Misconceptions about the English major

February 6, 2018


Revealing to someone that I am majoring in English usually results in a predictable conversation.

Sometimes the person states matter-of-factly that I am destined to be an English teacher. Other times, they look at me with a mix of incredulity and pity and wonder out loud what in the world I’m going to do with that degree.  

I don’t think these people have any malicious intent, but let’s get a couple of things straight.

Teachers are superheroes; I have a great deal of respect and admiration for anyone who decides to go into the teaching profession, and especially for my own current and former teachers.

However, it’s just not for me. I get extreme anxiety and start sweating profusely any time I have to stand up and talk in front of others, and I can’t imagine doing it on an everyday basis.

I’m also not studying English education, so not only would I be a sweaty mess trying to teach a class, I’d be an unqualified sweaty mess.

Nobody wants to see or pay for that train wreck.

Additionally, concerning what I’m going to do with that degree, I don’t yet have a fully formed answer (sorry, Mom and Dad). As of right now, I want to end up in a career that allows me to write and/or edit, but English drew me in partly because of the flexibility that it offers.

Some options include becoming a technical writer, working in advertising, freelancing for a variety of publications, or going to graduate or law school. 

When I first started at UT, one of my Jesup Scott Honors College mentors explained to me how programs in the humanities seek to teach students how to think critically and communicate effectively—marketable skills that can be applied to numerous careers.

On the other hand, majors such as those in the STEM fields seem to take a markedly different approach, teaching students skills to succeed in specialized career paths.

Obviously, if a student graduates with a chemical engineering degree, they probably have aspirations of working as some sort of chemical engineer.

Another aspect of English major life that I appreciate lies in the small classroom sizes. Almost all of my classes center on constructing a collaborative environment and bouncing ideas off of each other as a means of learning.

I’ve had far different educational experiences than those of my friends in engineering, nursing, etc., in which some classes are housed in lecture halls with 200-plus students.   

We English students read, dissect and discuss numerous forms of literature and share our written work with our peers to become better writers and communicators. My homework may be reading novels and writing poems instead of solving differential equations and finding trajectories, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or useless; I put a lot of time and effort into my studies, and I’ve learned a lot these past three semesters.

Because of this versatility, I don’t understand the stereotype of liberal arts majors constantly being unemployed or underemployed.

I know that Toledo doesn’t have the employment opportunities of, say, New York City or Chicago, but job openings do exist. Even still, if relocation is the best way for me to find success after graduation, I’m willing to go elsewhere.

So, please, let English majors—or any student, for that matter—find our own paths. Navigating college while deciding what to do with the rest of our lives is a difficult enough task without the added expectations and concerns of others.

But, if there’s anybody out there who’d still like to provide input, let me know. I’d love to chat, and it just might be a source of inspiration for my next piece. 

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