How Do I Prepare For an English Major?

Carolina Jacobs

Feb 20, 2023

We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.

Solidifying a college major is exhilarating, as it hones in on the one subject that invigorates you over all others. Still, it’s possible high school may not be providing all the preparation you need.

If you’ve chosen to undertake an English major, there are ways to train your mind to bear the workload more gracefully. Let’s look at some of the most effective ways to answer the question, “How do I prepare for an English major?”

1. Have Accurate Assignment Expectations

Before college, your student schedule varied between distinct subjects and a multitude of assignment types. You’ll have math problems where you must show every step alongside ten-page essays with a bibliography. Depending on your skills in each subject, specific tasks will take more time than others. Assignments for English majors are a time-consuming mixture of a few skills — reading, writing and typing.

These activities take much longer than a multiple-choice assignment or running through flashcards and keywords. Don’t stress over enhancing reading speeds so much as taking the time to understand where you currently sit with your metrics. If you’re a slow reader, it may be a great time to start practicing, but at the very least it can provide a great starting point to know how to manage your time when you enter your first lecture.

English majors don’t always read then write either. Consider taking time to research, sifting through multiple source materials, including books, newspapers, and online media, and extrapolating notes from them, then translating that into a digestible paper. This, alongside outlining, editing and revising, all take time, so develop accurate and patient expectations for how long tasks may take.

2. Know What Concentrations Are Available

You may be entering college to learn more about your passion — the English language. If this is the case, this step will be much simpler than most as you can dive into the concentration with as much drive as you want. However, many enter college to obtain a more prestigious job or advance up the academic ranks into a doctoral program. Here are some of the most common types of English degrees you may be able to pick from, depending on what your university offers:

  • Literature
  • Composition
  • Creative Writing
  • Linguistics
  • Education

Each of these umbrellas provides different opportunities. Creative writing may lead to marketing positions where you write blogs, and English education could mean teaching English as a second language. Perhaps English is a means to jump into law school later in life or to enhance your skills to give your startup vision a foundation.

The point is to know what an English major can and can’t offer so you aren’t surprised when you’re halfway through your degree and feel you aren’t qualified for your end goal. College should be the prime time to make you feel confident heading into job interviews — you are there to develop expertise, after all.

3. Read and Write For Fun

Your schedule will be fairly full, given your coursework. Assigned reading and writing may become monotonous, potentially leading to burnout from them altogether. Even if it’s just a little bit a day, never forget to balance required assignments with leisurely reading and writing. These hobbies got you into the English major in the first place — it doesn’t make sense for a university to take it over for four years. 

Don’t wait until graduation day to start reading that series or writing your spoken word magnum opus. Keeping your creative well full and inspired will help propel you through periods of burnout throughout the next busy years. Reading and writing for fun will remind you why you’re there in the first place.

4. Develop Arguments With Confidence

There will be essays aplenty, but there will also be opportunities for roundtable discussions in workshops or literature courses. The foundation for English is understanding the language, but it is also about learning how to extrapolate information to derive meaning. There are plenty of literary majors who can argue about authorial intent and metaphors, but the beauty of being an 

English major is all you need to back up your argument is source material. Have self-respect, know what you wrote in your term paper, and say that during classroom debates are valid because you can point to that moment in the text or have an authoritative source to reference.

5. Hone the Basics to Focus on What Matters

Entering college is not the time to spend perfecting grammar and spelling. This is the age of expanding your critical thinking, writing craft and literary analysis — no matter your chosen concentration. If you feel dissatisfied with some of your basic skills before you apply for college is a great time to grab a tutor or ask high school teachers for extra guidance. You will not have time, among other obligations, like clubs, social life and potentially a job, to worry about supplementing what should have been honed in high school. 

There are also plenty of technological resources available to train you, such as Grammarly, that can remind you about pesky grammar rules like subject-verb agreement and ambiguous antecedents. You don’t have to be perfect, but you should try to be close to foundational skills and know the resources available to help guide you through the rest. College is about the big picture and complex ideas that deserve your attention.

6. Go in With a Purpose

Entering college is a feat in and of itself, but staying is an entirely different beast. Though it’s desirable to have a singular focus, it’s possible burnout could be headed your way even after the first semester. If you’re not pursuing an English degree with the proper purpose, it will be hard to maintain momentum to see all your years through. All remember your why by asking guiding questions to reframe your perspective if you’re feeling lost:

  • Why did I choose an English major in the first place, and do I still feel the same?
  • Do I think I will make a difference in myself, my field, or the world as an English major?
  • Am I feeling disinterested in English because I’m in school or because I don’t like it anymore?
  • Is there something else I would rather be doing with my academic time?

Preparing for a Degree in English

English majors could be one of your university’s most versatile and thoughtful degrees. Since it is in the liberal arts, it allows you to experiment with most of the subjects your school offers to provide some variety in your schedule until later. No matter what you study in school during your English degree, it will craft your mind into one better suited for exploring the world around you, making you a competitive candidate for the jobs you strive to obtain.

Written By