5 Things Every English Major Should Know

Ginger Abbot

Jan 26, 2023

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Deciding your college major is a milestone that marks the first step on your path toward lifelong success. Although many people emphasize the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors, choosing an English degree program fosters curiosity and imagination. It also instills a versatile skill set transferable to an expansive range of career opportunities. However, there are certain things every English major should know before signing on.

Since the Great Recession, English majors have decreased by 25.5%, mainly because parents and students worry about a lack of job prospects and steady pay. Yet storytellers, writers, and critical thinkers remain a vital asset to every industry. 

In many cases, humanities majors work their way up the career ladder to earn a salary comparable to other majors. For example, a 2018 survey found that humanities bachelor’s holders had a median salary of $58,000 while all other undergraduate degree holders made around $63,000.

When declaring an English major, students have much to look forward to; however, there may be a few surprises, such as how much reading and writing they’ll actually have to do. Here are five things every English major should know as they begin their degree programs.

1. Lots of Reading and Writing

The amount of work required for a typical English curriculum surprises even the most avid reader and writer. As the semester progresses, your professors will assign many books for you to read, depending on the course topic. 

A full schedule of four or five classes could find you reading nearly four books at once. While some selections may be of little interest to you, it’s possible to uncover more profound meaning and appreciation for the texts regardless.  

English majors also regularly write 10 to 20-page papers, forming scholarly inquiries and demonstrating their comprehension of literary works. Typically, you’ll be asked to refer to peer-reviewed research and historical contexts to back up your ideas. 

2. Calendars Are the Key to Success

First-time college students, in particular, may find it challenging to adapt to their reading and writing course load. That’s why it’s essential to keep a detailed calendar to stay organized.

Schedule any assigned readings and be sure to spread them out so you can better understand and digest the information. You’ll also want to give yourself plenty of time to complete papers. An essay done the night before it’s due will most likely not be completed to the best of your ability.

A couple of days should be enough to proofread your assignments before the due date and make any necessary revisions.

Of course, don’t forget to schedule a time to eat and practice self-care. Being an English major may begin to wear you down, so taking care of your health and getting plenty of rest is critical. You’ll want to prevent burnout to boost productivity and achieve those higher scores. 

3. Opportunities to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Students enrolled in an English degree program will likely take several general literary theory, grammar, and composition coursework. Additionally, there will be a breadth of topics that you can enroll in as electives. Some examples may include the following:

  • Genre fiction: Romance, mystery, drama, horror, science fiction, etc.
  • Cultural and historical fiction: African American literature, Russian short fiction, British literature, Latin American literature, female writers, etc.
  • Poetry: Shakespeare, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, 19th-century American poetry, modernist poetry, epics, etc.
  • Creative writing: Fiction workshop, prose and memoir workshop, poetry workshop, etc.

You’re encouraged to explore the wide range of literary and writing classes offered in your program. Take courses that intimidate you and force you out of your comfort zone. 

If you’ve never learned how to interpret poetry, immerse yourself in a poetry class. For those who’ve only ever written fiction, a prose workshop will teach you how to craft creative nonfiction. Now is the time to figure out where your interests and natural abilities genuinely lie.  

4. Gain Marketable Skills

Upon declaring yourself an English major, concerned family and friends probably told you that “writing isn’t in demand” and that you’d have “few employment opportunities.” However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many corporate leaders have underlined the incredible value humanities degree holders bring to various industries, including technology and health fields. 

English majors gain an abundance of highly desirable skills throughout their programs that set them up for life, such as:

  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Self-learning capabilities
  • Communication skills
  • Ability to conduct research
  • Creativity
  • Giving and receiving constructive feedback
  • Persuasion skills
  • Social perceptiveness and empathy

As an English major, you’ll gain the capacity to think outside the box and grow proficient at analyzing information. Companies are always searching for writers who can communicate clearly and are open to learning new skills. 

5. Limitless Career Options

English majors will most likely be surprised by the number of job prospects they have with their degree — and it’s going up.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment growth for writers is expected to increase by 9% in the next decade. Writers may work as content writers, copywriters, proofreaders, editors, technical writers, authors, or scriptwriters. You might also find them working for advertising and marketing agencies, news and media organizations, and publishing companies.

Other occupations for English majors include teachers, account managers, paralegals, public relations managers, or grant writers. Although you might expect English majors to seek work in arts, media, and education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported that 4% of science and engineering workers held degrees in the humanities. Another 5% of healthcare workers and 7% of computer scientists had humanities-related degrees, as well.

Is an English Degree Right for You?

Only you can decide if pursuing a degree in English is the right choice for your academic and professional aspirations. If you enjoy reading and writing and would like to explore future opportunities as a writer, declaring yourself an English major will teach you essential skills and open doors to many possibilities. Hopefully, this list of things every English major should know will help you make the right decision for you.  

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