Is an English degree worth it? Let’s discuss how people who study English are parlaying their “bookworm” statuses into some pretty fulfilling careers.
Majoring in English doesn’t necessarily mean you want to write the next great American novel. However, it can help to open that door, since many English majors can make between $60,000 and $120,000 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
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What Are the Pros and Cons of Majoring in English?
Students studying English have to be ready to dive into the deep end of the pool when it comes to tackling the great works of both modern and classic literature.
Studying English doesn’t just mean reading the works that you like! Most curriculums will require you to study everything from “The Odyssey” and “Macbeth” to works by Joan Didion. That means you’re always switching gears to understand literary development and critique from every angle.
One of the nice things about an English degree is that it can provide a solid “jumping off” point for pursuing more specific career fields or advanced degrees. For instance, English majors often take courses in specialty areas like journalism or communications.
It is possible that the generalness of an English degree could make it difficult to transition into a specific professional area of focus. Many English majors find that adding a minor in something like journalism or business management creates a nice balance for giving a broad English degree some direction.
- It can help you develop strong analytical skills.
- It can help you learn the principles of literary criticism.
- It can help you develop strong, refined communication skills.
- It will give you opportunities to read and master many of the great works of literature.
- Courses in your curriculum will likely cover communications, journalism, and other very specialized topics.
- Research papers on very dense works are the norm.
- It will potentially be necessary to read and study genres of literature that you don’t enjoy.
- A lack of opportunity to develop some of the “hard skills” that go along with other majors could be present.
Even someone with a hearty appetite for reading will discover that majoring in English requires real discipline and dedication when it comes to getting through huge volumes of literature.
Don’t forget that a big part of your time spent in class will probably revolve around discussing and breaking apart works with your professors and classmates.
How to Make the Most of Your English Degree
A traditional or online English degree is a great avenue for those who are creative at heart because you’ll have a lot of creative freedom when it comes to exactly how you want to use your degree.
One of the best pieces of advice that you’ll receive as an English major is to develop good relationships with your professors and peers.
Why are relationships so critical for English majors? The truth is that “relationships” are so important in the worlds of publishing, media, and “literary pursuits.” You can start getting in on the “literary scene” within your own academic circle to prepare for this.
Building good relationships with professors is important because they may be able to provide you with some much-needed feedback and critique.
Many English professors are published authors. As a result, they can often provide important guidance, feedback, and access to connections. Most are actually very happy to do so once they recognize talent and drive in a student!
Don’t forget that most English programs will require you to work on a writing portfolio throughout your undergraduate career. Your professors and peers may be able to provide their honest opinions and feedback as you work on creating a strong portfolio.
Internships are vital to English majors. Spending a summer or semester interning at a publishing house or media outlet can open up a world of connections that can supercharge your English degree!
Lastly, attending writer’s workshops during semester breaks is a great way to sharpen your writing skills in the company of other writers. Students specifically interested in writing careers may opt for an on-campus or online creative writing degree.
All these are prime examples of what you can do with an English degree, however, it ultimately comes down to what your preferences are.
What Can You Do with an English Degree After You Graduate?
You have quite a few opportunities at your fingertips once you’ve completed your program.
Some English majors are more than eager to get to work in the worlds of publishing or media. Many go on to land entry-level jobs at publishing houses, public-relations firms, and magazines.
A number of English majors land spots working in the communications departments of corporations and organizations.
Things like social media are opening up many new doors for English majors because a gift for the written word is what fuels smart digital marketing. Yes, you could be the person behind the clever Facebook posts of a major company if you have an English degree!
A good number of English majors have their minds on academics following graduation. Don’t be surprised to see many of your fellow English majors go on to graduate programs. You may decide you want to join them.
There are several ways to go when it comes to pursuing an advanced degree once you have an undergraduate degree in English. Some go the route of seeking an MFA in writing or literary critique.
Students who go the MFA route often want to become tenured professors. The focus gets moved to earning an advanced degree, putting in hours as a teaching assistant, and obtaining recognition through getting published in professional journals.
Do you see yourself teaching courses on great works of literature or sharing critiques of modern works? It will be necessary to choose a highly regarded graduate program for obtaining an MFA.
