at the moment, it is important to take into account that an undergraduate English degree will probably mean some form of graduate school. Refer back to your Google search. Most of the jobs they list (lawyer, teacher, etc.) require additional schooling after you get your Bachelor’s Degree. Make sure to assess your financial situation, while keeping scholarships and financial aid in mind.

Before I became an English major, I switched my declaration six different times. I started out as a Liberal Studies major then I switched to Psychology, Religion, Philosophy, Biology, and Computer Science (I lasted as a Computer Science major for less than two hours). I became an English major because I loved to write. I was not thrilled about the amount of reading, but after taking two American Literature surveys I obtained a high level of reading endurance. The key to being an English major, from my humble perspective is to keep focused what is important to my life in the present. The future, try as I might to plan for it, has a nasty tendency to change.

So, I always try my best to keep the words of my mentor in the back of my mind. He once told me, “Take each day as it comes, one challenge at a time. And even if you don’t have everything you ultimately want, you have as much as you need to get to tomorrow.”

For you present (and future) English majors, I would ask that you consider taking each day as it comes. Leave the future for tomorrow, and remember that you will have chosen a major that will take you places that you never thought possible.


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