English majors of the world, unite
September 13, 2019 5:30 AM   Subscribe

Did you graduate with an English degree? Would you mind sharing your employment history and thoughts on how the degree has helped or hindered your work life?

I was an English major and went on to graduate school, but I'm wondering where everyone else ended up.
posted by mecran01 to Work & Money (76 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I am an English major, and then I went to law school. Having an English degree was a really solid foundation for doing other things. Almost every job I’ve interviewed for (I’ve mostly stayed in the legal profession, as a legal secretary, Paralegal, and now law clerk, soon to be attorney) has mentioned my English degree and said something about it being good that I have a solid foundation of knowing how to write. It’s been very helpful in that regard. People like to joke and say an English degree is useless, but frankly most liberal arts undergrad degrees are useless unless you continue on in your education, and English has been a great foundation and jumping off point for me!
posted by katypickle at 5:44 AM on September 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

English and communications/journalism. Bounced around tech/open source in various roles, from tech press to marketing and community management. Being able to write and structure a narrative are very useful across disciplines.
posted by jzb at 5:45 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was warned away from an English MA, so I immediately went to law school, where my college focus on 19th century literature seemed to give me an advantage with reading old caselaw. Later, I shifted into teaching, while stopping in and out of an M.Ed program focused on adult education, and my English degree qualified me to teach a variety of general education classes. I've also done the long haul trucking equivalent of legal contractor work for appellate and trial briefs, which felt well-served by my English degree but also the journalism classes that I took adjacent to it.
posted by katra at 5:47 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

English degree (technically it shows as "Literature" on my diploma). Creative Writing Concentration. History Minor. Didn't go for an MFA with the rest of my friends, maybe because I spent most of my undergrad working in the MFA office. Since graduating, made the bulk of my rent money working in advertising/PR, for a while in house, then freelance, then on staff but remote for the last decade or so. Note: my circumstances are a tad unique here, because both of my parents (and grandfather) were in the advertising business (though not with the same companies), and at points this has been more of an "I work for the family business" thing than it might have been for other people.

During that same period of time, I have done a whole world of online/ magazine writing, including record reviews, movie reviews, feature articles, travel stuff etc. I produced and published a play. I still keep a memoir-ish blog, despite the fact that it's unfashionable. Recently I've been doing some Moth-style Storytelling, which sometimes people pay me to do (which feels weird). I've had a few pieces up on Longreads over the last year. Oh, and I spent about 14 years moonlighting in a record store, which is, to date, I think what most people locally thought was my primary occupation.

None of this has made me even remotely rich, but I was lucky enough to graduate without a shitload of college debt. I would call my current status "roughly breaking even," which is not much of a longterm plan as I am now in my 40s, but I've never been the practical sort. I mean, I went to college for a theatre degree and was thus talked into the relative "practicality" of majoring in English. So . . .

I have a lot of gripes about college, but I have no regrets about my English degree.
posted by thivaia at 5:55 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I majored in English and worked at my school's weekly student magazine. I was an editor, but we all lots of other things, including layout. I liked doing that and was able to get a job laying out ads at a newspaper. That led to a career in graphic design, where I have no formal training. My english degree/ability to write and edit has given me a huge advantage, since I'm able to create all the elements of the pieces I produce.
posted by jonathanhughes at 5:59 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Though it's not solely focused on former English majors, you may enjoy reading this collection of Profiles in the Humanities.
Although it is clear that Humanities students often go on to brilliant, joyful work lives after college, it is also clear that Humanities professors and our institutions often fail to provide adequate counseling about post-graduation possibilities for Humanities students. For many of these students, the most obvious career path for a Humanities graduate is to teach, as we do. Teaching can be enormously satisfying work, but a student without an inclination for it will never teach well or happily. Teaching and academic research are represented here alongside many other experiences of post-graduate employment. This document provides teachers, professors, counselors, administrators, students, and families with a series of narratives about a range of careers and lives that can be (and have been) possible for Humanities graduates in the past. The profiles are roughly organized into groups: technology, marketing, communications, journalism, publication, arts, government, social work, law, libraries, archives, education, academic administration.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:00 AM on September 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I knew someone who got an English degree with a pre-med minor and is now a dentist.
posted by postel's law at 6:06 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I worked my way up in online editorial thanks to graduating in 1992, and enjoyed a great 15+ year career in media. Now I've moved on a bit but am working (again/finally) on a fantasy series and a non-fiction book, while working for a small business.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:06 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Echoing the above, I got an English degree, worked as a grant writer for a while, then in due diligence in the financial industry, then went to law school. Now I do policy development and analysis for a not-for-profit. Being able to write reasonably well, and to parse dense text, has been enormously helpful in each of these roles.
posted by saladin at 6:19 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a bachelor degree in English. I did technical writing for about 13 years, then did a brief stint in product management, and now work in product marketing.
posted by neushoorn at 6:24 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have an English degree (BA, University of Alabama, 1992) with a creative writing minor.

However, in my spare time I was a nerd, and at that time self-taught nerds outpaced CS grads in terms of useful skills because the industry was moving faster than university curriculums could be updated.

From '89 to '91, I worked for the business school as part of a staff of computing consultants handling networks and custom coding as needed for the lab and the faculty.

From '91 to '93, I was assistant director for a FIPSE-funded project in experiential learning & cross-cultural communication; I leveraged myself into that because part of their remit was a massive code-porting project, so a good chunk of my role was supervising the (grad student) developers as they migrated the required codebase to a new system (from MULTICS to AIX).

From '93 to '94 I freelanced in Tuscaloosa, which wasn't exactly lucrative but absolutely DID teach me a WHOLE LOT about what matters when technology and business intersect. The tire store doesn't care if their computer is old. They just need their accounting system to work. At a university, you're kind of insulated from that level of practicality.

