In Defense of the English Major

  in defense of the english major, Katie a beautiful little adventure

I was an English major in college. No, I was never a teacher, nor did I have any great works published. I simply love to read, analyze, think about, discuss, and write about literature. Being an English major forced me to think critically and abstractly on a daily basis – uncovering themes and tropes as well as applying these thought processes to myself and the world around me.

We English majors get a lot of flak. During college the first response when I informed people what I was majoring in was, “What are going to do with that?” or “That sounds like a  waste of money.” Now, 9 years later, people still ask, “Are you actually using your English degree?”, “Was your degree a waste?”, or “You’re writing, but are you getting paid?”. It’s very rude!

I chose to study literature and still love it today because literature is a study of life in all its greatest forms. You get to experience life through the eyes of the greats from all time periods and doing so heightened my awareness of the human experience.

Additionally, it has broadened my perspective and has helped me become self-aware. I know I drive Ryan and my friends crazy by over analyzing every word, every moment, and every episode of Mad Men (or even  things like pop song lyrics and The Walking Dead). I can’t shake it, it’s part of who I am.

Being an English Major not only primed me to think differently about the world – it has also provided me with valuable tools to use in the workforce. Yes, it took a couple of years to figure out how to hone these skills and use them to my advantage. I couldn’t tell you how many interviews I went to where people stared dumbly at my resume, “so…English major eh?”.

Yet, I feel the my major has allowed me to possess and master certain skills sets that make me a desirable employee in many fields.  Skills like critical thinking, analytical thinking, writing skills, interpersonal skills, synthetic thinking, lateral thinking, creativity and most importantly communication skills. If you can communicate with varying audiences effectively, you can do pretty much anything.

But my choice to be an English major had nothing to do with the skills it would equip me with for the post-graduate job force. As a bright-eyed 18-year-old, I didn’t even consider those skills. I decided to be an English major because I loved to read. Reading allowed me to become other people, to see the world through the eyes of Bronte, Hemingway, Yeats, Milton, and Joyce. It wasn’t a form of escape, it was a way to live a life outside of my own. To experience the world and meet new people outside of my small college campus.

With each piece of literature I was invited to question our society, examine our culture, and analyze the world we occupy. I learned to step behind the lens of varying perspectives and to stretch my mind while nurturing my own opinions and spirit. By doing so I became more part of the world; more human.

People may ask, “So? Why would you become an English major? Why is that so important? How does that make you valuable to the future and the workforce?”

My reply?

Can you imagine a world without literature?A world without stories, letters, poems, plays, movies, song lyrics?

What would be the purpose to life? To simply work, produce products, sell, consume, and die? That would be proposing a life without art, a life without symbolism, a life without humanity.

Civilization is built upon stories and texts and analysis of history. We learn from the past and history is written and told; why else is it called history? From these stories we learn to endure and to grow and to live.

Our existence is meant for more than simply working and producing in order to survive. We are born to create and to enjoy and to share.

I believe all students can mutually agree that they learned more about life than about earning a living during their four years at college. I am fully in support of English Majors.  I can’t think of any better major to personally equip me both mentally and spiritually for my tenure as a human on earth.
xoxo Katie
  • No hatin’ on English majors here! I started out as one, but got burnt out quick reading 14 novels a week and writing papers on them all, so I switched to journalism instead. Lots of my friends were English majors though, and I still love to read. I just like choosing what and how often I read:)

    • kwalshmac

      Yes, at times it was hard to read varying types of literature at the same time, but I really enjoyed most of them. Except 17th century English Literature. Snore. It’s fun to choose what to read now, but there is just something about classics that you can’t find in modern day books. Glad you found a major that suited you perfectly!

  • haha, this reminds me of a song from avenue q, “what do you do with a b.a. in english?” you need to go listen to it if you haven’t haha. (loving that song doesn’t mean that i agree with the lyrics though…) i love this post.

    • kwalshmac

      haha I just looked up those lyrics! Too funny! My mom has that soundtrack, I’ll have to listen to it. And thank you.

  • I minored in English! That is a beautiful response to the interview question.

    And yeah, no one said anything about making a living during college. In journalism school, it was much more about not getting sued. 🙂

    • kwalshmac

      I still don’t know how to “make a living” what does that even mean? I’m making a LIFE worth living, that’s much more important 🙂

  • I was a journalism major, and even I had people tell me that it was a silly major to choose because finding journalism jobs was so difficult. Honestly- I didn’t end up going into journalism, but I still use the skills I learned in college every day- my degree got me a job grant writing which got me into fundraising and event planning- and I love that! So I’m thankful for the path I took.

    • kwalshmac

      It sounds like you and I have had very similar post graduate jobs! (and in all honesty, finding ANY decent job these days is difficult!) I’m glad you found something that makes you happy.

  • Very well said. I’m not using my degree either however Im not as positive as you are about it…maybe I need to work on that!

  • I stumbled upon this article on Thought Cloud and loved it so much that Im now an immediate fan! I was an English major too and had such a hard time following my passion for photography and pursuing my own business because I thought I was giving up on my degree. But it turns out that an English major gave me skills and perspective I use every day! Power to ya for voicing out to the haters who talk it down 🙂 haha

    • kwalshmac

      Hi Leah! Thank you so much! I’m glad that over time you got to appreciate your major and see how it brought you to where you are today. Photography is another art form like writing. Someone has to create the beautiful elements of our world. It all ties together, right? I can’t imagine “un learning” all that I learned from reading and reading all those classics for my four undergraduate years. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  • YES YES AND YES. People can be so rude about that major! I loved majoring in English and I wouldn’t change it for the world. This post is so so true, I love every bit of it!

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