You have probably heard the criticism and warnings against choosing a major in English. “You can’t get a job with that degree.” “The only thing you can do with an English major is teach.” “It’s just an expensive piece of paper.”
I’m here to tell you that none of that is true. There was a time when career opportunities for English graduates was limited. It is true that there is still a stigma attached to it, and many still consider it an “artsy” and “impractical” major.
But we live in a world that is changing, and advancing technology makes the written word more important than ever. Quality writers are needed in every profession, and a Bachelor’s degree in English just might set you on the path to a promising career.
Personally, I have discovered eight key benefits to obtaining a Bachelors of Arts degree in English:
An English major improves your writing skills.
In the age of the Internet, quality writing skills are more important than ever. While some may argue that the quality of communication has deteriorated with advancing technology, this communication requires copious amounts of writing.
Majoring in English will not only help you improve your language mechanics such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but it will also teach you how to express your thoughts effectively and make coherent arguments in a manner that people will listen to.
You will learn how to craft a story that people want to read whether it is fiction or non-fiction. You will learn how to research and how to write about that research from your own perspective.
Quality writing skills can teach you how to craft a professional email to a group of coworkers or a persuasive email to a potential client.
In a world of social media, text messaging, and ever increasing telecommuting and freelance professional positions, writing is often the first impression made on a potential professional connection.
Writing skills that have been honed and well-crafted through an English major will ensure that your first impression meets the highest standards of quality and ensures that you are remembered. Even if you are not hired, these connections will remember you for your intelligence and professionalism and possibly contact you in the future or refer you to another contact.
An English major creates a foundation for other professions.
Even though many people say the only thing you can do with an English major is teach or die as a starving writer, the truth is that quality writers are needed in nearly every profession. Successful business owners are often hiring writers to create their marketing materials. Government agencies and scientific labs need reports written and fact-checked. Many businesses need researchers.
In a world where every business has a website, designers and business owners need copywriters and editors for their website content. Blogs and social media management have become a necessity for a number of businesses and nonprofit organizations.
An English major can supplement another major.
An English major makes an excellent foundational education in conjunction with other majors such as Marketing or Psychology. It is one of the recommended undergraduate majors for students who aspire to enter law school. An English major is an excellent basis for learning to make valid arguments that can be supported by facts and research, a crucial part of any successful law career.
Marketing, especially inbound marketing which is the most widely used method in today’s marketing world, requires an extensive amount of writing, especially persuasive writing.
Psychology majors, whether they want to believe it or not, will be required to complete an extensive amount of writing in graduate school and their chosen future profession. Whether they enter into research or working directly with clients, writing will be essential. A solid foundation in English will allow them to maintain a strong professional presence and communicate their findings or client’s needs effectively.
An English major improves critical thinking and analysis skills.
If you major in English, you will greatly improve your critical thinking and analytical skills. An English major not only requires research and writing, but it also requires the ability to read between the lines and see the possibilities beyond what is printed on the page.
These skills come in handy for so much more than literary criticism, and they will benefit you in your personal life and your chosen profession.
In Psychology, for example, the ability to read people and infer meaning from a number of different contexts is necessary. Compiling patient information and providing clinical diagnoses and assessments are a large part of professional Psychology, Psychiatry, and therapy.
A career in Marketing will require analysis of current trends and predictions for business based on those trends. Critical thinking skills will allow you to optimize your business or the business of your employer and create content that will draw customers and keep them engaged.
Critical thinking is also beneficial to relationships and other personal interactions. It comes in handy when creating a budget for your home or when deciding what vehicle or home to purchase. It can help you navigate relationships and infer when someone you love might be struggling.
An English major improves communication skills.
Language skills are crucial to communication, and a strong command of the English language will help you to communicate effectively in your personal and professional life. Right now, in the United States, the number one method of communication is the English language. What better way to improve these skills than a comprehensive study of the use of the language.
Majoring in English requires an extensive amount of reading. It is true that other college majors require a lot of reading, but an English major requires reading from a number of different genres. You will be required to read fiction, non-fiction, and biographies. You will familiarize yourself with some of the most classic names in British and American literature. You will read dialogue between characters and “observe” many different types of human interaction. You will expand your vocabulary and your knowledge of the world and other cultures.
Majoring in English can help you learn how to communicate with different groups of people on their own levels. You will learn the nuances of the language and maybe even be able to infer context and meaning from languages that you have never studied before.
Discussions about literature in a classroom setting will teach you how to present dissenting viewpoints while still maintaining respect for your classmates. The extensive practice you will get from writing papers on literary criticism and research and learning to cite the appropriate sources will teach you how to effectively communicate in writing to get your point across clearly.
Even if you decide to work from home in your basement crafting children’s clothing to sell on Etsy, you will still be required to interact with your customers and write appealing descriptions of your products. The written communication skills you gain from an English major will greatly benefit your business.
An English major allows you to gain a deep understanding of the world.
As I have already mentioned, majoring in English will take you around the world without ever having to step foot outside the classroom (although if you are given the opportunity, I recommend you do that too). The vast amount of literary fiction and poetry you will read will take you to places that you would otherwise never be able to see. Even if you can physically visit the settings in these stories, in many of them the time period is long past. But it is preserved within the pages for you to enjoy.
You will learn about events and history from the perspectives of people who lived them. And then you will be given the opportunity to write about them from your own perspective.
This broad knowledge of the world will greatly benefit you in your professional life and will prepare you to meet many different challenges. It will help give you the courage to explore and take new chances in your personal and professional life because you have built a solid educational foundation.
An English major will teach you what motivates and shapes the human condition.
You will learn about authors and the individual struggles that prompted them to create their literary works of art. You will gain a deep understanding of what motivated people to incite wars or take trips around the world or give up everything for love or turn to alcohol and drugs when the pain became too much.
You will gain a better understanding of how to read people and infer meaning from situations. This can be greatly beneficial in your professional life because most professions require a certain amount of interaction with others.
An English major will help you gain deeper empathy.
Many people seem to think that empathy is something that you are either born with or not. In some cases this may be true, but the truth is that empathy is a skill that is honed over time with practice. Majoring in English can help you to gain a deeper amount of empathy for others. When you gain a deeper understanding of the human condition, you begin to see their perspective of the world and can feel what they feel through their words.
You can also learn to argue about a controversial topic from an opposing viewpoint. When you understand where the opponent is coming from it can help you be much more solid in your stance and make your own argument more clearly.
Empathy is so much more than understanding someone else’s feelings. It is respecting those feelings even if you don’t understand them. This respect will greatly benefit you, not only in your personal relationships, but in professional interactions. This is why the phrase “the customer is always right” was coined. Your future clients and customers may have needs and issues that you don’t fully understand. But it is your job to respect those needs and problems and do your best to give them what they need.
Majoring in English will teach you how to look at things from the other perspective in order to best meet the needs of others. This can apply to humanitarian work or the human resources representative for a large corporation in charge of handling disputes among employees. In order to enact appropriate communication and be successful, you need empathy.
As you can see, an English major has a number of personal and professional benefits. It can provide the basis for preparing you for a number of different future careers. Quality writing and people skills are needed in every profession, and your English major combined with determination and planning just might set you on the path for incredible success.