The current educational climate is very focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). College majors that teach specific pre-professional skills toward a set career path are also surging in popularity. But where does that leave the liberal arts majors?
In his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, journalist and author Fareed Zakaria argues that liberal arts majors teach people how to think, write, and communicate, and that these skills will serve them well throughout the course of an ever-changing career landscape in our current digital economy. According to Zakaria, “The future of a country like the U.S. rests on our ability to master how technology interacts with how humans live, work and play. And that depends on skills fostered by the liberal arts, such as creativity, aesthetic sensibility and social, political and psychological insight.”
By engaging and analyzing texts, and developing reading, writing, and speaking skills, majoring in English will enable you to acquire valuable critical thinking skills, and broaden the scope of your knowledge of the world around you through. Through the study of English you will be able to explore a vast array of subjects during college, and prepare for an extensive range of occupations in the years that follow.
Many English programs are seminar-based, which allows students to work closely with their professors and student peers. Yale University has a descriptive list of what students will take away from majoring in English and reasons for committing to this major. Their final reason is “Because you want to!” Most English majors are passionate about their choice of study and see its inherent value in their lifelong love of learning.
- Interdisciplinary Studies
In recent years, English studies have become increasingly interdisciplinary as institutions encourage students to pair the major with other fields of their choice. Many universities have created additional tracks within their English programs to accommodate students to combine English with other disciplines.
At Stanford University, the Interdisciplinary Program within the English major is open to students who wish to combine the study of one literary topic, period, genre, theme or problem with an interdisciplinary program of courses relevant to that inquiry. For example, with a dual major in Psychology and English, an undergraduate can examine a psychological issue or problem through a work of creative non-fiction.
At Boston College, English majors have the opportunity to minor in African and African Diaspora studies, American Studies, Irish Studies, Linguistics, or Women’s and Gender Studies.
- Double Major
The flexibility of the English major course requirements can also lead to the opportunity to pursue a double major in English and another field. The University of Maryland states, “Double majoring in English is uniquely suited to a number of students, because it combines the broad liberal arts training of English with specific and/or technical training.” English majors do not have to pursue a set sequence of courses and many courses carry cross-disciplinary credits within the liberal arts college.
The benefits of a double major (in which one of the majors is in the liberal arts field) are also supported a 2015 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which found that many companies are looking for employees who are trained in “both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge” and that this contributes to long-term career success.
Some double majors focus on two liberal arts fields, but it is becoming increasingly popular at universities such as Johns Hopkins, to combine English and the sciences. At the University of Notre Dame, about 39% of business majors carry a second major in the College of Arts & Letters or Sciences. Students should keep in mind that completing a double major requires an increase in workload and careful management of your time.
- Study Abroad
Majoring in English can also enable you to pursue a study abroad program for a year, semester, or summer. Again, the flexibility in English course requirements and the broad array of English courses offered at institutions in England, Scotland, Australia, and Ireland allow English majors the chance to study elsewhere and gain the rich experience of living abroad.
At Cornell University, English majors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of study abroad programs offered through the Cornell Abroad Program and the College of Arts and Sciences Abroad Program. There are restrictions as to how many English credits can be earned abroad, but with careful planning, students can participate in an array of exciting international programs.
According to the UC-Berkeley Study Abroad program, “English majors find that a term, or better, a year in a foreign university not only enhances their critical and writing skills, but that the experience of adapting to another academic and cultural world expands their self-understanding and gives them a keen sense of the political and social differences in today’s world. The personal and intellectual growth of study abroad provides further advantages when it comes to the challenges of graduate and professional study.”
Common Tracks within the Major
Majoring in English gives undergraduates the opportunity to become specialists on various topics through optional tracks. Many programs have core requirements, but after these courses have been completed, the English major is open to pursue passions in literature or writing through elective courses. This format allows for interdisciplinary study across the gamet of liberal arts fields, as well as, journalism, poetry, and creative writing.
For example, Princeton University offers a multitude of tracks including Literature, Language, and Culture, Arts and Media, Theory and Criticism, and Creative Writing. Students are even able to create their own track of interdisciplinary study by special arrangement with the departmental representative.
The University of North Carolina also offers a fascinating BA in comparative literature, within which students are able to pursue an international literature track, or a global cinemas studies track. Brown University offers a renowned Nonfiction Writing Track, which combines the writing of academic essays with journalism and creative nonfiction.
At NYU, “The department offers a full and varied curriculum in literary history, critical theory, dramatic literature, theatre history, and literary culture, as well as a second major track that allows students to specialize in creative writing.”
The English major is not a “one-size-fits-all” path of study. While there are restrictions and requirements, students have choices and are able to pursue varied interests as they advance in their studies. For many students, this ability to pick and choose from a range of interesting studies is very appealing and rewarding. Regardless, of your class choices, the themes of communication, critical thinking, writing skills, and the ability to make a persuasive argument are threaded throughout all courses.
Research and Internship Opportunities
Research as an undergraduate English major is usually focused on independent, individualized studies aided by the one-on-one mentorship of faculty.
Georgetown University, houses the Folger Undergraduate Program, which offers full access to the Library’s collections as part of an intensive research seminar on books and early modern culture. There, students acquire archival research skills, and pursue advanced independent research on early modern topics.
The University of Rochester has Undergraduate Research Awards that support English majors who need assistance in travel or stay outside of Rochester to pursue the following research opportunities: traveling to scholarly conferences or film festivals, conducting research in archives or libraries, participating in writers’ institutes, and attending intensive language programs abroad. Students must apply for the award and money is granted on a competitive basis.
If you do not wish to do research during your undergraduate experience, there are innumerable internship opportunities, in which you could partake instead. English majors have written pieces for esteemed literary magazines, put their skills into practice at publishing houses, and worked for literary agencies. There are also internships in marketing, advertising, law, politics, journalism, and so many more. Many colleges have a career center that can assist students in finding the right internship fit. Stanford University has a listing of internships that are specifically geared toward English majors.
Careers commonly associated with English often include teacher, writer, and lawyer. Yet, English has allowed individuals to pursue careers in a wide range of fields.
A study conducted at Brown University illustrates the diversity of career paths that arise from being an English major. With their broad-based English backgrounds, Brown alumni were able to pursue a vast array of occupations in fields including, journalism, publishing, entertainment, public relations, law, and medicine. The University of Michigan also has a website detailing impressive career paths taken by their English major alumni.
How to Evaluate English Programs
When comparing English programs, it is helpful to research the following areas:
- Student/teacher ratio
- Seminar class size
- Core requirements and elective courses
- Opportunities for interdisciplinary study
- Minors and concentrations, which can enhance your English major
- Double major opportunities
- Research and internship opportunities
- Study abroad programs
- Faculty profiles
- Honors program
- Independent study
For more information, contact us at Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!