What Can You Do With an English Major? Advice from Former English Students

It’s been popular and trendy to make fun of humanities majors recently. Articles highlighting rising student debt and stagnating wages often use the underemployed English or philosophy major as a prop, $50,000 in debt, working as a barista, still living at home.

However, personal experience belies that sad trope. I loved every second of my time in college studying English, and feel that my degree prepared me quite well for my chosen career. That’s not to say I didn’t have some angst along the way as I tried to figure out what do do with my English degree. That’s all part of the journey and makes you learn more about who you are and what you really want in life.

I was curious to see what other English grads were doing with their degrees, and what advice they had for current or prospective English students. Here are the best responses I received.

Advice From English Grads

 Alyssa Lawrence. Account Manager, Public Relations.

Alyssa Lawrence. Account Manager, Public Relations.

Alyssa Lawrence

Where do you Work?

I now work in public relations, specifically for luxury real estate developers. My job allows me to write creative pitches/story ideas, press releases and copy for newsletters – and I get to play travel agent a bit and coordinate media visits for journalists, which as a traveler I love.

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

English is important because it teaches students how to develop a well-thought thesis, craft creative ideas and write well. My Professional Writing minor hugely helped more with practical skills like technical editing. I’ve always loved writing, editing and traveling, but also loved planning, organizing and developing relationships. My writing skills earned me valuable internships which let me develop my people-person skills as a PR/marketer.

You don’t necessarily need to have an exact career planned when choosing to study English, but you should love stories and follow your passion for something that English represents.

My minors coupled with my degree helped open more doors for me – I’ve held jobs in journalism, copywriting, social media marketing, PR/marketing and more. Who says English majors don’t work hard?!

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

The biggest advice I have to English undergrads is to participate in internships in fields/jobs you’re interested in. If you write and interview well, then you’ll succeed. You don’t necessarily need to have an exact career planned when choosing to study English, but you should love stories and follow your passion for something that English represents. Consider adding a secondary major or a minor to diversify yourself and give more job opportunities.

Craig Wolfe

 Craig Wolfe ,  www.CelebriDucks.com

Craig Wolfewww.CelebriDucks.com

Where do you work? Celebri Ducks, www.CelebriDucks.com

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

I run the top custom rubber duck manufacturer in the world and am the only one who still makes them also in the USA!

I don't have much of a business background, but what has really surprised me is how my collegiate English degree (Hobart) was so useful!! I never realized that I would be spending my life communicating with staff and clients everywhere non-stop and those kind of communication skills were the most important thing to the success of my company.

In this day and age, if you do not have good communication skills, you are at a great
disadvantage.

Most successful companies know how to promote their brand, promote their product in PR, and in social media and work with clients and staff remotely... that is not about numbers.it's about effectively communicating with real people!

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

You are learning skills that are more valuable than you ever imagined in the business world. Learn to communicate your thoughts and opinions in a way that is informative and interesting at the same time. It’s an art. Business majors can write business reports.  English majors can bring an enhanced level of personal communication to any business endeavor that adds a human touch to these kinds of proposals making them much more effective. We live in a very emotional world today. While numbers and facts will always have their place, those who can communicate and communicate well to others will be a distinct advantage.
 

 Matthew Lubin, Writer

Matthew Lubin, Writer

Matthew Lubin

Where do you Work? TotalTaipei.com and BoozeFoodTravel.com  

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

My senior year, I took an editing class that helped prepare me for work as an editor. Through that course, I was introduced to a project that needed interns for research and writing. The course and the internship help me to secure a job as an assistant editor at a newspaper right out of college. Years later, I have realized that my undergraduate education did not properly prepare me for the US economy. There was a technical writing course offered, but it was reserved for students in sciences and engineering. There were no other professional writing courses. Most non-English-language skills that I have were acquired through independent studying.

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

If I had to do it over again, I would pick up a second major or at least a minor in a field that would be more marketable, such as business and finance or even a second language. It's important to choose general education classes wisely to develop additional skills that can be marketable as well.  

