What Can I Do With an English Degree?

So, now what? You’re hurtling towards graduation, having followed your heart’s desire to major in English.

But when faced with the prospect of competing in the outside world for jobs against business school graduates or communications majors, it may seem daunting.

You may have to postpone your plan to write the great American novel in favor of seeking gainful employment. Somehow, some way you’ve got to put food in your mouth — preferably without losing your soul.

Back to the original question: so, now what?

english-degree

The answer: almost anything you want to do can be accomplished with an English degree in hand.

Of course, you might need to build up some new skills or take intermediate steps before getting on your ideal career path.

But don’t worry, we’re going to show you step-by-step how to turn that degree into a reliable paycheck — even if it’s only while you finish your novel.

Consider just a few of your predecessors who also majored in English:

  • Astronaut Sally Ride
  • Former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner
  • Business titan and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney
  • Actors Emma Watson and James Franco

See? It can be done!

How to Use This Article

We’re going to focus on getting you started towards a job you love, with specific steps to take:

  1. Step 1: Identify Your Talents – Start by identifying the skills you gained with your English degree which you most enjoy using.
  2. Step 2: Step 2: Pick Industries You’d Like – Narrow down the types of companies you’d enjoy working for.
  3. Step 3: Job Plans – Scan down our job plans to find the careers that best fit with your talents and preferred industries.
  4. Step 4: Non-Obvious Job Plans – Lastly, consider thinking outside of the norm. We’ve inspired you with a list of careers that might not be obvious to English majors at first glance.

Step 1: Identify Your Talents

First, let’s take a brief look at the skills every English major brings to the dance.

To get your English degree, whether you realized it or not, you had to demonstrate most of the skills on the list below. What’s more, you’ve probably specialized in certain skills on this list while pursuing your career, finding some things more enjoyable than others.

You might also have added other talents pursuing a minor or undergraduate requirements. For example, you might have hated critiquing English lit classics, but what if you applied that same analytical skill towards something more interesting to you — like law? Or critiquing clinical medical research?

Check the boxes on this list next to your strongest skills or the ones you enjoy using most.

Communication

communicationThe first thing most people think about English majors is that they must write well. Of course, that’s true, since majoring in English requires you to study classic literature and critique it. But communication skills go way beyond correct spelling and grammar.

Communication is also about clarity and detail, knowing how to reach different audiences, and applying persuasive techniques to bring other people to your point of view.

Use the checkboxes to mark your communication strengths:

  • □ Write clearly and succinctly, using correct spelling and grammar.
  • □ Tailor spoken or written communication to the audience you’re addressing — whether they’re scholars or children — including appropriate levels of jargon, slang, and complexity.
  • □ Simplify complex processes and ideas to make them easier to understand.
  • □ Write research papers.
  • □ Explain concepts and strategies in a persuasive manner.
  • □ Understand how stories work and create them yourself.
  • □ Understand what makes people tick through developing fictional characters.
  • □ Provide insights from opposing points of view.

Analysis

analysis-iconPeople tend to equate analysis with statistics and science but they often don’t realize that analysis happens in all types of fields. In fact, sometimes analyzing communication is the hardest type of analysis of all.

Having analytical skills means that you can look at large patterns and distill them into understandable chunks. It also means looking at small details and being able to project them larger over time or space.

Check off your analysis strengths:

  • □ Absorb a large quantity of information and discern meaning from its content and context.
  • □ Summarize large or complex texts.
  • □ Compose an argument or defend a position to support your conclusions.
  • □ “Read between the lines” to get to the heart of an argument.

Research

research-iconResearch may sound about as dry as looking for a book at the library. However, the ability to find information, read it critically, discern its value (or lack thereof), and apply it is highly valuable in any profession.

Having analytical skills means that you can look at large patterns and distill them into understandable chunks. It also means looking at small details and being able to project them larger over time or space.

Check off your research strengths:

  • □ Gather information, using primary and secondary sources.
  • □ Evaluate the importance and relevance of research sources.
  • □ Handle all the details involved in gathering both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • □ Interpret the data gathered.
  • □ Fold your research findings into a coherent report that tells a story about the topic.

