To Be or Not To Be an English Major


unknownlights asked:

don’t know if this has been asked previously and if so, I am sorry! I am in my second year of college and stumped on what to do major/career wise. No one supports me in just going for English but writing is where I feel home. It’s what I do. I’m not decent at anything else. I’m so confused on how to go about my college life. One of my teachers who is also helping me with my schedule basically told me that writing is a waste of time and that I should go for something “real”.

Ahhhh, now this is a question I can answer (sort of). As someone who graduated with an English degree this last May I feel I have some insights to share! Observe above, my degree that just came in the mail!

First and foremost, I hate your teacher who said that writing is a “waste of time”. I cannot tell you how happy it’s made my employers that I know how to write, and what a rare commodity that is these days. That person is an idiot.

However, if your professor had said, “You need to have a backup plan because writing is very, very rarely a profession by which you can support yourself”, then I would have agreed with him/her. Royalty rates for writers who publish traditionally are tiny. To put things in perspective: You could be on the bestseller list because you sold 30,000 copies of your book (because the market is so saturated)—if you’re even making 10% of that (which is a good deal for a new writer), you just made, wow, $3000! Even successful authors don’t make very much money, and becoming a successful author is really hard (I once saw this post about the probability of getting your book published based on the average number of query letters that agents receive vs. how many writers they then represent vs. how many of those get picked up by publishers, and the probability was tiny… if anyone knows what post I’m talking about, let me know!).

I don’t know if you want to potentially work in publishing, but being an English Major doesn’t totally prepare you for that, either. I did a post on that a while ago that might be helpful.

The other thing to consider is that being an English major doesn’t necessarily even mean that you’ll be learning how to write! I can only speak for UNC-Chapel Hill, where I went, but the only thing about being an English Major that made me a better writer is that I had maybe a slightly higher volume of essays to write than other (liberal arts) majors. But history and anthro and poli sci and religion majors write a ton too! What made me a good writer was minoring in creative writing.

But! I hope I haven’t scared you off yet. Don’t stress out. Unless you study something really specialized, or go to graduate school, you’re probably going to end up having some jobs after college that have nothing to do with your major. Especially if you study liberal arts. I studied English and I’m currently doing marketing for a financial company. Go figure!

Something I wish that someone had told me when I was in school was that it’s not what you major in, it’s what you know how to do. When companies are looking at your resume, they’re not thinking, “What did he/she major in?” (…again, this probably applies more to liberal arts). They’re thinking, “What skills does she have?”

So here’s my advice to you (and my advice to everyone, on everything): Go with your gut! You declare that English Major, girl! But make sure that while you’re in school, you’re learning other marketable skills. I also majored in German, so it’s always good to know another language, and I was the creative director of our campus magazine so I learned InDesign and Photoshop. But I wish I had done more!! I wish I’d learned more web development and marketing skills, because that’s all where it’s at.

Also! Here’s what some followers had to say:

I got bullied out of my “impractical” writing ambitions by a “realistic” guidance counselor. I majored in my backup plan, because it allegedly paid well, and then got trapped living that backup plan without ever getting to even try to follow my dreams. I cry myself to sleep nearly every night because I hate every minute of my job. I would literally rather scoop dog poop for a living, or flip burgers, or do factory work. Take the risk, write, don’t get trapped in a soul sucking cubicle.


If any followers have anything to add to this post, tell us in an ask!

This post will be indexed on our Advice page, under the category “The Writer’s Life”.

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