Five Responses to the question “What can You do with a Degree in English?”

The holidays are coming up and if you’re going home or visiting family it’s likely that you’ll be grilled about your college experience. If you’re still in the beginning of your college career, it’s likely your family or company will ask about what you want to study. If you’re in your junior or senior year, the questions are usually more focused on what your post-graduate plans are and what you’re going to do with that English degree. The chances that your company hears “future teacher” when you say “English major” is fairly standard. And while that may be your career path, that isn’t your only option. To help you through the holidays, and life in general, here are five ways to respond to the ever-judgmental “why English?” question.

  1. Knowing how to write well is a valuable skill and is applicable to most professions.
    Well developed communication and writing skills will get you everywhere. With the emphasis of technological communication in the workplace, it’s important to be articulate. Time Magazine published an article in their business section emphasizing this:”Whether you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner, manager or an employee aspiring to any of those positions, you need to know how to write effectively for business. Yes, that means paying attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation, along with good word choice and a consistent style.Bad writing can have a wide-ranging, negative effect on your business, from creating a less-than-coherent business plan and hampering your efforts to attract investors, to communicating with employees, vendors and even your customers.”
  2. English majors start out making similar amounts to business majors etc. 
    The Wall Street Journal conducted a informative survey with “11,000 people who graduated from college between 1999 and 2010 about the pay they received from their first jobs,” and matched these jobs to the corresponding majors, according to an article published by The Chronicle. Here is what they found:Engineering $56,000Computer Science 50,000Civil Engineering 49,000

    Accounting 43,000

    Economics 42,000

    Finance 41,000

    Biology 38,000

    Business 38,000

    Marketing 37,000

    Political Science 36,000

    Psychology 35,000

    Communications 34,000

    English 34,000

    As you can see, individuals with English degrees are not making all that less when they start out. In fact, the survey found that Communications majors and English majors make roughly the same amount.

  3. Reading is really good for your brain.
    According to research published by Psychology Today, “the changes caused by reading a novel were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensorimotor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded, or embodied cognition.”
  4. There are a lot of successful professionals with degrees in English.
    Between Barbara Walters, Joan Cusack, Gwendolyn Brooks, Diane Sawyer, Steven Spielberg and many others, you could go on and on about successful people with degrees in English. Business Insider‘s list includes a number of CEOS, a former Secretary Treasurer, and a Supreme Court Justice!
  5. The Humanities, especially English, matter.
    In an article entitled “Why Teach English?” the New Yorker shares their perspective that solidifies the importance of teaching and studying English. “We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence. That’s why we pass out tax breaks to churches, zoning remissions to parks, subsidize new ballparks and point to the density of theatres and galleries as signs of urban life, to be encouraged if at all possible. When a man makes a few billion dollars, he still starts looking around for a museum to build a gallery for or a newspaper to buy. No civilization we think worth studying, or whose relics we think worth visiting, existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them as if they mattered, and a sense of shame among the wealthy if they couldn’t talk about them, at least a little, too. It’s what we call civilization.Even if we read books and talk about them for four years, and then do something else more obviously remunerative, it won’t be time wasted. We need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs or kinder C.E.O.s but because, as that first professor said, they help us enjoy life more and endure it better. The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough.”And if these aren’t enough, we only hope you’ll find this Buzzfeed list useful in laughing it all off.
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