Let’s say in high school you loved reading more than anything in the world. And so, in college, you majored in English in the hope becoming a writer yourself someday.
But then, after graduation, you spent a year in a garret (the romantic word for attic), facing down that blank page day after day … only to discover that the life of a starving novelist was not for you, after all.
Or, perhaps—though you did love reading more than anything in the world and you did get that bachelor’s degree in English—the idea of that year in the garret never really appealed to you that much in the first place.
To make things even more interesting, let’s assume that you’ve had it with school, at least for now, and have no desire to go on for a Ph.D. or to teach English at the college level.
If any of these scenarios describe your situation—or, if looking ahead, you suspect they might—then you will find yourself faced with the question: What are my options with a bachelor’s degree in English?
Actually, as it turns out, there are quite a number of them. Let’s look at a few of the traditional alternative life paths for English majors.
Nowadays, of course, broadcast journalism has overtaken traditional print journalism, with web-based journalism closing in on both of them.
But whatever form the technology for words may take—paper and ink, the airwaves, or cyberspace—at the end of the day good news reporting, writing, and editing all still rely on the same set of highly honed communication skills, whether verbal or written.
In short, good communication skills have not gone out of date. Nor are they about to do so anytime soon.
On the contrary, excellent communication skills are in greater demand today than ever. And anyone with a bachelor’s degree in English still has a calling card that proves that he or she possesses them.
The advantage here over a journalism or communications major is that these majors tend to peg you: if you have a journalism degree, then you’re expected to be a journalist. Ditto for a communications degree: you’re then expected to be a communications expert. But if you’ve honed your writing skills over the course of an English degree program, then you can do journalism, you can do communications, and you can do a whole lot more.
Bookselling & Publishing
Another traditional career for English majors is in bookselling and/or publishing.
Why the “and/or”? Because some of the most famous bookstores, like the City Lights Bookstore bookstore in San Francisco (pictured at right), have become celebrated publishers in their own right.
Of course, times have changed, and by now small mom-and-pop bookshops run by people who do it out of a love for the life of reading are pretty much a thing of the past.
Not only have the great chain stores run the small booksellers out of business, but now online retailers like Amazon.com are killing off the brick-and-mortar Goliaths like Borders (which died in 2011) and Barnes & Noble (which is the only national book store chain remaining as of this article update in 2017). Some might consider this poetic justice!
But in recent years, a number of small niche booksellers have begun to spring up all over the Internet and appear to be doing well. Which goes to show two things: that the love of books is not about to die out, and that there is still opportunity in bookselling for the English major who is Web-savvy and has an entrepreneurial spirit to go along with her love of reading.
If this sounds like an interesting opportunity to you, the web site of the Indepdent Online Booksellers Association (here) might be a good place to begin your research.
Then, of course, there are the traditional publishing giants, like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and many, many others, who continue to need plenty of English majors to fill the ranks of their young proofreaders and copyeditors (see a related article here).
Interestingly, small-scale, do-it-yourself publishing is beginning to make an appearance on the Internet, as well. See, for example, Pushkin Press (here), which specializes in European literature in translation.
We don’t know whether the folks who run this wonderful little press were English-majors, but the love of literature they display makes it hard for us to imagine that they were not!
Some things simply do not change. Or, better to say, changes often turn out to be purely on the surface.
Advertising is one such field—in the ways that really matter, it has changed far less than the other careers that have traditionally extended the welcome mat to English majors.
In addition to graphic artists, advertising agencies have always employed people with verbal flair, dexterity, and creativity, and they continue to do so.
This will never change, because selling is a form of persuasion, and the skillful use of language is the heart of persuasion.
Advertising companies know that a bachelor’s degree in English is a good sign that the person holding it possesses the verbal skills they require.
If you find the idea of a career in advertising appealing, you might want to investigate further by going here.
Public Relations & Marketing
Public relations and marketing are the other side of the coin for advertising. What’s the difference?
The marketing team is an in-house department of a corporation that works with outside advertising agencies in order to craft a campaign that will promote the company’s products and services.
While the marketing department concentrates on selling products, the public relations department focuses on selling the company itself. That is to say, PR basically involves advertising campaigns designed to broaden the company’s brand-name recognition or to enhance or refine its image.
Since PR and marketing are really forms of advertising by another name, employers in these fields look for pretty much the same skill sets as the advertising agencies do. This means more opportunities for English majors.
A lot more opportunities, in fact. That is because even though there are only a relatively small number of top advertising agencies in the country, every company of a certain size, and of pretty much any description—from manufacturers to retailers to restaurant chains to banks—will have PR and marketing departments.
The career opportunities in this area are wide open (see here).
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In addition to these traditional career paths for English majors, skill in analysis of texts and in writing comes in handy in a number of other jobs, as well, including elementary and high school teaching; insurance, real estate, and financial securities sales; and all types of administrative and managerial positions.
For a discussion of these and still other options, check out this rather old article about English majors defecting to the business world.