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Bouncing off an English Major


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Johndiligent does have a point. You should definitely ask yourself those questions before applying to Grad School- applying is an expensive process (more so than I initially realized- GRE fees, application fees, courier fees...it all adds up really quickly), so unless you're certain it could be a waste of money. Also, admissions committees don't want uncertain people in their cohorts- if there's a chance you'll drop out, there's a chance they'll lose their investment. Anyhow, with that caveat aside I can give you some suggestions for 'programs to apply to', to a point.

What are you interested in? If you've got interdisciplinary interests, they could play a part in your applications. For instance, if you're interested in the Medieval period, maybe a course in Medieval Studies would be your cup of tea. Or if you study literature in a variety of languages, periods or cultures, maybe Comparative Literature is for you. Finally, there's Law School. An analytical mind and good language skills (both hallmarks of good English graduates) wouldn't go astray there.

Of course, the main graduate program that's looking for English majors is...English. A seemingly infinite array of historical periods and topics of interest mean that there's bound to be something that interests you.

But once again, think very hard before trying for grad school in order to make sure it's really what you want. This was my first application season and I was shocked at how competitive it is to get in (my track record is one acceptance out of seven, which is good enough for me). Even if you get an acceptance, you'll be writing off several years of your life to work hard for little pay, only to end up with a qualification that often leads to a career of working hard with little pay. If you love it, it's worth it. If you don't...well, you get the picture. Good luck with deciding what courses to apply to, and with the application process in general. It's really not for the faint-hearted!

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Great points. I should clarify that. You all are very correct to jump on that the way I typed it!

I am *considering* grad school for the dual purpose of being able to use more of my brain at work than the average bachelor grad (this would be nearly everyone these days and trust me, it isn't much brainpower) AND to make more money. If both of those aren't likely to be fulfilled, then I won't do it. I had to chose quickly an undergrad degree because my GI Bill is running out and English I enjoy the most. It is also the most versatile. I understand the doors that open up with a B.A. but not how it could play into grad school.

I wouldn't go into any graduate program without a great certainty of a payoff. I posted in the hopes of hearing what graduate programs people pursue OUTSIDE of English from an English Undergrad. I've heard law, public policy, etc. But so many undergrads tout that there are 'many different things you can do with that'....Is it true?

I'd really love to hear more about the possibilities there.

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Ah, so, if you're looking for a "great certainty of a payoff," graduate school as such is probably not for you, unless it is a professionally-oriented masters (about which I know nothing). It sounds more like you'd be interested in professional schools (law, business, etc.)--though as many can attest, the guaranteed payoff from even these programs nowadays seems to be something of a myth. Anyway, despite the common misconception that it is a useless degree, you really can do a lot with an English major. You'd have some difficulty getting into the sciences (for one example, medicine) and would have to do a post-bac or something unless you're hiding a secret pre-med background. But, I know MANY English majors who have thrived in law school as well as business school.

I'll warn you that most people on these fora are oriented toward graduate rather than professional school (though I realize this might sound confusing given that all post-tertiary education often gets dumped under the banner of "grad" school in the common parlance). There are a few around here, I know, who have dabbled in professional schools before heading back to academics. Maybe they can come out to direct you to more helpful people than I.

Great points. I should clarify that. You all are very correct to jump on that the way I typed it!

I am *considering* grad school for the dual purpose of being able to use more of my brain at work than the average bachelor grad (this would be nearly everyone these days and trust me, it isn't much brainpower) AND to make more money. If both of those aren't likely to be fulfilled, then I won't do it. I had to chose quickly an undergrad degree because my GI Bill is running out and English I enjoy the most. It is also the most versatile. I understand the doors that open up with a B.A. but not how it could play into grad school.

I wouldn't go into any graduate program without a great certainty of a payoff. I posted in the hopes of hearing what graduate programs people pursue OUTSIDE of English from an English Undergrad. I've heard law, public policy, etc. But so many undergrads tout that there are 'many different things you can do with that'....Is it true?

I'd really love to hear more about the possibilities there.

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Hey Scytheye --

The previous writers make some great points. You've really got to know what you want to go to graduate school for. You will be asked that many times during the application process.

That said, I also studied English as an undergraduate. My father was an English major as well, and he sternly warned against pursuing it. (But, we love literature, and sometimes we can't help loving the things that we do). In my father's case, he went on to become a minister. Being able to communicate, and communicate well, is essential to his job. He utilizes his communication skills during sermons, hospital visits, funerals, weddings, counseling sessions, even in what he writes for the monthly newsletters.

