What Can I Do with an English Major?

Mamta Saraogi

Even at liberal arts colleges, a common source of contention is the utility of an English Major in light of a future career. There is an element of fear associated with the pursuit of the major, especially if one does not aim to be a tenured professor. However, the good news is the culture of liberal arts colleges is spreading fast and creating opportunity for majors in the humanities.

English majors are constantly asked whether we want to teach literature or become a bestselling author. Often times, both are true. But when teaching or a novelist career isn’t among our ambitions, how portable is the major?

The list of potential careers ranges from writing to business, and everything in between. For domestic students, securing internships in varied fields is an easy task–career exploration suffices as reason enough to pursue any position. For international students, Bates requires official proof that an internship is directly related to the student’s major field. In my view, almost any career field, be it expressive or analytical, is directly related to the English major. Proving this on paper, though, is not as simple.

Marketing is popular among students from most academic disciplines and English is no exception. But, can I enter a marketing job or internship with an English degree? Most likely, yes. Yet, international students would hesitate to agree with that view more than domestic students. Expressing intangible reasons as a tangible argument is key for your average English major, but describing how understanding the psychology of consumerism is related to understanding Shakespeare’s plot lines is not as direct a link as may be necessary.

Education and counselling are also common fields among English majors. What if one prefers administration or social work to teaching? Is it possible to justify how a class on Irish poetry is directly related to working closely with departments that manage student life? How do English classes qualify one to study to be a licensed counsellor? I believe a class on poetry can be related to nearly anything in the professional or social field.

It is this mindset that makes the English major suitable for almost any career. The only problem is that most of the reasons that make English truly versatile are intangible. They often relate to abstract concepts of empathy and curiosity, both of which are not skills that are easily transferable on paper as Microsoft or computer programming. However, these same abstract reasons can be easily justifiable if the listed major is Psychology.

What baffles me is that if students from two separate academic disciplines can express the same reasons for pursuing a particular career and often times develop the required skill sets for that career, then why should the hurdles for one be higher than for the other? I can be an English major and be equally skilled in data analysis as a student studying STEM, yet my justification for wanting to work at a technology firm has a greater chance of being denied.

As quoted by the Bates website, the goal of a Liberal Arts education is “to educate the whole person.” Every class is geared to develop critical thinking, creativity, and curiosity. The goals of the Bates curriculum mean that regardless of one’s choice of major, students leave college sufficiently equipped with the skills needed to pursue a career that overlaps among disciplines. Why, then, must I justify how or why a particular major is portable in a specific field? Each academic major, including English is good enough for whichever career one chooses to pursue.