 Thomas Crowley, Creative Director & Copywriter

Thomas Crowley, Creative Director & Copywriter

Thomas Crowley

www.thomcrowley.com

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

I attended UC San Diego as an English major with a focus in creative writing. After writing a bunch of (bad) poems and stories for two years I dropped out. After moving home, I worked less-than-desirable manual labor and retail jobs for the better part of three years. During that time I started doing stand up comedy and through the luck of knowing someone (networking!) met a creative director at an advertising agency who took a chance and hired me. After that, I learned on the job and it stuck and I was able to move up in the industry (for now).

While the career path I took was unorthodox, it was also very standard in the sense that I got my job by doing the actual writing. I had a standup set that I wrote, wrote, and wrote some more until I was proud of it, and the right people thought it was funny and smart. An English degree didn’t factor into the matter at all, and from what I can tell is a prevailing attitude in my industry. The flip side of that is I also needed that (networking!) happening-to-know-someone thing at the right time, which you can network with a lot of people on your way to an English degree.

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

If you’re paying for your own college and truly, genuinely want to be an ad creative or something of the sort, you’re better off making money and avoiding debt however you can while writing and networking as much as possible, in my opinion.

The thing I wouldn’t change is how much I wrote (a lot), and I would *definitely* have networked more, with, like, everyone. But that’s sort of how networking feels all the time for everyone, I think.

 Carrie Juergens, Cura Cannabis

Carrie Juergens, Cura Cannabis

Carrie Juergens

Where do you work? Cura Cannabis Solutions

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

I majored in English and French in college, and I currently work in PR.

Being able to make a convincing argument is the core of any job involving selling a product or pitching product, and that's the core of an English degree. I had marketing internships during my summers in college and wrote for my college's student newspaper during school. I showed my work ethic by having jobs or work studies the whole time I was in school, so then when interviewers asked about the experience, I had very few employment gaps.

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

1. Take advantage of work-study opportunities on campus (I had a research one with a professor, and I also worked for my school's newspaper).

2. Find an internship to help grow your skills during the summer.

3. Make sure you know how to market your skills. I was self-conscious about being a writer instead of a mathematician for a good portion of college, and the start of my professional career. Own your strengths, and know how to talk about what you do well.

4. Take notes on everything you contribute in each of your roles. Having a portfolio is something I didn't even think about at the time, but I was lucky that my mom saved all my newspaper stories so I could share them later.

 Adam Cole, Adam Cole Works, LLC.

Adam Cole, Adam Cole Works, LLC.

Adam Cole

Where do you work? Adam Cole Works, LLC

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

I graduated with an English Major from Oberlin College in 1991.  I never wanted to major in anything else. I majored in English because I knew I wanted to be a writer and I wanted the opportunity to read and study good writing as much as possible.

The path to becoming a professional author and essayist has been long and difficult, and my English Major only partially prepared me for it.  I certainly learned where to find good literature, and got a sense of the difference between quality and shallow work. I also improved my editing skills.

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

For anyone interested in doing anything that involves words today, the writing and editing skills are the best things an English Major can give you.  Advertising, PR, research and development, even corporate and legal communication greatly benefit from clarity in language, an eye for detail, and the ability to be persuasive.  And because technology has made it possible for one person to do six jobs (writer, editor, designer, salesperson...) it has also made it NECESSARY for one person to do all six jobs.

Being an English Major isn't enough, of course.  You have to want to be a good English Major, to study good writing, improve your skills, and harden yourself to very personal (and sometimes inappropriate) criticism.  Then you have to sell yourself because the degree alone doesn't sound impressive, only the person with the degree.

Tony Forde

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

I studied English at the University of Maryland and Brooklyn College, worked in a bookstore throughout and afterward, before landing an internship at a boutique book publicity firm, then stints at Hachette, Perseus, and Penguin Random House, before making a pivot to Corporate PR.