So thinking along those lines, you could pursue an advanced degree in journalism, communication, or media studies. These are pretty difficult fields to get into without previous experience, as in internships or publications, but it is feasible to find opportunities around your area.

Like you, I also struggled with the question of "what to do with an English degree?" After graduating, I went abroad to Korea and taught English for a year. It combined the opportunity to "use" my degree with the chance to "see the world," and really invest in another culture. When I came back, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to pursue in graduate school - International Affairs. In the Fall, I will be attending American University in DC, studying US Foreign Policy.

Any English major will be able to find a decent job because the ability to communicate effectively, both orally and written, is an imperative skill that every employer seeks. If you're truly serious about graduate school, you need to sit down and define your interests. What do you enjoy doing? What do you not enjoy? What kind of job setting can you see yourself in? Where can you not see yourself?

I'd suggest thumbing through your university's course catalog, and looking at which courses interest you the most. What are some of the other majors and minors at your university? Graduate and Professional Programs look for individuals from diverse backgrounds, so don't be afraid to apply to a field outside of English. What they want to know is do you have potential, can you do the work, and are you a good fit the program. And, those are the kind of things that can be explained in your Statement of Purpose and with Letters of Recommendation.

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I'd suggest thumbing through your university's course catalog, and looking at which courses interest you the most. What are some of the other majors and minors at your university? Graduate and Professional Programs look for individuals from diverse backgrounds, so don't be afraid to apply to a field outside of English. What they want to know is do you have potential, can you do the work, and are you a good fit the program. And, those are the kind of things that can be explained in your Statement of Purpose and with Letters of Recommendation.

I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Also, pay attention to what catches your interest outside of school. What part of the paper or evening news are you most interested in? What are your hobbies? Are there any social issues which are important to you? You can look for opportunities related to those interests, and spin your English degree as, "I'm a good communicator and I know how to organize my thoughts." I know one person who pitched his interest in D&D to a local university in those terms, and now he works part time running games with local schools!

Trying a couple jobs or volunteer opportunities out can really help you narrow your potential graduate school field, too. Looking back over the last 3 years, I realized that I've worked in 3 distinct fields and taken courses in 2 subjects. It took a little bit of time and perseverance, but it also got me tuned into a really cool idea that I'm excited to explore in grad school next year. It's scary to leave school and go on the job market, but it's really rewarding to find yourself feeling motivated and dedicated to a particular field of study once you have some experience under your belt.

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Great points. I should clarify that. You all are very correct to jump on that the way I typed it!

I am *considering* grad school for the dual purpose of being able to use more of my brain at work than the average bachelor grad (this would be nearly everyone these days and trust me, it isn't much brainpower) AND to make more money. If both of those aren't likely to be fulfilled, then I won't do it. I had to chose quickly an undergrad degree because my GI Bill is running out and English I enjoy the most. It is also the most versatile. I understand the doors that open up with a B.A. but not how it could play into grad school.

I wouldn't go into any graduate program without a great certainty of a payoff. I posted in the hopes of hearing what graduate programs people pursue OUTSIDE of English from an English Undergrad. I've heard law, public policy, etc. But so many undergrads tout that there are 'many different things you can do with that'....Is it true?

I'd really love to hear more about the possibilities there.

You're right; English is a pretty flexible B.A. degree to have. You could go into almost anything that isn't math or science.

The flexibility isn't going to help you get into graduate school, as others have said, unless you really know what you want to do. (Frankly, I designed my whole undergraduate education around my specific career and graduate school goals.) Focus on finding out what area you want to achieve mastery in, and then go for it.

Have you done work already that you've enjoyed? Think about the people you most admire. What do they do?

Also consider how much longer you're comfortable with being in school.

I ditto DeepShadeofBlue, an English undergrad degree is excellent for journalism, but not for you since you want a payoff. :P

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ditto DeepShadeOfBlue and Jae B.! I'm an English major and I think that it has prepared me pretty well for journalism. Although going into this profession isn't likely to make anyone rich to be honest (oh, the things you do out of love!)

But I think an English major can prepare you for pretty much everything except for the more science-y fields. Law might be a good idea if you want payoff, but I'm not sure if they would accept people straight out of undergrad unless you've done a lot of related things on the side. Business and management requires good communication skills, which I'm sure you have in plenty. You can also consider more specific fields, but only if you're really passionate about them, like sociology, history, social studies, ...and everything else, really.

