Why You SHOULD Get an English Degree

Graduation Gown Caps at Ceremony

“Oh, do you want to teach?”

INVARIABLY, these are the words which follow the revelation that you are an English major. There is literally no other response. Society has no use for English majors other than to teach new English majors, it seems.

This line of thinking is outdated, and wrong.

The rise of the Internet economy has created an entirely new use for those graduating college with liberal arts degrees. English, Communications, Journalism, and similar majors are suddenly in high demand. Why?

Because everything on the Internet is written by English majors.

Not entirely, of course. I’m exaggerating in order to attract your attention. I’m creating short, easily sharable sentences which hold a nugget of truth. I’m writing sentences that are simultaneously accurate and off by just enough to intrigue you. I’m writing sentences that get you to click.

You already know this is how the Internet works. With a little bit of effort and a little less self-righteousness, you could write like this too.

A tech-savvy liberal arts major should have no problem finding a paying life on the Internet.

But you need more than just the degree. 

A common mistake I see among my peers is feeling entitled or owed a job, simply for making it through college. This is delusional.

A college degree, on its own, will get you very few places. If you are lucky enough to be acquiring your degree from an Ivy-League or other top-tier school, the calculus may look a little different for you. But I know that the vast deluge of millennials buried under student loans and complaining about unemployment or underemployment are, by and large, not graduating from the Ivies.

Pick a passion, and develop it.

This passion cannot be “doing well in school.” This is a rookie mistake: putting too much faith in the strength of what is now a crumbling cultural institution. A 4.0 GPA with nothing else to complement it is worthless. It is window dressing without a window.

The 3.0 student who has used her time to do something outside of school– be that work a job in her field, or construct a portfolio of work, or even build a passionate social media following– is infinitely more well-rounded, and thus, more appealing to an employer.

The world needs well-rounded, creative people.

The world needs its liberal arts majors.

College professors and career counselors are fond of saying, “A liberal arts degree signals to employers that you are a critical thinker.” They are much less fond of telling you that a liberal arts degree also signals such wildly variable coursework that an employer must basically assume you know nothing (Jon Snow).

Which may be true, at least in terms of your coursework. Knowing how to read Henry James or to explain Sausserian semiotics will not aid you in today’s (work) world. On the other hand, if you spotted the above reference to Game of Thrones, you already have a skill that media employers want.

The Internet is a tragedy of the commons. High society and literary knowledge will not serve you here. If you are seeking a truly academic job, head into academia. Before you go though, I beg of you: be wary of the term adjunct.

Pop-culture employment is attainable for the rest of us. These jobs are, for the most part, flexible and fun. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I majored in English because I knew it was a subject I appreciated and I didn’t want to waste away my life doing something I was technically good at but could not enjoy.

I graduated, age 21, from a mid-tier state university in 2014. I finished with just north of a 3.4 GPA. I wore no honors cords at graduation. My dean did not know my face.

Instead, I wore a fraternity sash and the pin of the Student Leadership Office. More importantly, I walked across the stage with ¾ of my novel in my pocket and plenty of time spent on the Internet; for business and for pleasure. I walked across the stage with a host of lives I’d touched, and an innumerable repository of memories, experiences and stories.

I walked with plenty to talk about, and lots of markers to point back on, when asked how I spent my time. I walked across that stage as a well-rounded person.

If you do not do this, then yes, your English degree may be a weight around your neck as you wait tables.

I know a man, here in the ski town where I live, who graduated with my exact degree, from my rival college. He graduated a year before me, and he waits tables. He makes more money than I do. Last night, as he ripped the bong watching Game of Thrones, he told me he plans to buy a new 2015 Subaru Forester today. “It’s only 22k,” he said with a shrug.

I drive a used ’05 Subaru Outback.

I love my car. I think the man I bought it from was a recovering heroin addict; some time after buying it, I found methadone pills in the car. They came from him, or one of my friends is concealing a secret.

I Live a life of character.

No one goes into an English program with the expectation of making a lot of money. But you can go into one with the expectation that you can pursue a career other than teaching, and get away with it.

You can do a lot with an English degree. You can get almost any non-technical job with an English degree. You can get a career right after graduation, or you can take on minimal employment and dirtbag around the world. The choice is yours.

You need to use your creativity outside of your creative writing classes though.

I have worked in all of the following areas with my English degree:

  • Social Media
  • News
  • Internet Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Data Entry/ backend CMS management
  • Internet Content Writing
  • Content Curation
  • Blogging

Entry-level jobs are easy to come by in these industries, and a good worker can usually prove their worth from there, making space to move up in the hierarchy.

You want to study English? Get that English degree. Don’t take your studies too seriously, because no one else will. Instead, live an interesting life. Be an interesting person, who works on provocative projects.

Don’t let anyone tell you your life is worthless because you are not studying engineering.

Don’t feel like you have to go to law school.

But most of all,

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be a teacher.

9 thoughts on “Why You SHOULD Get an English Degree

  1. As somebody who was/is studying Religion and Philosophy, I get the “preach or teach” question a lot. I was attending a liberal arts college, so I did a lot of English courses or courses that incorporated writing. My hope is that by studying something I love, I have something interesting to say. I love English courses, but I love religion even more. And then hopefully I can write about that, and like you say, tie it into entertaining, marketable venues.
    Though I actually wouldn’t mind teaching haha

  2. Brilliant post! I am a recent English graduate and the majority of my class had chosen to teach. Some had chosen this option because they were afraid that they wouldn’t make money from journalism, or writing books etc. But there is so many options to explore…from marketing to administration, to on the go publishing.

  3. I Majored in English (Minored in Philosophy) and have a wonderful number of experiences that would have more than likely never come about with a Bachelor’s of Science in anything. Over the years, I’ve been a Shepherd in the Rockies, taught school in the past, currently run a business and work in the Service Industry (Sommelier / Bartender) as well. No regrets!

  4. Great post! I’m an English major and I ALWAYS get asked if I’m going to teach. I’m considering it, but I don’t think people realize how many opportunities are available to English majors!

    • Thank you! Spread the gospel to your English Major friends. I know when I was in school, there was nothing more irksome to me than that question, and I never quite had a real-life example of what other course a person might take.

      Hopefully this post can serve that purpose, for some of you.

      • Will do! It’s definitely reassuring to hear about a fellow English major having success in areas other than education!

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