The English Major: Leave no doors closed

Careers section in a newspaper.

Careers section in a newspaper.

Social media management, public relations, advertising, news reporting and content creation are probably not the first things that pop in your mind when you think of an English degree. 

When you tell someone you are majoring in English, they are more likely to ask you with English than with any other major, “Are you planning to teach?” What most people do not initially realize, however, is that the career possibilities for graduates possessing bachelor degrees in English is vast and full of a variety of opportunities.

Teaching English is probably the initial career choice that comes to mind for English majors. However, learning to efficiently read, write, speak and teach English can be valuable in a wide array of careers. English majors can end up with a skill set that they can use in fields such as communications, law, business, government and more.

“English teacher, librarian, writer… we’ve all heard about the stereotypical career pathways that most English majors are assumed to choose. Some of the most well known jobs for English majors are screenwriters, authors, journalists and teachers, to name a few,” said Guilford English major Liam Connolly. “In all honesty, any industry you can imagine will need an English major somewhere down the line,” said Connolly. “Communications, marketing, government, education… Companies are always looking for people with English major qualifications.”

Majoring in English allows you to “choose your own adventure,” as described in the college catalogue.

Guilford’s website explains that the English and Media studies major allows students to immerse themselves in “literature from a variety of cultures, learning to read deeply with understanding and insight and imagine alternative views and values.”

The major requires a minimum of 36 credit hours, or nine courses. The catalogue describes the valuable skills that English majors can refine and utilize. Some highlights include: “Speak your truth while sharing your discoveries with fellow explorers… synergize creatively with others in using what you have learned to transform the world… Interpret and use the cultural codes and conventions of your time in history.”

The evident success Guilford graduates have had majoring in English makes the value of the degree apparent. According to Guilford’s website, Guilford English majors have pursued careers as “a lawyer, Yale professor, National Public Radio national correspondent, peace worker in Haiti, Random House production manager, documentary filmmaker, assistant producer on the Charlie Rose show, novelist and even on the CNN staff.”

Some Guilfordians have chosen to and have succeeded at continuing their English education at thriving and prestigious graduate schools. According to the website, “students have also pursued graduate studies at universities including Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, City University/London, Brown, UNC Chapel Hill, Penn State and NYU.”

Guilford English major Liam Connolly is currently working with Professor and English department chair Heather Hayton to revise the “Career Discernment for English Majors” Handbook. The handbook lists a diverse range of career opportunities available to English majors. 

Some interesting jobs in communications and media for English majors listed in the handbook include a television reporter, public relations assistant and radio production assistant.

In business and industry, the book offers careers such as advertising copywriter, market research analyst, public relations specialist and human resources manager, and for government and non-profit jobs, human services coordinator, special events coordinator, legislative assistant and executive director are all viable options.

If you are interested in majoring in English, there are noteworthy internship opportunities right here at Guilford, like writing and editing for The Guilfordian or The Greenleaf Review, Guilford’s student literary magazine.

Visiting instructor of English Caroline McAlister has children that are recent college graduates. While not English majors themselves, McAlister’s children have friends who have found success as English majors; one friend is an editorial assistant at Simon and Schuster, while another is a writer for Buzzfeed.

One’s career choice is not always related to their major. One friend of McAlister’s daughter became a canvassing organizer for Joe Biden after graduating with a degree in English.

McAlister brought up the fact that her daughter was “not an English major but she worked in the writing center at her college. Now she is a research assistant at a think tank and she does a lot of proofreading and editing that draws on her writing lab experience.” 

The Dorothy Lloyd Gilbert Award is a great opportunity for English majors at Guilford. Each year, $25,000 is awarded to one or several English and Media Studies or Creative Writing majors for career discernment and launch. 

“Past winners for the Gilbert Award have gone on to become newspaper journalists, TV news producers… become trade book editors, taught English abroad, gone to law school, gotten masters of library science, become principals of international prep schools, gone to work for lobbying and PR firms and even made movies,” Hayton said.

Jim Hood, professor of English and current Interim president at Guilford, said that an English degree is valuable for “any job where communication is important, writing or speaking.”

The Guilford college catalog says that English graduates dive into the workforce with the essential skills of “critical thinking, empathy, tolerance for ambiguity, communication – expertise that can serve as a universal key to the professions.” 

An English major will leave Guilford with lifelong skills pertaining to building connections and understanding and communicating with people in all aspects of life. If you enjoy community engagement or the aspects of reading and writing that come into play with government, business, news and almost every other field of work, then the English major might provide the perfect career path for you.