What you can do with an English Major
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If you are wondering what you might do with an English major, you may first want to know what our graduates have done with theirs. We recently surveyed our alumnae and alumni--please see the full report on the 1999-2007 survey (PDF document).
If you are interested in how a major in English might point you toward a challenging and fulfilling career, you can find reassurance--and lots of information--at The Office of Career Services in Golisano Hall. You can arrange an interview with one of the career counselors. You can explore an interactive database there with SIGI-Plus. You might take the Holland Self-Directed Search, an interest and skills inventory. Of course, as an English major, you might just prefer to read some books. The Office of Career Services can lend you any of the following titles:
Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People
Career Choices for Students of English
Career Choices for Students of Communications and Journalism
Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types.
You might also want to look at English: The Pre-Professional Major, an inexpensive booklet published by the Modern Language Association and available at the Wick Bookstore. As a general rule, the earlier you are aware of your options the more likely you are to select the courses (including work-oriented courses in writing) and internships that will be most useful to you.
When we asked our recent majors what they were doing six months after graduation, we found that they were employed in a wide range of positions--some clearly career oriented, and others more eclectic, perhaps reflecting a decision to "take the summer off" before embarking on a serious job-hunt. Many graduates were working in sales, management, customer service, order processing, marketing, or wholesaling; some are interns. Job titles include Graphics Specialist, Technical Writer, Sports Information Director, Hostess, Meeting Manager, Writer, Radio DJ & Part-time Producer, Counselor, Law Assistant, and Assistant Concepts Director. Keep in mind that though your first job out of college may be the first step in a professional career that will keep you occupied for the rest of your life, it is also likely to be an entry-level position in which you must "pay your dues" as a new entrant into the work force.
Certain more traditional career paths leading from an English major require a great deal of training and planning, both under- and postgraduate, and so we elaborate on them on the following pages: the professions of lawyer, secondary-school teacher, and college professor.
Become a lawyer
Become a secondary English teacher
Teach English as a Second Language
Become a college professor
Become a graduate student in literature
Become a lawyer The skills that you will acquire as an English major--in reading, analyzing, researching, and writing--are equally useful in the practice of law, and successful English majors have always been good candidates for law school admission. As the Assistant Dean of Chicago Law School, Richard Badger, wrote many years ago,
Language is the lawyer's working tool and the best law students are those who have the ability to write and speak with precision, fluency, and economy. Not only must the student be able to communicate his or her own thoughts clearly, but he or she must have the ability to read and listen carefully with an eye and ear for fine points and subtle distinctions.
Literary study hones these skills, of course, and also encourages a necessary tolerance for ambiguity. In addition, courses such as Public Speaking, Advanced College Writing, Latin, Logic, and Principles of Accounting develop other abilities important in law. Although neither these nor undergraduate law courses will necessarily make your candidacy seem more attractive on paper, they will help you to succeed in law school.
Traditionally, it was possible to fix on the legal profession as a last-minute option during one's senior year of study, since it requires no set undergraduate pre-law curriculum. Today's very competitive market, however, makes it unlikely that anyone sporting a mediocre record--one lacking not only in distinction but in challenging courses--will be admitted to a reputable law school. Although grades and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores are perhaps the most important admission criteria, other indicators--an ambitious program of courses, the assumption of leadership roles in selected extra-curricular activities, and signs of good character--can make the difference. The acceptance of an invitation to the Honors Program, for instance, and the completion of its series of challenges--or a program heavy in 300- and 400-level courses both within and outside the major--may be taken as a sign that you possess the kind of drive needed in the legal profession.
If you are even vaguely contemplating the notion of taking up the law as a career, you should make an appointment to the College Pre-Law advisor early in your planning process. Other members of the Pre-Law Advisory Committee, including Professor Noling in the English Department, keep informed about the law school scene. If you are on the Pre-Law list you will be kept up to date on the on-campus programs sponsored by the committee as well as on the doings of the student-organized Pre-Law Association.
The Office of Career Development and Education maintains an extensive library of catalogs and other publications related to the law as a career. It also has copies of The Law School Quest, a booklet and computer disk designed to ease Hartwick students through the process of applying to schools. Though somewhat out-of-date, it covers the basic timetable of activities, which begin in junior year: Students often do a legal internship, take an LSAT review course, research and visit law schools, sign up for the LSAT's, and register with the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), all before senior year. The application process has become so complicated that it no longer possible to race through it at the last minute.
Become a secondary English teacher "I suppose I can always teach." English majors who choose to become teachers have often--and unfairly--been stigmatized as falling into the cliched "those who can't do, teach" category. The reality, however, is rather different: the teaching of middle school and high school English should not be considered as a fall-back position, nor as the last resort of those who never quite felt engaged by literature. (Would you want such people teaching your children?) The ability to handle teenagers is a prerequisite but not sufficient in itself to permit both you and your students to flourish in the classroom: you must love and appreciate literature as well, and know how to read and analyze fiction, poetry, drama, and essays. So, if you can do, teach!
Teach English as a Second Language Students interested in teaching English as a Second Language or in teaching English as a Foreign Language will find that there are graduate programs leading to a Master's degree in ESL/EFL offering theoretical and methodological training which will equip them to assume professional, instructional, and administrative roles in ESL/EFL programs both in the United States and abroad.
Become a college professor Obviously you don't have to look far to observe one possible profession open to English majors. College and university teaching offers those who love to read and analyze literature a chance to share that love with undergraduates, graduate students, colleagues, and academic readers. Schools such as Hartwick that value teaching over research focus a professor's energies on communicating with undergraduates and colleagues, while research universities may direct a professor's energies to graduate students and to academic readers beyond the walls of that institution. In all cases, you must love language--must love to read, to speak, and to write, and do them all well. More on graduate programs...Become a graduate student in literature The Office of Career Services pamphlet "Graduate School" is well worth reading as you begin considering graduate school. It will help you examine your motives and goals, lead you through the process of obtaining adequate information so that you can evaluate programs, and encourage you to begin the process early. By the end of your junior year, you should be well along in your planning if you hope to proceed directly to graduate school: recently, in fact, one of our top graduates found that a highly competitive program had already accepted its class of Ph.D. students by the application deadline--so be sure to apply early. More on graduate programs...