My View: What will you do with an English degree? Plenty

I just found my first reading assignment for the “Intro to Literary Study” class I’ll be teaching in a week.

130104034511-michael-b-rub-timelineAlmost every college student who considers majoring in English – or French, or philosophy, or art history – inevitably hears the question: “What in the world are you going to do with that?” The question can come from worried parents, perplexed relatives, or derisive, incredulous peers, but it always implies that degrees in the humanities are “boutique” degrees, nice ornaments that serve no practical purpose in the real world. After all, who needs another 50-page honors project on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire?

Well, strange as it may sound, if you’re an employer who needs smart, creative workers, a 50-page honors project on a 19th century French poet might be just the thing you want to see from one of your job applicants. Not because you’re going to ask him or her to interpret any poetry on the job, but because you may be asking him or her, at some point, to deal with complex material that requires intense concentration – and to write a persuasive account of what it all means. And you may find that the humanities major with extensive college experience in dealing with complex material handles the challenge better – more comprehensively, more imaginatively – than the business or finance major who assumed that her degree was all she needed to earn a place in your company. —Michael Bérubé via

4 thoughts on “My View: What will you do with an English degree? Plenty

  1. i call bull-shit that this its better in the work place then an accounting or finance major. they have by far lower unemployment numbers.

    • Jake, the essay I quoted from was written by an English professor, and I’m an English professor, writing about a lesson I’m going to teach to English majors, so of course my post is going to speak to the experiences — and biases — of English majors.

      I teach my upper-level students to code in HTML, and last week I had my journalism students doing percentages to check the figures in a finance story. So, perhaps a greater point to be made is that someone who is not only good with numbers and logic, but is also capable of typing a couple of sentences without making several typographical errors, will stand a better chance of professional success than someone with just one or the other set of skills.

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