Critical Thinking

critical-thinkingIt only takes a glance at today’s news headlines to understand that critical thinking is a rare skill. An English major’s experience critiquing literary works provides them with tools to evaluate, critique, and solve problems that may not be as easy for their colleagues with business majors.

Check off your critical thinking strengths:

  • □ Assess unfamiliar materials and create new ideas from them.
  • □ Read and analyze information from opposing points of view.
  • □ Use a creative approach to problem-solving.
  • □ Apply logic and identify fallacies.
  • □ Synthesize concepts.
  • □ Question and verify information.

Step 2: Pick Industries You’d Like

When you imagine your ideal workday, in which environment do you see yourself? Knowing which industries you prefer can help you narrow down the the job titles in the following section.

top-10-fortune-500

The Fortune 500 list ranks the most successful corporations.

Corporate

  • Human resources — hiring, helping employees, training
  • Marketing, sales, and advertising — creative or analytical, using persuasion to meet goals
  • Public relations — writing press releases, answering press requests, being in the spotlight
  • Publishing
  • Financial institutions.

Entertainment

  • Media companies
  • Actors, directors, producers, on-air talent
  • Video game companies
  • Screenwriters.

Education

  • Libraries — helping people find good books and information
  • Grammar school, high school, vocational, and higher education — teaching and preparing lesson plans
  • Boards of education — oversee educational plans for school districts and colleges.

Public Sector

  • Government jobs and elected offices
  • Courts
  • Law enforcement
  • Emergency services like fire departments
  • Translation for foreign diplomats.

Nonprofits

  • Museums of all kinds

  • Not-for-profit enterprises like charities
  • Performing arts like orchestras and theater groups.

Entrepreneurial Ventures

  • Consulting, freelance, or gig-based contracting
  • Author, editor (traditional or independent publishing).

Research

  • Linguistics and translation
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Make Your Own Additions

Perhaps an industry you’re familiar with isn’t on this list? Know a friend in a fun or challenging work environment? It doesn’t matter if your friend isn’t an English major. Brainstorm all the ideas you’ve seen or read about and use them in the following sections.

Step 3: Job Plans

Here’s where your ideas come into better focus. You know what you’re good at and the skills you enjoy using. You know what departments, industries, and types of companies you’d like to work for. The time has come to look at some actual job titles and what it would take for an English major like you to land one of these jobs.

Here’s an explainer for our list:

  • Talent Category: we’ve grouped together jobs by talent category, like the ones you checked in Step 1. We’ve identified a primary talent and a secondary talent for each job.
  • Median pay: Occupational Outlook Handbook’s pay survey results. Half the jobholders in this position earned more than the median pay and half earned less. Most of these salaries are weighted towards people who’ve been in the specialty for a while. Entry-level positions will command much lower salaries. Keep in mind that the pay rate will be highly dependent upon both your experience and your geographic location.
  • Industry: These industries align with the examples in Step 2.
  • Plan: Our job plans show you what steps you need to take to achieve the positions you’re interested in.

This list is grouped by Talents. Then, scan the job titles for your preferred industries. There you’ll find recommendations for additional skills needed, if any. Obviously, it could be argued that none of these jobs comes down to just one set of talents. However, we’ve focused on jobs that have a significant portion of duties relating to your degree that also use your strengths.

Also, no list of jobs is comprehensive — not even the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job titles below are designed to help you brainstorm jobs you would enjoy and could support you paying the rent and groceries.

Jobs Requiring Analysis Talents

Human Resources Specialist

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: $59,180 per year
  • Job plan: psychology and basic business classes are good to take if you’re still in college. You can also obtain experience relevant to conflict resolution by working as a customer service representative, and resource management as an executive assistant. Consider earning a certificate from a human resource management professionals organization. Human resources jobs require good communication skills, attention to detail, and decision-making skills.
computer-code

For English majors, computer code is just another language.

Business or Computer Systems Analyst

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: $87,220 per year
  • Job plan: if you’ve got experience in computers and tech alongside your English degree, you can work as an intermediary between the IT department and other business departments. Your English degree proves you’ve already mastered the most important talents required by the position: analytical, communication, and creativity.

