Opinions, Column

Defending the English Major

My parents were overjoyed by my decision to attend Boston College as my senior year of high school came to a close. But there was one catch: I wanted to major in English.

I did my best to convince them that it was a path worth pursuing, and while they tried their hardest to be supportive of what I wanted, I could tell they still weren’t quite resigned to the idea.

A few weeks later, at a banquet dinner for seniors and their parents, my mom and dad arrived a few minutes late. As a result, they ended up sitting at a table with school administrators, rather than the other parents at the event. My parents conversed with the faculty during dinner, and when asked about my plans for the fall, my mom relayed that I would attend BC.

“She wants to major in English,” my dad said, “I mean, I just don’t get it. What is she going to do with that?”

“Actually,” the principal replied, “I went to Boston College and I majored in English there.”

The superintendent spoke up next, “I majored in English at Boston College as well.”

“I’m just going to stop talking now,” my dad said with a laugh.

The coincidence was comical and uncanny, but it also illuminates an important truth: undergraduates can do just about anything in their futures with an English major.  

The value of an English major is in its versatility and longevity. In a world where technology and media change rapidly, whether content appears in print or online, a mastery of written language will never become outdated or unnecessary. Written language is a huge part of everyday life. Every time we open the computer, pick a book or newspaper, or even turn on the television, we are confronted with written language. In each case, someone with talent was needed to write the words that we hear or see. Without the work of great writers, we would be significantly less entertained and informed.

Even so, content writing is not the only field possible for an English major. Steve Strauss, senior columnist at USA Today and small business expert, argues that English majors are the best choice for any business’ next hire. In addition to their wit, great writing, critical thinking, and content creation, he cites their ability to relate to customers, as well as boldness, in his list of reasons for hiring English majors. These qualities and skills he notes are characteristic of English students and are necessary in almost any business environment.  

Students decide to major in English with a variety of careers in mind. Teaching and professional writing comprise only a few careers available to English majors. School administration, for example, can become a career for former English teachers or can be pursued in and of itself. English majors work in business, marketing, healthcare communications, nonprofit, and government sectors. Pre-law students choose English over any other major as undergraduates. For future journalists, editors, and publishers, an English major is an obvious choice. With their widely applicable skills, English majors can be valuable in nearly any field.

Effective communication, particularly written communication, can often separate English majors from their business major counterparts. Professionals with an English background may best able to communicate with and relate to a variety of clients. Every story read in an English course is another perspective understood, another life or experience lived. Naturally then, an avid reader has the insight to better understand people of every identity and background, making English majors able to connect to nearly anyone. These traits and skills make the English major a strong choice for jobs in sales or account management.

Content creation and copywriting, for instance, are necessary in nearly every marketing and advertising agency. English majors are often passionate people who know how to relate to others and tap into emotion. Emotional content creation can be groundbreaking in the field of advertising, song and screen writing, and more. Storytelling and emotional advertising are growing in popularity, while ads that rely solely on facts fail to stand out to consumers.

English majors excel in marketing communications, publishing, and editing because of their careful attention to detail. Research and analysis practiced in the English major can carry over into the working world and make English majors problem solvers and careful fact-checkers. In these and other teamwork settings, those who have majored in English can constructively criticize, catch thoughts that others have missed, and take a project from good to great via an eye for detail. Oftentimes, the right details can be everything for the credibility of a company or a client.

In general, pursuing an English major fosters creativity and beautiful writing. These are abilities that cannot be quickly taught, the way one might learn how to make a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, or the basics of computer coding. Great writers must be groomed, criticized, questioned, and crafted just like the very essays and stories they write. For slogans with elegance, commercials with impact, and campaigns that stick, look to none other than the English major, who can tap into the beauty and power of language like no one else.

To all my fellow English majors, the next time someone asks you why you do what you do, or how your major could ever possibly be advantageous, tell them to look around. Tell them that words are everywhere, and that to harness their power is everything.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

February 16, 2017