When English majors are asked what they’re majoring in, these questions inevitably come up: “What are you going to do with an English degree? Does that mean you want to be a novelist? Where’s the money in that?” However, a lack of financial stability may not be so debilitating after all, and while some English majors may take the publishing route, this is not their only post-college option. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for English-degree holders.
The number of English majors nationally is down 25.5%, a figure on the rise since 2008. As students turn away from the humanities, more and more are entering popular fields like computer science and engineering. There is unsupported post-grad fear attached to fields such as English or literature. Humanities majors question their post-college careers and whether they can support themselves. Should they take such a large risk when there are more stable majors leading to lucrative careers?
Interestingly, the National Center for Education Statistics found in 2017 that unemployment was actually lower among 25- to 29-year-old English majors than it was for math and computer science majors. And although pay inequality exists between STEM majors and humanities majors upon graduation, pay evens out with time. By middle age, the pay is fairly equal across degrees, with those in the humanities field given greater opportunities to earn leadership positions.
On a broader level, it’s important to realize why humanities majors are so vital. After all, English majors aren’t just trained to write novels. They’re storytellers. They’re taught to think critically and carefully, to analyze human behavior and make sense of it. They are clear communicators, intelligent contributors and problem solvers. And this kind of storytelling — making sense of data and finding creative ways of presenting complex information — requires the kind of skills needed not only for humanities careers but for many fields.
For instance, in Australia, bankers and economists are looking to writers to tell the story of inflation. They want to better connect with the public through what they call “narrative economics.” Speechwriters are called upon to create stories that help executives, administrators and politicians deliver relatable and affecting remarks. Scientists need writers to interpret their findings and present them with clarity and precision. Marketing is all about crafting the story of a particular brand or business. Media and film allow storytellers to create rich and complex narratives audiences will identify with.
With a growing need for storytellers, what better time to study English than now, and what better place than here? The Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the largest school at USC, encompassing nearly 40% of the class of 2023. Dornsife boasts a thriving English program, offering emphases in literature and creative writing.
No matter the route, English majors at USC have the great pleasure of taking courses spanning medieval to the modern, poetry to creative nonfiction, with professors who are deeply invested in students’ progress as writers and thinkers. With small classes that build a collaborative and interactive atmosphere, the English major allows students to learn from distinguished faculty as well as participate directly in complex discussions and pose questions of ethics, morality and identity.
The program feels like a true cohort, a group of curious and driven students who go through classes together, getting to know each other’s work, critiquing and bettering their writing and learning how to apply what they have learned. As the USC English department puts it, “Job skills through stories? — yes.”
Though an English or a humanities major may not present the clearest path to success or the surest way to a career, this is equally as beautiful. There is joy in knowing the world is at our fingertips. The next time someone inquires about your major or implies you have taken a wrong turn, convince them otherwise. Show them the data. Better yet, tell them a story.