Alura Chung-Mehdi 8 min read 12th Grade, Academic Tips and Info

Should You Major in English?

English majors study the history of human meaning-making in the English language through close readings of literature and critical theory. English often intersects with other majors and areas of study, such as film, gender and sexuality studies, cultural studies, and foreign languages. In this post, we’ll tackle your biggest questions about being an English major:

 

  • What are English courses like?
  • Is English a good fit for me?
  • What can you do with an English degree?
  • What are the best colleges for studying English? 

 

Besides being an extraordinarily rewarding endeavor in itself, majoring in English equips a student with many valuable skills, such as communication, research, critical thinking, and writing, which provide a solid foundation for success in a variety of industries.

 

Overview of the English Major

 

What Are English Courses Like?

 

In English courses you will analyze and discuss novels, short stories, poems, and other primary texts alongside theoretical and topical frameworks. Close reading, critical thinking, and writing will be the focus of your studies. Most English departments also offer creative writing courses, sometimes with the option of a creative writing concentration or major.

 

Course requirements vary widely from school to school, but are created with the intention of guiding students in exploring the breadth of the discipline and identifying areas of interest for focused study. Here are some common requirements:

 

  • Students must submit a plan of study when they declare English as their major
  • Distribution requirements ensure that students take courses with a variety of approaches and theme
    • Students are often required to take courses that span a broad historical breadth of literature, from ancient/Medieval/Renaissance to contemporary literature 
    • Colleges that break down their courses into levels often require English majors to take a certain number of courses in each level
    • Other programs group courses by historical era, genre, or class format (i.e. research seminar, lecture, tutorial, or workshop) 
  • Many schools also either require or provide English majors the option of undertaking a larger project that combines in-depth research with writing and/or an oral presentation (i.e. a junior capstone or senior thesis)

 

Class sizes vary based on several factors, such as school size, popularity, course level, and the department’s approach. Larger schools tend to have more large lecture courses with smaller discussion sections; smaller schools tend to have smaller class sizes (although this is not true across the board—Yale, for example, has an entirely seminar-based curriculum). Generally, introductory courses tend to be larger, while courses focusing on more specialized topics and research are often smaller. Here are some general guidelines for interpreting course terminology (from largest to smallest course size):

 

  • In a lecture course the professor gives lectures to students with minimal interaction. Lecture courses are often accompanied by a discussion section, in which students are divided into smaller groups to discuss readings under the guidance of a teaching assistant.
  • A seminar is a focused thematic exploration in which students research and present their own work for class discussion. This term is sometimes used more generally to refer to a smaller course.
  • In a tutorial or independent study, one student (or a very small group of students) investigates a topic under the guidance of a professor, meeting weekly to discuss readings and assignments.
  • A workshop is a course in which the primary focus is honing students’ writing skills and discussing work weekly. Creative writing classes almost always follow this format.
  • A colloquium is a course in which students meet with a professor to discuss readings.

 

No matter the course type, homework generally consists of weekly reading and a few larger essays throughout the term. Some professors also assign smaller weekly writing assignments to gauge students’ progress, while others prefer to keep it simple and assign only readings and a couple essays.

 

Is English a Good Fit For Me?

 

Do you love words, literature, and inhabiting myriad worlds? If so, you might be a future English major! But there’s more to consider…

 

Majoring in English gives you the tools and space to traverse the landscape of language and literature. English is a humanities field, which means it gives you a broad foundation for future endeavors. Since the skills you’ll learn (such as communications and critical thinking) won’t become outdated or lose value, a degree in English gives you options; you can always complete vocational or professional training later. English graduates have careers in a mind-boggling array of fields. Some go to grad school in English or a related field, some go to law or business school, and others don’t go to grad school at all. 

 

However, if you’re looking for a field that will hand you a career path, English is not the one. Studying English can feel like an ivory tower to some people—that is, they feel like its lofty preoccupations are not connected to anything “real” or practical. While many English majors would argue that the way language shapes our world is actually the most practical thing a person could study, this is something to consider.  

 

Oh, and you’ve probably heard this before, but if you major in English, you will spend innumerable hours reading and writing—if that sounds good to you, proceed! If you think you’ll have trouble keeping up with a large volume of reading and writing, you probably shouldn’t major in English.

 

What Can You Do With An English Degree?

 

1. Research Analyst 

Median Salary: $41,000-81,000

Projected Growth: 18% from 2019-2029

 

Research Analysts examine and interpret data to produce insights for their employers. As its name suggests, Research Analysts spend much of their time conducting research and analyzing data. These tasks are familiar for English majors, who regularly analyze texts and perform research for classes and papers. Presenting research findings is arguably just as important as the research itself; for this, English majors’ ability to succinctly articulate connections between theories or themes and human behavior is especially beneficial.

 

The path to becoming a Research Analyst often requires specialized knowledge in a field such as public policy, business, education, or healthcare. If you’re a meticulous researcher, insightful, and have a knack for engaging presentations, this might be the career path for you.

 

2. Technical Writer

Median Salary: $42,000-$87,000

Projected Growth: 7% from 2019-2029

 

Technical writers create documentation (such as instruction manuals and FAQs) in order to communicate technical information about products and services in nontechnical language. English majors’ oral and written communication, deep listening, and ability to analyze complex information are particularly useful in this field. English majors who are able to write simply and accurately and work well with people from a variety of backgrounds are best suited to Technical Writer jobs.

