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What can you do with an English major?

As an English major, you have a wide and exciting selection of careers. English majors are trained to write well, to organize ideas in a logical way, and to develop arguments. You can analyze complex information, research, and critically read and observe. With these skills, you can work for book publishers, hospitals, television networks, advertising firms, and the government. Employers, graduate schools, and professional schools often seek out well-rounded English majors because they are versatile, able to utilize their training as writers, thinkers, editors, and teachers in fields such as medicine, law, business, media, and public service.

Education

Some English students begin college thinking that the only career they can get is a teaching position, but there are other options out there.  Nevertheless, jobs in education are great way for majors to seek employment and there is a broad range of opportunities.

Teaching English at the college level mainly requires a master’s degree.  With an MA in English, one can seek adjunct teaching positions.  Most graduates can find jobs teaching Composition, but with a background in Literature and other areas, it is possible to teach other subjects.  Looking for jobs at junior colleges may be the most practical option after graduation.  In order to get a tenure-track position, graduates need a terminal degree, which is a PhD in English or an MFA in Creative Writing.  While the MFA is still considered the terminal degree in Creative Writing, there are PhD programs that allow students to pursue scholarly research while writing a creative dissertation.  Majors that hope to both teach Creative Writing and Literature should consider getting a PhD.

Teaching at the primary and secondary levels requires certification.  Since English majors are generally well-rounded students, many have gone on to teach at the primary level because most primary educators teach several subjects.  Primary education generally includes both elementary and middle school, but it depends on the district. 

As a secondary teacher, most English graduates can teach solely within the subject of English.  Since both levels require teaching certification, English majors should consider taking a track that culminates in both a degree in English and certification.  Upon finishing undergraduate studies, some majors decide they want to pursue education, so going to graduate school in English Education or in Education may be the best option. 

However, with just a bachelor’s degree, one can pursue alternative certification that generally consists of teaching while enrolling in a college’s accelerated certification program; organizations such as Teach Now help potential teachers get alternative certification.  Teaching at a private school is also an option because they do not require certification at most schools.  There are networks available to help place teachers at private schools such as The Education Group.

Teaching English as a Second Language is an exciting opportunity that can be done both domestically and abroad.  Though the mastery of a second language certainly helps, it is not necessarily a requirement.  For those looking for a fulltime career, the best preparation for the job is to get a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  With such a degree and proper certification, applicants can teach at ESL students at universities, primary and secondary schools, and international schools.  There are graduate, undergraduate, and professional certification programs for those who hope to teach English abroad.  Organizations like the American TESOL Institute offer certification and job placement and other advantages like room and board.  There are jobs that do not require certification, but the majority of them are not as reputable.  Some programs without certification are teaching assistant positions.

Some English majors find work as professional tutors at national companies such as Sylvan, A to Z, and Academic Advantage.  While some companies have specified requirements such as having a teaching background, many local programs exist throughout the United States that offer tutoring in SAT and GRE prep, writing, and English language.  With a background in peer tutoring, some English majors go on to run Writing Centers, managing non-profit tutoring organizations like Upward Bound, tutoring abroad, and even teaching tutoring.  Tutoring is often used by educators as a means for supplementary income and advancement in schools and universities.

Educational Administration, the coordination of the educational programs at every level of education, basically requires a lot of experience in education, but there are several graduate programs designed to prepare students for those leadership positions.  Most positions require a master’s degree, but some students pursue doctoral degrees.

Helpful links:

National Center for Alternative Certification

The Education Group

American TESOL Institute

Pre-Professional Undergraduate Programs

English majors are trained to communicate well, to argue, and to analyze complex ideas, so versatile English students can have an aptitude for careers that require oral and verbal skills; the ability to organize, develop, and defend ideas; and the skill to critically read and observe.  With proper training and education, many English students have gone on to pursue careers in the following fields:

  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Business

During undergraduate studies, English majors interested in these fields should consider entering their college’s pre-Law, pre-Med, and pre-MBA programs, as well as courses in Communications.  Internships and externships in the specified fields give first-hand experience that will help the student become more marketable to graduate and professional programs, as well as future employers.  With Medicine, it certainly helps to double-major in an area of study such as Biology, but according to a Newsweek article on September 10, 2007, medical schools are seeking students with more well-rounded education, such as English majors.

