What Is an English Major to Do?
The first question you’re likely to get when you tell anyone you are studying English is: “What are you going to do with that?”
While you might respond defensively, listing all the skills you are gaining and the careers that utilize them, underneath all the bluster, you know the truth: You have absolutely no clue what you are going to do with your English degree.
Fortunately, you’re in luck as it’s true that English majors have plenty of opportunities in the job market. In fact, many employers are eager for English majors, familiar as they are with the importance of soft skills. If you aren’t so certain where you will go after you graduate, consider the following top career paths for English majors.
Considering that writing is roughly half of what you do in an English undergraduate program, you should graduate with exceedingly well-developed writing abilities. In truth, good writing can be applied in any career; most employers are eager for workers who have a strong grasp of written communication.
However, if you want writing to be the beginning, middle and end of your job, here are a few career options for you:
Most people dream of publishing a book, and you have the experience and skill to get it done. However, you should be aware that becoming a published author is not an easy career path. You might consider choosing this career as a side-hustle until your name is well-established and income is certain.
Who do you think writes all the articles and blogs on the web? Content writers are paid by businesses or marketing firms to write web content used to sell products or services. Most content writers work on a freelance basis, but others find staff positions at companies with high content outputs.
Plenty of professionals find success but never quite learn how to write. This is especially true of those in technical fields, like engineering or science. Technical writers work alongside these professionals to develop written materials, such as reports and manuals, that explain complex concepts easily.
Though print publications are languishing, journalism continues to thrive online. Though journalistic writing style is slightly different to the academic style you learned in undergrad, you can still apply your writing and research skills to this career.
If writing comprises half of an English major’s education, reading is surely the other half. English majors are trained to dive deep into works of literature to form analyses on their structure, meaning and more. This practice transforms English majors into ideal editors, who assist writers in developing the best written works possible.
As with writers, there are several types of editors:
Book editors are often the most popular choice for English majors because they help produce the great works of fiction and non-fiction that graduates study in school. There are at least nine types of editors working in publishing houses, from editors-in-chief who determine what types of books an imprint will publish to proofreaders who look for last-minute mistakes before printing.
Newspapers and magazines also have editors who typically supervise teams of writers, guiding them toward interesting stories and checking their work. These publications also employ several types of editors, from the management-type editors up top to copy editors at the bottom. Usually, high-performing writers are promoted into the upper levels of editing in this sphere.
Copy editors and technical editors check for smaller mistakes in works of writing, such as format, grammar and punctuation. Though it is possible to find employment as a copy- or technical editor at a publishing house or similar, many English majors with editing skill are choosing a freelance lifestyle, which offers unique benefits for flexibility and authority.
Whether due to the proliferation of technology or mismanaged education, American children aren’t learning to read and write as well as they used to.
You could change that. By becoming a teacher, you will take responsibility for the next generation or two of readers and writers, helping them to gain the skills they need to thrive in their future careers and adult lives. Teachers have unending impact on their students so, if you want a job that means something, you might seek teaching certification.
The field of teaching is as large and varied as writing and editing, so you can experiment to find the exact field for you. You might enjoy teaching elementary levels, teens in high school or young adults in college; you might prefer to teach subjects besides English, like history, psychology or speech.
You might even want to devote your attention to students hoping to learn English as a second language. You might need additional training and licensing to follow these paths — for example, for the latter career, you should look into TESOL master’s programs — but if you are attracted to a teaching career, this effort will be worthwhile.
Most careers in the legal field rely heavily on skills gained in English degree programs. Lawyers and paralegals spend most of their time researching and writing, which is what English majors do every semester. The only difference is the material: While English majors generally toil inside works of literature, legal professionals work with legal documents, which are notably different in structure and content. Fortunately, training for this field will help you translate your skills; you only need to choose what legal career path is right for you:
Legal assistants assist lawyers and other professionals within a law firm. Often, their duties include organizing and obtaining important documents, collecting information from clients and scheduling meetings, depositions and similar events. Though legal assistants do not require any formal training, most have familiarity with the legal field through shadowing and internships.
Paralegals are almost like junior lawyers. By law, paralegals are not allowed to give legal advice to clients, but they can prepare documents and develop legal strategies alongside attorneys. Often, paralegals are paid more for their unique skill.
English majors are some of the most common applicants to law schools because their skills translate so well into the legal profession. English majors also tend to score highest on the LSAT, the law school admissions exam, and out-perform other attorneys in their chosen fields. While you attend law school, you should consider which path in law is right for you, so you can hit the ground running after you get your juris doctorate (J.D.)— the degree necessary to practice law.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Develop the skills you need to get that job.
This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.
Being an English major isn’t a burden; it is an outstanding boon that you should use to your advantage when it comes to the time to choose a career.
Thanks to the broad and practical skills you gain as an undergrad, you can fit in almost anywhere and find great success in your work. However, if you want to apply your English student skills to the fullest, you should choose one of the above-listed careers. Then, you can prove to all the naysayers how powerful English majors can be!
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