Here’s What I Really Did With My English Degree

DEC. 29, 2017 — There seems to be a long-standing misconception that English majors can’t find jobs after college, but that has always baffled me. Perhaps it’s because I started college as a music major. (Can you imagine how many jobs there are for clarinet players?)

So when I changed my major to English after just one semester in the music school, I anticipated endless possibilities as to where I could go with my career.

Turns out, I was right.

While my alma mater’s website only lists a handful of job ideas for graduating English majors, there are so many more options beyond teaching, technical writing, and aspiring-to-be-a-novelist. In today’s digital world, where everything involves writing and communication, the possibilities for English majors are endless.

While I won’t list everything an English major could do after college—the wonderful team at Dear English Major can handle that—I will tell you my story:

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A first generation college student, I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts in English and a minor in mass communications in 2017. While at Shenandoah University, I received the College of Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Journalism, served as editor in chief of the student newspaper, and published several pieces of creative writing in the student literary journal.

At the school paper, I worked with an amazing team of writers and photographers who helped me bring student news at my small-town college back to life. We revamped the paper’s print edition, giving me the opportunity to learn how to design and print newspapers, and later went totally digital, giving me the chance to show off my web design and management skills.

I learned very quickly you get out of college what you put into it, and I put my 100% into everything I did.

My role as editor in chief for the school paper ended up landing me my first real job in the industry: as a copy editor and page designer for a pair of local newspapers. An op-ed I wrote for the school paper as a freshman staff writer also caught the eye of an online publication, who reached out and asked if I wanted to serve as a regular contributing writer for them.

I’d never considering freelance writing as a career prior to that, but I jumped in with both feet—and I’ve never looked back.

That first freelance gig paid a measly $25 for 500 words, but it was a start. I soon wrote for a variety of online content hubs, racking up clips and making connections throughout the industry all while I was still in college.

For me, freelancing was a more flexible, more lucrative alternative to interning.

“For me, freelancing was a more flexible, more lucrative alternative to interning.”

Back at the local papers, I made long-lasting friendships and experienced the hustle and bustle of a real newsroom. It was a job I’d applied to on a whim, but I learned more about the industry there than in any college lecture.

Soon, however, the freelance work started to add up. In August of 2017, I took the leap into full-time freelancing, and now, I couldn’t imagine any other career. I schedule my own work hours and can work from anywhere with a WiFi connection (or a hot spot). I’m grateful that freelancing has given me the chance to be financially independent and support my family, and since I worked in college, I already had years of experience as a freelancer by the time I earned my degree.

Nowadays, I remain self-employed and do a variety of freelance work, mostly for companies, but sometimes for individual authors. My jobs involve writing stories, editing op-eds, scheduling Facebook posts, drafting press releases, and a little bit of a lot of other things, too.

When people ask me what I do with my English degree? I tell them I do a little bit of everything.

As for where I’m going to go next, the short answer is: I have no idea.

I’ve considered going back for a graduate-level degree and looked into online certifications on topics like copyediting and proofreading. For now, however, I’m just trying to enjoy being my own boss in my 20s—it’s a luxury I don’t ever want to take for granted.

If I had to give advice to a current college student majoring in English or considering it, I’d have four simple words: keep your options open.

If you want to be a language arts teacher or write creatively, you’re on the right track—and I’m so proud of my friends who have followed these paths. But if you aren’t sure yet, don’t let your focus in humanities limit your potential; you may find that your B.A. in English opens many more doors than you once thought possible.

Top 5 Worst Things about Being an English Major

This article was published Oct. 29, 2017. Click here to read my more recent posts.

Before you say anything, hear me out.

loved being an English major. I thrived on the classroom discussions, and I crossed so many amazing works of literature off my to-be-read list while in college. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some serious drawbacks to choosing English as my main course of study.

Before deciding on an English major, make sure you take these things into consideration:

1. You won’t be able to read what you want to read for a while.

There were times that I had to read a novel each week for all of my classes. With that kind of workload, you won’t have time to pick up the latest trendy story you find on Goodreads. 

