If you approach your career with a defensive question like "What can I do with an English major," you may be limiting your choices. Better questions are: "What skills, talents, insights, and abilities do I have?" and "What kinds of jobs do they suggest?" In today’s employment market, when job titles and responsibilities shift so constantly, English majors have an advantage, because they are used to analyzing situations critically and communicating the results of their scrutiny effectively. The Winthrop Center for Career and Civic Engagement (known to most of us as Career Services) provides a handy guide to how you might think about translating your skills into a career.
What can English majors do?
The obvious choices are teaching, graduate school, or becoming a writer, but graduates also excel in many other areas. Because English majors have learned how to write, analyze material, and communicate effectively, and are good problem solvers, they work in many different fields, including sales, management, advertising, and many others. English majors are found in program management, marketing, editing, reporting, creative and technical writing, public relations, medicine, social work, government work, non-profit organizations, and financial services. The kinds of text analysis, writing, and thinking English majors specialize in enhance their creativity, their understanding of human motivation, and their ability to present clear and logical arguments, both in writing and orally. And your foreign language education gives them a competitive advantage in today’s multicultural employment market. To enhance this versatility, we have specifically designed the English major at Winthrop to be a flexible degree.
Are there really jobs out there?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook provides some encouraging statistics for those seeking jobs in traditional "English major" fields like writing, editing, and public relations. The Handbook’s website edition notes that:
- Employment in the communications sector is expected to increase by 16.9 percent, adding 277,000 jobs by 2010. Workers in management, business, and financial occupations plan and direct the activities of business, government, and other organizations. Employment is expected to increase by 2.1 million, or 13.6 percent, by 2010. Among managers, the numbers of public relations managers will grow the fastest, by 36.3 percent. Management analysts also will be one of the fastest growing occupations in this group, with job increases of 28.9 percent.
- Writers and editors held about 305,000 jobs in 2000. About 126,000 jobs were for writers and authors; 57,000 were for technical writers; and 122,000 were for editors. Nearly one-fourth of jobs for writers and editors were salaried positions with newspapers, magazines, and book publishers. Substantial numbers, mostly technical writers, work for computer software firms. Other salaried writers and editors work in educational facilities, advertising agencies, radio and television broadcasting studios, public relations firms, and business and nonprofit organizations, such as professional associations, labor unions, and religious organizations. Some develop publications and technical materials for government agencies or write for motion picture companies.
- Public relations specialists held about 137,000 jobs in 2000. About 6 out of 10 salaried public relations specialists worked in services industries—management and public relations firms, membership organizations, educational institutions, healthcare organizations, social service agencies, and advertising agencies, for example. Others worked for communications firms, financial institutions, and government agencies.
- The BLS recommends this article from Occupational Outlook Quarterly that explains why English is such an important core skill for employment and lists many careers that highly value good English skills.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s English Majors’ Handbook wisely notes that "Most English graduates ultimately find jobs matching their interests and qualifications, but that process takes time, sometimes as long as five or ten years. Planning your career goals early can, of course, reduce this time. Nevertheless, changing jobs in the early years of a career is common, so you should not be discouraged if you can't find exactly the job you want for the first one. What is important in your first job is its potential for growth, for providing you with marketable skills, and for gaining experience. Don't be too proud to take a low-level entry job. Good experience backed up by recommendations that mention your skills can be invaluable, even when the job is far from satisfying your dreams. Remember that each job can help prepare you for a better one."
Famous English Majors
- Amerie, singer
- Vin Diesel, actor
- Matt Smith, actor
- Steven Moffat, television writer and producer
- Benedict Cumberbatch, actor
- Harrison Ford, actor
- Geoffrey Rush, actor
- Bradley Cooper, actor
- Sally Ride, astronaut
- David Duchovny, actor
- Alan Alda, actor/activist
- Barbara Walters, TV host
- James van der Beek, actor
- Jodi Foster, actress/activist
- Diane Sawyer, TV journalist
- Cathy Guisewite, cartoonist
- Reese Witherspoon, actress
- Randy Owen, lead singer of Alabama
- Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice
- Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and now chair of the Board of the National Audubon Society
- Harold Varmus, Nobel Prize laureate, former head of the National Institutes of Health and now CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Research Center
Career Information Resources
Today more than ever, both the private and public sectors need people who can think and adapt. The English major produces creative problem-solvers, and such challenges are abundant in our world. For further information, we encourage you to seek career counseling information from Career Services and your English advisor. Below are some of the many publications available that may help you research career opportunities. Some of these books are available from Career Placement, in Dacus Library, and on loan from Dr. Koster.
- Background Information...for Careers in Writing and Public Information Occupations. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 1990.
- Careers in the Classroom. Teachers College, 1990.
- The College Board Guide to Jobs and Career Planning. College Entrance Examination Board, updated frequently.
- The Educator's Guide to Alternative Jobs and Careers. Impact, 1991.
- The Encyclopedia of Career Choices for the 1990's. Walker and Co., 1991.
- English: The Pre professional Major. 4th ed., rev. MLA, 1986.
- Job Opportunities for Business and Liberal Arts Graduates 1995. 8th ed. Peterson's Guides, 1994.
- Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People. Rev. ed. Peterson's Guides, 1986.
- Lambert, Stephen E. and Julie DeGalan. Great Jobs for English Majors. VGM Career Horizons, 1994.
- Liberal Arts Jobs: What They Are and How to Get Them. Peterson's Guides, Updated semi-annually.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Dept. of Labor, updated annually.
- University of Texas Online Career Center’s What Can I Do With a Major in English? (pdf), which lists a number of job descriptions and the skills English majors have to excel in them
- Kevin Brown has a great article on "What Can They Do With an English Major" in the CEA Forum for Summer/Fall 2009.