I wrote custom DB apps, built networks, managed backups, did data recovery, and whatever else my customers needed. It was kind of fun!

I move to Houston in 1994, and took a job at TeleCheck as a systems analyst. This basically meant being someone who could write code **and also knew how to communicate** (<>
In 1997 I joined the dot-com boom, sorta, by hiring on with a local/regional consultancy doing bespoke Internet software. These were the heady days when you could quote $1MM for a dynamic web site, and get the deal. It was AMAZING fun and I learned a LOT about professional services and larger-scale business.

The crash happend in '01, and I hung my own shingle out again, writing code for the first time since the mid-90s. I had a mess of clients before I went in-house again at an RFID software startup, basically running their development effort & coordinating implementations. We were banking on the fact that DoD and Wal-Mart were saying that literally EVERY shipment they accepted had to be RFID tagged, but the economy turned and both entites backed off their mandates, which killed our market. Oops.

In 2007, I joined my current employer in the EVMS software market. It's basically the same kind of role I had at the RFID company, but on a larger scale -- bigger deals, bigger customers. I also write SOME code now, but only "glue" kinds of things & custom bits of SQL to keep our actual product development staff from having to do it. In this job, I also end up doing a lot of writing and training, which is fun.

Anyway, back in the boom I bought a Porsche, because in my capacity as a 29 year old man this was the rule. I kept the key to it on a chain that said "I have a liberal arts degree! Would you like fries with that?"

The other "anyway" is that it turns out that having both technical skills AND the ability to talk and write about them to a nontechnical audience is pretty dang close to a superpower, employability-wise. Almost nobody gets to be my age (49) without at least some lean years, and I definitely had some, but every time I did what Hamilton did: I wrote my way out.
posted by uberchet at 6:24 AM on September 13, 2019 [11 favorites]

Started as an English major, switched to Journalism. Have worked almost exclusively in IT for close to 30 years. Strong communication skills have served well in a variety of roles - sysadmin, technical sales, supervisor, manager.

Commonly found myself working as a behind-the-scenes editor/ghostwriter for folks above me, which I usually didn't mind. Like uberchet says above, the ability to explain complicated things in simple terms to varied audiences comes off like Deep Sorcery.
posted by jquinby at 6:33 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I double majored in English and Philosophy. I did my Masters in Philosophy, and then went to law school. My law practice is largely based on writing commercial leases. So I became a professional writer after all! (*cough*)

I have been known to drop Piers the Ploughman jokes only to be met with indifference, but trust me -- they're hilarious.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:33 AM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I got my English BA in 1999, and then went to library school two years later when I realized that the degree didn't qualify me for anything in particular. It was a good enough foundation for my MLS, but it could easily have been just about any other degree.

My husband (fellow English major) and I make a lot of Prufrock jokes. That's about the extent of the influence it has on my life at this point.
posted by missrachael at 6:39 AM on September 13, 2019

English BA. Worked in the tourism industry for a while, first as a guide, then doing writing/editing for a travel company. That job got more and more market-y, which I hated, so I decided to go back to grad school to become a therapist (got my MA ten years after my BA). While in school and immediately after, I continued working Communications/Marketing part-time jobs for income.

I find that in my work with therapy clients, my love of reading has served me well in helping me get into people's heads fairly easily and in increasing my empathy so that I understand that other people's heads are not the same as my own. In grad school, I felt like I could imagine a greater range of experiences and reactions than many of my classmates who did psychology undergrad and went immediately into grad school. In my current policy- and training-oriented work, my experience earning my English degree and subsequent work as a copywriter/editor mean my policy-writing is actually clear and I can write out instructions for our staff that are actually follow-able.
posted by lazuli at 6:40 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bachelor's in English. I have edited/copyedited for the Texas Legislature, for a publisher of state testing materials, and for an erotic fiction sweatshop, among other one-off jobs. I have prepared documents for a legal self-help company. I have monitored and scored call-center calls. Now I'm a litigation paralegal. It's given me quite a lot of flexibility. For all the English major jokes, I think it's been very helpful.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:47 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BA in English Language & Lit. Wanted to be a high school English teacher until I realized I disliked other peoples' children too much to spend 8 hours a day with them. Thought about grad school and academia but the idea of having to specialize in one subject or era for the rest of my career put me off that as well.

Worked as the inventory manager of a bookstore for a bunch of years, then fell into graphic design by chance (did some posters and cd inserts for a friends' band, liked it, pursued a autodidact's course until I was comfortable to do contract work in an era when computer skills (knowing how to use Indesign, Quark, etc.) were valued over experience in "proper" design)), and, aside from a few detours into factory work and business ownership, have kept at it.
posted by Chrischris at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

English BA in 2002, English/Publishing MA in 2004. i DID do publishing and publishing adjacent work from 2004-2015, and having an English degree instead of like, math, probably helped me get those jobs. But my BA was more literature focused than writing, and practically, that's useless outside of academia.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

English/Humanities major here, about 20 years out of college. Mixed career of public relations, journalism, technical writing, creating business presentations, copywriting, email marketing, market research and now technology. Turns out knowing how to craft presentations, write compelling reports and communicate quickly via email (which is about 50 percent of a lot of employees' workdays) is an in-demand skill. But the catch is you must couple this proficiency in writing with some hard technical skills. I know my way around Adobe creative suite for video/image editing and am a wiz with Excel and and decent at some data visualization programs. My experience interviewing people for articles and leading seminar discussions has proven to be rather helpful in leading meetings and discovering bottlenecks as part of project management.
posted by caveatz at 6:59 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

BA in English, a year in customer service (mostly writing emails), three years in web content/marketing (still mostly writing emails, but sending them to masses of people instead of individuals), many years in grad school, now I'm an English professor.
posted by dizziest at 7:00 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Bachelors in English/Creative Writing/Journalism. Three years of work study in college was writing and producing (paste-up!) materials for an arts org, I went almost immediately into writing & graphic design for them, then when the money ended (hello, 1991) I did basically the same job for a super shady real estate agent.