One of the most relieving parts of finishing up with school was being able to read what I wanted to read — and not feeling guilty about it. I no longer “should have been reading for class.” I could just read for me, which is something a lot of English majors who are passionate about literature really want to do.

But unless it’s summer, say goodbye to that until you graduate.

2. Your classes will all be very similar to one another.

I was a mass communication minor in college, which was a ton of fun. Every class was a different adventure, with a different structure, and a different topic than my last: I couldn’t even compare my graphic design class to my media law class. But it wasn’t like that in English.

While I thrived on the lecture-and-discussion-based format of my English classes, it’s good that I did, because there was very little variety. While the topics of the lectures varied from class to class, the structure of each course was basically the same: do the reading, come to class and talk about it, then write an essay on your own thoughts.

That’s exactly how I learn, so it worked out for me, but I do sort of wish I’d been exposed to varying pedagogies along my college journey.

Related: 5 Things I Did to Maintain Straight A’s in College While Working 60+ Hours Per Week

3. People will make a lot of assumptions about you.

One of the worst things that people assume about me all the time is that I’m a grammar freak. I’m totally not. (But that’s a whole other story.)

After I switched my major to English, everyone from family to friends to people I’d just casually met on the street would assume that I was going to correct them on their speech or writing. In reality, I really hate doing that.

Similarly, people also had high expectations of my own speech. If I slipped up and said something that wasn’t grammatically correct or made up a word that doesn’t really exist, people called me out on it — and they weren’t very kind in their wording. It was like the felt that they’d accomplished something by being able to correct me, because I was an English major. But I’m just a person, too!

4. People will ask you what you want to do after college — a lot.

For me, it was easy: I knew I wanted to go into journalism, and I had a full-time job in the field before I even graduated. But for a lot of people, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you want to do. And it’s even worse when people keep asking about it.

That said, if they don’t ask, they assume you want to be an English teacher, which also isn’t ideal — especially because as an English major, you have so many options in career paths!

5. It’ll be a challenge to motivate yourself to work on your creative writing.

I know a lot of people who have gone into the English major aspiring to be authors, but a typical English literature program doesn’t focus on creative writing. You may be able to take one or two classes in it, but it won’t take up the bulk of your time.

Instead, you’ll spend your days writing literature analysis essays, which is fun for some, but not so fun for others. And after a long day of analyzing the adaptations of Beowulf, working on your latest short story or novel won’t sound as appealing as it might normally.

Be wary of writing burnout as an English major: you don’t want to end up sick and tired of writing and reading altogether.

All that said, I really loved my time in college, and it was great to be exposed to so many new ideas and perspectives via literature from around the world. I feel like I found the perfect major for me, and if you still want to study English after reading these five drawbacks, I’m confident that an English major could be the right path for you, too!

What were your favorite and least favorite parts of your college experience? Share below in the comments!

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An English Major’s 6 Favorite Books of Fall 2016!

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this post contains affiliate links. If you click any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought. Thanks so much for supporting me and my blog! (Click here for more info.)

It’s officially finals week at my university and I am so pumped for this semester to finally be over. While it’s been a rough ride, I did get something good out of these hectic few months: my professors recommended some pretty great books to me, and I’m excited to share them all in this collection of mini-reviews.

Continue reading “An English Major’s 6 Favorite Books of Fall 2016!”

How To Ace Your College English Class | 5 Tips from an English Major

This article was first published Aug. 17, 2016.

Disclaimer: As with all posts on ShellyRawlings.com, the content published below comes only from personal experience and is not intended to be taken as professional counseling or advice. Sadly, I can’t guarantee that you’ll end up with a perfect or even a passing grade—but following these tips can help! For more information about this and other terms and conditions, click here.

English literature can be a tricky subject, particularly if you tend to be more of a math-and-science-oriented person. But don’t let this required general ed course be the bane of your GPA. If reading and writing aren’t your strong suit—or that 500-word essay is keeping you up all night—let me, an English major and professional writer, help you out with five tips to help you breeze through your college English class:

Continue reading “How To Ace Your College English Class | 5 Tips from an English Major”