Is A Degree In English Useless?

"Next year I’m going to be a sophomore in college, which means that it’s probably about time to stop messing around and pick a major. The thing is, the only classes I’ve really had fun with so far are English classes. But English isn’t exactly the most practical choice of a major. When I tell people I think I might major in it, they laugh at me and ask what I’m going to do with an English degree. What can I tell them? Is this a useful degree, or is it a waste of time like everybody else seems to imply?"

asked by Mitch from Grand Island, NE

There is really no reason to declare an English degree to be useless. It is perhaps not the most pragmatic choice, and by itself it won’t necessarily open a large number of doors directly to high paying jobs. It is however a fine choice if you think you might go on to graduate school, whether in English or in another field. A lot of English majors go on to law school or medical school.

English goes over very well with admissions boards for those programs, so if you think something like that might interest you in the future, English is a perfectly good place to get started. You also might go on to do a graduate program in English, which may be enough to land you a career directly in the field.

On top of that, an English degree is a degree, and a bachelor’s degree is often all that is required for entry-level positions in a variety of different fields. Any degree can be useful in a broad sense.

What you majored in often is not as important as the fact that you majored in something and successfully graduated. You also may find a variety of related jobs available such as jobs in advertising or public relations (at that rate, look into a journalism, PR, advertising or communications program at your school; you may find you would enjoy that as well).

If you do manage to get an actual job directly in the English field, you will likely have an area of focus like journalism, technical writing, creative writing, publishing, advertising, business, or law. English majors find a variety of employers, but many work for media outlets, newspapers, magazines, websites, advertising agencies, and so forth. Many more find employment as English teachers in colleges and secondary schools. Technical writers may find employment for tech firms that need somebody versed in English to communicate effectively about the products they are developing.

How can you boost your chances of landing a great job? It is wise to choose a specialization within your degree field (i.e. technical writing) and take strong elective classes to back up your choice. You also can do extracurricular activities such as writing for the college newspaper. It is wise to try your hand at freelancing while you are still in school, and you can pursue an internship to jump start your career as well.

So yes, there are opportunities in English, and it’s not a useless degree—but it is best to go in with a solid plan!

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