Quit that asap and became a weird mashup of management consultant/graphic facilitator at one of the bigger consulting firms. By the time I left there I was designing and delivering company-wide communications programs for Fortune 500s. For about a year I was also subversively posting poetry (not my own) about work and capitalism in the bathrooms of those same Fortune 500s where I was consulting.

I quit that to travel for a little while and then ended up as an information architect in finance. (I like systems, patterns, and explaining things to people. Hence my long tenure on AskMe I suppose....) After that job, much of my degree was put to use raising two literate human beings. I trained as and then freelanced as a developmental editor for a few years while working on board recruitment and training for a non-profit. Now I write and perform non-religious ceremonies as a Humanist celebrant. I still post poetry in the bathroom.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:11 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BA in English with a creative writing concentration. MA in English literature. Started PhD in English literature, but didn't finish.

I taught while working on the MA and PhD, but was the single parent of small children and needed health insurance and stability, so I entered the "real world." I started as a bibiographic services assistant at a technical journal, then moved to copy editing. After that, I got a job as a copy editor for a medical journal and have stayed in that position for almost twenty years. The pay is decent, but I would love to move onto something else. However, I don't feel like I'm really qualified for anything else. There's a difference between a degree theoretically enabling you to do a lot of things and finding someone to hire you to do those things.
I continue with creative writing, have published some poems, and am working on a novel. I'm in a writing group and also get together with a friend to read poetry. All of that greatly enriches my life. I'm not sure I'd do anything different in terms of the English degree - maybe I'd go for an MFA instead of an MA, but at the time, I was tired of reading other people's (and my) mediocre fiction and wanted to focus on stuff that was great. In my own mind, I'm trying to push back against the idea that your job defines who you are, but it's not always easy to get there.
posted by FencingGal at 7:13 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BA in English/art history. When I graduated, I was burned out on studying literature, so I didn't want to go for a master's in that. (I also had no interest in teaching and didn't know what else I'd do with it.) I applied to a handful of creative writing MFA programs, didn't get in, and ended up going to a summer intensive publishing course. Best thing I could've done, IMO, and I've been working as an editor for the last 27 years--production, not acquisition, which I would've been very ill-suited for. I know I've been super lucky, and I'm grateful for it.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 8:01 AM on September 13, 2019

BA in English --> worked in journalism, book publishing --> medical school --> physician

Background in English lit a huge bonus when applying, and I went into what I think of as the most literary of medical specialties and get to indulge my English major part of myself quiet often.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 8:04 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These responses are amazing and incredibly useful.
posted by mecran01 at 8:10 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

(Secondary) English Education -- Decided almost immediately I didn't want to teach. Did customer service at an insurance company to pay the bills until a position opened in their Communications department five years later. I've been in various comm roles with the same company for more than 20 years.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:23 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of my best college friends majored in English, was underemployed for a while (working in the service industry), got a master’s degree, was again underemployed for a year (teaching ESL part time and living at home), then proceeded to move to Korea and teach conversational English at a university there for several years. In Korea, he actually got paid a full-time living wage and benefits, more than he ever would have gotten teaching in the US — he couldn’t even have adjuncted without a Ph.D. He later moved to a European country with his spouse and now teaches ESL there (not at a university).

Basically, he had to emigrate in order to make a living. I think this had a lot to do with the Great Recession.
posted by snowmentality at 8:27 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

BA in English, PhD in English. Left academia, worked as a technical writer for a little bit, then learned to code at a boot camp and am now a web developer.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2019

Husband has a BA in English from an Ivy, works in finance. His first post college job was delivering pizza.
posted by Ruki at 8:42 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BA in English, MFA in Creative Writing. Teaching Freshman Comp & Rhet burned me out, and I switched fields after completing the MFA coursework. I went back and completed thesis requirements to get the degree the last year that my previous work would still count.

I switched to another fairly low paying field (social work).

I don't write poetry much anymore but my creativity still shows up in how I do the work that I do now. I also use my degrees to help others with editing sometimes.

I don't regret majoring in English as it was my passion at the time but I do wish I'd looked more into the process of paying your dues and realities to get to the part that I wanted to do. I was a good writer but it's all so competitive - the chance that I would actually be a professor teaching poetry was slim.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:45 AM on September 13, 2019

Oh, I'll add that I still indulge my pop culture and postmodernism research love affairs quite regularly by doing informal lit crit with a lot of the media I see. I will always love the opportunity to have a solid framework of understanding postmodernism no matter how much I'm paying in student loan debt.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:53 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

BA in English, worked in records management and public libraries until I went back to school for my MLIS in my 30s. Now I work in publishing as a collection development librarian and the lit background has been helpful in creating and curating a lot of fiction collections. It's hard to say how helpful, since it feels like I got my BA when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but I definitely don't regret the degree.
posted by odd ghost at 8:55 AM on September 13, 2019

I did a BA in English and Related Literature at a UK university. Did ok, got an average grade. Resented having to study "old" stuff that I found irrelevant, got a lot out of studying 20th and 21st century writers and thinkers including a whole module on "Theory and Criticism" which introduced me to important thinkers like Barthes, Heidegger, Foucault, etc.
I resisted the university's strong-arm attempts to get its graduates into suitable graduate jobs (e.g. publishing, academia) and spent a few years aimless in minimum wage situations.
In my free time I worked on my hobby, drawing, to the extent that I could see pursuing that down career lines- applied and was accepted to an MA in Illustration.
This particular MA was very academic/research focused which suited me and which my background in English really helped me with- I knew how to research and write academically, and was knowledgable about relevant cultural theorists and criticism from my degree.
Fell in to an online university teaching job through contacts on my MA- I don't think I would have got there without my English degree giving me the edge on my fellow MA students who had only previously studied Art.
posted by Balthamos at 9:08 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I went to the University of Iowa for creative writing - poetry. Did undergrad, did the undergrad workshop, dabbled in grad classes but the economy crashed and it wasn't for me.