Helpful links:

Getting Into Law School

The Princeton Review: About Business School  

Publishing

Jobs in the publishing industry can be hard to come by, but English majors are often sought out by publishing companies, magazines, and newspapers.  English majors are often more marketable because of their ability to communicate well and because of their familiarity with writing, reading, research, and editing.  Though jobs in the industry are hard to come by, there are a few ways to get your foot in the door that include the following:

Being an editorial assistant involves working for senior editors by preparing books for production, working with authors, copyediting, and clerical work.  An editorial assistant’s tasks have a wide range and mainly depend on the department or the company itself.  Starting out as an intern or an editorial assistant is the best way to advance promote from within the department.

With a bachelor’s degree in English, interning is the most practical way to gain experience as most of the fulltime and paying internships go to students with master’s degrees.  There are a few colleges that offer graduate-level certificates or degrees in Publishing, so continuing to graduate school can give applicants the edge over the majority.  While interns generally perform more clerical work than assistants, the tasks will vary from company to company; nevertheless, interning is a good way to gain experience and to be hired, as many companies hire the best interns after the program ends.

When applying for a copyediting position, most publishers will require an examination to test proficiency.  As an inexperienced copyeditor, freelancing positions are more practical to apply for, as it generally takes a good reputation to be hired as a fulltime employee.  Also, since editorial assistants generally work in a variety of capacities at publishing companies, starting out as an assistant can eventually lead to copyediting positions.  Like being an editorial assistant, copyediting can lead to advancement in a variety of positions, but mostly within production.

After landing a fulltime position, there are ways to advance in the industry.  Most publishing companies have three major departments.

  • Production
  • Marketing/Publicity
  • Acquisitions

Production involves the preparing and printing of manuscripts, newspapers, and magazines.  Marketing involves the selling, publicizing, and distribution of the product.  In acquisitions, employees work with authors and find books and articles to publish.  While jobs in departments do not technically require graduate degrees, applicants with graduate degrees in Publishing are more marketable; also degrees in Journalism can help get into production, Business can help getting into marketing, and an advance degree in the specialized subject that is being published can help in acquisitions.

Helpful links:

Bookjobs.com

Writing

Like the publishing industry, jobs in writing can be hard to come by, but English majors are naturally qualified for these positions.  Some universities offer undergraduate tracks, minors, and concentrations in specialized areas of writing such as Composition and Technical Writing.  Graduate degrees are offered in specialized areas as well, such as Creative Writing, Journalism, and Science Writing.  Jobs in writing can work alongside the publishing industry, such as writing for a magazine, or can be supplemented by jobs in education, such as teaching Technical Writing. Though getting writing jobs can be difficult, there are many potential careers in writing for English majors, such as in the following areas:

Similar to finding a career in publishing, English majors may consider finding an internship in journalism.  Newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations take English graduates as interns that perform tasks varying from clerical work, editing, writing, and actually reporting.  Getting a master’s degree in Journalism is preferable for most jobs, but some employers look for well-rounded writers and thinkers without professional training.  Other than interning, submitting freelance articles, columns, and reviews is a good way to gain a reputation that could result in being hired fulltime.

Creative writing is probably one of the hardest ways to make a living, but it is not impossible.  Publishing and education are good ways to make supplementary income by working for literary magazines or book publishers and teaching writing.  Most creative writers get their start by publishing in periodicals; by doing so, one can build a reputation that can make one more marketable to book publishers and agents.  When submitting full-length manuscripts for publication, it helps to submit by various means such as sending out the book oneself, through a literary agent, and to first time author contests.  A few universities, such as University of Wisconsin at Madison, offer postgraduate fellowships that give authors time to write, publicity, and teaching experience.  Some authors make a substantial income by applying for artist grants through independently, locally, state, and nationally sponsored agencies.

English majors, and mainly those concentrating in writing and creative writing, could consider a job as a copywriter.  Copywriting is essentially a type of advertising that promotes a person, product, business, or idea.  As a copywriter, one creates headlines, direct mail, slogans, commercial scripts, and press releases. Recently, websites have hired specific types of copywriters that can promote the traffic on the site by incorporating the appropriate searchwords, which has been termed content writing.  Many writers work as freelancers, but companies also hire writers for fulltime positions.

Being a technical writer usually consists of writing documents such as hot-to or user guides, online help, and white papers.  Those who are interested in jobs in technical writing should be well-rounded students who have an ability to communicate and write clearly, and may be a double major in fields such as Science, Computer Science, Medicine, or Engineering.  Like in creative writing, technical writers may consider teaching and publishing.

While a background in the field of science is a necessity in science writing, employers are looking for writers as apposed to scientists.  In the field of science writing, one can either be a science journalist or a science public information officer.  Science journalists mainly work for newspapers, book publishers, and other news outlets and mainly write for the general public, but they can also write for the scientific community.  Science public information officers write for the scientific community at universities, research foundations, and museums.  Journalists and public information officers often work with one another; the public information officers sometimes analyze and provide research for journalists.  There are many graduate programs that train writer specifically in the field, but some writers start out as regular journalists and crossover into the field.  A resume outlining a journalism or writing background and a portfolio of science writing is a necessity at job interviews, as there are significantly less internship opportunities in this field.

