Misconceptions About English Majors

Written by Nathan Allen Pastrano.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

– William Shakespeare

There is a common misconception that majoring in English is completely useless when it is time to set foot in the job market. While it is true that there is an abundance of jobs waiting for post-undergraduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, the arts have been shoved under the rug and mislabeled, nonetheless. This further re-enforces harmful stereotypes and stigmas which can hinder incoming students from even considering majors within liberal arts. Truthfully, the arts are needed now more than ever.

I came into college as a biology major and with a head full of hot air, to say the least. I thought I had the world figured out, that becoming a doctor was going to be an easy path for me. But when the semester started up, I felt a strong disconnect from my classes, and I hesitantly switched my major to English Literature. It seemed like I was going back to square one. Where exactly was somebody supposed to go from here? I heard so much negativity directed toward English majors and their possible career choices.

But I have found my major beyond useful in my everyday life. Currently, I serve as a writing consultant at our university’s writing center. There, with other undergraduate workers, we look at personal statements for professional schools, job applications, resumes, and even creative writing. If there is one thing I have learned in my time here, it is that students from EVERY major need feedback on their writing. I have also been presented with an array of internships from companies in my time here who crave writers, editors, and data analysts who are willing to provide any training necessary.

It is apparent that English majors are essential and useful, so how did these misconceptions begin?

In the past three decades, colleges took it upon themselves to stick students who had absolutely no idea what they wanted to do with their life into the English cannon. The influx of post-graduates who did not want to major in English to begin with typically refrained from jobs that had anything to do with what they studied. Overtime, the major developed a bad reputation, staying that way ever since. But, some of our world leaders and CEOs of big corporations majored in English, including former President Barack Obama, Andrea Jung, John Green, Barbara Walters, and Hank Paulson.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Mia Carter, an associate professor here at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Carter is a well-renowned English scholar, and the recipient of numerous honors, such as being named a distinguished teaching associate, as well as a Texas System Regents’ Outstanding teacher. I contacted her first because I wanted to bring these misconceptions into the limelight with the help of someone so successful in the field.

“The skillsets I have learned in the arts are analytical reasoning, communication, and most importantly, empathy,” Dr. Carter informed me.

It is those very skills that help students transition into the real world, and the skills that become lost in the de-valuation of the liberal arts. Today, for example, medical schools across the country are incorporating medical humanity programs into their curriculums because students are coming in without the ability to empathize and communicate with patients. And it is the same on the opposite side of the spectrum, law schools are hiring English graduates to help their students learn how to write effectively––a skill crucial for legal writing.

The jobs that English majors typically pursue are in technical editing, journalism, politics, education, law, and public relations. All of these fields require the same skills that Dr. Carter mentioned earlier. After graduation, many of Dr. Carter’s former students have gone to law school or worked at publishing firms. A few have even accepted corporate jobs in public relations.

“You learn a lot from books that you can’t be taught in a traditional setting,” Dr. Carter explained, “I courage any ardent readers and writers who are truly passionate about them to pursue a career somewhere in that field.”

Like Carter and so many others, even those in STEM, cannot predict where we will end up in the long run. “I never saw myself as a professor of English, but here I am,” Dr. Carter said, “doing something so many said was impossible, beating the odds.”

While it seems more practical to major in a STEM-related field, it is also important to acknowledge what you are passionate about. Dr. Carter and I came to the consensus that you should prepare for any future career adequately during the pursuit of your undergraduate degree. Internships, research, and even a minor in another field will help you stand out from other job applicants. Not only that, but in most cases you have the same chance of getting a job compared to someone who actually majored in a specific field. And on a similar note, you even have the same chances of getting into medical, dental, and pharmacy school as a STEM major would.

 

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