English majors are just as employable as everyone else

Stop acting like we all made the biggest mistakes of our lives


If you’re a history major, you’ve heard it. If you’re a theater major, you’ve heard it. If you’re a film, linguistics, sociology, or philosophy major, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you’ve heard it. Let’s not even talk about how often an art major hears it.

“Oh! That’s you’re major? Good luck after graduation.”

Today I’m talking to the English majors, because we have one of the biggest stereotypes of pretentious in class, pointless in the world. Even Ted Mosby of How I Met Your Mother, who feels like an old friend of mine, equated the leftover information he has collected over the course of a failed relationship to “the emotional equivalent of an English degree.” That stings, Ted.

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But really, this applies to anyone in the humanities and arts: those of us who spend more time learning why things should be one way rather than how to make it so. Our degrees are seen as less technical, less practical, less applicable than a degree in business, engineering or economics. And when it comes time to leave our cocoon and apply for jobs, many English majors end up apologizing in interviews for studying what they love.

While collecting information and experiences from those that got hired with a humanities background and those that did the hiring, it became clear that the way society views English majors, and those with similar degrees, is outdated and unfair. It’s time to instead focus on the strength you get from devoting your education to the study of language and literature.

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From big picture to a bite size

Based on the context of the work, what does the green light in The Great Gatsby symbolize? Hope? Delusion? Ambition? All of the above? None of the above? You have 500 words to convince me of your answer.

English majors wrestle with big questions of big works daily, which is convenient considering that taking large ideas and being able to analyze them and deliver a logical response is instrumental in almost any field.

Not only does studying English make analysis faster and more fluid, it also makes it more exact. As Jenirae Beyer-Johnson said, her English major helped her stand out among film majors when applying to a film production company because she can “understand and recognize important themes” and “synthesize a large amount of information into a digestible tidbit.” English majors know how to make sense of things, because they know what they are looking for. A lifetime of noses in dusty books from the Odyssey to A Clockwork Orange has taught us the timeless themes of humanity and how to get to the heart of the matter.

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Communication

This one is pretty self-explanatory. We love to think, to talk about what we think, to write about what we talk about, need I say more?

Okay, I will—but only because I am an English major. Studying English means a lot of essays and debates (also known as discussions, but who are we kidding). We need to be adept at conveying our thoughts and opinions as well as understanding and addressing those opinions that we do not share. As a student these skills translated into good grades, as an employee they manifest into effective teamwork, marketing and conflict resolution.

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Knowing how to learn

Chances are, when you are hired—at a company, firm, collective, whatever it is—you will have to do things you have never done before. No degree can give you all the tools you need in your kit, just as no amount of education will push you to the maximum of knowledge you can acquire. Studying English, just as with many humanities subjects, prepares you to continue learning.

You may not know anything about whaling before reading Moby Dick or have a very poor historical understanding of the Great Depression before reading Grapes of Wrath, but you do know how to become a pseudo-expert in it before reaching page 100. As a fellow English student at Emory University said, “I can provide intelligent, thoughtful comments about a piece of work outside of my experience, and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t an English major.” An English major reminds us that we must be humble about the vast amount of knowledge that remains untouched by our academic scope, but pushes us to always be curious enough to seek out that unexplored territory.

Of course, there are so many more benefits to an English degree; these are a mere jumping off point to change the perspective and assure both yourself and the person on the other side of that interview table that your degree provides a unique and indispensable asset.