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To Be an English Major, Or Not To Be

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

By: Amal Ali (‘21)

Why is it that English majors receive criticism when asked about what their major is in college? Friends and families have concerns about unemployment rates; everyone says English majors will all go onto the life of teaching, or be broke baristas for the rest of their lives. However, these misconceptions are the very opinions that hold several prospective students back.

PrepScholar counts English language and literature as one of the “Worst College Majors” stating those who are ages 25-28 with a Bachelor's degree in English have a median salary of about $44,600 and 4.4% unemployment rate. Unemployment rate measures the percentage within the labor force for English that is currently without a job.

This means out of 100 English majors, 4.4 of them will be unemployed. Although these statistics are accurate, they are not true for every individual pursuing English literature. In fact, mathematics and computer science majors have an unemployment rate of 4.5%, yet because they are more “respectable” this fact flies over many heads. Their median salary, coming in at $99,000 median salaries, is larger, but does not account for every individual.

AP Language and Composition teacher Mr. Peter Honig said, “If you are studying accounting, you are going straight into a career. But where a lot of majors go directly into a clear career path, English does not do that, and is a more broad major.”

Next, the majority of people arrive at the conclusion that all English majors will become teachers. This is simply untrue.

College Composition teacher Ms. Anna Lehre said, “Actually, a big field that a lot of English majors can go into is law. Being an English major, you do a lot of analysis and critical thinking which is helpful to a law student. You do not have to be a political science major to go into law.”

After years of reading countless works and being tested on comprehension, jobs in the fields of journalism, business, management, marketing, humanitarianism, design, law and politics are all available to those with an English background.

Mr. Honig said, “Being able to write well is applicable for absolutely everything, as well as reading carefully and making sense of what you are processing. Humanities majors give you broad knowledge that applies to many fields”.

There is still lots of criticism when it comes to English majors. Many people judge them to be emotional, soppy writers who are in tune with their feelings and write depressing poetry, omitting the actual work that goes into reading and writing. This can be the result of media and entertainment.

An article discussing movies such as the Dead Poets Society, which focuses on a teacher with “poetry driven life lessons'', highlights how the characters in the film are typically discussing their emotions as they write, rather the actual comprehension that goes into the text, so combining “passion.. and analysis” paints an inaccurate picture of how English majors operate.

“Media gives the impression that reading literature is about emotions and feelings,'' Mr. Honig stated, Movies like this frame the English teacher as an emotional person which can be seen as fluff. In reality, you really have to revise your writing, and shape every word which demands intellect and rigor.”

English majors also deal with the idea that their major is “easy” compared to others. Ms. Lehre stated, “I think people misconstrue that being an English major is a piece of cake. It’s not. In my senior year of college, I was taking four unrelated English classes at the same time, all different time periods, and reading and writing papers all the time. You become really efficient and work very hard. You can’t procrastinate and have to have very good time management skills.”

Overall, being an English major ensures a hefty workload and promising job opportunities in the future. Mr. Honig offered advice saying, “Do not limit yourself when choosing courses in college. We are limited when defining English as only reading and analyzing literature. I think it would be better if we defined English as a major more broadly to any type of writing, including the nonfiction forms.”

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