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

It’s easy to look at your courseload and wonder exactly how dissecting a line of poetry or discussing 19th-century short stories will relate to any career path beyond academic or librarian. But the true takeaway from an English degree is more about the skills you develop, rather than how you used them in class. You develop a careful eye for accuracy, for clear messaging, and most importantly, for communication in general. These are skills that seem like they should be “common sense,” but when you enter the workplace, you’ll be shocked at just how far ahead of the curve you are. If I can offer some advice, it’s that you shouldn’t worry about whether or not what you’re studying is “relevant” to the 21st Century workplace. It may not be, but you can be sure that the critical thinking skills that you develop will be invaluable as you begin your job hunt.

 Caroline Wiita, Master's Degree Student

Caroline Wiita, Master's Degree Student

Caroline Wiita

www.byhappenchance.com

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

I am so glad that I chose English for my major! Studying literature taught me how to think and how to communicate my ideas, skills that are broadly applicable but often overlooked in other majors.

With my English degree, I’ve been able to explore careers in marketing and the entertainment industry. Thirteen years after graduating, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s degree and enter the mental health field.

I’m now getting my master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy at CSUN (California State University, Northridge). While I don’t have the science and research foundation that some of my classmates have, I’ve found that I have a huge advantage in understanding how to research and write about what I’m learning (pretty important in graduate school).

My English degree also taught me a lot about stories, which is really the through-line for all my careers thus far. This has been really helpful as I’ve launched a blog about my experiences in graduate school.

While other degrees may prepare students with specialized knowledge to get started in a specific career right out of undergrad, I believe a degree in English prepared me with broader knowledge about thinking, learning, and being human that has given me wide latitude to pursue different fields as my interests change.

In a world where very few of us stick with the career we end up in after undergrad, I believe an English degree is more useful than ever!

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

The English degree isn’t just about reading books. It’s about learning how to think critically. As you progress through the degree, consider what literature can teach you about different perspectives, how to craft an argument, how information is transmitted, and who decides what is culturally important. All of these things will be critical in any future career!

 Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, High School Librarian and Author

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, High School Librarian and Author

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

What are you doing now? 
I'm a high school librarian at an international private school in the Middle East. I also have a website, http://www.mohadoha.com.

How did your English degree prepare you for your current work? 

I used libraries extensively as an English undergrad and then while getting my Ph.D. in English literature. So though I'm not a trained librarian, I have most of the skills I needed when I decided to try something other than teaching. 

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

Understand the skills that you have to offer a workplace, not only your degree. You probably write really well and can speak in public without much difficulty. You can use that on social media or in print, even online content like blogs. Studying English also means you've considered human emotions for a long time. Hopefully, you're good at people skills and can get along well with others or understand what makes them tick. 

Be social; so much of building a network means being willing to have a conversation with anyone at a party or happy hour, not only your friends or who you came with. Go to campus lectures, mingle with faculty and staff at social occasions. I definitely recommend going to conferences that have job placement centers. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself. Being memorable will often get you an introduction down the road. 

 Janet Heller, Writing and Editing Professional

Janet Heller, Writing and Editing Professional

Janet Heller

Janet Ruth Heller Books & Michigan College English Association

Where do you work?

I am president of the Michigan College English Association. We sponsor conferences for faculty who teach at any type of college or university. Also, I have published six books. I am currently a full-time writer, and I give many conference presentations and speak at libraries, bookstores, and schools about my books and give creative writing workshops for children and adults. 

How did your English degree prepare you for your current work? 

My undergraduate degree in English taught me many aspects of language and literature. I developed my interest in linguistics and learned about different types of literature. As an undergraduate, I learned to read analytically, write a thesis statement, use critical editions
of literature, think independently when reading scholarly articles, and focus my research. I also improved my writing and research skills. My Senior Honors Thesis helped me to break the pattern of procrastinating term papers and taught me to revise extensively in order to construct a clear argument. 

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

I advise current English majors to take a wide variety of courses to prepare them for different careers, such as editing, writing, teaching different courses, etc. Students should study with professors who have high standards and who insist that undergraduates build their skills in close reading, research, writing, etc. Try to publish some of your scholarly and creative work so that you will be taken more seriously for various jobs. Network with other people in the field of English studies, and learn from them about different related careers and get tips about job-hunting.

