Best Careers for English Majors

The debate over the economic value of an English degree is a longstanding conversation, and it continues unabated today. Once the obvious choice for language and literature buffs, the number of students graduating with an English degree has declined significantly since the recession of 2009. While academics and media members continue to argue the benefits and drawbacks of the degree, a review of national trends reveals that many students who may have considered English before the recession were pressured to choose a more “lucrative” major instead. Consequently, the number of English majors dropped to nearly 50,000 by 2013-14, from more than 55,000 in 2009.

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Recent research suggests that the English major is making a comeback, however. While less popular than many “practical” majors post-recession, English majors are now experiencing lower unemployment rates after college than many other fields. Jobs for English majors are diverse as well, as the liberal arts training students receive prepares them for several industries, including journalism, education, and communications. On average, English majors receive a starting annual salary of approximately $36,000; the average mid-career salary for English majors is $63,419.

The notion that there are limited jobs for English graduates is simply unfounded. In fact, graduates emerge from school with a well-rounded skill set, including strong critical-thinking and communication skills that are useful in a variety of industries. As one of academia’s most prestigious classic programs, English degrees are also offered at nearly all colleges and universities, allowing students to find a customized program that matches their academic interests and professional ambitions.

The BA in English

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English encompasses a comprehensive overview of literature, writing, and the English language. BA programs typically attract students interested in studying English authors and literature, literary history, cultural language, and creative writing. Many English majors drawn to the degree want to pursue a career in communications, education, writing, journalism, or public relations. BA programs are typically comprised of core and elective courses, along with at least one seminar-based course or capstone project. Some schools offer internship opportunities in addition to or in lieu of the capstone experience.

Depending on your area of interest, BA coursework may be tailored to a particular concentration in subjects like literature, rhetoric, or creative writing. While some English majors select a concentration based on prospective career goals after graduation, others simply want to focus on a specific genre within the field. Whatever your interests, the BA program is ideal for students with a passion for self-expression who are looking to develop sharp discourse and communication skills.

Concentrations

Because the foundational skills comprising the English degree are so widely adaptable to a variety of careers, students can hone their skills in a variety of concentrations. For example, those who are interested in becoming a writer may pursue a creative writing concentration, while others looking to explore literature in-depth may choose to specialize in literature and cultural studies. There are dozens of concentrations available throughout the country, and the following are just a small selection of some of the most common specializations in the field.

Creative Writing

The creative writing concentration helps students develop their writing skills. Students explore various forms of critical analysis and hone their writing in the medium of their choice. Common creative writing options include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Students also learn how to publish and promote their writing in print, online, and in scholarly circles.

Literature and Cultural Studies

Literature and cultural studies programs explore the history of language and written communication as developed through British and American texts and literature. Students learn to harness the power of language in all forms to communicate effectively. Coursework also enables students to strengthen their analytical skills, deliver inspired dialogue, and participate in analytical conversations.

Film Studies

Students examine the history of film from historical, theoretical, and critical perspectives. They explore the medium of film not only as a far-reaching communication tool, but also as an art form and storytelling tradition. Many film studies programs also discuss the impact the advancement of new technology and internet media, such as YouTube and other web-based forums, has made on film.

Rhetoric

Rhetoric majors explore various forms of writing, and how each can provide effective communication and inspired conversation. Students learn about the history of the written word, and about the many applications for advanced writing skills today. Majors in rhetoric are encouraged to be reflective, open-minded, and adaptive.

Gender Studies

The gender studies concentration explores gender roles in the historical development of language and literature, as well as how they impact interpersonal communication today. This specialty incorporates interdisciplinary studies in how gender affects societal, cultural, and political relationships. Students also consider cross-cultural concepts that explore gender as a form of power in society.

