Something that drives English majors crazy while they’re going through school is the question “What are you going to do with an English degree?”
At one point, while working through college, I overheard a former supervisor saying, “He’s getting an English degree. You can’t do anything with that!”
And I was happy about the irony when, after graduating, I turned in my notice and mentioned I was going to work at a publishing office. When that very supervisor asked how I got the job, I responded, “I just got my English degree.”
While print publishers are not doing as well as they used to, there are still plenty of opportunities for English majors.
English Majors: Stuck in Stereotypes
There’s a good reason for English majors to hate the idea that there is nothing they can do with their degree—and not just out of defensiveness.
If someone’s a biology or chemistry major, do they actually have the title of “biologist” or “chemist”? They may sometimes, but otherwise, people do make the connection between a biologist and someone getting into the medical field, or between a chemist and someone getting into pharmaceuticals or product development of some kind.
And while everyone has heard of editors, proofreaders and the like, seemingly no one makes the connection between those jobs and people with English degrees. Most of the general public just automatically falls for the stereotype that there is nothing you can do with an English degree.
Just a Few Examples of Jobs for English Majors
There are many webpages with lists of jobs for English majors—many more than most people expect. I can speak the most into editing jobs, but here are three out of many, just to give a few examples.
Content Editing and Publishing Jobs. Publishing offices—whether print or online publishing—need editors of some type. Content is huge these days; and someone needs to edit, strategize and organize that content. Jobs can range from proofreaders (who usually edit for the basics of grammar, punctuation, etc.) to copyeditors (who go beyond grammar and punctuation) to content creators and strategists.
Social Media and Email. There are entire jobs now for people who strategize and post on social media. At first glance, it may seem like these would not have the potential for full-time work, but let’s take email as an example.
For any given email campaign, there needs to be a strategy and scheduling (we’ll talk in part two about why English degrees are well suited for various tasks). After that, the email has to be composed. Once the text and images are in an email format, the email may need to be tweaked for various audiences; many companies likely have various email lists, depending on locations, preferences and email-reading habits of the recipients.
Beyond that, before an email goes out about cosmetics, for example, it’s likely that experts on the product, whether in a marketing department, product development department or otherwise, will need to check and approve that email.
While social media may or may not include all the processes for email, it has other additional tasks beyond the obvious.
Marketing Writing. For those so inclined, marketing writing is another option. This includes typical marketing copy, fundraising materials, direct mail campaigns, ad copy and the like. Some of this is agency-driven, but there are plenty of companies and organizations that need staff with this skill. This is not necessarily “only a freelance job.”
It’s worth mentioning, also, that as with many jobs, the titles for the above positions are not necessarily going to be “marketing writer,” “social media editor,” etc. Even at publishing offices, there are different levels of editors—and different job descriptions for the same title vary across companies. Job titles are just a starting place.
There are many jobs out there for English majors—if you are an English major, don’t let anyone dissuade you because of long-accepted stereotypes in our society. You probably already know that from doing career research; if you’re just starting your research, you will probably be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
And yes, it is possible to get promotions and advance with an English degree. We’ll talk more about that in part two coming up. We’ll also talk about the vital skills English majors possess that make them perfectly suited to certain positions.