August 08 - worked a temp job as Office Manager at a Unitarian church and it was so cozy with great people. Economy crashed and I stayed there 4 years. My English degree let me write/edit a bunch of random stuff they needed, but it was not super necessary.
Feb 13 - started at a nonprofit in Austin TX as an executive assistant, promoted to purchasing/accounting, more promotions. English degree didn't do much.
Jan 18 - now a public relations/copywriter for an ad agency. My English degree (or more just my writing skills) are very useful here, obviously.

Overall, I don't think those workshop classes helped my writing a ton, but I think I would get infinitely more value from them now that I'm not a nervous wreck. About to jump back into school in some fashion for Data Analysis which I think is my true passion. Telling stories via data is a big component of that and my English degree did inform a lot of how I can critically puzzle out what a thing might be saying.

I do wish I'd studied more technical programming and data stuff, but I didn't know that was a thing I loved.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:08 AM on September 13, 2019

I did an English and Sociology/Anthropology dual BA. I also went on to grad school, after a few years of administrative assistanting. I got my Masters in Teaching (social studies, not English) but then moved to a city with a glut of people with teaching degrees and instead got a job as a research assistant on an educational research project. I did that for nearly 10 years until our money ran out. That project was adjacent to educational technology so I decided that I would try to make a pivot into instructional design or instructional technology. I got a job at another local university as an instructional technologist and that's what I'm still doing today (five years next week, actually). I definitely use my experience with writing and communicating pretty much daily as I need to communicate technical stuff to extremely non-technical audiences.

My husband has an English degree as well (well, it was a self-designed humanities major but it was heavy English). He also went to grad school for teaching and was a high school English teacher for 5 years before burning out. Since then he's done proof-reading in various capacities. Right now he's the QA lead for a Big Law document services unit. Definitely needs his degree for that, and his experience as a teacher.

We both found it pretty hard to do anything with our degrees before grad school, though.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2019

English major, creative writing concentration. I did a publishing course after graduation and did a stint in book publishing. Then moved and worked in editorial for a newsweekly corporation. There was no job growth there and I eventually took an executive assistant role at a hospital, and everyone LOVED that I could write and edit things. Eventually got my MSLS and started working in the medical library. Now I'm a medical librarian! Love it very much and my English major skills have served me very well in life and in all my jobs.
posted by LKWorking at 9:10 AM on September 13, 2019

BA in English, was well on my way to getting an MA in Rhetoric, but needed time off and then my mother was diagnosed with cancer and that was that.

Early '90s - RETAIL! But through strong communication skills and a wicked sense of humor, I made it to ASSISTANT STORE MANAGER! Then, my store was closed. Which led to...

Late '90s - Project management and proofreading. I had no idea I could use this degree in any other way except for teaching and/or a strong foundation for law school. Worked in advertising and it was flippin' fun. Made zero money until I started hopping around doing freelance stuff. I did this off and on for several years - freelance project management/proofreading/copy editing mixed with retail. Then came the crash in '08.

I pivoted hard to administrative roles, any administrative roles, I could get. I was familiar enough with keeping calendars and ordering supplies from my advertising days, and in return, they got cheap labor who had copy editing and project management (like, large, complex projects) experience. Which meant I worked in healthcare and higher education - two industries that this skill set is curiously perfect for. Worked my way up after a decade to being an executive assistant which is when the large corporations began their recruiting pitch.

Fast forward to now: will work at a large tech firm as a jack of all trades/master of none in the administrative sense and making decent money. I've worked on a Super Bowl commercial, helped nurses utilize their education, worked with a dying patient to achieve restitution for a doctor's error, and worked at two of the largest companies on the planet. It's been a serpentine, circuitous ride - see the large words I used there? - and it's been awesome. Thanks, English degree!
posted by theseventhstranger at 9:13 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

BA in English (creative writing concentration) and film production. Graduated right at that sweet spot of the web being a career, but formal programs not existing in colleges yet. Having taken a brief html course and worked at the student paper, this translated into a year in marketing for a small movie theatre, then as a one-person web shop at a state agency, then a UI designer at the same agency. Right now I'm finishing up a decade as a digital media program manager (within a university English department, ironically enough) and am about to switch to a university-level position that is similar. Not sure the English courses necessarily translate to direct "usefulness" in the day-to-day other than a general sense of how to communicate with people, and problem solve. (And in my current position, a particular understanding of what an English department is/can be like.)

I have a classmate who also was an English major who later when to vet school and is now a professor at the vet school and a vet in the practice I take my dogs to. We worked at the writing center together in college. One of her colleagues once remarked that all the rest of the vets there are "in awe of her ability to communicate with pet owners" so the value is actually seen in some pretty non-obvious fields I'd say.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:15 AM on September 13, 2019

I was an English major. I now work as a manager and somewhat-generalist in administrative IT at a university.

Junior year a friend hooked me up with a shipping desk job at a small company. I learned all their business areas before graduation (B.C. '94), and then went full-time there doing electronic pre-press. I was good at it and got steadily nerdier; I moved around the company until they laid me off in '99, then went back to desktop support briefly, and finally to the .edu where I work now (from 2001 to today).

During those 25 years, my degree has been useful both directly and indirectly.