Communication

Effective communication, both written and verbal, is a requirement of nearly every type of job in the workforce. Today, with the advent of so many means of electronic communication, including emails and social media, written communication skills are especially important. As part of a comprehensive English degree, students learn adaptive communication techniques that can be tailored to fit any job. They also learn how to speak and write concisely and clearly.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is another important skill. English majors may learn critical thinking techniques through literary analysis or as part of their own creative writing process. Sharp critical thinking skills also help your reasoning abilities, strategizing, problem-solving, and troubleshooting, all of which are necessary for making effective decisions on the job.

Organization

For English majors and professionals at-large, studies show a connection between being organized and being an efficient worker. Advanced organization skills are incorporated into English degree coursework in an effort to help students access greater depths of creativity by clearing clutter from their minds and their physical work space. In any career, people with efficient organization skills can increase productivity by prioritizing goals, practicing time-management, and ignoring potential distractions.

Research

Graduates with advanced research skills are capable of developing multiple approaches to discovering, studying, and debating various types of information. Exceptional research skills in the workforce can influence the development of other important skills, including understanding objectivity, the ability to accept constructive criticism, and the ability to approach a challenge from multiple viewpoints.

Writing and Grammar

While the necessity of these skills may seem obvious to English majors, many people assume proper English writing and grammar skills are of little importance to employers in the workforce. On the contrary, given that the majority of the world’s written communication is published online today, the ability to write clearly and effectively with an appropriate tone and correct grammar is vital. Whether writing a private email to your boss or posting on behalf of your employer on social media, advanced writing and grammar skills are an asset in any industry.

With such a range of adaptable skills, English majors are qualified for careers in a variety of fields. Whether your goal is to pursue a career as an author or editor or a less traveled path, English majors should have no trouble finding a job after graduation.

Common Career Paths

While English skills are applicable in many fields, some of the best careers for English majors are those that rely on the core skills learned in school. English majors who excel at creative writing or are interested in journalistic reporting, for example, may be well-suited for positions in editing, publishing, or journalism. Other traditional fields well-suited to English majors with strong communication and interpersonal skills include marketing and PR-oriented industries. Read on for a longer look at some of the best careers for English majors.

Editing and Publishing
  • Mean Annual Salary: $64,910
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 1.5%
  • Number of People Employed: 96,690

ManyEnglish majors become editors and publishers. Both professions rely heavily on the advanced communication and language skills students develop in an English program. While editors and publishers must be proficient in both written and verbal communication, they are also expected to be creative, perform detailed research, and cultivate interpersonal relationships. Ideal candidates for editing and publishing positions are excellent writers, detail-oriented, and creative. English majors in editing and publishing positions typically have extensive training and experience in journalism, media, or communications. They may find entry-level employment in editing or publishing as editorial assistants, reporters, or writers for print or broadcast media. Common positions include:

  • Copy editor
  • Publication assistant
  • Content writer
Journalism
  • Mean Annual Salary: $37,720
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): -9%
  • Number of People Employed: 49,600

Journalists rely on the communication and interpersonal skills ingrained in English classes. Graduates should also be able to report objectively and work proficiently with computers. Ideal candidates for positions in journalism have excellent writing and communication skills, thick skin, and a desire to pursue challenging sources and information for a story. Employers prefer candidates with experience in editorial or on-air reporting. Most professionals work in news publishing or radio or TV broadcasting. Common positions include:

  • Reporter
  • News correspondent
  • Broadcast news analyst
Public Relations
  • Mean Annual Salary: $65,830
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 1.1%
  • Number of People Employed: 218,910

English majors are a natural fit for public relations, also sometimes called communications. Students who can network, stay calm in pressured situations, and who have excellent interpersonal skills may excel in a PR career. Strong communication skills, particularly in writing and speaking, are key, as professionals in the field are typically responsible for drafting press materials and meeting the press on a regular basis. In addition to the advanced “people” skills and communication abilities required of PR professionals, English majors interested in working in the field should be highly organized with strong problem-solving skills. Employers may prefer students with internship or work experience in media relations, communications, or public leadership for entry-level positions in PR. Job opportunities include:

