Career Paths for English Major
April 21, 2019 10:44 AM   Subscribe

What are potential career paths for someone who will be graduating with a BA in English?

My therapist was discussing different careers after I will graduate with an English major and I drew a blank beyond teaching or grad school. I admit I chose English since I had the most credits and wanted to graduate soon as a non-traditional student in 2 yrs. She mentioned how accounting typically leading to accountants but I'm not very good at anything much beyond writing. Also, I imagine having a degree will make me from unemployable to slight less unemployable.

Not interested in grad school or becoming a lawyer (not that I can afford it).
posted by chrono_rabbit to Education (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Technical writing is one obvious path, even if you didn't formally study it. All kinds of office work benefit from the ability to write clearly, from back office bank work to project management. If you have other areas with substantial coursework completed, do any of them point to a specific industry?
posted by Candleman at 10:55 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]

Get thee to your department advising office and your department/university career center. Not only are you paying for them to exist and help you, but they will likely put you on the path to internships and employers known for working with students with your degree.

That being said, most liberal arts BAs aren't super for putting one on a particular employment path. So working with those services for extra assistance is essential.
posted by k8t at 10:55 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]

Copy writing and social media content creation. Have you tried getting pieces published on open platforms like Medium?
posted by ananci at 11:02 AM on April 21

Copywriting and copy editing come to mind if the reason you stuck with an English major is being good at writing. But I agree you need to get to your school's advising center to really form any kind of a plan. Do you have a writing portfolio?

I have an English degree, but it didn't really do anything for me other than being able to fulfill the "must have a college degree" requirement for the various administrative jobs I held prior to going back to school for a professional graduate degree. My husband also has a very similar liberal arts degree and same with him. We really had to get some grad school (professional-oriented) before we could really do anything beyond generic office work. We both suck at hustle though. If you've got some hustle, it's a different story. That liberal arts degree gets you in the door and then you work it and hustle--I know people that have managed it but that's not a skill set everyone has.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:10 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]

Pretty much anything entry-level in that huge world of boring corporate jobs that aren't immediately technical. Most college graduates end up in jobs or careers where they only rarely reference the knowledge and/or skills that are highly specific to their major.

Instead, what any BA "trains" you for, and establishes that you don't suck at, is being an information processor. When you graduate, everyone knows that you can intake a pile of putative information, sift through it for the things that are important along whatever criteria matter in that context, and communicate your findings to someone else (ie, your boss, who has some sort of decision to make with that information). There are umpty-gazillion jobs in corporate life or government that boil down to that. With luck, eventually you transition to the boss making the decision.

From their point of view, it doesn't really matter whether the new fish in HR or marketing or whatever learned those skills in an English BA or a physics BA or a psychology BA.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:21 AM on April 21 [17 favorites]

I'm not very good at anything much beyond writing
Don't sell yourself short! I work every day with people whose writing is like verbal diarrhea -- I'm sure they have good thoughts, but they really need someone to help them corral their Next Big Idea, especially when they are writing grants aka begging for money. Being able to make a convincing, well-reasoned argument goes a long way in any field.

Your college advisors should be able to put you in touch with alumni who can help you figure out a career path. Some examples from my non-grad/non-professional school cohort of friends:

My college roommate majored in English and is now an editor at a Big Name publishing house.

Her college boyfriend, also an English major, spent several years in journalism before moving into a sort of publicity/communications role for a major public university.

Several other people went into grantwriting, especially for non-profit or international development organizations. See note above about convincing, well-reasoned arguments.
posted by basalganglia at 11:29 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]

A lot of my colleagues speak highly of the book You Majored in What?, which is a career-planning book for liberal arts graduates. I haven't read it, but I've heard good things about it.

I would put the whole question of what you can do with an English major on hold for a little bit. What you need to think about is what skills you have and how you want to use them. You've identified one big skill: you write well. That is not a small thing. Most people don't write very well. I want you to sit down and make a list of your other skills. These can be hard skills (I can make websites; I can do basic bookkeeping) or soft skills (I am very organized, I explain things well, I am diplomatic, etc.) Also, make a list of your significant experiences, and think about what you learned from them. These can be academic and job experiences, but think about other things as well. Right now, you should be honest with yourself. Later, you can decide how you want to spin things for employers, but I want you to really think about your most significant experiences and what you learned from them.

After you've done that, look over what you've written down and see if it suggests any avenues to you. They don't have to be specific jobs: you could also think about job categories. If what you've got is "I would be good at a job that involved taking something complicated and communicating it in language that ordinary people could understand," then that's not a job title, but it gives you some ideas about things to explore.

