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What Can I Do With an English Major?

If you Google this question, you’ll get more responses than you can readily use.

Some are fun, like this one:

One area of employment in which many English Major / Writing Minor students are interested is writing and/or editing. Prospects will depend on the kind of writing one hopes to do. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11, opportunities in Writing and Editing will grow at or better than the average rate for all occupations. Why not browse the web site

In 2009, we surveyed our alumni who had graduated between 1990 and 2008. One question asked their current occupations. Not surprisingly, a large number of them are teachers; some are principals and school administrators; and some, as you’ll see below, are university professors. Here is a sample of the non-teaching occupations listed by our majors, minors, and writing minors:

Internet Services Project Coordinator; Reference Librarian; Attorney; Attorney (Contracts); Attorney (Civil Litigation); Human Resources Advisor; Business Owner; Training Specialist for Global Corporation; Development Coordinator and Fundraiser; Technical Writer, Software Company; Medical Doctor; Corporate Research Librarian; Branch Librarian; Buyer; Professional Firefighter; Senior Business Analyst; Human Resources Professional, Wisconsin State Government; Special Projects Coordinator; Financial Advisor; Marketing Director; Senior Technical Writer; Pastor; Teaching Support Staff; Credit Manager; Organizational Effectiveness Specialist;; Sales Manager; Purchasing Agent; Editor; Social Service; Paralegal; Corporate Sales; Senior Editorial Assistant; Web Developer; Director of Human Resources; Bookstore Manager; Director of Student Affairs; Education Loan Manager; Grants Specialist/Grant Writer for Idea Public Schools; Radio On-Air Personality; Electron Microscopist; Receiving Clerk; Account Coordinator; Graduate Student; Inventory Control System Coordinator; Information Technology Consultant, State Of CA; ccountant; Freelance Writer; Church Treasurer; Bartender; Author; Director of Communications, USA Curling; School Counselor; Interior Designer; Aquatic Director, YMCA; Senior Projects Manager, Yahoo Inc.; Legal Assistant; Children’s Book Editor; Secretary; Director, Non-Profit Organization; Director/Founder, Charter School; Campus Minister; Journalist; Program Assistant Wisconsin State Bar; Food Server; Seminary Student; Lead Proofreader; Director, High School Career Center; Motel Manager; Esthetician; Community Coordinator at NPO for Disabled Adults; Barista; Bank Supervisor; Personal Banker; Info Tech Business Analyst; Professional Hockey Coach; Sports/Outdoors Writer; Material Handler; Environmental Coordinator; Certified Residential Appraiser; Appalachian Trail Hiker; Photography Business Owner; Business Banking Specialist; Animal Care Attendant; Instructor, American Red Cross; Emergency Travel Coordinator; Editorial Asst, Medical Publisher; Communications Specialist; Retail Grocery Management; Public Relations Specialist; Education Intern, Aldo Leopold Foundation; Emergency Preparedness & Response Specialist; Assistant. Coordinator of Publications & Communications, University Admissions Office.

So you can see that "Almost anything you can think of," as an answer to the question above, is not too far wide off the mark. However, if you already have specific professional interests, you should consider the following:


A Pre-Professional Major

Graduate School in Business (MBA)

Repeatedly, employers—whether company executives or human resource managers—emphasize that they place a premium on communication skills: on the ability to listen attentively, to read perceptively, to reason soundly, and to write clearly and cogently. When you add to these the English major’s ability to assess unfamiliar materials, analyze problems, and propose solutions, it is no wonder that the Profile of Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) Candidates shows that English majors consistently outscore their peers among undergraduate Business Majors.

Law School

Although the American Bar Association (ABA) does not prefer a particular major as pre-law preparation, it does recognize English as one of the more useful pre-law majors; in fact, a survey of law school deans identified English as one of the four most frequently-recommended majors (the others were History, Philosophy, and Political Science). Moreover, the ABA lists “Core Skills and Values” that provide a good foundation for law school—all of which are at the core of English Studies: the capacity to analyze and problem-solve; think and read critically; write and speak clearly; listen well, and conduct in-depth research. As any lawyer will tell you, an ability to understand and use language in both its precision and its ambiguity is crucial to their work, and literary study hones that ability.

Preparation for legal education should include substantial experience at close reading and critical analysis of complex textual material, for much of what you will do as a law student and lawyer involved careful reading and comprehension of judicial opinions, statutes, documents, and other written materials. 

As you seek to prepare for a legal education, you should develop a high degree of skill at written communication. Language is the most important tool of a lawyer, and lawyers must learn to express themselves clearly and concisely.

-- American Bar Association Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession (1992)

Medical School

Interestingly, Humanities majors, including English majors, do well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The test includes sections on Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, and Biological Sciences, and requires a sample of the student’s writing. A report, entitled Characteristics of MCAT Examinees, documents performance by undergraduates in various fields: Humanities, Biological Sciences, Mathematics/Statistics, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Health Sciences, and Others. The findings are striking. Humanities majors outscore all other majors in the Verbal Reasoning and the Writing Sample categories; score just as well as the highest-scoring students in other majors in the Biological Sciences category; and score less well than their peers in Mathematics/Statistics and Physical Sciences only in the Physical Sciences category. Obviously, candidates for Medical School need to be successful in required Science and Mathematics courses, but also need to be able to reason analytically, understand complicated texts, and communicate clearly and effectively—abilities that an English curriculum is designed in large part to promote.

Graduate School in English or Writing

In recent years, the number of UW-Stevens Point English graduates going on to advanced degree programs has increased markedly, and their completion rate has been at or close to 100%. A significant number have gone on to successful academic or writing careers. In large part, that success has been grounded in the strength of our undergraduate program. A survey of alumni in spring, 2010, indicated that our graduates were enrolled in graduate programs at the following institutions:

Indiana University (PhD); Syracuse University (PhD); Tufts University (PhD); University of Louisiana (PhD); University of Maryland (PhD); University of Minnesota (PhD); University of Wisconsin-Madison (PhD); Washington State University (PhD); Columbia College, Chicago (MFA); Eastern Washington University (MFA); Illinois State University, Normal (MA); Iowa Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa (MFA); Ohio University (MA); San Francisco State University (MA); University of Miami, Ohio (MA); University of Minnesota Medical School (MD); Mayo Clinic; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (MA); University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Library Science); Virginia Technological University (MA)

The same survey revealed that we have UW-Stevens Point English graduates currently teaching at the following universities:

Arizona State University; Bowling Green University; Colorado State University; Iowa State University; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; University of Wisconsin-Platteville; Winona State University.

So, if you are one of those who have an eye on a long-term academic career, a UW-Stevens Point English Major is a good place to start.

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