The Pains (and Joys) of Being an English Major

Do you know how much of a struggle it can be to be an English major?

People expect a lot out of you: “can you proofread my paper?” “What’s the definition of ____?” “You’re an English major! I thought you were supposed to know how to do a, b, and c!” And the list goes on and on.

And it’s true. As an English major I feel compelled to correct other’s spelling and grammar mistakes, but even I get it wrong sometimes. And I don’t want to help constantly on every single paper my friends write because I have my own to worry about.

But in all honesty, I do enjoy it. I enjoy being able to say, “It should actually be this!” And to be able to share that knowledge with others and see their joy (or distaste) is rewarding enough.

Also, we’re expected to read everything under the sun, from the Bible, to Shakespeare, to Mary Shelley, to those of modern times. We’re expected to have read epic novels and short little fiction stories. It’s actually really annoying when I talk to fellow English majors and they say, “But haven’t you read ____?” Most of the time I haven’t. My focus is more on writing than literature, but that isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy it.

It can be a pain to be expected to do so much for such a broad major, but at the same time I do feel honored to know that my knowledge in the writing field can be useful to others who need the help.

If you’re thinking of becoming an English major, ask yourself these few questions:

  1. Do you enjoy reading and writing in your spare time? You’ll be doing a lot of this, so make sure you’re prepared to lose your life to writing and literature.
  2. Are you able to write pages of research or creative pieces without much effort? Yes, research is a process and can often be a struggle, but once you get the hang of it it’s actually fairly enjoyable. You will be writing research papers, there’s no avoiding it.
  3. Do you feel this urge to correct people on their spelling and grammar on social media sites or text messages? For some reason, this seems to be a big thing for a lot of the English majors I know. I personally can’t stand text speak or when people use the wrong version of “there,” “their,” or “they’re.” It drives me up a wall.
  4. Do you have an idea of what you want to do once you graduate? Even if you’re starting out as an English major, having an idea of what you want to do once you’ve graduated can be a big thing in order to help lead you in the path you want to go. I’m unsure of what I want to do – and I’m graduating May 17th! You’ll save yourself some stress if you have a general idea of what you want to do.

Now you may be wondering, “what kinds of things can an English major do outside of teaching?” Or “what kinds of concentrations can you focus on within an English major?”

There aren’t a large variety of jobs, as far as I know, but there is a wide range in which many corporations, such as AmeriCorps, look specifically for English majors? Why? As English majors we have use of critical thinking skills, how to use spelling and grammar and punctuation properly (or close to it), we’re literate, and more. We have qualifications that other majors may or may not help to develop.

As far as concentrations go, I know my university offers professional writing, literature, teaching, and drama. Other colleges and universities may offer different ones, but this way you have a broader look into what interests you rather than just English.

My concentration, specifically, is Professional Writing. I have taken a lot of creative writing courses including fiction, non-fiction, and creative writing courses. I have also taken classes in journalism, writing for the web, online magazine, and lots of literature classes. I’ve also had to take a speech class, so don’t think you’re free from public speaking!

Since it’s my concentration I can look for jobs in being a lobbyist, a secretary, author/writer, freelance writer, librarian (with a masters), etc.

It can be scary to think of what might be entailed in being an English major, but it’s a really rewarding major. I have learned to critically think about and analyze literature, I have learned to better my creative writing by showing, not telling, I have learned that there are possibilities at doing what I love and not have to be a teacher for it.

Of course the pains of being an English major can sometimes outweigh the joys, but looking at the bright side of it all is really rewarding, for sure.

Think about what you enjoy doing and if you think this would be an ideal major for you. It’s a hard path, but definitely fun if you allow it to be!


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