I cannot believe how many hits this blog gets from people looking for “what to do with an English major.” No, I can believe it—but seriously, folks—the answer remains what it was when John Henry Newman wrote “The Idea of an University” (I paraphrase): Anything you want to do—although, admittedly, you may have to pick up a few additional skills along the way, like money management.
Here’s John Milton on what to do with all that literary knowledge:
In the cultivation of literature is found that common link, which, among the higher and middling departments of life, unites the jarring sects and subdivisions into one interest, which supplies common topics, and kindles common feelings, unmixed with those narrow prejudices with which all professions are more or less infected. The knowledge, too, which is thus acquired, expands and enlarges the mind, excites its faculties, and calls those limbs and muscles into freer exercise which, by too constant use in one direction, not only acquire an illiberal air, but are apt also to lose somewhat of their native play and energy. And thus, without directly qualifying a man for any of the employments of life, it enriches and ennobles all. Without teaching him the peculiar business of any one office or calling, it enables him to act his part in each of them with better grace and more elevated carriage; and, if happily planned and conducted, is a main ingredient in that complete and generous education which fits a man ‘to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.’
Yes, you’ll probably have to do some tweaking of your resume, your application letter(s), and your interviewing skills to sell that to prospective employers, but according to the University of Delaware Career Services Center,
Approximately 25 percent of students majoring in English go on to graduate study in fields such as law, library science, literature or journalism. The skills that many English majors develop in articulation, written communication and analysis are valued by employers in banking, sales, insurance, lobbying, labor relations and social service fields. There are also job opportunities in journalism, publishing and editing, technical writing, advertising, teaching and public relations.
To find these opportunities, go to your college/university career services center and hold them down until they help you. Or, you could just do this, and hope for the best.
But remember that you have skills that may actually be more in demand than ever:
We’re living in complicated times, and I can’t help but think they’re going to get more complicated and more difficult before some light shines in the distance. Getting some idea what it all means depends, in part, on learning from people who have some idea (not “pundits,” by the way). The ability to read, really read, undaunted by complexity, turn of phrase or length of thought, puts you in a position of making some sense of convoluted, technical and controversial ideas and events
Add to your list of advantages: Clarity and reasoning (about complicated subjects), logic, expression and patience (with long passages). You don’t suppose we’d have any reason in work and in life to call on those abilities right about now, do you? (ForEnglishMajors)
I’ll be saluting a number of local English majors and others as they graduate today. Several are already bound for graduate school and other destinations. Others still looking. Here’s wishing each of them success and happiness as God guides them.