I have done some technical proof-reading & editing as a side gig, and I did a lot of key-pounding to build and fill up internal web sites at every job. I've encouraged a culture of writing stuff down, which is alien to a lot of nerds. (And after that, I encourage them to write it better.)

Outside of work -- at the Scout troop, the community farm, etc. -- I try to help get things written and shared and maintained. Communication is the weak point almost every place more than two people gather together, so there's always opportunities for improvement.

So many people in technology (but in every area of life, really) focus deeply on their own speciality, but can have trouble articulating why it's important to outsiders. I have found that having skills in writing and reading and inference and analogy have been enormously useful for bridging the gaps between groups. (One network specialist here calls me "Captain Analogy" but he keeps listening!) It makes me a good leader -- if a poor manager -- to be a strong communicator.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:20 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BA in English, no grad school. Post-college I worked for a few different indie academic publishers, and I'm now in editorial production at a very small textbook publisher. I work primarily on neuroscience and psych books, which is a field I have absolutely no background in whatsoever, but it's really interesting and fun. My job is super hands-on with both the book material and the authors, which I like a lot (and is kind of rare these days, I think). I'm not in New York, which is excellent as long as my office remains open. If it closes, I'm not sure what my options will be.

A lot of my English major friends are librarians now. A few are also in publishing. One is a creative writing professor.

(Not English, obviously, but my partner majored in Studio Art, which is another degree that people like to sneer at as being "useless." He now works for LEGO, which is pretty awesome on a number of levels.)
posted by catoclock at 9:23 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another librarian here. My (self-taught) technology skills got me my first professional library gig, but my humanities background has always been useful when it comes to the daily work.

Now I work as a reference librarian at a government library. A history/political science/American studies major would have been a more natural fit for this position, but I spoke compellingly about my English degree in the interview and I think it helped me get the job.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:56 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

BA in English in the early 90s. Immediately after graduation moved to Japan to teach English; did that for a year and then stayed for another year and bartended. Highly recommend some kind of post-graduate adventure for a year or two if possible. Moved to NYC and began a screenwriting MFA at NYU but since I was 25 I thought I was too old (ha!) and quit midway through. Got a job as an assistant editor job at a small real-estate magazine; did that for a couple years then moved to San Francisco. Through a friend of a friend I got a lucky break and got a job as an associate editor at a million-circ tech magazine at the tail end of the Dotcom era.

In 2000 I moved back to NYC, worked as a senior editor at two national magazines with the nice paychecks that were possible in publishing back then. Then 9/11 happened and I left the city for a few years to freelance. I built relationships with lots of big magazines and media brands, learned to hustle for work and strengthened my resume. Then in the mid 2000s I returned to NYC to work at the custom publishing division of a major media company, eventually becoming editorial director. That began a steady career trajectory that's taken me to my current position as a creative director at a creative agency. These days I mostly work in digital content and video, but still do some writing and editing.

I struggled for a long time with my shift from editorial to marketing. But it was a lucky move: So many people who didn't transition from publishing to some form of marketing are either struggling or have left the editorial world altogether.

I've also thrown myself into a lot of personal projects (writing a book, working a bit in TV) that have been a nice complement to my career.

I'd get the BA in English all over again; I can't imagine anything that I'd find quite so fulfilling to study, and it set me up well for everything I've done.
posted by bassomatic at 10:20 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

B.A. in English Lit & Creative Writing. Immediately after university I worked for a while as a technical writer at a financial firm, then went to broadcasting school & worked in radio for a few years as a producer. Loved the work, but not the chauvinism/sexual harassment.

Then did an M.F.A. in creative writing. Published some after that and also worked full-time as a copywriter for non-profits. Then went back to school and did a PhD in creative writing/English. Then worked AGAIN full-time, and on a freelance basis, as a copywriter for higher ed and nonprofit, teaching creative writing via a private writing-based organization in my city. Then got sucked back into academia and am now an Assistant Professor of English/CW, trying to figure out how to advise my own students about what they can do with a degree in English. Anything, it seems.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2019

B.A. in English, got a job at Borders, started working as a book buyer for a wholesale distributor which I did for many years, then finally got my MLIS and am now an adult services librarian in a public library. I did other stuff along the way - lots of retail, some office work - but that's the main trajectory of my working life.
posted by lyssabee at 10:29 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was an English major, and now I manage a technical writing team at a medium-sized tech company.
posted by woodvine at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

BA in English, MA in Writing & Publishing. I interned at a college textbook company and got hired as a full-time editorial assistant. After about a year and a half, I moved back to my hometown and spent five years developing and editing Vacation Bible School curriculum for a mainline Protestant denomination. For the last eight-plus years, I've worked up the editorial chain on a nonfiction imprint of a publishing house that used to be independent but has since become part of the Big Five.

I'm know I'm very lucky to be working in the field I intended to work in. My original plan was to be a freelance editor so I could be a work-from-home mom, but our finances required me to hold a traditional job, even after we had our daughter. It would be very hard to walk away now, given how much we rely on my salary and benefits, and my team is led by working moms who give me the flexibility I need to have a healthy work-life balance. That said, I've built enough contacts in the industry that I feel like I could freelance if I wanted to.

Every day, my work requires me to use skills I developed as an English major; communicating clearly and succinctly, reading critically, and delivering critiques in a supportive manner are three that come to mind right away.
posted by timestep at 11:02 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was originally a newspaper reporter and loved it. Then got laid off from that and became a clerical worker, which I am less and less okay with, but at this point really can't do anything else or get employed elsewhere. Unfortunately other than typing for money, my talents are useless for making money, so that's how I was going to end up anyway.

