Being an English major, I often find myself pondering this very question. This is not just a quote from a silly Broadway musical with swearing puppets – it is a real concern. Any number of other majors have a rather clear path to follow once the student has graduated. Biology students will search for positions in their field; IT majors will easily find a job where their computer skills are desperately needed.
But what does every English major hear when they mention their field to another person? “Oh, you’re going to be an English teacher, then?”
This is not the only path for those of us who have a love for words, though at first glance, I agree that this certainly seems to be the case. Take a look at any online job search engine. If you enter your degree as being English, you will most likely find a list of jobs that will include clerical or receptionist duties – that is, if you’re not swamped with ads for ‘WORKING AT HOME AND MAKING MONEY $$$$$’.
And while a receptionist job is all well and good for the short-term, it is not what the majority of English majors would be content to do up until their retirement.
Well, what else is there?
Think about it for a moment.
What skills does an English major bring to the table? The ability to pass on information concisely, mostly through the written word. Where would that come in handy? How about writing articles for the local paper or magazine? Journalism majors aren’t the only ones who can write for the Washington Post, after all. Or what about becoming a technical writer for a company? Though certainly, in this case, you may wish to take a few courses (or at least have some training) for this field of work.
What other abilities does an English major have that many others don’t? They learn throughout their education to edit their own and their peer’s work. Why not become an editor, then? Positions can range from the local paper, again, to working for a publishing company.
But what if you’re not very good with high-pressure positions such as working for a daily paper or a publishing company? Take another look around. Yet another skill that English majors have is the ability to research thoroughly for their current assignment. This would be helpful in a position at a library, where people are always looking for something – be it books for a 3-year-old girl to something about the Holocaust, or for recipes to astound the in-laws when they come to visit. Keep in mind, however, that a great deal of libraries require you to earn a Master’s degree in Library Sciences as well, though there are a number of positions where the degree is not needed.
Well, what if you did become an English major so that you could teach English? Fair enough; there are plenty of positions in public schools where teachers are needed. However, do not look at just the local establishments for a job. Take a look at universities, where you can spend some of your time researching what you please, as well as teaching. Or if you wish for the chance to work abroad, look up one of the many programs for teaching English in Japan, Korea or even Taiwan. These programs generally last from one to two years and will give you a taste of another culture while you do what you wish.
The last bit I want to mention is the possibility of either becoming a freelance writer or a full-time novelist. Both of these are hard, but rewarding jobs to get into, though you needn’t have a B.A. in English to do either. However, knowing how to research, prepare your work and present it will always help.
There are countless other possibilities out there for those of us who have chosen to become English majors. I have listed only a few opportunities that might await you out there. Look around, explore and keep your mind open to new ideas. You may yet find out for yourself an even better idea of what to do with that degree in English.