 

 Juan Brizuela, Quinn PR

Juan Brizuela, Quinn PR

Juan Brizuela

Where do you work?

I now work at Quinn PR, a public relations firm in New York City. 

What advice to you have for current or prospective English majors?

When I graduated with my degree, I had a tough time looking for a job. I looked for postings that sought copywriters, communications assistants, etc. - very entry-level positions. My biggest mistake that I now realize I had made, was not fulfilling an internship during my undergraduate years.

Do - an - internship. I can’t stress that enough. 

Experience is exponentially more important than the degree, sometimes. A year after my English degree, I started studying for my Master's in communications, only to find that, after getting my Master's in 2016, I was not eligible for a full-time job at a PR agency, because I had never had that prior experience. I was shocked, but made the jump into an internship from a salaried, full time job at the university I was working at as a Media & Marketing Coordinator, right out of college. 

Had I done my internship experience during my Bachelor's, I would have saved myself 3 months of time and might have landed myself in a full-time job much more quickly. 

Experience, experience, experience. Go to college. Get the degree, but make sure you have actual experience in a workplace, whether as an intern or administrative assistant. Get the Master's if you want, but it won't mean so much if you don't have the firsthand knowledge of the basics of the job you want. It's about who you know and where you've been.

 Chelsea Krause, Merchant Maverick

Chelsea Krause, Merchant Maverick

Chelsea Krause

Where do you work?

I work as the Head of Accounting and Invoicing at Merchant Maverick.

How did your degree prepare you for your job?

This job entails researching and testing various accounting programs and writing
comprehensive reviews of each software, as well as creating new, engaging
blog content each week.Studying English doesn’t just teach you certain
skills -- it teaches you how to think, which can be applied to any job and
facet of life. My studies prepared me to know how to conduct research, how
to synthesize information so that it’s understandable, and how to write
clearly to my audience. I couldn’t do my job today without these skills.

What advice do you have for current or prospective English majors?

My best advice to current English majors is to take advantage of every opportunity that will put you closer toward your goal. If you want a writing career, join the college newspaper or submit work to your college’s literary journal. If you want an editing career, become the college newspaper or yearbook editor. If you want to teach, work for your college’s writing center or tutoring program. The more experience, the better.

Many jobs (including my own) ask for writing samples. Being able to point to a published, well-written work is a huge advantage. The other benefit of being involved in these activities is built-in networking. You get to meet professors, advisors, and other students who have connections that may help introduce you to a job opportunity.

Be sure to have a strong academic standing and relationship with your professors as they can vouch for you with letters of recommendation. Your professors also have a large number of connections. They often hear of opportunities for students, and if they know you and your work ethic, then they may pass these opportunities onto you.

 Ashley Schaffer, Private Physician  @AMSchafferMD

Ashley Schaffer, Private Physician @AMSchafferMD

Ashley Schaffer

Where do you work now? I am now working as a Pediatrician and often have conversations with my adolescent patients about what they want to study in college. An undergraduate degree in English can prepare students for a wide variety of careers, and it has certainly helped me in mine. 

What advice do you have for current or prospective English students?

In order to figure out what field to go into or find a job they will like, students should pursue their personal interests as much as they can during college and find careers that will allow them to continue embracing those interests within a specific field.  This can be accomplished by joining a club, doing volunteer work, or talking to an advisor within the English department about what other students have done after graduation.

For students who already know what field they want to go into, it's important for them to research what kind of experiences or other skill sets future employers may expect them to have.  In my case, I went into college with an interest in medicine but chose to major in English because of an additional interest in literature and creative writing.  Since I already knew that I was going to apply to medical school during my senior year, I had to plan most of my elective time around my pre-med courses to develop those additional skills.  Even if graduate school is not part of a student's desired career path, honing specific skill areas by using electives wisely, or by pursuing an internship or research experience, is great for job preparation and can give graduates a competitive edge within their chosen profession.


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