Employment Prospects for English Majors

There seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around about the employment prospects for English Majors. However, a series of recent articles (see earlier posts) have been intent on countering that misinformation with actual data. The excerpt below is from an article by Robert Matz, posted on the Inside Higher Ed website. In article, Matz addresses radio star Garrison Keiller: “After yet another joke on ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ about an English major who studies Dickens and ends up at a fast-food restaurant frying chickens, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to write.”

The article continues:

The truth, however, is that reports of the deadliness of English to a successful career are greatly exaggerated. According to one major study produced by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the median income for English majors with a bachelor’s but no additional degree is $48,000. This figure is just slightly lower than that for bachelor’s degree holders in biology ($50,000), and slightly higher than for those in molecular biology or physiology (both $45,000). It’s the same for students who received their bachelor’s in public policy or criminology (both $48,000), slightly lower than for those who received their bachelor’s in criminal justice and fire protection ($50,000) and slightly higher than for those who received it in psychology ($45,000).

Another study by the same center paints a similar picture with respect to unemployment. In this study, the average unemployment rate for recent B.A. holders (ages 22-26) over the years 2009-10 was 8.9 percent; for English it was 9.2 percent. Both rates are higher than we would wish, but their marginal difference is dwarfed by that between the average for holders of the B.A. and that of high school graduates, whose unemployment rate during the same period was 22.9 percent (also too high).

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  1. I just wanted to chime-in (although I think I still have full posting privileges?). Indeed, for those who are daunted by the looming debt and required stamina (esp. of PhD programs) of graduate school, there are plenty of opportunities. I’ve been working in what might loosely be called ‘GLBT politics’ for the past year. This kind of work demands people who can visualize structure(s), think both long- and short-term, communicate effectively, and work through the contours of differing points of view. I think we’ve all grappled with how to lay-out a piece of writing, dealt with responding to a piece while also thinking about that research paper, and been forced to account for two critics who both seem to be right in their own way. As for communicating effectively: I moved into a senior staff (and salaried…yay!) position quickly in part because I was able to read, comprehend, and make decisions based on information from a variety of sources (spreadsheets, news articles, political messaging/branding) –and this is something I was told! So…buh! to all the silly people who say the skills of an English major aren’t quantifiable.

    What else can you do? Well, if you decide to work after graduation, I think there are some strategic ways to make yourself a better candidate for a graduate school and perhaps find a better job: volunteer and make a schedule. Volunteering is always a great inroads to a community organization. You meet tons of new people (read: connections!) and could even find yourself helping to write a organization’s mission statement.

    Making a schedule is also essential (at least for me, but I’m a strong advocate). Some people will start to feel stuck. (Just read Thought Catalog and realize it’s a symptom of all of us in our 20s.) I’m currently taking a month-ish off before starting a new job and I’ve blocked out my day to practice my Spanish, watch a TED talk every morning, do yoga, and cook. (See Stefan Sagmeister’s talk on organizing free time; he takes a year off every seven years and he concludes that it leads to increased productivity at his design firm.) Not everyone will have as much free time, but I think that meeting clear goals (like FINALLY finishing “Infinite Jest”) is a way to relieve that tedium that comes out of day-to-day life.

    So much more to say…maybe this will become a longer post.

  2. Michael K. Johnson

     /  May 31, 2013

    You’re still listed as an authorized user (as hmgold), but your username is associated with your UMF email address (which I assume is no longer active). I can send you a new invitation to another email address if you like, as I think your comment should be its own post to make it more visible.

    Good luck with “Infinite Jest”!


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