Helpful links:

Become a Technical Writer

Journalismjobs.com

Fictionfanatic.com

A Guide to Careers in Science Writing

Information and Research 

English majors are well-rounded and well versed in the art of research and analysis, so many students go on to pursue careers in information.

Students who are interested in careers in Library Science and Information Services should consider working at their college or public library.  Getting work experience during undergraduate studies makes students more marketable to future employers and graduate MLS programs.  Though most people assume getting an MLS only prepares students to be librarians, there are a number of different career opportunities such as being a curator, archivist, cataloger, information architect, information broker, metadata manager, and preservation conservators.  MLS graduates go on to work in museums, galleries, public libraries, college libraries, school libraries, web databases, and publishing companies.

Many universities, companies, and independent organizations hire former English students as researchers.  Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English, many students go on to work as research assistants at universities.  An assistant usually works under a fulltime faculty member.  These positions are mainly part-time and are used as a source of supplement income for graduate students.  However, holding this position looks good to both doctoral programs seeking research associates and various colleges looking for contracted research fellows.  While these positions are not long-term careers, they help fund education and projects of both graduates and postgraduates.  English majors have gone on to become researchers in libraries, marketing departments, and a variety of independent companies.  English students with a background in Science and Psychology are very marketable in this field because scientific research often requires the ability to write and communicate clearly.

Media

Jobs in media are often comparable to jobs in writing and publication, as various forms of media have to be written, edited, and produced.  Some English majors prefer to explore careers that are untraditionally associated with English studies, but they certainly utilize their training in communication, research, and editing.

Website development encompasses a broad range of activities such as writing and design, as well as careers in other fields such as information architecture and database administration.  This field, for the most part, requires substantial knowledge in computer software, programming language, and design.  Getting into this industry usually requires an examination that tests the applicant’s ability.

English majors interested in or who have a concentration in communications are particularly suited for careers in marketing and advertising.  Creative writers and creative thinkers are also suited for this industry, as some careers in the industry involve copywriting.  Marketers and advertisers can work directly for employers like television networks, publishers, universities, and software designers, as well as firms by creating television ads and other advertisements.

Like advertising, public relations are suited for English majors interested in communications, though public relations can involve public speaking, but not always.  People who work in public relations can either work for various organizations or companies such as hospitals and schools, as well as firms that take on many clients and companies looking to improve their image and marketability.

Careers in television are exciting, but also hard to come by; like in the publishing industry, starting out as an intern or as a page is a good way to gain experience and to possibly be hired as a fulltime employee.  There are many different jobs in the industry, but a few may be more suited to English majors.  Since writers are able to organize and develop ideas, film editing and directing are possibilities.  English majors are able to communicate and speak well, so a job as a television presenter may also be possible.   Television presenters present information and opinions, introduce people and elements of the show, and interview guests.

Helpful links:

Web Design and Development as a Career

Careers in Marketing

Careers in Advertising and Public Relations

Mediacollege.com

Politics and Public Service

English students interested in career opportunities in government should consider taking courses in Political Science.  Careers in government are appealing because they often come with benefits such as pension plans, good salaries, and health plans.  Like most jobs suited for English majors, it is important to be able to communicate well, research, and analyze.

Jobs in federal government require analytical skills and the ability to incorporate ideas and research in writing, as well as skills in mathematics and statistics.  Those who enter careers in the federal government usually come from experience at the state and local level.  State and local government require the same skills, but internships during undergraduate studies are helpful in finding work.  Students should also consider getting a master’s degree in public administration.  Jobs in government and political science encompass a wide range of areas such as the private sector, campaigning, political office, and event planning.  Many offices in government need writers, technical writers, researchers, and editors.  With proper education and experience, some English students even find work in international affairs.

Another way to begin a career in government is becoming a congressional aide.  Getting this job requires communication skills, computer skills, knowledge of current affairs, a background in volunteering, and versatility.  A resume outlining these skills and experience is essential when applying for this job.

Being a lobbyist is another way to begin working in government.  Lobbyist need to be able to communicate and research well.  No experience is technically needed, but knowledge on political and current affairs is important.  Lobbyist can work for public or private agencies that promote specific issues by soliciting members of a legislature.  While the job has negative connotations, many lobbyists work for nonprofit organizations by pushing the issues of public protection, civil rights, and social justice.