The degree really has nothing to do with my work. I can say that having a degree in general from where I went has been useful in some respects, but that's about it. God knows you don't need one for the job.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:03 AM on September 13, 2019

I have a BA in English. I was older when I graduated--30--and had already been working in admin/book-keeping type jobs for a while. I kind of fell into that after I started temping after I left college the first time. ANYWAY. After I finished by BA I went straight to grad school. I was in a PhD program but left with my MA after staying there way too long. I wasn't a good academic, and I have two young children and a husband with an MFA in creative writing (yeah) who is now an at-home dad. I temped again after leaving grad school in 2015, which led me to my current job/career working as a prospect researcher in higher ed fundraising. It's a great job for English majors. I do a lot of writing and a lot of data analysis.
posted by apricot at 11:24 AM on September 13, 2019

BA in English (creative writing) in the US. Worked as a content manager for a start-up and a webmaster for a newspaper. Got an MA in Creative Writing in the UK 4 years later. Worked as a technical author/learning & development analyst/senior consultant for 9 years (across 2 companies), then started at my current company as a "technical consultant" (read: technical author). I've transitioned to a grant writing role now, which I really love.
posted by minsies at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2019

I have a BA in English and my entire work history has revolved around health care administration, case management and customer service. It was a very painful six months of job searching after graduating before I found work, and that job basically ended up determining the rest of my career path to this point. I like to think that my college degree has made me a good critical thinker/problem solver and my ability to write essays has helped with my communication skills and professional correspondence, but really I could have gotten those skills from any four year degree.

On the one hand, I regret not specializing in something that could have been the entry point to a more interesting, fulfilling career. On the other hand, I am largely content with my job and I found my English classes in college to be very personally rewarding, so I'm mostly at peace with my decision.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:36 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

BA in Creative Writing, though from a university that required everyone to learn some programming. Worked in newspapers, where my abilities to troubleshoot 1990s desktop publishing outpaced my reporting. Jumped to academic tech job, years in system administration, then research computing, where I've spent the last decade supporting a scientific lab, creating computational infrastructure, app development, and analysis.

Reading all that Joyce and Derrida did tons to prepare me for perl and shell scripting, no joke. Most every scientist I've worked with has been an excellent writer, so I can't say an English degree helped per se, but the breadth of my humanities studies certainly has.
posted by bendybendy at 11:42 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I graduated with an English degree 25 years ago. I worked in book publishing for 10 years, which kind of used my degree, I guess, in that reading and writing and editing were involved. But any humanities degree would have been functionally equivalent, and any other degree would have been pretty much fine, too.

Then I was a stay-at-home dad for a while, then I went back to school to get certified to teach middle school, found I wasn't suited for it (that would have used some parts of my degree in some ways, with similar caveats). Now my wife and I own a yarn shop (she was also an English major).

I feel like the English degree gave me no real useful skills over and above a college degree. Except maybe being able to bullshit my way through conversations about stuff I know very little about (which is a bad habit I try to use less of these days).
posted by rikschell at 11:50 AM on September 13, 2019

I've been working happily--and, I think, successfully--as an editor in assorted non-literary fields most of my adult life. I loved studying English in college and I learned not one single teeny tiny scrap of information that's been relevant to my career while getting that degree. Research skills, close reading, the ability to summarize different kinds of texts quickly--I got some practice with those as an undergrad, but mostly they were things I learned in high school. My undergraduate English study was largely a time of glorious reading--sitting on the grass or in the stacks with my nose in a book on a drowsy golden afternoon that lasted about four years, occasionally resurfacing to talk with other book types and guzzle watery domestic beer.

I think the fact of my English degree has probably gotten me in the door for various editorial job interviews, as it's a quick way to signal "here is a serious person who has cared about language for some time." However: all the skills I learned during college that have been relevant to my editing career came from sources completely outside my English major: a couple classes I took in linguistics (syntax!); intro/intermediate courses in other languages (parts of speech! not something that ever came up in my English classes); working on zines (it was the '90s); and, I am not kidding, making flyers for the dumb metal band I played in. I often do layout & design work as part of my job, and working on flyers gave me a practical grounding in graphic design. And working on zines was the first time I really enjoyed or cared about proofreading, typography, and house style.
posted by miles per flower at 11:51 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was extremely lucky. I got a BA in English, graduating in 2000. Took a year off, did an MA in English, then a PhD in English (received a couple of years after the financial crash). Worked as an adjunct professor for a couple of years, then Visiting Assistant, then was able to get a tenure-track job through the "normal" academic job market processes (had to move across country). Got tenure this year.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 12:28 PM on September 13, 2019

BA in English (Lit) and Art History. Spent a year as a "Communications Coordinator" doing all kinds of random business writing for one department of a medium-size media company --- grantwriting, technical documentation, newsletters, press releases, you name it. Jumped to doing software documentation at an IT firm, gradually moved around the company from tech writer to requirements analyst to product management. Here I still am.
posted by slenderloris at 12:36 PM on September 13, 2019

English major with a Creative Writing concentration, doubled up with Humanities-Classics. I thought I was going to pursue an academic career and changed my mind before starting. Futzed around for a few years in various office/temp roles, picked up a teaching license, didn't use it, began my career as a greeting card writer 14 years ago, have been a writing & editing manager for the past five of it. I have most of an MA in English due to tuition reimbursement, but I didn't finish because I lost interest and I didn't see it benefitting me in any way.
posted by ferociouskitty at 2:16 PM on September 13, 2019

BA in English with a creative writing emphasis, graduated in 1996. Thought about going to library school, but I didn't have the extra cash laying around for the GRE. Had a weird jack-of-all-trades job at a tiny non-profit, then administrative assistant at a somewhat larger non-profit, then as I usually say jokingly "the internet happened." Which meant that I had a coworker who was doing "web stuff" as part of his job, I got him to show me a few things, and then took over that part of his job when he left. That gave me enough experience to get a job as a Web Manager for a community college, and I've been doing one or another web thing full-time since 2000. (Currently web developer at a small public college, responsible for managing the content management system.)

