Chances are, you've heard a lot of opinions on which college degrees are "useful" and which are a waste of your time. As a college student, it probably seems like everyone has an opinion about what you decided to study, and you've had to field the barely-answerable question of "What are you going to do with that?" when explaining your major more times than you'd like (i.e. any times at all). Liberal arts degrees, in particular, are disproportionately attacked as impractical at an alarming rate, when in reality these degrees are enriching, versatile and valuable. English majors are one group that weather a lot of the rhetoric about useless majors, and the idea that English degrees are not practical and will yield underemployment is harmful, not to mention inaccurate.
English degrees are one of the most versatile paths of study you can choose to take, and English majors go into the workforce in all kinds of fields. The skills you learn going through an English program — like written communication, critical thinking, persuasive arguing, and writing and editing — are applicable to almost every industry. There are many jobs that will hire, and even search out, English majors for these reasons, and many of these jobs pay very well.
Despite what the critics in the "real world" (and the family members you have to weather during Thanksgiving break) may have to say, an English major is a valuable path of study that can set you up for occupational and financial success. English degrees are versatile; it's hard to find a field that doesn't include at least a few English majors, because the skills you learn from this degree are so widely applicable.
Also, your hiring potential doesn't just depend on your major, but takes into account your personal skills, interests and connections, so to a certain extent, an English major can be whatever you make it. If you don't end up going into a career directly involving writing, communications, or literature, an English degree still gives you a strong basis to build on. It shows employers you are intelligent, college-educated, well-read, and capable of a higher level of critical thinking and communication — those are skills almost all job descriptions have in common.
Statistics about the job market and liberal arts majors are changing, and English majors are becoming more desired than majors that are conventionally dubbed as 'practical'. There are many opportunities a Bachelor's in English can give you a leg up in, many of them with hefty salaries. Most of the more lucrative jobs will be at a higher level, so it may you more time to hit the salary number you want than a Business major coming out of undergrad into an investment banking job. But the long haul is worth it if the field is the right one for you, and there are entry-level jobs with good starting salaries that are available to you.
The first three jobs listed here are more entry-level, to give you an idea of what might be in reach at the start of your career, followed by some more advanced positions.
If you want to go the journalism route with your writing experience, having an English degree is optimal. As a reporter, you will investigate stories, conduct interviews, and work under quick turnarounds to produce articles. This means being able to quickly and coherently write about a topic is your job. English majors thrive in these careers, and you'll be an even stronger candidate if you take some journalism classes within your major. You can also go to journalism school to get a master's degree, but this isn't necessary for a successful career. If you get an internship or a fellowship at an outlet you want to work for, you can get similar experience and networking opportunities in the field without further education.
Salary: Early-career news reporters and journalists make around $40-45k a year, with higher positions in the range of up to $70k.
If writing was what drew you to study English, and you want to make a career out of it, being a freelance writer is another great option. You don't need specific experience requirements, most of the time. Your work just needs to be solid, interesting, and fit for the publication you're submitting to. As a freelance writer, you will be hired by various companies to write copy, articles, marketing material, or advertisements. Like any freelance job, this route is less stable than a full-time job, especially financially. Your income depends on how much you're writing, which depends on how many pieces you're pitching, if you are with a certain company, and how much a company is able to pay you. However, this career is worth mentioning because it's a great way to build a portfolio of clips from places you've written; either to go on to a higher-level staff writer job at a publication, set yourself up to be an editor someday, or up your freelance game to bigger companies and larger pieces.
Salary: This one varies pretty widely, and it's hard to get an accurate number, but freelance writers can make up to $60k+ a year, with most (who work regularly) making around $30-45k.
Being an assistant is a classic entry-level job, and it has its benefits. If you become an executive assistant at a company you want to work for one day, this job will get your foot in the door while teaching you the basics of your field. Almost everyone needs assistants, and executive assistants are closest to the work of the higher-ups at a company and, generally, are paid the most. While no specific degree is recognized as best for this role, the job description usually includes the ability to manage communication with clients, write and read emails, organize meetings, and take notes on important happenings and functions. Writing and communications skills are prized, and English majors are at an advantage in this kind of applicant pool.
Salary: The average salary for executive assistants is reported at around $55k a year.
Communications managers facilitate and manage communications between different departments of a company, as well as externally with clients, other companies, and the company's audience. They maintain a company's image and may work on its brand, working with or above social media managers and in tandem with marketing staff. Communications managers may work alone or on a larger team, managing communications staff and calling shots on communications strategy. Written and interpersonal skills are imperative for this position, which means English majors are definitely qualified for the job. Also, taking a job like this allows you some flexibility as far as the field of work you want to be in and the issues important to you, as most nonprofits, small businesses, and large corporations have communications managers.