  • Public relations specialist
  • Media specialist
  • Press secretary
Teaching
  • Mean Annual Salary: $57,730
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 0.7%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,381,430

English majors with a BA degree and state-issued certification or licensure are qualified to teach middle or high school English in any state in the country. Individual requirements vary; some schools require teachers to obtain a master’s degree after earning teaching certification, while private schools are not subject to the same hiring requirements as state-run institutions. A comprehensive English program introduces prospective teachers to the core principles of English literature and language that they need to adapt into their own school curriculum. Ideal candidates should have excellent communication skills, as they’ll need to interact with students, administrators, and parents, and create clear and effective lesson plans and learning materials. English teachers should also practice patience and resourcefulness to create a healthy dialogue within the classroom and to set a good example for students. Typically, teachers must meet individual requirements for in-class student-teaching experience before assuming a high-level position. Job options include:

  • High school teacher
  • ESL teacher
  • Special education teacher
Writing
  • Mean Annual Salary: $69,130
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 1.9%
  • Number of People Employed: 43,380

Pursuing a writing career is the primary reason many English majors study this subject. English majors typically focus on a particular medium, such as journalism, blogging, playwriting, or screenwriting. Some types of writing careers require additional training on top of the advanced communication, critical thinking, and creativity abilities that students develop as English majors. For example, aspiring technical writers or technical communicators are responsible for writing how-to manuals and guides for complex machinery and electronics, relaying information in a way that the average non-technical lay person can understand. Writers in this specialty should have experience with computer science or engineering in addition to advanced communication skills. Some potential writing careers include:

  • Technical writer
  • Novelist
  • Biographer

Outside-the-Box Career Paths

Beyond traditional jobs, English students can apply their skills in a number of positions in other industries. Though not the most obvious career paths for English graduates, many industries need employees who can use the communication, writing, research, and analytical skills English majors develop in school. Many aspects of the English major’s education are well-suited to careers in a variety of fields, including marketing, advertising, and tech, where a fresh perspective on conventional ideas is always welcome. Below are just a few examples of “outside the box” English major jobs:

Advertising and Marketing
  • Mean Annual Salary: $70,030
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 0.7%
  • Number of People Employed: 506,420

Similar to public relations, advertising, promotions, and marketing are all good fits for English graduates. Advertising and marketing professionals must have strong communication and interpersonal skills, as their duties may range from drafting informal email correspondence to a client to presenting high-profile marketing campaigns to hosting meetings. Beyond demonstrating advanced written and in-person communication abilities, English majors with exceptional creativity, analytical skills, and strong organization are well-suited to a career in this industry. Employers may prefer English majors with prior work experience as sales reps, purchasing agents, or PR professionals, and additional training in business, economics, or finance is always helpful for entry-level job-seekers. Career options include:

  • Advertising account executive
  • Promotions manager
  • Marketing manager
Business and Finance
  • Mean Annual Salary: $73,800
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 0.2%
  • Number of People Employed: 7,032,560

Business and finance careers may work for English graduates with advanced communication, leadership, and organizational skills, and students are well prepared for a variety of positions in the industry. Business and finance professionals pursuing careers in human resources management or fundraising, for example, may need to draw on their communication and decision-making skills to build interpersonal relationships, write grants, and plan events. Ideal candidates for business and finance positions have advanced writing, speaking, and listening skills, are detail-oriented, and have strong leadership potential. English majors in this field can benefit from gaining work experience in customer service, or by completing internships or volunteer work in fundraising. Certification/licensure is voluntary but may be preferred by some employers. Common jobs in the field include:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Major-gift fundraiser
  • Personnel recruiter
Law
  • Mean Annual Salary: $103,460
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 0.5%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,062,370

