Why Study English?

The Value of an English Degree

Our program is renowned for its collaborative atmosphere, in which faculty help students explore professional goals and intellectual interests. Perhaps more than any other major, English provides an amazing variety of career paths and opportunities. Our graduates pursue careers in education, law, journalism, social media, advertising, public relations, cultural institutions, film and theater, community advocacy, the non-profit sector, web development and design, and entertainment. 

Too many English majors are doubting their choice of degree, and too many would-be English majors are choosing other degrees because “you can’t make any money with an English degree,” “there aren’t any jobs,” “I don’t want to teach,” etc. Here are some common misconceptions and stereotypes about the English major.

How much money do English majors make? In this article, you'll find information regarding the income of English majors using data from national organizations and anecdotal data that the "Dear English Major" website has collected from its audience. When you're researching jobs, negotiating your salary, asking for a raise, and choosing a field to enter, you'll definitely want to educate yourself on wage norms and expectations.

Hunting for soft skills, companies scoop up English majors: Employers are newly hot on the trail of hires with liberal arts and humanities degrees. Class of 2015 graduates from those disciplines are employed at higher rates than their cohorts in the class of 2014, and starting salaries rose significantly, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ annual first-destination survey of recent graduates in the workforce.

The best argument for studying English? The employment numbers: As of 2010-2011, the most recent year with available data, recent humanities and liberal arts majors had 9 percent unemployment. That's right about on par with students in computer and math fields (9.1 percent), psychology and social work (8.8 percent), and the social sciences (10.3 percent). And it's just a bit above the average across all majors of 7.9 percent.

11 reasons to ignore the haters and major in the humanities: Former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano was an English major at Johns Hopkins. American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault majored in history at Bowdoin. George Soros was a philosophy major. There are countless other examples.

This is irrefutable evidence of the value of a humanities education: The broke-unemployed-humanities-major stereotype may not have much of a basis in reality. According to data from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, as reported by The Atlantic, humanities and social science majors earn a similar amount as pre-professional majors do over a lifetime.

Liberal arts grads win long-term: Liberal arts majors may start off slower than others when it comes to the postgraduate career path, but they close much of the salary and unemployment gap over time, a new report shows. By their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates.

Good news liberal arts majors: your peers probably won’t out-earn you forever: It’s no secret that liberal arts graduates tend to fare worse than many of their counterparts immediately after college. The story tends to change, however, as over time, liberal arts majors often pursue graduate degrees and gravitate into high-paying fields such as general management, politics, law and sales.

Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature: You might not expect college freshmen to understand that careers don’t proceed in straight lines, but surely their parents ought to. You’ll find a surprising number of philosophy majors at hedge funds and lots of political-science majors at law firms. Among chief executives of the largest corporations, there are roughly as many engineers and liberal arts majors, in total, as there are undergraduate majors in business, accounting and economics combined.

Students need to understand what skills are marketable. But they also need to study subjects that keep them engaged enough to graduate: The Association of American Colleges and Universities would like you to know that getting a degree in English or history, while perhaps not the most financially rewarding choice, doesn't require an oath of poverty either. Over a lifetime, they note, typical humanities and social science majors earn similarly to graduates who study practical, pre-professional fields such as education or nursing. 

Some Long-Term Perspective on the "Crisis" in Humanities Enrollment: We shouldn't be assessing the health of the humanities by market-share metrics that are far more about demographics and the changing face of higher ed than they are about the intellectual shifts at the heart of actual humanities practice. Talking about crisis doesn't help us. More people are majoring in humanities fields. More books are being published in them. Whatever problems we have, they're not really about quantity. A fixation on corporatist measures of market share as representing the success of these fields is completely contrary to their aspirations.

Skip Section Navigation