More than anything else, what I got out of it was the ability to clearly communicate in writing, and some experience with writing critique. Everywhere I've worked, I've ended up writing for the web, and editing other people's writing to go to the web, plus of course so much of modern office work is about writing emails with the intent of influencing and informing one's colleagues.

I used to tell my mom (who worried about my job prospects) that "at least I can write a good English sentence", and you know what? That's one of my superpowers in the workplace.
posted by epersonae at 4:27 PM on September 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have bachelor in psychology and English (mid-nineties). I worked in social services for ten years. I went back to school for archival studies; now work as archivist. As a lot of people said up-thread, knowing how to write clearly and concisely, reading and extracting info from text, proof reading, etc. helps in a lot of jobs.

A lot of people I knew from English classes found work in publishing (textbooks, romance novels, etc.) straight out of school and then moved on to other things (database design, health care) based on personal interest / expressing an interest / studying at night.

Other people: trades; social services; wrote for medical supply company; took over the family business; in-house instructor for a mega corp. A few taught English overseas for a year. I only knew one or two to go the MA-PhD route.
posted by philfromhavelock at 5:10 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have an English lit degree, taught myself to program and have been a full time software dev for the past 11 years.

My route was:
* graduate with BA
* bartender
* managed Alzheimer’s and dementia care center
* office manager for graphic design firm
* admin assistant for manufacturing R&D group
* business process analyst for same manufacturer
* taught myself a TON of dev skills while working as a business process analyst and went and got an entry level dev job that I then used as experience for a better dev job

It was not the most straightforward path.
posted by hilaryjade at 7:46 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

English BA here and English/Cultural Studies MA. I’m now working on a PhD in history.

The English degree helped me land jobs in teaching/training, copyediting, and communications; all needed strong language and writing skills. I worked through the MA, freelancing as a copyeditor. That work continued, freelance or on contract, for seven years. Sometime during that period, I also started working as a research assistant to a historian. Again, I was hired primarily for my language and editing skills, and that led to another gig as a research assistant to a sociologist.

During the PhD, I’ve been able to continue with some journalism on the side. I’ll also saying that an MA in English has definitely been an asset in university undergraduate teaching (as part of the PhD) and in doing my own research. I may be a historian now but the English major dies hard!
posted by underthelilacs at 7:57 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am an extremely unremarkable English scholar and no one ever wanted to hire me full-time in my stereotypical English major dream field, publishing. Boo. I bounced around a bit and it turns out I am pretty good at understanding and writing about budgets. So I got a job doing that. I think my English skills made me stand out from the sea of data crunchers, and it amuses me to no end that they let me loose on the numbers.
posted by ferret branca at 8:36 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BA in English, majoring in Creative Writing. As a working student, taught ESL/EFL, specializing in IELTS. Took a break from school (financial and mental health reasons) and earned quite a lot as an administrative assistant in the Middle East at a construction/engineering company. After I was able to save enough money to send myself to school, went back to my university to get my degree. Graduated, then returned to the Middle East and took a job as a secretary. Did private ESL tutoring on the side to earn extra. Migrated to another country, am now an administrative executive / document controller in the same industry.

I used my degree mostly to proofread correspondence and technical documents. Currently it just comes in handy to spot the occasional typo or grammatical slip.
posted by pimli at 9:46 PM on September 13, 2019

Law school, practiced law in New York, then brokerage credit research analyst, brokerage head of research, hedge fund portfolio manager, and founded the financial services firm I now run.

I think that being an English major was modestly useful in the writing I did as a research analyst, but the driving force of my career has been that I was always extremely good at math and I was an English major because I loved reading and talking about what I read, rather than because I was excluded from a STEM or business program by innumeracy.
posted by MattD at 4:36 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Holy hell, not a good thread to read while heading home drunk.

English Lit with Creative Writing emphasis, double majored with philosophy and cowardice. I had no idea what to do with my life, and was rejected (rightfully so) from every mfa program I applied to. Ran overseas to teach esl and pay back school loans. Stayed way too long, have no work history back home (I.e. states) and have functionally hit the ceiling of what’s possible as a teacher in Japan. Spent a week last month being told by friends and family back home that somehow the ability to read, understand, and explain documents is some sort of corporate super power, but am too chickenshit to find out if they’re right.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:34 AM on September 14, 2019

BS in English and Journalism 1978, because I was going to be a journalist. Never became a journalist. Instead, I worked in accounting, marketing, advertising, then mid level corporate management for some small manufacturing firms and a couple of consultancies. For the past 25 years I have been a self employed business consultant. Has the English degree helped in my (cough) career? Nope.
posted by charris5005 at 5:59 AM on September 14, 2019

English Major, Art History minor from a very solid public liberal arts school in 2002. I moved to a new city and accepted a temp job in as the receptionist at a publishing company, then clawed my way into the Editorial department by making myself useful. I worked there until I moved away in 2007, then found a gig as a Technical Writer that turned into a brief software development project management career. In 2015, after being laid off, I made a switch back to traditional publishing as an Editor/Project Manager, but decided I didn't want to be a project manager anymore so I went to grad school. This year, I completed my MLIS and am now a museum Archivist, pleased to finally be putting that minor to work.

