I remember the first book I ever read. I was sitting under my covers with a flashlight, fiercely willing my young brain to make sense of the sentences staring at me from beneath the decades-old drawings of my beloved “Dick and Jane” reader. My parents watched me with excitement, exercising great restraint by not giving me clues or cheering too early. When I finished reading aloud the final page on my own, we threw back the sheets and celebrated so loudly that we woke up my younger brother, who was decidedly less impressed at my entrance into literacy.
While I remember feeling proud of myself, what I recall most vividly about that moment is the intense hunger I felt to read again. When my parents left my room that night, I got up and pulled every book off of my shelf. By the glow of my fairy night light, I tried to sound out each page, eventually falling asleep with my copy of princess stories clutched in my hand. From that day forward, all I ever did was read.
So, when the time came to decide which major I would pursue in college, my first instinct was to pick English. However, I quickly squashed the thought and asked myself the same question that everyone else had proposed whenever someone I knew announced they were studying English in college.
“What can you do with an English major?”
Now, four years and one major change later, I am about to graduate from Lehigh with dual majors, one of which is English. I have a job lined up for after graduation, and I firmly believe that choosing to study English was one of the factors that made this achievement possible.
In my experience, a major in English provides you with a set of professional skills that you can apply to any industry or position. While a lifelong love of literature is definitely a perk, here are a few of the many benefits that you can gain from pursuing an English degree.
Ability to Advocate and Relate
In every English class that I have ever taken, there is a discussion component. Each scholar is expected to come prepared with unique questions and theories about the material, and you must be ready to speak up and explain these thoughts to everyone, even if they don’t agree with you. English teaches you how to defend your opinions and relate your decisions to others in a way that they can understand. These skills are crucial for careers such as social work, politics and teaching, where you need to be able to advocate for others and explain issues in a clear, concise way.
Ability to Think Logically and Creatively
Everyone’s heard the theory about the creative right hemisphere of the brain and the logical left hemisphere of the brain. As an English major, you need both. Analyzing literature involves complex logical thought, but interpreting and exploring it requires considerable creativity. The ability to utilize both styles of thinking lends itself well to careers in law, STEM and business, where logical understanding combines with creativity to produce innovation.
Appreciation for Language and Culture
The English language is like a mosaic, it’s made of many different fragments that, when put together, make a beautiful piece of art. Containing roots and phrases of many other languages and put together in millions of combinations, the English language is more challenging to figure out than a Rubik’s cube. Yet, once you crack it (which you will after reading Shakespeare and Austen), it’s surprising how other languages become much easier to understand. English is an ivy-covered gateway to other cultures, which is ideal for people interested in fields like international relations, global studies and anthropology.
Ability to Write Well
Every single job on planet Earth requires writing. Whether it be emails, reports, presentations or social media posts, you will need to write at some point in your career, and your employers will not be impressed if you cannot write well. English majors do nothing but write, and with practice, you will become a master. Believe me, if you can write, you will stand out on every job application.
So, the next time you hear someone ask what you could do with an English degree, I want you to think about the above list. After all, if you can get through Moby Dick, there will be nothing in the world that you cannot do.