You Can Do Anything With an English Major: Why Your Major Doesn’t Decide Your Career
Whether you just finished your junior year in high school or your freshman year in college, you’ve likely put some thought into what you’ll major in during your time at college. For the many of you, this may seem to be part and parcel of a larger decision about your career path. But by and large, your college major should be decided not by your career aspirations, but by your academic interests.
Though there are some instances in which it can be helpful to keep your career in mind when planning your course of undergraduate study—like, for example, following an undergraduate pre-med track if you know you want to be a doctor—ultimately, there are few scenarios in which your college major will preclude you from applying for your dream job.
We’ve written in the past about the comparative benefits of a liberal arts education versus a pre-vocational one, but even within liberal arts communities, students hierarchize potential majors on a scale of perceived financial returns. In other words, there is a notion that certain majors will better qualify students for high-paying jobs after college.
In actuality, this is largely untrue. In light of dispelling insidious myths—like the infamous one that an English degree is unmarketable—we’re cracking the major decision of choosing your major wide open. Read on to learn why you should study what you love, whether it’s marketing or marine biology, entomology or English, finance or fashion.
STEM vs. The Humanities
If you go to a liberal arts college, it can seem like the most obvious difference between potential majors isn’t the various departments the fall into but rather which of two categories they belong to: STEM or the Humanities.
Though it may seem silly to divide every possible major into only 2 categories, the STEM vs. Humanities debate is an ongoing one of national proportions. Back when Marco Rubio was running for President, he claimed outright that pre-vocational programs gave their students more stable financial futures. Meanwhile, state legislatures threatened to cut funding to the study of humanities and redirect it towards STEM education, which they believed prepared students better to find a job after college. A contributor to the New York Times even weighed in on the issue.
It’s easy to guess what the opposing camps in this fight believe. One group fiercely stands behind the value of studying STEM over Steinbeck; the other hold the humanities in the highest regard. While both camps consist of intelligent and often-zealous members, neither focuses on the core issue of the debate: that, if you’re studying what you love, either decision is a sound one.
To think about it another way, consider this: the world needs doctors, physicists, and engineers, but it also needs painters, writers, and translators. Likewise, we need students majoring in all of these fields. Further, the best doctors—like the best writers—will be the people who truly love what they are doing. Thus, there’s no use forcing yourself to study one thing when you truly love something else. To do so would be an inefficient use of resources, energy, and time.
The Job Search
As it turns out, graduating from a liberal arts school with a degree in something you love will serve you much better in the job market than graduating with any specific major. This is because liberal arts colleges and universities operate with the belief that every student should learn a little bit of everything, and ultimately that you can apply any mode of thinking to many different problems.
In other words, the skills that you learn in any major—take Classics, for example—will be valuable to an array of employers from different industries. The idea that a Classics major will spend the rest of his or her life translating Latin, teaching Greek to high school students, or continuing to pursue a career in academia is completely silly and, frankly, outdated. As almost every top college will carefully tout, Classics majors can end up with any job for which they apply.
This isn’t to say that all students looking for jobs in finance should now pursue the Classics, but instead that every student should study what they love in college, not what they think will be relevant to their desired job.
If you don’t believe us—or the research and news we’ve linked to—you can logically arrive at the same conclusion. Most entry-level jobs will train you during your first weeks on site. Of all the things you’ll need to know, very few will have been things you studied in school, even if you majored in a seemingly “pertinent” field of study. This is not to say that anyone can apply for any job; indeed, if you know you want to go into fields like engineering or computer science, you should certainly study those things in school. Far be it from us to diminish the value of an education in STEM, we simply want to remind you that corporate jobs exist for students of all types.
On the flip side, higher-level jobs that require specific knowledge in a particular field are usually open only to graduates of Masters programs. If this is the case, you also need not worry: medical, law, and even business schools all over the country accept applicants from virtually every major that exists.
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