While lawyers and paralegals need additional training, an English degree helps students develop the strong critical thinking and analytical skills required in the legal profession. Lawyers must be strong writers and communicators, and law students with a background in English tend to do well in school. A comprehensive English degree program also helps aspiring law students to build the interpersonal and problem-solving skills required to research, develop, and present cases to clients, colleagues, and in open court. Ideal candidates for law careers also have advanced computer skills and know how to conduct research and stay organized. With a law degree and appropriate accreditation, aspiring lawyers may gain entry-level experience through an internship or school-sponsored legal clinics. Aspiring paralegals should have additional paralegal training and at least one year of on-the-job experience before applying to an entry-level position. Common positions include:

  • Paralegal
  • Legal assistant
  • Lawyer
Non-Profit
  • Mean Annual Salary: $46,160
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 0.4%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,972,140

Non-profit management requires advanced communication skills in order to understand and interpret tact and tone, build relationships, and network. Professionals in the field may have to draft funding proposals and grant applications, and strong writing ability is important. Ideal candidates for non-profit careers have natural leadership and managerial qualities, along with sharp analytical and problem-solving skills. Common positions include:

  • Social and community service manager
  • Social and community service director
  • Social worker
Technology
  • Mean Annual Salary: $86,170
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 0.5%
  • Number of People Employed: 4,005,250

Some of the most popular jobs in the ever-expanding field of technology rely heavily on the advanced communication and language skills one learns in an English degree program. In fact, many employers in technology prefer to hire people with a liberal arts background and experience in information technology or computer programming. Ideal candidates for technology positions have acute problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities, as well as good communication skills that allow them to convey technical information in a variety of formats and to a range of audiences. Creativity is key for many technology jobs, especially in development work. English majors in technology careers typically have extensive training and experience in a specialty area of computer science or information technology. Many are eligible for entry-level employment with a bachelor’s degree and gain additional experience and training on the job. Career options include:

  • Systems designer
  • Software quality assurance analyst
  • Programmer analyst
  • Society of Professional Journalists: Supported by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists features an online directory of state chapters, one of the nation’s largest collections of career training resources, and a variety of awards sponsored by the organization.
  • PEN America: This membership organization for writers focuses on protecting their rights for free expression, showing support to writers who have been denied these rights, and promoting traditional and underground literary culture.
  • LitLine: LitLine offers a diverse assembly of professional and creative resources for writers, artists, and poets, from schedules of upcoming retreats, workshops, and conferences to listings of book distributors and publishing houses.
  • National Writers Union: The National Writers Union is among the leading comprehensive resources for writers’ advocacy in the United States, sharing information to support common issues faced by writers including copyright defense, pay regulations, and the federal shield bill. The Union manages chapters in nearly every state and supports writers in all specialties, including book authors, journalists, and Spanish-language writers.
  • American Copy Editors Society: This membership-based organization supports a variety of professional resources for copy editors. Members offer each other solutions to common editing issues, provide vocational training opportunities, and encourage participation through lively conversation in its online forum.
  • Society for Technical Communication: The STC was created to bring together members of the technical communication community through a variety of shared professional resources, such as certification information, online continuing education and mentorship opportunities, and a technical writing job bank.
  • American Marketing Association: The AMA offers resources for members involved in all aspects of marketing, from advertising to digital to metrics, aimed at job-seekers, those looking for multimedia learning opportunities online, or members who are trying to get involved in their communities.
  • National Book Foundation: Also the presenter of the National Book Awards, the National Book Foundation offers a carefully curated collection of resources. These include awards and donor opportunities and literacy programs and events, intended for authors, poets, technical writers, and translators in the U.S.
  • Social Media Association: The SMA offers job opportunities and career training resources for professionals involved in all areas of the media community and who use social media in business and commerce. This membership organization aims to educate all types of professionals about the ways in which they can enrich their business using social media platforms and publicity.
  • Poets and Writers: As the nation’s largest nonprofit supporting creative writers, Poets and Writers manages a namesake magazine, both in print and online, while also offering peer-supported tools for writers, a “speakeasy” forum, and a calendar of literary events.