What Can I Do With An English Degree?

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Whenever the economy is unsteady, people start to worry about the value of a college degree. It makes sense, but planning out your education one-dimensionally to maximize a return on investment is a different type of scary. To be sure, there’s a certain privilege in pursuing a liberal arts education, and if we value a college degree simply by how large a salary it might fetch, studying English or Philosophy is probably not the smartest move. But a liberal arts degree packs more punch than the entry-level salary it’ll earn you, and beyond the benefit of a well-rounded education, there are plenty of job and career options for folks who graduate after studying one of the softer scientists. Still, there’s a reason that English grads often share the same anxious question: “What can I do with an English degree?”

To begin, it’s worth thinking about what type of skills you can offer (or should be expected to posses) as an English graduate. (For whatever it’s worth, an English degree is a pretty generic liberal arts degree, so all of this advice should apply equally to those of us who studied Philosophy or History, or Sociology or Gender Studies for that matter.) It might sound silly or amateurish, but advanced reading comprehension skills are vital for all types of work, and the ability to analyze complicated data is something employers might expect from a B.A.-toting applicant. More generally, English and Philosophy majors are often reliably adaptable and frequently capable of occupying a number of different positions at once. Ultimately, a liberal arts graduate can argue that their skills are transferable to almost any space.

All of that said, there’s no denying that a tough job market can squeeze English majors into the margins of the applicant pools. But thankfully there are plenty of career opportunities tailored for English majors and even more that you can learn to fit into.

Check out our list of jobs that make good use of an English degree below:

  • Writer: Surprise surprise, liberal arts grads should be able to write well. And while plenty of us have illusions of grandeur about writing the next great American novel in our early years, there are so many other ways to write for a living.
    • Copywriters are almost always in demand and can make a good living injecting a creative flair into branded copy or advertisements.
    • The Internet has also opened up an entirely new type of writing: SEO content specialist, a job that calls equally for marketing and technological savvy as it might of strong writing skills.
    • Technical writing might not be the most exciting way to make a living, but it can certainly pay well. Technical writers offer simple, laymen explanations of technical jargon. Essentially, these are the people responsible for explaining how you operate your fancy new refrigerator or detail what’s new in a software update. We might take them for granted as a society, but companies rely on technical writers in droves and pay out accordingly.
  • Teacher: It’s a common joke that former English majors will end up teaching younger English majors how to teach other English majors. And while it might be true that a liberal arts degree is a common first step towards becoming a professor, there are also a handful of other teaching opportunities around the world. Some English grads go on to teach English abroad while others join programs like Teach for America. Others still find jobs teaching elementary or high-school, which can be a fun and worth-while challenge.
  • Public Relations Specialist: This is a less obvious choice, but becoming a PR specialist isn’t an uncommon inclination for English grads. Many of the same skills required of a journalist also make for a good public relations rep: strong writing and communications skills, advanced research abilities, and more.

There are dozens of other jobs that make good use of an English degree, but these are a start. For a lot of people an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts is the first step towards law school or a master’s degree, but even when jobs are scarce, there’s no reason you can’t hit the ground running with a Bachelors in Arts.

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Jay is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and music journalist.

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