Majoring in English
Updated: Feb 25
English is the most popular major among liberal arts students. More degrees are awarded in English than in any of the other liberal arts disciplines. English majors are not necessarily aspiring writers or journalists. However, they tend to be avid readers and good writers. Studies in English emphasize analysis. Articulate individuals who are skilled writers, thinkers and communicators are highly valued by corporations and government agencies. Typically, English majors go on to careers in law, advertising, journalism, publishing, education, writing or management. Many earn graduate degrees in areas such as linguistics, law, film, drama, health sciences or business.
English offers students the chance to study both the history of literature as well as the ways that literature has affected history. By focusing on the varied topics addressed by writers, we learn of challenges faced and met, and the society that produced those challenges. It is no exaggeration to view the study of English as the study of humankind.
English departments differ from college to college. Some incorporate the many subdisciplines of English, such as creative writing, American studies, comparative literature and technical writing, while others give these areas stand-alone status and totally separate departments. When exploring colleges, check out the breadth and depth of the English-themed classes available to undergraduates.
Typical courses for an English major include survey classes of English and American literature, classes in history of the English language, modern English grammar, poetry, short story, English drama, and literature of different eras, such as Medieval or Victorian literature. English classes build skills beyond literary analysis: students learn to read critically. They they study the ways that a literary work both creates and reflects the surrounding history and culture that produced it. All English classes incorporate a considerable amount of reading and writing. The major also requires a good deal of library research.
Creative writing is a popular major for those interested in English language and literature. In this major, students examine the works of established writers and begin to develop their own personal style. Creative writing majors might concentrate in a specific genre such as fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, or screenwriting. While many of the core courses are similar to those of the English major, upper-division writing courses teach writing techniques such as characterization, dialogue, plot, organization and tone. Graduates with this major (or minor) may become professional writers or may work in a related field like teaching, editing, publishing, advertising, television, broadcasting or journalism.
Technical and business writing majors learn to make technical information understandable to laymen. They become the communicators that increasingly help citizens adapt to a technological age. The job of the technical writer is to translate the obscure jargon of science, engineering, computers and the Internet into ordinary language that is understandable by the masses. Typical courses include correspondence and report writing, scientific and business writing, software and product documentation, multimedia use and technical editing. Career paths often take technical writing majors to positions as website editors, documentation writers, product planners or technical communicators for business.
American Literature majors study the history and development of American literature and examine the political and social forces that have shaped it. Graduates may go on to journalism and publishing careers, may teach at high school or college level or enter the business world in careers that value their strong research skills.
Career Paths for English Majors
Corporate communications manager
Public relations professional
Search engine marketer
Social media manager
TV, radio or film writer