Putting Your Degree to Work
Following an address to faculty, students, and alumni at M.U.W. on October 15, 2004, Bill Bradley (Olympic gold medallist, NBA star, former senator and candidate for the presidential nomination) answered this question posed by a student: “What advice do you have for those of us who want to go into politics?” His response started this way: “Learn how to write an English sentence.” After talking about the importance of writing skills, he went on to say that aspiring politicians should learn the history of their country and have a grasp of its imaginative literature—its poetry, fiction, and drama—as these convey the goals and ideals of its people. As Bradley’s response indicates, an English major’s skills and knowledge are in demand everywhere.
With such a broad range of possibilities before you, you might be having trouble choosing among them, but there are lots of resources to help you decide how to put your English major to work for you.
The Career Center on campus
has excellent computer resources to help you assess your own skills and
interests and to help you research fields you don’t know much about
The Arts and Sciences liaison is Cassandra Latimer, Assistant Director of the Center; her expertise is in helping students, including students with humanities degrees, to research job possibilities.
The English Advising Office can also help. We can often put you in touch with M.S.U. English professors and others who have experience in career areas that interest you, and we have several books you can read in the office or check out:
- Great Jobs for English Majors (De Galan and Lambert; 2nd edition; 2000)
- Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types (Eberts and Gisler; 3rd edition; 2002)
- Careers for Writers and Others Who Have a Way with Words
(Bly; 2nd edition; 2003)
As you get ready to make use of these resources, give some thought to which of the skills you have developed as an English major you would like to make the center of your career: Writing? Reading? Analysis? Research? Or is it all about the literature for you? Whatever your answer to that question, the following will help you get started thinking about the possibilities:
If it’s all about the literature for you, then you’ll be thinking about whether teaching literature might be for you. You can teach in a private high school with your English major or become certified through the College of Education to teach in the public schools. With a master’s degree in English, you will be qualified to apply for jobs teaching at two-year colleges. With a Ph.D. in English, you will be qualified to apply for jobs at universities. You might also consider exporting your skills and teaching English in other countries; if this appeals to you, consider earning the TESOL certificate as part of your undergraduate degree.
If what you have loved most about your studies of English literature is the analysis of texts, you might consider law school. English is one of the best undergraduate majors for law students. If this is your goal, do talk to a pre-law advisor; one of them is the English Department’s Dr. Matt Little.
Your analytical skills might also lead to seminary or divinity school. Analyzing texts is an important part of a minister’s career. Another important part is understanding the needs of a wide variety of people, and the breadth of human knowledge an English major gains through reading literature can be of considerable use in this regard, as well.
Whether you think of yourself as primarily a reader or primarily a writer, there are jobs in publishing you might like. Book publishers and magazines need people who read in acquisitions and editing, people who write in marketing and promotion. Magazines also need people who are primarily researchers to check the accuracy of what they print. English majors are likely to be attractive to employers in these industries, and are likely to find they really make good use of their skills in a publishing environment.
This career combines reading and research in an environment dominated by books; for librarians at university libraries, writing is also a key component. The English major is excellent preparation for this career, which requires a master’s degree in library science.
If you’re not drawn to any of these possibilities, remember not to rule anything out-- English majors find jobs everywhere:
If what you want is to write, you should look for jobs in all of the obvious places and the less obvious ones. You might enjoy a job writing for a magazine or newspaper. You might find interesting career opportunities as a technical writer in any number of different settings, including government agencies and private industry. Many businesses employ people whose primary responsibility is writing, including advertising firms, public relations firms, and large corporations. These jobs are not always high profile, so identifying them takes some research. Creative writing on a freelance basis is a dream of many English majors, and can be combined if necessary with teaching, publishing, or a steady writing job.
- Reading and Researching
As with writing, look for jobs researching in places that may not be immediately obvious. Government agencies of various kinds, think tanks, and businesses hire people whose primary responsibility is research. Researchers get jobs in radio and television, as well, where people are needed to generate topics and check the accuracy of what is presented.
Contact person: Dr. Thomas Anderson,
Director of Undergraduate Studies
written by Dr. Kelly Marsh