An English class is a passport, facilitating journeys through time, across cultures and into the minds of fascinating people. For students who enjoy reading novels, debating ideas and polishing prose, “there’s a lot of pleasure in being an English major,” says Robert Matz, Renaissance literature scholar and campus dean of George Mason University Korea.
There’s also a lot of career potential associated with earning the degree. Increasingly, employers seek workers who possess strong communication, creative thinking and interpersonal skills, all of which students should develop in college-level English courses.
“Understanding how to work within ambiguity is a real skill,” Matz says. “How do you make sense of conflicting information? How do you read between the lines?”
Indeed, editor Samantha Enslen credits her English major with teaching her what she believes to be the most important workplace competencies: “The ability to digest complex information, literally apply your brainpower to understanding it and analyzing it and being able to explain what you have learned, clearly, to other people.”
What Can You Do With an English Degree?
Studying English doesn’t correspond neatly with a single professional path, which means it offers flexibility to head in myriad directions.
“I knew an English major would be a strong foundation for any career I wanted to pursue,” says Courtney Young, university librarian at Colgate University. “It is such an interdisciplinary degree.”
Matz’s analysis of the jobs English majors reported having in the 2010-2012 American Community Survey reveals the wide range of viable careers for English majors:
— 22.6 percent pursued teaching and library professions.
— 17.2 percent work as managers in business, science or the arts.
— 9.7 percent have office and administrative support roles.
— 8.6 percent work in the arts, design, entertainment, media or sports.
— 7.7 percent have legal occupations, such as lawyer or judge.
— 7.6 percent have gone into sales.
— 5.1 percent work in business.
— Smaller percentages work in social services, computer fields and health care.
Common Jobs for English Majors Include:
English Degree Jobs Outcomes
More than 40 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in English language and literature in 2017 had standard full-time jobs six months after graduation, while about a fifth were continuing their educations, according to research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Compare that to the 53.3 percent of all 2017 graduates who were employed in standard full-time roles within six months and 17.5 percent who were continuing their educations.
The average starting salary was $37,825 for English majors from the class of 2017, compared to $50,253 for all majors, according to NACE.
Moving beyond entry-level pay, data from 2009 through 2013 put the median annual wage for workers ages 25 through 59 who have English bachelor’s degrees at $53,000, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, compared to $61,000 for all majors.
Explore jobs for English majors in more detail below.
Working with books, music, film, records, archival objects and innovative technology systems, librarians help people find and use all kinds of information. The role includes considering how to make both physical space and resources accessible to knowledge seekers.
“We do incredibly rewarding work contributing to the communities we serve,” Young says.
A job at her college’s library during her undergraduate days led Young to put her English skills to good use as a professional librarian. She earned a master’s degree in library science — an industry requirement — then worked at several colleges before landing at Colgate University in New York.
One of the benefits Young most enjoys is helping undergraduates develop as scholars and people. “Being able to see how much they’ve grown and appreciate the role the library has played in their being successful is special,” Young says.
The median salary for librarians was $58,520 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for librarians is predicted to increase 9 percent by 2026.
[Read: Biology Jobs for Science Lovers.]
Studying English requires analyzing texts and crafting persuasive arguments, two skills that are essential to work as a lawyer. Getting into the profession requires earning a graduate law degree, then passing the bar exam issued by the state where you hope to practice.
Attorneys advocate for and advise clients on matters related to the law. Some appear in court, while others work more behind the scenes. A fifth of lawyers are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while nearly another fifth work for local, state or the federal government.
The median salary for lawyers was $119,250 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job openings are predicted to grow 8 percent by 2026.
Technical Writer and Editor
Some writers compose poetry. Others craft novels. And still others produce journalism that analyzes news of the day. Demand and pay for these positions is typically lower than that of technical writers, who convert esoteric information into consumer-friendly manuals, research papers and website copy.
Enslen, president of Dragonfly Editorial and vice president of ACES: The Society for Editing, says at her company, technical writers and editors publish materials for clients from industries such as finance and chemical manufacturing.
For that kind of work, “it’s incredibly hard to find good writers,” she says. “We are writing about very complex service offerings, and sometimes quite sophisticated business scenarios. It takes honestly a lot of sheer brainpower to understand what our customers are selling and to write about it.”
After majoring in English, Enslen fell into the field after proving to be an adept proofreader during an internship at a publishing firm. Today, as a business owner, her daily responsibilities include marketing her company’s services and hiring talented workers.
To break into the industry, Enslen recommends publishing your own blog to show off your skills, using editing workbooks to practice the fundamentals and joining relevant professional associations to network with people who may be interested in hiring you.
The median salary for technical writers was $70,930 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for technical writers is estimated to grow 11 percent by 2026. The median salary for editors of all kinds was $58,770, and job openings are predicted to grow 1 percent by 2026.
Like attorneys, fundraisers seek to persuade. Their rhetoric is designed to convince potential donors to give money to particular causes, whether political or charitable. But their work extends beyond simply asking for funds; they also inform the public about what their organizations do, interact with volunteers, pay attention to regulations and thank donors for their support.
Early in his nonprofit career, Bret Heinrich drew on his college training when he had to prepare requests for financial support from three different audiences: the government and corporate and private foundations.
“Being an English major taught me how to pay attention to my intended audience and keep them in mind first, and to write and speak for clarity,” said Heinrich, president and CEO of humanitarian aid nonprofit Wings of Hope, in an email. “Choosing words carefully in order to make your case for support literally had a direct impact on our ability to receive funding or not.”
He cites the wide reading his degree required for some of his leadership skills: “I have been able to climb inside the minds of U.S. presidents, poets, generals and so many more through reading. To understand and consider decision-making, world views and personal values through reading and the humanities helped me prepare to become a nonprofit leader.”
Nearly half of fundraisers work for religious groups, professional organizations or civic nonprofits, while nearly a quarter work for education institutions and a sixth work for health care and social assistance groups.
The median salary was $55,640 for fundraisers and $111,280 for fundraising and public relations managers in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job openings are predicted to grow 15 percent for fundraisers and 10 percent for managers by 2026.
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