My English major absolutely drove my career and never hindered it, but I do think its many fuzzy applications contributed in some ways to a lack of focus on my part that let my career drive itself for awhile. I am glad I realized I wanted to do something else when I did and am pleased to have gotten my Masters with more specificity in mind.
posted by juliplease at 6:17 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cosigning namemeansgazelle up there. I double-majored in Comparative Literature and Biochemistry, went straight to med school, and am a proudly nerdy neurologist. The literature stuff was not only a stand-out point in applications/interviews all the way from med school through faculty recruitment, it's also way more applicable to my clinical practice than biochem, and let me design the ideal job I didn't even know I would be allowed to have, back when I started. Best decision I've ever made.
posted by basalganglia at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2019

I have a BA in English, and 15 years later I earned a Master of Education with a focus on higher education administration.

When I graduated with my BA I left school worried about never finding a relevant job or making a career of any kind. I bounced around a few temporary jobs for a few years (park ranger, Amazon customer service, print shop, data entry) and eventually landed in a receptionist position at the local big State university.

I never intended that receptionist role to lead to anything bigger, and didn't really have a strong interest in higher education. However, I feel like my English background really served me well in that role. Being able to write quickly, clearly, and advance an argument effectively caught the attention of my supervisors and I found promotion opportunities that felt like good next steps. That advancement slowly turned into a career and now I'm a Director of student services in an academic unit (I had to go back to grad school for this job, hence the M.Ed. 15 years after undergrad).

Yeah, maybe English isn't the most practical field of study in that it doesn't train you for a specific job at graduation. However, what you do learn is applicable anywhere - I know other English majors working all different types of jobs. Given the opportunity I'd do it all over again, no question.
posted by owls at 11:44 AM on September 14, 2019

OK, I'll add my post-BA to the list:

I double-majored in English Literature and Political Science, graduating in 1986.
I decided to try teaching, and took classes (and obtained) a Secondary Subject (high school) teaching credential in 1990. Taught HS English for almost five years, but didn't like it (liked the kids, did not like working for/in an institution). Was fortunate to be living in the Silicon Valley in the mid-90's when anyone with a college degree and half a brain could find some sort of tech work. Started doing phone support for a software company with zero experience, eventually moved into technical writing for them (finally used that damned English major, lol), and did that for five years before years before moving on to programming.
I have been a programmer for the last 15 years.

TL;DR: English Major (1986) > High School English teacher (1990) > Technical Support Engineer (1995) > Technical Writer (1999) > Computer Programmer (2005 to present).
posted by mosk at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2019

I started college at my small private college 'undecided.' eventually I declared an English major because I love to read and was taking mostly english department classes and loved the english faculty. I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up and my department and college didn't really have any sort of career center or ... thought or direction at ALL. I was a drama minor because a few theater classes fit in well. I went to grad school in English as well but didn't get my MA because I didn't have much direction there, didn't really have a faculty advisor, and couldn't think what to write a thesis about, so I have everything but the 'final project' or whatever.

I was a reporter, then worked at a call center, then was an editor at a continuing legal education center (textbooks for lawyers, basically). Then I was an archivist/librarian at a newspaper and now I'm a copy editor. So basically in publishing and journalism my whole career.
posted by Occula at 1:23 PM on September 14, 2019

BA in English with a concentration in creative non-fiction. Worked as a writing tutor and in the library as a page in college. Went immediately into journalism, stayed for a decade or so, transitioned to a term appointment doing web stuff in the last administration, then to non-profit big tech company and now lead comms for an academic research center at the university down the road. Am planning to get a masters soon at the same university. I still dabble in journalism on the side, and miss newsrooms on election nights - but enjoy the flexibility, balance, and kind academic sorts at my current position.
posted by melodykramer at 3:03 PM on September 14, 2019

English BA, am a software engineer mostly because I applied out of sheer curiosity for an internship right after college and transitioned into a more permanent role.
posted by 3lliot at 4:35 PM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Doubled in Psych and English; called major in one. English as a study made me literate enough to put things into writing; whether + or - ; which put me several steps about a standard issue baboon who could do neither.
I've been able to freelance reviews on outdoorsy types of products; catch there is if it is junk or worthless; well. No pay for that offering.
Been contacted and comped a few times for online reviews; which would be a surprising out of the blue wtf; a freebie item; and perhaps a small check. I do *not* do online reviews for $. These were after the fact contacts.

The ability to consume large quantities of media rapidly has made me a more literate and informed person; helps with learning Anything more rapidly; and via so many traditional (as in off to the actual analogue library) papers/reports; an increased speed in disposal (and production of in perhaps some of this instance) or fluff.
posted by buzzman at 8:03 PM on September 14, 2019

English BA (literary criticism) - went to grad school for 18 months for my MA, then I just couldn't anymore. I got a starter job in IT (it was the mid 90s, and I am a geek). I ended up working for 10 years in information security, specifically the areas around policy creation and enforcement. I also earned my CISSP. I could write for a business environment like a mofo.

I've been a SAHM for the last 15 years. I tell my kiddo that's leaning toward the liberal arts that you can make your way, but I wouldn't be able to recreate my career rise if I tried.
posted by heathrowga at 8:34 AM on September 15, 2019

English BA, focus on literary criticism. I worked with at-risk kids after college, ran a well known non-profit for a couple years, and now I'm working as a product manager for a tech company.
posted by Marinara at 9:02 AM on September 15, 2019

I started as an English major, did a couple years at a fairly respectable college, and then dropped out due to a combination of challenges and "I don't know what to do with my life". I eventually fumbled my way into a particular area of nonprofit work, after a lot of minimum wage jobs. I wound up finishing my degree in business instead of English. This was good because it forced me to study accounting, which is now a big part of my life that I had previously felt was super lame and boring. But the abandoned English major still shines through; my career is built on good communication and compelling stories, including my own. I attribute my careful attention to subtle communication dynamics to my English and formal logic background. It has definitely given me a leg up over peers who just studied business, finance or marketing, even though it took a long time for that advantage to manifest.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 4:29 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

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