So you’re considering becoming an English major. Then you already know that being an English major is a mind-expanding experience giving you insight into the human condition as well as creative abilities and rhetorical savvy. But what you might not know is that English will also prepare you to take on that big, scary world after you graduate.
First of all, we need to talk about the elephant in the room, and by that I mean the stigmas that come along with being an English major. You’ve probably heard that English majors just sit around all day reading books and that the only thing an English degree will get you in the real world is a job saying, “Do you want fries with that?” All this doom and gloom usually comes from people who don’t really know what English Studies is all about. So what’s the reality?
For Dr. Christopher Stuart, department head and professor of Literature, English possesses “a really deep human value that doesn’t have any price tag.” It’s a rare field of study that not only cultivates invaluable practical skills like critical thinking and writing but can also make you a more thoughtful and understanding person. “I deeply believe in the value of being an English major because through reading and talking about poetry and novels, you develop an understanding of the way people and the human mind work. It gives you a whole new way of looking and interacting with the world,” said Stuart.
This isn’t just a baseless conjecture either. A University of Toronto study found that people who read literature frequently displayed higher levels of cognitive empathy. Not only is this good for individuals in terms of personal development, but the interpersonal skills that go along with an empathetic mind are also invaluable in any work environment. Take President Obama for example,
When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.
As the internship coordinator and Lecturer, Carrie Meadows has special insight into what employers value in prospective hires. Employers, no matter what profession, want people who can think through problems, and English majors are particularly good at this. “Students who focus in creative writing have learned the importance of audience and have thought carefully about what language can do on a micro-level,” said Meadows. For this reason, creative writers, poets especially, possess a real precision of language. What all of this really boils down to is communication. English majors possess excellent communication skills, which are valuable in all professions as well as just life in general.
Dr. Rebecca Jones, the previous internship coordinator and Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Professional Writing, similarly states the professional value of English Studies: “I can’t think of a business that doesn’t need a writer or a critical reader or a problem solver. The current trend is for tech companies and medical companies to realize they need humanities people, that you can’t just train your brain to do one specific thing anymore. When you’re an English major, you learn multi-cultural ways of living in the world. You can see the whole of a situation.”
Dr. Jones, who admits to graduating without a firm grasp of how her degree could be used, says the department is doing a much better job of showing students what they can do with the skills they acquire through the English program: “People think they have to have a very specific degree or learn a specific skill to be successful, but for those graduating today it’s more about being able to do everything. The critical thinking and research skills our majors develop are what allows them to be so successful in a multitude of professions.”
For proof just look at a few of our past graduates, who have gone on to become teachers, journalists, published authors, attorneys, entrepreneurs, editors and copywriters, and professionals in marketing and advertising. There’s really no limit on what an English major can do.
Dr. Stuart has some final advice for anyone who still has reservations about becoming an English major: “Take what you really love! You’ll get the most out of studying what you love and ultimately be more successful because you will actually enjoy what you do. If you’re really passionate about reading or writing, you shouldn’t be discouraged from majoring in English just because you don’t think it will be lucrative enough or because you think others will be derisive of what you do.”
The critical thinking ability, communication skills, creativity, empathy, and innovative spirit of English majors are what make them so valuable to the world as both people and young professionals. Dr. Stuart said it best, “Humanities majors prepare students to solve problems the world doesn’t even know it has yet.”
Join us and discover what being an English major can do for your future.
Shelby Bess serves as the English Department’s Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer. She is a senior English major and Communication minor graduating in the Spring of 2016.