What Can I Do With an English Major?

  • 2016-06-28
  • Association of Departments of Foreign Languages at the Modern Language Association

The story of the unemployable English major is both powerful and damaging, since students are more than ever concerned that their choice of degree will lead to successful employment—reasonably so considering the lingering effects of the recession and the high cost of postsecondary education in the US. Hence it behooves us to counter the belief that English majors can’t get a job. Indeed, both institutions and individuals have begun to push back on that story. For example The Atlantics boldly titled article from June 2013, “The Best Argument for Studying English? The Employment Numbers,” points out that employment statistics for English majors aren’t really that different than from other fields—especially when compared to other fields in the liberal arts such as in social science as opposed to “truly pre-professional fields—including health, business, and education.” The author of this piece concludes, “Bottom line: If humanities departments really want to win students back from the clutches of political science and econ, they’d be smart to start by showing them the employment stats.”

I mostly agree with this author. We do need to show the employment stats. However, I’m uncomfortable trying to “win students back from the clutches of political science and econ.” Those are important majors too! In addition, having worked for some time with “the employment stats,” I do not think it as obvious as the author of this article to know exactly how to go about doing so. For the remainder of this post I’d like to outline some of the resources we have to make our case, as well as some of the limitations of these resources.