Careers for English Majors

Not Just Writing, Teaching and Editing

"So, you want to be a teacher?" I can't count the number of times I have been asked that after I tell people that my college degree is in English. What people (even some English students) don't realize is that there are hundreds of jobs, besides "teacher" for a graduate with an English degree. Studies have even proven that English majors, on the average, achieve higher scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCATs) and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) than pre-medical or pre-law students, due, in part, to heightened reading comprehension skills. In fact, based on this information, many pre-law students will complement their degree with a minor in English, or even use it for a dual major.

Including teaching, there are five general career paths available to students of English; teaching; writing, editing and publishing; advertising and public relations; business administration and management; and technical writing. Each of them will require some focused study aside from the required literature and grammar classes. Within each path there are several choices for careers that are perfectly suited for the English student.

Teaching

This seems to be the most obvious choice to people who are unaware of the other choices. English majors are the clear choice for teachers of high school and college literature or writing classes. But the creative mind of the English major makes them terrific choices for general education elementary teachers, art teacher, and theater teachers or coaches.

As for additional training needed to teach as an English major, you will need to complete the teacher certification program based on your state's educational requirements. To teach on the college level, you will need to complete graduate school, at least to the level of a Master's degree. This is due in part to the fact that most college level English professors are hired to teach only a few classes, based on their graduate emphasis. If you want to teach creative writing, you will need a Master's in Fine Art degree in creative writing. If you want to teach grammar or linguistics, that is what you will focus on in your graduate studies.

Possible employers under the teaching path include private schools, domestic and abroad, public schools, colleges and universities, and specialized learning centers such as Educate Inc.'s Sylvan Learning Centers.

Writing, Editing, Publishing

The writing, editing and publishing path is probably the broadest in terms of the careers available within it. Within this path, English majors can choose to write for newspapers or magazines, edit books, represent writers as literary agents. Many of these careers require a great deal of time on the bottom of the proverbial totem pole, as well as a great deal of hard work to make it to the top. Many newspaper or magazine reporters start out doing nothing even closely related to their goal, especially in more cutthroat areas of the field such as New York City, London, Chicago, working in the mail room, answering phones, checking facts or making coffee. In smaller cities, a writer hoping for a features position may have to start out writing obituaries and work their way up from there.

Editing and publishing careers are equally as cutthroat. One of the best places to start out on the path to an editing position is as a copy editor for a local newspaper. Copy editors deal strictly with spelling, grammar and mechanical issues, leaving content editing to content editors. If you are especially skilled at identifying grammatical and mechanical errors, look into work as a copy editor. Even if your ultimate goal is to work for a major publisher as a book editor, working as a copy editor is a good way to get your foot in the door.

English majors interested in writing or editing for a newspaper will want to take newspaper writing classes and probably get on their college news staff. This is primarily because the Associated Press (AP) style of writing is significantly different from the Modern Language Association (MLA) style of writing and an English major who is skilled in MLA writing but knows nothing of AP style will have a difficult time making the transition in the highly pressurized daily news atmosphere. If you are not interested in working for an AP style publication but are still looking to be an editor, saturating your college curriculum with grammar, syntax and composition classes will be tremendously helpful in your career.

Places to look for careers in the writing, editing, and publication career path include the National Directory of Weekly Newspapers, Newspapers Career Directory and the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media. Also general circulation magazines; trade, technical or professional magazines; targeted population magazines; television and radio stations; book publishers; and the Federal Government.

Advertising and Public Relations

One of the key aspects of a career in Public Relations is spin. English majors are terrific choices for positions in Public Relations because these positions require a quick and creative thinker who can also write well, since one part of the Public Relations career is writing press releases for local and national publications. And in the case of a Public Relations "disaster," the career requires a writer who can choose the proper words to make a bad situation look good, or at least, less bad.

Advertising also utilizes the English major's writing skills and talents, putting them to work creating advertisement copy, especially for advertisements were the copy is the only access the consumer has to the product (radio commercials are the best example of this area of advertising).

Mass communications or business courses in advertising and public relations are needed to qualify for these positions. They can be taken as electives but most English majors who want to become involved in the Madison Avenue lifestyle will harmonize their English major with a minor in mass communications or business (while most schools will place the advertising and public relations courses under the mass communications department, some schools may not have such a department or may have it focused in a different way, therefore the advertising and public relations classes may be under the business department).

Employers looking for English majors in their advertising or public relations offices include television and radio stations, magazines, newspapers, sports organizations, government (Federal, State and local) and hospitals.

Business Administration and Management

Communication is key in administration and management positions. This is why English majors are good in these positions. While an Master in Business Administration (MBA) graduate has learned the ins and outs of running a business, the English major is presumably far more skilled in the area of communication and can do the same job with only a few leveling courses in the legal aspects of business, courses which can, in most cases, be taken over a weekend at the local community college.

And communication is not the only way an English major is valuable in an administrative position. Through the four or five years an English major is in college he will have read millions of pages and all in relatively short periods of time. While it can sometimes take a casual reader two or three weeks, or longer depending on diligence, to finish a novel, the English major has been trained to read the same novel in a matter of only a couple of days. This comes in handy in an administrative position when called upon to read, and comprehend, memoranda, letters, training material, directives from higher offices. The administrator has to not only, quickly, read and understand all of this material but be able to relay it to his employees in a way that they will also understand.

Business administration and business law courses are essential for the English major to gain employment as a corporate administrator. Computer literacy is also advised, beyond the word processing skills that an English major has inevitably developed. Spreadsheet capability, hardware familiarity, and desktop publishing skills are attractive traits to add to your resume when seeking a business administrator position.

Employers seeking business administrators may include not-for-profit organizations, colleges and universities, government offices, and for-profit businesses.

Technical Writing

Finally we come to technical writing as a career path. Technical writers are often responsible for taking difficult to understand information and "translating" it into "laymen's terms." This may involve writing manuals, installation guides, film scripts, or any number of factual pieces. The other way a technical writer may take his career is to write technical material for professionals. A medical technical writer, for example, may be called upon to take the results of a medical study and compile them into a more accessible form or to write articles for medical journals concerning unusual cases or groups of similar cases.

Technical writers are trained in some area outside of the writing field. Any technical field, such as computer science, medicine, engineering or aeronautics, is good for complementing an English degree for someone who wants to be a technical writer.

Technical writers often work on contract basis although some are employed by large companies on a full-time basis. Such employers include natural resources and energy, construction, industrial materials, health care, financial institutions, and transportation and travel.

One question that I know is on everyone's mind is salary. How much will I get paid in each of these career paths? The numbers vary based on the size of company you work for, the area of the country (or world) you choose to work in and a variety of other factors but generally speaking, the technical writer makes the highest overall salary of between $35,000 and $54,000, depending on the company they are working for and how long they have been working for the company. A reporter for the New York Times, however, can average in the neighborhood of $69,000 ($1332, weekly) in the right department (the majority of newspaper reporters across the United States make half of that).

Teachers average the lowest annual salary, most public high school teachers starting at $19,000 and professors at public college earning up to $33,000, and of all areas of teaching public college professors make the highest salary, although the majority of teachers will tell anyone who asks that they never did it for the money.

So, now, when presented with, "So, you want to be a teacher," you can be armed with an answer that will satisfy you and, hopefully, your friends and family who are convinced teaching is the only option for an English major.

Published by D. Gabrielle Jensen

Audiophile, writer, friend, reader, sorority chick, card-carrying geek  View profile

  • Great Jobs for English Majors by Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert The National Directory of Weekly Newspapers Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media