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The Breakdown

Storytelling is ingrained in the human spirit. From Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” to the subway anecdote that you relay to your friend, we have a deep need to express ourselves through stories. They inspire us, they help us to understand each other and they connect us. If you’re someone who welcomes this sentiment than perhaps the English major is for you!

As an English major, you’ll be asked to critically engage with a variety of texts. Indeed, you will read literature from many different places and historical periods. Through classroom discussion and close analysis, you’ll investigate not only literary elements but the social and cultural relevance of these works as well. While most English departments allow their undergrads to choose a number of electives, many also require students to take at least one course from certain periods (ex. medieval, 19th century and modern). Obviously, you should be prepared for a major that is both reading and writing intensive. On the upside, English majors rarely have to complete problem sets!

English majors tend to have an appreciation and an ear for language. In addition, they have a strong grasp on narrative structure and the critical eye necessary for analyzing themes, plot and literary devices. Of course, they also have fantastic writing and communication skills. And, perhaps most important, they truly believe in the power of the written word.

Nuts and Bolts

English majors are quite fortunate in that their course selection can cover a wide array of topics, periods and people. Classes might include Modern Short Stories, Nineteenth Century American Literature, Advanced Fiction Workshop, Constructing Sexuality in the Enlightenment, Modern Irish Poetry, Narrating Slavery, The Romantic Sublime, Jane Austen – Cultural Critic, Critical Theory, Victorian Crime Fiction, Ulysses and Its Others, The Many Lives of King Arthur, Addictions, Obsessions, Manias and of course, Shakespeare.

Decisions, Decisions…

English majors are typically passionate about both language and storytelling and how they shape society. Therefore, they may also contemplate studying history, comparative literature, creative writing, communications, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, American studies, classics, journalism, radio/television/film and digital media.

What’s Next?

English is probably the quintessential (or clichéd) liberal arts major. As such it gets a bad rap for not preparing graduates for the real world (i.e. specific career tracks). And to that we say, don’t succumb to the naysayers English majors! Though it might not possess the direct application that a major in accounting does, that doesn’t mean you don’t possess transferrable skills. Certainly, the writing and analytical skill-sets you’ve developed would be an asset in many jobs and professional settings. And you’ll soon discover that you can find English majors within virtually any field. Some students continue on to graduate school, pursuing law, business and even medical degrees (that’s right – English majors can be doctors too!). And, naturally, publishing is a popular professional route as are marketing, advertising and public relations. Many English majors also gravitate to the entertainment industry. Others pursue careers in education. And still others continue their studies to pursue graduate degrees in English or writing. No matter what you determine your career goals to be, there’s no doubt a degree in English can help you get there.


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Don Munce