A popular meme on social media sites features Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, usually making a casual observation and then following it with a good degree of snark: “Oh so you thought since it was 80 degrees in December, it would be warm on Spring Break…how long have you lived in Texas?” One that I have not seen – yet: “Oh so you got a degree in English…how is poverty suiting you?”
English majors are in decline based on a misconception about the endgame: post-graduate employment. Although I firmly believe that the arguments for why a Humanities degree is more enriching than ANY talk about economic realities, making them would be lost. Quite frankly, many people do not want to hear about the search for truth, living a life worth living, finding the good and beautiful, etc. “That is all fine and dandy, but it won’t put food on the table.”
Financial Woes Myth
Getting a degree in English does not doom one to a life of employment woes and financial assistance. According to a Drury University study of Humanities and non-Humanities graduates, both sets “really don’t differ by much with respect to unemployment rates” (“Human”). This means a matter of one or two percentage points. According to Georgetown University’s report, Hard Times, this percentage reduces to fractions of a point on average with field experience or graduate study (Weissman). In short, those concerned stakeholders (parent, friends, etc.) of potential English majors should not worry themselves about a perception based on the supposition that English majors face high unemployment.
English “Professions” Outside the Box
Another prime misconception is the notion that the only jobs available to English graduates are in education or what we call “words professions” (writing, editing, publishing, etc.). This is so far from the truth.
English graduates possess a unique combination of skills which many employers value: communication (oral AND written), critical thinking, global perspectives, and creative problem solving. Although many agencies call these soft skills, they are highly valued. The FBI and CIA recruit English majors for this very reason. That’s right (cue dramatic action music), the F–B–I!
Of course, if this line of work is not a student’s cup of tea, then the following is just a sample of career opportunities:
- library sciences
- communications manager
- policy analyst
- purchasing agent
- special events coordinator
- real estate
- urban planning
- museum curator
This list does not include the various occupations associated with education and writing. The English degree accommodates a wide variety of interests, passions, and gifts whether in, among others, administration, arts and entertainment, non-profit agencies, law, or medicine.
30% of students accepted to medical schools come from the Humanities – yep, you read that right!
Thus to all of those apprehensive students, friends, and family, do not fret. Although some jobs are more lucrative than others (did you know that Matt Damon was an English major?), the English degree is not the kiss of death. In fact, in so many ways which I cannot explain in this posting, it is immersion in life. Moreover, with the many career opportunities out there for those adept in the “soft” skills, the chances for employment are far from limited.
Of course, being an FBI agent still sounds cool!
- “Human, All-Too-Human.” Drury University. Web. 6 March 2014.
- Weissman, Jordan. “The Best Argument for Studying English? The Employment Numbers.” The Atlantic. 25 June 2013. Web. March 6 2014.