English Major: Courses, Jobs, Salaries

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While STEM fields may seem like the surest way to land a good job and secure future, English majors are in high demand and find meaningful careers in a broad range of professions. According to College Factual, English is the 10th most popular major in the United States, and over 40,000 students graduate with an English degree every year.

English can be a good choice of major if you enjoy reading and writing. You'll need to have an analytical mind and have a passion for the subtleties of language. English is a broad and interdisciplinary field, and your writing and reading is likely to explore much more than literary concepts. The study of English frequently intersects with fields ranging from psychology to science, and it also explores identity politics through topics including gender, race, sexuality, religion, and class.

Careers for English Majors

At the heart of an English major are strong communication and analytical skills, and strengths in these areas can lead to diverse career options. Even dotcom's need employees with strong writing skills, so English majors find themselves working for wide range of employers in fields spanning education, business, technology, and more.

Education: Some English majors go on to become K-12 English teachers, or they may earn an advanced degree to become a professor at a college or university. Realize, however, that teaching is just one option, and the majority of English majors find careers in other organizations and companies.

Publishing: English majors with strong technical skills are well-qualified for jobs at publishing companies, both traditional book publishers and online publishers. Internships, work in the college writing center, and advanced writing courses can help build credentials for a career in publishing.

Technical Writing: Engineers and scientists aren't always the best writers, and an English majors with mastery of technical language are in high demand for their ability to present complex technical information in language than can be easily understood by a non-specialist reader. Combining an English major with a minor or second major in a STEM field can be a recipe for success in this field.

Library Science: An undergraduate major in English is excellent preparation for a graduate degree in library science. If your dream is to work in a college or university library, an English major can be a great starting point. You'll also need to develop some technical skills since library science requires strengths in information literacy.

Freelance Writing: If you have strong writing skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, you may have the skills to be your own boss. Many companies hire writers on a contract basis, and many web companies rely on freelancers to create their content. It can be challenging to get established as a freelancer, but as you gain experience, better and better gigs follow.

Paralegal: An English major is excellent preparation for law school, but it can also lead to a legal career with a bachelor's degree. The research, writing, and communication skills that are central to an English major are precisely the skills needed to be a successful paralegal.

Public Relations: PR is all about communication skills, so the field is a natural fit for English majors. This can include everything from writing company newsletters to handling a company's social media strategy.

Grant Writer: Lots of people have great ideas for important projects, but not everyone has the skills to present those ideas in a compelling way that will secure the needed funding. English majors have the research and writing skills needed to convert ideas into dollars.

Finally, keep in mind that English majors have been highly successful in law school, medical school, and business school. Communication and critical thinking skills are prized across disciplines.

College Coursework in English

Unlike STEM fields, English is about skills more than specific knowledge. Earning an English degree means that you have developed your analytical, critical thinking, and writing skills through the study of literature and, in many cases, creative writing. Realize that some colleges have a separate major for writing while other schools include both literary study and creative writing within the English major.

The English major tends to have more electives than majors in more technical fields, but the curriculum will often require students to take a range of courses in both British and American Literature, and students are likely to be required to take courses focused on a range of historical time periods.

Typical courses might include:

  • Introduction to College Writing
  • Survey of American Literature
  • Survey of British Literature
  • One course in multiethnic literature
  • One course in pre-1800 literature
  • Literary Theory

English majors also have a lot of flexibility to take elective courses and build a major focused on their specific areas of interest. The options are broad and diverse, but a few possibilities include:

  • The Harlem Renaissance
  • Shakespeare
  • Modernist Literature
  • Jane Austen
  • Feminist Literature
  • Medieval and Early Modern Literature
  • Old English
  • Southern Literature
  • Gothic Literature
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction

For integrated English programs that include creative writing, other possibilities include:

  • Poetry Workshop
  • Fiction Workshop
  • Playwriting
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • Humor Writing

English majors should work closely with their academic advisors and their school's career center to choose courses that align with their professional and educational goals.

Best Schools for Studying English

The reality is that many colleges and universities have excellent English majors, and the schools that tend to top the national rankings may not be the best choices for a given student's interests and personality. The great majority of four-year college in the country offer bachelor's degrees in English, and the majority of those schools will offer a valuable and rewarding educational experience.

It's also important to realize that many national rankings tend to weight factors such as a school's name recognition, the number of majors, faculty publications, and library resources. Such criteria will always favor large research institutions, but small liberal arts colleges can often deliver a much more intense and personalized educational experience.

With those caveats in mind, these schools often top the rankings:

University of California at Berkeley: Berkeley has long been a top-ranked school at both the undergraduate and graduate level for English studies. The university graduates over 200 English majors every year, and students can choose from hundreds of courses taught by over 60 full-time faculty members. Berkeley also offers majors in Classics, and Comparative Literature.

Harvard University: Harvard tends to do well in the rankings in many fields, and English is no exception. Just be aware that the school's acceptance rate is below 5%. With faculty members such as Jamaica Kincaid, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stephen Greenblatt, and Homi Bhabba, Harvard certainly has plenty of celebrity professors. The university graduates over 50 English majors in a typical year.

Amherst College: Amherst's president Biddy Martin calls the school the "writer's college," and English majors will find an active community of writers and literary scholars at this small liberal arts college in Massachusetts. It's also worth recognizing that Amherst has more endowment dollars per student than Harvard.

Yale University: Yale, like Harvard, has world-famous faculty members, impressive facilities, and a popular English major that graduates over 50 students each year. Both literary scholars and creative writers will find challenges and opportunities both in and out of the classroom.

University of Virginia: UVA has more than 60 English faculty members, and the program graduates about 150 English majors each year. UVA takes pride in the diversity of its students and faculty as well as the diverse perspectives presented in the classroom. All majors can take part in the English Students Association which fosters social, creative, and academic aspects of being an English major.

Average Salaries for English Majors

English majors go into so many different types of careers, that an "average" salary isn't an overly useful figure. That said, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median annual wage for English majors was $50,000 in 2018. Some careers pay more than others. The 2020 median pay for technical writers was $74,650, while the average salary for high school teachers and freelance writers is a bit less than that. Payscale states the average early career pay for English Literature majors is $45,400, and the average mid-career pay is $82,000.

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Grove, Allen. "English Major: Courses, Jobs, Salaries." ThoughtCo, Jun. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/english-major-courses-jobs-salaries-5186854. Grove, Allen. (2021, June 2). English Major: Courses, Jobs, Salaries. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/english-major-courses-jobs-salaries-5186854 Grove, Allen. "English Major: Courses, Jobs, Salaries." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/english-major-courses-jobs-salaries-5186854 (accessed March 20, 2023).