Salary: Communications managers earn an average of $64k a year, with the highest-earning ten percent making up to $98k.
If you build a career in writing and editing and stay on that path, you can become the editor-in-chief of a magazine or publication. In this position, you will have the power and discretion to shape a publication creatively and curate the writing it puts out into the world. You'll supervise editorial staff, call the shots on what gets printed and published, and have the final say on creative decisions. This is a great position for anyone who loves the grammar and editing side of being an English major and has a strong voice and vision for the content the world needs.
Salary: On average, editors in chiefs make around $73k, with the highest-earning of them making upwards of $140k.
In the age of new media, brands are putting more and more focus on social media. Every company has accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, because these platforms are great tools for marketing, advertising, and engagement with your audience. As the influence of these platforms on businesses grows, the need for specialized leadership to manage this section of the company does, too. Social media managers do just that – manage social media, in all aspects. This might include drafting posts, collecting and designing media, writing content, and strategizing about what your social media will look like, target and prioritize.
English majors are good candidates for this role because of their grasp of language and media, in general, and if you're also a millennial, you're almost inherently qualified for the job. Social media is an inextricable part of young people's lives, and often brands look to hire younger people to manage this part of their work.
Salary: The average salary of a social media manager is around $50k, with the full range of income running from $35k to $75k per year.
This one does require further education, but it's a route you may want to consider if you think you might be passionate about the field. You may think law degrees are for political science or criminal justice majors, or people who have known they wanted to go to law school since before or during their undergraduate career – nope, not necessarily. There's no prerequisite field of study requirement for getting into law school, and English majors are actually desired. They have great persuasive skills, a proven ability to think critically and analyze writing, and the power to articulate ideas clearly in a compelling way. All of these traits make great lawyers. In order to get into a good law school, you'll need a solid LSAT score and, likely, some internship or job experience tailored to the kind of law you want to practice, but an English major is a great place to start from.
There are many different areas of law you can practice, from helping people who immigrate to this country, to fighting for equality for people of all genders and sexualities, to becoming a prosecutor on behalf of the state. In any of these paths, you will be writing and reading a lot of dense text, forming an argument, and making a case – everything you learned to do in your major. If you think this path might be for you, do a little bit of research on who is doing the work you want to do, and take an LSAT practice test. Law school isn't for everyone, but many people thrive in that setting, and it might very well be for you.
Salary: Lawyers earn a median income of $120k, with people top ten percent of their field making over $180k per year.
If you want to continue using your writing skills but don't want to work in the publishing or entertainment field, you may consider becoming a technical writer. Many different kinds of companies need professionals with writing skills, for several different reasons. Technical writers compose manuals, help sections, frequently asked questions, and other explanatory documents regarding products or services. They utilize the writing skills English majors hone in more clinical and straightforward way. They may not be crafting theses statements or drafting opinion pieces, but they are still using language strategically to communicate ideas effectively.
Salary: The average technical writer starts earning around $50k per year, with a range of income up to $86k per year.
Human resources managers' jobs center around communications skills. They identify the company's staff needs, draft job descriptions and interview people for jobs. They also manage the needs of current employees and ensure everything runs smoothly and no one has any issues as a person in their company. English majors are great communicators, and many human resources managers started out with a degree in English. They are capable, well-written, and well-spoken, and near every workplace has a need for them, so you can work in many different fields with this specialization of experience.
Salary: HR managers earn an average base level pay of around $85k, with the potential to earn as high as $120k.
While some marketing managers have undergraduate degrees in marketing, specific prior education experience is not necessary. Many employers are now looking for demonstrated management skills (as well as the basic requirement of a college degree) instead of a specific major for the job. Marketing managers are tasked with promoting a business in all forms; they often lead marketing teams, building strategy, and making cases on behalf of a product, service, or company. For English majors with developed persuasion and speaking skills, this can be a great position, and one with a lot of variety, depending on the company you work for.
Salary: Marketing managers earn an average of around $112k a year.
English majors can be successful in a variety of different careers. You may not know exactly what you want to do when you graduate college, and that's perfectly fine. An English degree opens up many different possibilities as you start your career, and the odds are you will find something that drew you to that field of study directly applicable to a job that catches your eye. If not, and you go into a field you previously hadn't considered or connected with English, you will find that the communication and technical skills you developed during your program will set you apart and ahead in the hiring process and help you do your job well.
Haley Riemer is a multimedia writer and performer interested in telling stories that are important to women. She's a recent graduate of Tulane University, and her current hobbies include drinking too much iced coffee and talking about feminist political theory at parties.