Department of English
Graduating with an English Degree
So, What Can You do with an English Degree?
By Catherine Cameron-Heldt
Assistant Director, GVSU Career Services
Frequently, students majoring in English ask me for a list of the jobs they can do when they graduate. My response is that there is good news and better news. First the good news - there is no list (more on this later). The better news is that English majors can do virtually anything! Not surprisingly, these students quickly become frustrated by my response. Why the frustration? Many times your parents want to know what you're going to do. Many times, students on the teaching track, for a variety of reasons, decide just to pursue the English major. Most of the times, however, many of you just don't realize how valuable your degree is to most employers, and where you "fit in."
I truly believe in the value of a liberal arts education - and I truly believe in the value of an English degree. However, because English majors typically are not educated for a particular profession, it is imperative that you realize you need to be proactive in your career development. To support you in this, there are a number of services and resources available to you at GVSU. Self Assessment, Research, Career Contact Bank, and Internships and Portfolios are just a few of the services I will present.
The first step for many English majors is to meet with a counselor in the Career Planning and Counseling office (331-3266). Through a variety of testing instruments, the counselor will help you assess your interests, values, and skills, and then determine which types of careers would correlate. You will also learn which types of organizations typically hire a person with your interests and values.
Once you have an idea of the types of positions you may be interested in pursuing, you can research them further through reading books and references in the library of the Career Planning and Counseling office. A partial bibliography follows. Another method of research is to actually talk to a professional in a particular field. Career Services offers a Career Contact Bank, a large database of employers who have agreed to meet with students to talk about their jobs, career paths, and answer your questions.
Because English majors need to be much more proactive than most other majors in their career search, it is imperative that you participate in an internship. Ideally done during your junior year, an internship is an excellent way to "try out" a career, gain practical experience, meet contacts in the field, earn credit and possibly money. Past internship opportunities include public relations at a museum, advertising copywriter at a publisher, human resources at a corporation, grant writer for a non-profit agency, and a technical writer for a company.
Lastly, you need to be able to "sell" your skills to an employer. A very effective method is to develop a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of materials (writing samples, research papers, intern/work evaluations, etc.), which demonstrate your skills for an employer.
So, why did I write that it's good that there is not a list of jobs for English majors? Because it would be too limiting - and too large. The sky is the limit for you. You just need to determine what course it is that you wish to follow. There are many services and people available to assist you in this process.
As Julie DeGalan and Stephan Lambert write in Great Jobs for English Majors,
"The staying power of English as a major is based on its ability to meet our basic need for communication, for clarity, for the exchange of meaning to get our work done correctly, efficiently, and with some degree of harmony. Yes, we forget this need sometimes in our fascination with technology, but eventually we realize that workers who understand and appreciate how to use language, how to make it say what we want, how to refine it, clarify it, and demystify it are urgently needed in today's workplace. This is why the English major will always be a welcome job candidate."
Suggested readings available in 203 Student Services Building
Career Choices for Students of English. Career Associates, Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 1990.
Careers for Bookworms and Other Literary Types. Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler, VGM Career Horizons.1995.
Careers for Writers and Others Who Have a Way with Words.Robert W. Bly, VGM Career Horizons, 1996.
Great Jobs for English Majors. Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert, VGM Career Horizons, 1995.
Page last modified March 7, 2011