I suggest choosing professional degrees instead of academic/research ones for better payoff, but before that I think you should find a field or profession you really like before going to grad school. I think it'd be better for you to try out internships or shadowing people whose professions you think you might be interested in. Find something you're willing to do full-time for free first, and then go ahead and get your grad degree to earn money from it!

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I was an English major in undergraduate and am now in psychology. Although many psychology programs are research-oriented, there are several subfields that will be able to place you into a great career, and many of them consider non-psychology majors. A brief list of some psychology subfields that can lead to great careers (more here):

  • Clinical: mostly deals with mental disorders but can be found in al kinds of settings from hospitals to private practice and with many different kinds of specialties (by age, by disorder, etc.)
  • Industrial/Organizational: many I/O psychologists find rewarding work in human resources,
  • Counseling: similar to clinical but typically deal with more short-term or "non-clinical" (i.e., not a disorder in the DSM) disturbances (e.g., family counseling, marriage counseling, etc.)
  • Child Counseling/Clinical: There are programs that specialize in the treatment of children
  • School: Work with children in a school setting who have learning and behavioral disabilities
  • Psychometrics: Psychometricians can work in test design (educational, vocational, etc.); e.g., ETS, the Princeton Review, etc. all need psychometricians (or hire them from research contracting firms)
  • Educational: Educational psychologists can find work as curriculum developers

The type of degree you'd need (Ph.D./Psy.D. vs. M.A./M.S.) will depend on your career goals and on the field. For example, clinical psychology requires a doctoral degree, but school psychologists typically require only a master's level degree.

The fantastic thing about a lot of these fields is that there is a strong demand for them, and the skills are fairly portable.

Although programs will consider non-psychology majors (and English specifically), they look well on applicants' having certain standard psychology classes (e.g., social, abnormal, biological, etc.). If you have some electives left, taking some psychology classes can be a good way to find out if you enjoy it and to meet the pre-reqs. You can always call a program and ask how they view non-majors and if there are any classes you can take to make yourself a better candidate.

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Hello! English BA degree-holder here.

In general, I'm not sure English is the best degree if money is primarily what you're after. That said, it is a flexible liberal arts degree. A BA in English should signify that you are a good/clear writer and analytical thinker. There are a range of decent and interesting career choices available to English majors without a graduate degree: the nonprofit world (grant writing, etc.), journalism (not many jobs available but very cool if you can get in the door and avoid being laid off), teaching English abroad or domestically, communications/marketing, etc. Publishing is also pretty cool, but as with journalism, it is an industry in trouble.

I would suggest taking a year or two to find a job with your English BA degree. Then think hard about whether or not graduate school is really what you want or need. It takes a lot of effort to apply, get in and stay in, so it's worth thinking hard about and not just doing on a whim!

Your graduate school options do remain open. The English degree leads most directly to literature or film/media graduate programs, which typically are geared toward grooming future academics and professors. A degree in English won't necessarily hold you back if you want to go into sociology, history, or most humanities subjects, though you might have to work harder in your application to make a case for the relevancy of your undergrad studies. And plenty of English majors go the law or business route or maybe get a library sciences degree.

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Kind of repeating things, but this is from my perspective with a BA English/Religion, MA English (as of May 23!), and starting a PhD Religious Studies in the fall:

Do yourself a favor and consider what in English interests you outside of genre/time period considerations. People don't often think of that until they hit MA programs like ours. Then they're in and either have no idea what to do or just kind of go with the flow without thinking about it. Our program is composition & rhetoric heavy--if that's what you want to do, fantastic. If not, well, you might have issues getting prep in other aspects of English (creative writing, publishing/editing, or further grad work), let alone do what I'm doing and change tracks entirely. (Well, not entirely, but that's a long story for another day.)

Also, take a look at what the hiring environment is like in your general geographical area. We had a fair number of people finish the BA English, do a secondary ed. teaching credential, and get laid off almost as soon as they got hired. We turn out a fair number of community college instructors, but most of the local ones have clamped down on hiring or will only hand out so many sections per person; a friend of mine teaches three at one school and two at another a good fifty miles away.

Consider looking in industry for English-related careers. There are companies nowhere near the English field that still need our skills as writers and editors. Right now, I'm working for an on-campus business program as a document writer and editor. People who work with me attest to the fact that many companies and other entities can absolutely use our skills, so maybe that's something to consider.

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