Recently, I was asked what advice I could provide for prospective graduating English majors. If you pick up a brochure from a university in Connecticut, you may see that I am the first name listed there. Though I wanted to be helpful, this subject always brings up mixed feelings for me. This subject brings on a certain sadness in me and not because there is a certain sadness about the subject itself, but because I know what it means to pick this particular major out of many. I hit the after-graduation wall, too, and I know I’m not alone. It was tough and it’s still tough.
It wasn’t event until a month ago, on a trip to Asia when I found out that my cousin has decided to major in English as well, that I was prompted to write something truly honest about it. Though I know that every degree holds their own strengths, weaknesses, and stereotypes, this message is for my fellow English majors.
Dear prospective English major graduate,
Foremost, I want to congratulate you on finding the direction you want to take your life and career because knowing what the heck you want to do with your life is half the battle. If you really don’t know what you want to do after college, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate your motives for getting your degree. If you’re looking for easy money, save yourself the time and abort your plans to major in English–quick, fast, and in a hurry! Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Get out now before you have to face the storm that’s coming: your education wasn’t free and collectors are coming. Worse, you’ve given up years of your life; you can make more money but you can’t make more time. You have other options besides college: join the work force, take a vacation, enter the military, run off with the Peace Corps, but if you don’t love English by now and have no goal-oriented plans on how to productively use it after graduation, don’t bother.
Many people won’t consider taking the risk or challenge of majoring in English simply because it has no obvious career direction–except for teaching. Understandable. The sooner you get your head out of that book and learn early that a degree is only as valuable as the person holding it and the economy it will serve, the better you’ll be. You cannot ride to glory on your hopes, list of books you love, or the manuscripts you plan on working on. In college you will be injected with an unrealistic enthusiasm by your peers and professors that could get you hurt. A college degree will not save someone who is unwilling to put in hard work or take humble positions starting out. It also won’t magically provide you with the amazing job that you’re hoping for if the company hiring for it doesn’t exist or you can’t convince them that you have the experience to compliment your degree. Who knows, maybe you’re that anomaly who ends up making $100k a year on a fresh bachelors, but for now, just consider what I have to say.
On your journey toward graduation you will be accused of not being as important as a math or science major. Others will even chastise you for deciding to major in English so it’s imperative that during your freshman year–or as soon as possible– you a have a comeback for when the volleys of negativity come launching toward your head. If you don’t, the stigma that you and your major are worthless will continue to exist. Unfortunately, telling everyone to screw or mind their own business won’t be good enough as these criticisms will most likely come from friends and family first. Having a plan for your degree that you can verbalize to others doesn’t just clarify which goals you need to set, it also keeps your friends and family from just assuming you’re going to be a writer or an English teacher. Let’s face it, sure some will end up as English teachers but many English grads will land positions that being an English major indirectly prepared them for. Skills in research, grant writing, analytical thinking, creativity, and effective communication make English majors great candidates for non-profit work, advertising, management, communications, social media, or even a degree in law. Have a plan that’s broken down by accomplishable goals and time frames!
Here’s something I wish someone had told me before graduation: You don’t have to wait until after graduation to start writing your novel, tutoring, proofreading, editing, or freelancing for money. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be ready to find a job that pays in your field after graduation. In fact, I can almost guarantee that there’s a math major on your campus right now who hates editing! Find him or her and make your money! And don’t take your analytical and grammar classes lightly because this will be a source of extra income later on. In the real world, they may even prove more useful than your literary courses. Learning to edit, proofread, communicate with words, and think critically will also be how you can add value to any business and industry. They may not care about a feminist reading of Grendel’s mother but they will care how you can better their means of communication to the outside world. Let go of the Netflix binges and build your resume before graduation even if that means having to volunteer your free time. It sucks. We all want to be fairly compensated but it’s better to say that you contributed your time to something meaningful than not after graduation. Plus, you’ll learn things and network.
On the subject of adding value to the work force, minor in something that is useful. As I’ve told my college buddies time and time again, don’t minor in creative writing. In the end, you can always prove that you can write well but after graduation it’ll be harder to prove that you have other skills outside of the realm of English. If you’re a “good” and “smart” student you’ll have published work from your university’s publications and hold excellent writing samples to show to your prospective employers. People can turn their noses up at the school newspaper if they want to, but it’ll never be easier to get work published. If you’re a really smart English major, you’ll minor in something like science so you can get paid well to write and edit for science journals. Minor in computer arts so that you can make beautiful websites, marketing material, and advertisements for people. Minoring also gives you the ability to talk about something that isn’t literature. You can be an English major and be as technical or creative as you want to be. Here’s the reality: not everyone loves Jane Austin or Proust, or whoever you have up your literary sleeve. You need to find a way to connect with people outside of your major and bring value to others or finding a job after graduation will be difficult.
Remember, whatever you decide to do with your degree is all up to you.
Best of luck,