Guide to College Majors in English

Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.
--G. M. Trevelyan

What Is English Studies?

The English major has historically involved study of the language itself and its broadest cultural influences, both spoken and written. It's one of the oldest 'modern' degree programs, one whose popularity can change from one generation to the next, and yet still one of the most popular bachelor's degrees in North America.

Much of Western culture's history and knowledge has been passed down through English. Since literature derives a great deal of its significance from the context in which it's written, a piece of prose, poetry, or social commentary gives us valuable insight into its era. Thus, long before the diversity of degree programs that we see now, English degrees gained a reputation for providing the link to centuries of knowledge.

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What is an English Degree Good For?

An English degree is considered an excellent tool for career preparation. Except in the most technical professions, a candidate who is well read and who has a superior comprehension and writing skills is valued above others by employers. An English degree emphasizes one of the most positive advantages of a college education - the solid, adaptable communication skills that get you through university are attractive to potential employers. English majors help maintain high standards of accuracy, clarity and finesse of the language in any workplace they enter.

An English degree isn't "job training," but it will help you build important research and critical thinking skills. You'll and learn to discern what is important and synthesize that information for the use of others. While you are learning to read with a critical eye, you're also polishing your own writing skills.

If you think those book reports you wrote in school were a waste of time, you'll change your mind when your manager asks you to quickly summarize the lengthy report he didn't have a chance to read. When you're asked your opinion of radically differing approaches to a business problem, thank the many "compare and contrast" essays you wrote. And you'll appreciate the obsession for spelling, grammar, and syntax when it comes time to edit a critical marketing piece before it's sent to the printer.

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Career Education in English

Associate and Bachelor's Degrees in English

Studying literature offers access to ideas, cultures, social mores, and political concepts of any given time or setting. You'll explore British, American, and world literature, spanning centuries, cultures and genres. A quick scan of job postings shows that many management and middle management positions will require a bachelor's degree or higher, and English degrees are often mentioned because of the need for excellent communicators in the workforce.

An associate's degree in English or its close cousins, liberal arts and general studies, may prepare you for entry level positions in business and communications. A bachelor of arts in English is likely to have a more academic slant, such as critical analysis of classic literature, media, and arts. The curriculum may also allow for electives which you can use to round out your degree according to your career aspirations. Technical and business writing may interest you if you're into technology or business, so take courses in those disciplines. Working in the media will require a different set of electives. To teach English, you'll need a regional certificate and extra credits specifically in education. An English degree is an excellent springboard for further education in law and medicine.

Some English majors choose to specialize in one period, genre or author, and spend their time taking the supporting classes to give them that specialized study. This usually leads to graduate studies. Other graduate areas can include linguistics, film and drama, and writing hypertext for interactive media.

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Online English Courses

You can earn online degrees in English, general studies, and more. Online degree programs allow for a greater amount of flexibility in your studies and are particularly useful for working professionals who don't have the time or resources to attend a traditional college. Online and accelerated degree programs are just a few of the options available to working adults.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in English?

Career Specializations: Media, Writing, and Communications

The more obvious careers are often the hardest to come by. Novelists, creative writers, and poets are important to society, but the demand for their services and the average salary are not overwhelming. English teachers require further education in teaching and are also in very limited demand. If these types of jobs are your dream then you should pursue them, but if not, you may want to consider some of the many other careers open to an English major.

If you're interested in the media, you can consider working as a reporter, editor, researcher, publisher or literary agent. Public relations and advertising are also fields which reward the superior communications skills of an English major. Business administration and management careers are often overlooked by English majors, but your critical skills and world perspective help you do very well in a profession where comprehension, decision making, research and writing skills are valued.

By remaining adaptable and ready to learn new areas of expertise, your career options are wide open.

Certification, Licensure and, Professional Associations

With the variety of career choices open to an English major, the type of professional designation you seek will depend on what industry you work in and job title you hold.

Technical writers, editors, business managers, and teachers will find opportunities for networking, professional development and certification within their own peer groups.

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