 

3. Public Relations Specialist

Median Salary: $35,000-$73,000

Projected Growth: 7% from 2019-2029

 

Public Relations Specialists craft compelling stories about their clients’ positive impact for media outlets. PR Specialists must be ultra-organized and able to juggle multiple time-sensitive projects at once. English majors’ wordsmithing abilities, strategic thinking, creativity, and organization make them excellent candidates for Public Relations Specialist roles.

 

4. Social Media Manager 

Median Salary: $35,000-$78,000

Projected Growth: 6% from 2019-2029

 

Social media managers create strategies for organizations to promote their brand through social media channels. For this, English majors’ creativity, critical thinking, and verbal gifts come in handy. This job is best for resourceful and strategic storytellers who are fluent in visual and verbal media. 

 

5. Lawyer 

Median Salary: $51,000-$157,000

Projected Growth: 4% from 2019-2029

 

Lawyers advise and represent clients in legal issues and disputes. Those who are prepared to devote years to training, who are detail-oriented and persuasive, are most likely to succeed. The ability to write precisely and argue artfully gives English majors an edge in the field.

 

While lawyers are well-compensated, getting your JD (law degree) is a time-intensive and expensive process—it’s an extra three years after your undergrad degree. Students should carefully consider this path before committing.

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Best Colleges for English Majors

 

1. Harvard University 

Location: Cambridge, MA

Acceptance Rate: 4.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,788

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Harvard University is one of the most prestigious and selective colleges in the world. Located just outside Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard provides all the amenities of a research university along with the cultural multiplicity of a city. Harvard’s alumni go on to lead innovative and globally influential careers.

 

Harvard’s English department offers three pathways for English concentrators: the Honors Program, the Elective Program, and the Joint Program. Depending on the pathway, concentrators are required to take between 7 and 14 courses in the department (with additional distribution requirements). After declaring an English concentration, students must create a Plan of Study. Courses are organized based on era, from Old English to Modernism. About 25% of Harvard English concentrators go on to careers in information services; 25% are in Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation; and the remaining half of Harvard English majors are scattered across a number of industries. 

 

Learn more about Harvard and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. Williams College

Location: Williamstown, MA

Acceptance Rate: 12.6%

Total Undergrad Enrollment: 2,073

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1540 SAT, 32-35 ACT

 

Williams College is a small liberal arts college in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. Nestled in the Berkshires, the intimate campus encourages students to connect to its intellectual community for four years of intense study.

 

Becoming an English major at Williams begins with submitting a Major Plan upon declaring the major. The major consists of 9 courses in the department (including several distribution requirements). The department defines five foci within English: literary history, creative writing, film and media, English + American Studies, and critical theory. In addition, Williams offers several options for highly dedicated senior English majors: Honors English, an elective track that includes additional coursework and a special senior project, and the 1960s Scholars, a selective extracurricular seminar that brings students, members of the department, and visiting scholars together to discuss trends in literary study.

 

Learn more about Williams College and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. Yale University

Location: New Haven, CT

Acceptance Rate: 6.1% 

Total Undergrad Enrollment: 5,964

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Yale University is the third-oldest higher-education institution in the United States, and its academic renown is equally long-established. Yale defines itself by the word “and” because of the variety it offers students: it is both a liberal arts school and research institution, both a global community and a community strongly rooted in its hometown of New Haven, Connecticut.

 

Yale’s English department requires majors to take 14 courses (including distribution requirements). The curriculum is seminar-based; all English department courses, including introductory ones, are all small and discussion-based. In addition to the standard English major, Yale offers a creative writing concentration. Yale also gives English majors the option of writing a Senior Essay, an extensive research and writing project. Unlike most schools’ senior thesis/honors project, Yale’s spans only one semester and is not required for receiving honors or distinction in the major. 

 

Learn more about Yale University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Amherst College

Location: Amherst, MA

Acceptance Rate: 11.3%

Total Undergrad Enrollment: 1,855

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1530 SAT, 30-34 ACT

 

Amherst College is a small liberal arts college in Amherst, MA. Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium, a group of colleges in rural Western Massachusetts that fosters collaboration and academic community. Amherst’s open curriculum frees students from general curriculum requirements, allowing them to forge their own unique academic paths.

 

Amherst’s English major requires 10 English courses (with several additional distribution requirements). Amherst organizes its English courses into four levels, each with a different approach to literary studies. Majors are required to participate in the Capstone Symposium. Those who are interested in prolonged, independent study can apply to work on a Senior Thesis, which qualifies them for honors upon graduation.

 

Learn more about Amherst College and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. Princeton University

Location: Princeton, NJ

Acceptance Rate: 5.8%

Total Undergrad Enrollment: 5,267

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1570 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Princeton University is a renowned Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia, and with a sprawling campus of its own, Princeton provides ample opportunity for engagement in academic, social, humanitarian, and artistic spheres. One of Princeton’s most central values is a commitment to social impact.

 

Princeton’s English concentration consists of 10 courses (with other distribution requirements). The department offers special programs for those interested in creative writing and theater. In addition, all English concentrators take a Senior Exam and write a Junior Paper and a Senior Thesis.

 

Learn more about Princeton University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Ready to learn about other colleges with high-ranking English programs? See the complete list of best colleges for English.

 

Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine can predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Want more tips on improving your academic profile?

We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.


Alura Chung-Mehdi
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Alura Chung-Mehdi graduated from Amherst College with a degree in English. When she's not writing, she enjoys cooking, rock climbing, and daydreaming.