Not every English major is interested in obtaining a master’s degree that’s quite so focused on English, literature, or writing. Quite a few actually go on to obtain MBAs.
What is the benefit of getting an MBA when you’re an English major? This is going to help you make your degree a bit more actionable in the “corporate” world.
Do you see yourself being in a management position at a publishing house? Would you like to be a head editor at an influential online publication? An English degree paired with an MBA is a great way to work towards these goals.
Many lawyers actually obtain English degrees before going to law school. An English degree can help lay the perfect groundwork for all of the written and verbal skills that are needed by lawyers.
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What Are the Top English Major Jobs?
English majors work everywhere. They are lawyers, CEOs, and heads of media conglomerates. Here’s a quick glance at the top five occupations for English language and literature degree holders:
- Elementary and middle school teachers
- Secretaries and administrative assistants
- Miscellaneous managers
- Secondary school teachers
- Marketing and sales managers
English majors often go on to work in grant writing, public relations, content editing, and technical writing. Those written and verbal skills that you’ll be developing during your studies can make you marketable in industries where messages are everything.
That’s probably why it’s not surprising that so many English majors often end up working in sales, marketing, and branding.
What Affects an English Major’s Salary?
English majors have some of the most varied salaries because they end up in nearly every field! Factors like advanced degrees, region, and field of expertise will impact how much you end up making throughout the span of your career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, writers and authors make a median salary of $63,200 per year. Lawyers earn a median salary of $122,960 per year. Both often have undergraduate degrees in English.
It’s not uncommon for tenured professors and lead editors to make six-figure salaries.
Professional Organizations for Those with an English Degree
You’re going to have to network if you’re interested in writing professionally or being part of the greater literary community.
Professional organizations offer some amazing resources and opportunities. We’re talking about access to job boards, continuing education, and exclusive networks of professionals. Here’s a look at some of the top professional organizations to have on your radar by the time you graduate:
- The American Communication Association is a not-for-profit, fully digital professional association for communication scholars and practitioners.
- The Association of Writers and Writing Programs promotes opportunities and advocacy for those who make a living via the written word.
- The Rhetoric Society of America is a scholarly organization that promotes the research of rhetoric in all relevant fields of study.
- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an organization that provides resources and networking opportunities for writers, artists, and booksellers who work in the world of children’s publishing.
- The Society of Professional Journalists has been representing and advocating for journalists for more than 100 years.
- The Authors Guild advocates for authors while also offering community and networking opportunities.
Professional organizations for writers provide amazing professional resources because the truth is that it can be difficult to navigate the world of being paid to write on a professional level.
Questions Related to Earning an English Degree
You’re probably still wondering if it’s realistic to turn your “gift” for writing or “love” of reading into a well-paying career. Let’s answer those burning questions about what it’s really like to major in English.
Do English Degree Jobs Pay Well?
Yes, many English degree jobs do pay well overall, but English majors don’t often have huge salary offers thrown at them right after graduation the way a STEM major might. However, the “slow and steady” approach to building a career really does pay off.
Professionals like lawyers and tenured professors enjoy some of the most secure and lucrative jobs in the country. Of course, the fact that many best-selling authors are English majors really provides some inspiration for just how high the salary ceiling goes. The list includes legends like Stephen King (Wikipedia)!
Is an English Degree Useless?
No, an English degree is not useless. Saying that an English degree is useless is taking a very shortsighted view. The fact of the matter is that an English degree can provide a very solid foundation for applying to law school or pursuing a scholarly path.
Let’s discuss some stunning proof that an English degree can be a ticket to employability.
A recent study found that U.S. adults are nearly three times more likely to say they’d hire an English major with a credential over the fast-growing STEM major in cybersecurity.
Yes, the written, verbal, and communication skills that English majors bring to the table really are highly valued among employers today.
Should I Major in English?
The fact that an English degree does have the power to open so many doors and lay so much groundwork for advanced degrees provides the rational justification for pursuing this major. However, the only person who can decide if English is the right path is you.
English is a very relevant degree path that can serve as the launching point for success in such a wide variety of industries. The big takeaway is that it’s a big mistake to underestimate the power of an English degree. Where will your gift for words take you?