After you've done that, go ahead and make an appointment with the career center at your institution. But don't rely on them exclusively, because there is a good chance that they'll have you take a bunch of online quizzes and then give you a list of job titles, and that's not a great way to go about this.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:32 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]

A girlfriend of mine did the Radcliffe Publishing Course--a short course of a couple of months, not a long commitment--and was then an acquisitions editor at MIT Press for many years.
posted by 8603 at 11:40 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]

You could also take a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA and then get a job in a field related to your VISTA position. That's what I did with a degree in philosophy.
posted by 8603 at 11:42 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]

I majored in English, spent more than a decade doing technical writing, and now do product marketing.
posted by neushoorn at 11:49 AM on April 21

I’m a copy editor for a scientific journal. There are jobs in publishing, but don’t expect to make a lot of money. A good starting title to search for would be “editorial assistant.” Or just search for editing jobs. I started as a bibliographic assistant. It can be hard to break in and the work can be tedious, but it’s doable, and publishers pretty commonly look for English majors for entry level jobs. I have an MA, but a lot of my colleagues have BAs.
posted by FencingGal at 12:16 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]

Consider jobs at your school. In my experience, universities will heavily favor alumni when hiring and entry level work there can lead to any number of roles in the future.
posted by shesbookish at 12:45 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]

Among the things our English majors do that isn't teaching:

Administrative work
Anything that requires writing (tech, journalism, grants, etc.)
posted by thomas j wise at 12:46 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]

I was a legal assistant and then paralegal with my English degree.
posted by katypickle at 1:13 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]

I have an English degree (paired with communications/journalism), and I've done product marketing, community management, freelance / staff writing, and some technical support & system administration - among other things.

The ability to write well is in short supply in corporate America. (Assuming you're in the U.S.) If you pair that with decent organizational / project management skills, you can go pretty far.

The degree is going to help you get a foot in the door, and that's about it. Are there any areas you have an affinity towards? (Like technology, or non-profits, or advertising, etc.) Start looking for entry level gigs that have a strong writing component and branch outward from there.
posted by jzb at 1:52 PM on April 21

Just a quick note that becoming a librarian requires a masters degree in library science so if you are not planning on going back to school, you can strike that one.

There is crossover in communications and speech writing if you are interested in politics.
posted by donut_princess at 1:53 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]

I got an English degree and now I’m an engineering product manager for a tech company. Anything that requires good communication and articulation is a good fit.
posted by Marinara at 1:54 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]

Like katypickle above, I was a legal secretary/assistant, then paralegal, with my BA in English. I did eventually also earn a paralegal certificate (night classes for a year). For me this was all in California.
posted by Boogiechild at 2:39 PM on April 21

I work in documentary film and was a journalist before that. Knowing how to read and write well can lead you into many, many paths. Can you explain things clearly? Do you have a special aptitude for amusing turns of phrases? Can you convince someone to consider a different point of view with your writing?
posted by Ideefixe at 3:03 PM on April 21

If you have a brain that's good at jargon, there is a consistent need in many industries for people who can read, understand, flag issues, respond to and write contracts and proposals. You don't have to be a lawyer, and your value rises as you get to know your industry. I've done publishing and advertising with my English BA, but nothing has paid half as well as proposals. It's not creative except in the problem solving sense, though.
posted by emjaybee at 3:21 PM on April 21

I wish someone had told me about technical writing as a option when I was young and dumb and laid off from being a reporter. (I loved being a reporter but it seems irresponsible to encourage anyone to try that one now.) It appears to be too late for me to do technical writing now, but that is apparently the one writing job that actually makes you good money to do. Get in that door now while you still can. They always seem to be looking for grant writers too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:01 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]

You could work in a government policy job, you could work in marketing or public relations or technical writing or internal communications or grant writing or bid writing. Depending on your other skills, event management, human resources, project management, fundraising, recruiting, purchasing/procurement may be options.

Given that you are a non-traditional student, you probably have some sense of the workplace (or at least of some workplaces) so use that to your advantage. It might be as simple as knowing that you do (or do not) want an office job, or how much interaction you want with the general public.
posted by plonkee at 1:55 AM on April 22

I have a BA in English and honestly the main problem it’ll give you is that you’re qualified to do basically anything. If you can synthesise a bunch of information and clearly articulate a clean narrative out of it, you will be an asset in almost any business - and having a degree shows you can also learn new stuff as you go, which you will need to do in any career path or job you ever take.

To add to the anecdata - I graduated over ten years ago and now I work in manufacturing supply chain. On the face of it, negotiating contracts and understanding how factories work doesn’t seem terribly relevant to English - but a negotiation is just a story that two people build together, and a factory is a series of technicalities which need to flow in a logical order to make sense, like any grammar.

I love what I do; but when I graduated I thought I wanted to be a forensic linguist. It’s easy to only think of writing-adjacent careers when you’re surrounded by writers and writing; maybe start from the other side and think about what you’d find fulfilling in a job, not just how to do more of the same. Do you want to solve problems? Help people? Build something for the future? Armed with this kind of info might help you narrow down the options that the Guidance Centre might be able to give you.
posted by citands at 2:16 AM on April 22 [4 favorites]

I have used my English lit degree over the last 29 years by working in public affairs/relations mostly -- mostly in the non-profit sector, but that's my choice.
posted by terrapin at 6:41 AM on April 22

I was an English major; I've been a news reporter, a handbook/textbook editor for a continuing professional education nonprofit (CLE), a news librarian and archivist, and now am a copy editor at a daily newspaper.
posted by Occula at 9:01 AM on April 22

I have done: a year of grad school (ugh), proofreading/copyediting (for both online course curricula and for K-12 state testing materials), technical writing, and content editing, and I am now a paralegal. I have found a BA in English to be quite useful, despite the slew of jokes about it. I don't regret it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:04 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

I have both a BA and MA in English and I work as a prospect researcher in higher ed development (fundraising). It's a great job for English majors. I use my writing skills all the time. You can find out more here. Development in general is a great field for English majors.
posted by apricot at 1:11 PM on April 23

« Older How on earth did this happen?   |   How to Express sympathy to Sri Lankan acquaintance... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments