When people think of the words “marketable degree,” most people do not associate them with English. After all, there is a one in a million chance of making it as a bestselling author, especially with the advent of the Internet and the large increase in e-publishing that has resulted. However, fiction writing is not the only thing you can do with an English degree. Graduates from Jewell’s English program over the years have gone on to work in publishing, attend grad schools, work at nonprofits and do technical writing.
These are only a few examples of the wide range of jobs taken by English majors, according to Oxbridge Chair of English Language and Literature, Dr. Mark Walters.
“For instance, it is one of the most represented majors in law school,” Walters said. “…There is not one field that [English graduates] all gravitate toward.”
In fact, over the past five years, of the average 62.9 percent of English graduates who responded to the survey, 100 percent had gotten full or part time work or gone on to graduate school. According to an article by The Atlantic the unemployment rate for English majors right out of college was 9.8 percent. In comparison, economics majors were at 10.4 percent, while computer science majors were at 8.7 percent. Many English majors also go to work in marketing or business and are, in fact, very successful at those jobs.
Walters cites a story told by the former chair of Jewell’s business department as an example:
“People who came to him with very specialized degrees were productive right away, he said, you know, they were productive before the insurance forms dried. He said people would come to him from liberal arts colleges . . . with humanities degrees and English degrees, and he’d put them to work in a job, and because of those other skills, those intellectual skills, those critical thinking skills, those writing skills and those reading skills that they were the ones who ended up moving upward in the company,” Walters said.
English majors within the College have a wide variety of post-grad plans. Johnna Stewart, a first-year English and secondary education major, is planning on teaching high school with her degree.
“English has always been my best subject and my favorite subject. I like reading and writing, so I figured English would be good. And then throughout middle school and high school, my English teachers were the ones that made the biggest difference in my life,” Stewart said.
Lexie McDanel, senior, is planning on taking a very different path with her English and history majors.
“I’m really wanting to find a career that involves a one-on-one engagement with other individuals. And I want to try and connect that to the English and history major through museum work or publishing,” McDanel said.
The English major and the act of reading itself, however, have far more benefits for students than job placement numbers. According to a study done by The New School for Social Research and cited in a “New York Times” article, readers of literary fiction in particular had greater empathy than those who read popular fiction, nonfiction or nothing at all. Jewell’s program, specifically, requires its students to take classes in creative writing; critical theory; British, world and U.S. literature; and two senior research seminars.
This approach is not exclusive to Jewell, but, according to Walters, it is unique.
“I think there’s our emphasis on creative writing, critical theory, and literature, and then as a subset of that . . . also our requirements of British, US and World literature. And probably then the senior seminars; they write two sustained papers involving deep research,” Walters said.
All the English majors interviewed for this article also cited various theories of literary criticism, or ways of reading texts, as the most interesting or important thing they have learned in an English class here. The theories, they said, helped them to bring new perspectives not only to their reading but also to everyday life. The study of different lenses of looking at literature, and how each is socially constructed, also ties in with Jewell’s Critical Thought and Inquiry (CTI) curriculum.
“At Jewell, we’re asked that question ‘what is real.’ And I think for a lot of English majors, we struggle with that question because we have discussed in class how what is real is what our cultural collective thinks is real, so would it be real if the cultural collective didn’t believe it? So just discussing that idea of what is real and what is constructed by our society, how do we notice it or do we notice it at all?” McDanel said.
McDanel is not the only student whose perception of reality has been affected by something she learned in an English class.
“You think you have a grasp of a concept, or even could understand what someone was saying about a concept, and then you’ll read something that makes complete sense and yet flips that concept completely on its head,” Sam Buhling, sophomore English and philosophy major, said.
Whatever function it may serve for the job-seeking graduate, it seems that an English degree is not necessarily a commitment to one career or another for these students.