Project Manager

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: varies widely
  • Job plan: project managers can work in a variety of corporate departments including IT, finance, human resources, and operations. They’re generally responsible for scheduling, planning, budgeting, and team leadership across an organization to shepherd large-scale projects. The good news is that experience in any department can lead to a project management role. You can also consider getting a project management certification.

Policy Analyst

  • Industry: public sector
  • Median pay: approximately $55,000 per year
  • Job plan: government experience, particularly relating to public policies, regulations, and laws, can dovetail nicely with your English degree skills. Political science studies can add to your knowledge base and networking with people in the public sector like politicians, judges, and lawmakers is critical. In some cases, you might need to qualify for a security clearance.

Marketing, SEO, and PPC Specialists

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: varies widely
  • Job plan: in marketing, “specialists” of any type are considered entry-level positions, including product managers, marketing analysis, Pay-Per-Click (PPC), and events managers. These positions are essentially apprenticeships for higher level marketing positions. All the skills you learned with your English degree will serve you well in many marketing roles. You can also take classes in Search Engine Marketing/Optimization (many are free) to enhance your resume.

Jobs Requiring Critical Thinking Talents

Academic Advisors, Career Counselors

  • Industry: education
  • Median pay: $54,560 per year
  • Job plan: getting experience in a school or other educational setting is critical for this career path. Psychology and counseling classes are also important, Some English majors can consider getting a substitute teacher’s credential in order to gain the necessary classroom experience this job requires.
roger-ebert

Renowned movie critic Roger Ebert had a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and pursued a PhD. in English.

Movie or Book Critic

  • Industry: entrepreneurial
  • Median pay: varies widely
  • Job plan: by analyzing the literature you’ve studied, you’ve probably already got a background compatible with being a film or movie critic. As with many entrepreneurial careers, however, you’re likely going to need to do a lot of work for free to build up a following at first. A great case study is the Youtube star who’s behind Movies with Mikey. Our best advice is to get yourself out there, publish as often as possible, and work social media like a beast. Attending conventions where film or book personalities are present can help you gain connections. You can also read Roger Ebert’s career advice — keeping in mind that his popularity came well before the internet.

Film Editor

  • Industry: entertainment
  • Median pay: $59,040 per year
  • Job plan: hands-on with filmmaking is a critical addition to your solid knowledge about how communication works and your ability to create stories from disparate source material. Networking is important too. As with many other industries, who you know can be just as important as what you know, so work to make connections with others in the film industry. You can also promote yourself online via social media — such as setting up a Youtube/Vimeo channel, or working on Instagram shorts.

Law Enforcement

  • Industry: public sector
  • Median pay: $61,600 per year
  • Job plan: while your English degree may not seem immediately relevant to a law enforcement career, further inspection will reveal that almost all protective services occupations require extensive communication and critical-thinking skills. Most law enforcement careers require training at their respective academies. Police have local academies; detectives usually move up from beat cop positions; and federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI, DEA, and CIA require training at their specialized facilities. We can’t provide an exact roadmap for law enforcement careers, but we want you to take a second look at these careers if you think you’re unqualified because of your degree.

Jobs Requiring Research Talents

Archivist or Researcher

  • Industry: research
  • Median pay: $47,230 per year
  • Job plan: if you have your heart set on becoming an archivist, you’ll probably need to pursue an advanced degree (master’s or doctorate) in the field in which you’d like to work: history, library science, political science, or public administration. You should also volunteer or work as an intern in related positions and brush up on your database skills.
usc-norris-cancer-library

Some librarians help in the fight to cure cancer.

Corporate, Educational, or Media Librarian

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: $57,680 per year
  • Job plan: becoming a librarian used to mean either working at a school or a public library. Nowadays, however, most large corporations also employ librarians to track the company’s history, its investment performance, provide intranet services to its employees or investors, and catalog all manner of corporate keepsakes. You should also try for internships and volunteer positions that add to your experience. Ultimately, however, it’s best to get a master’s degree in Library Science to nab one of these jobs — and be aware, the competition for employment in this small niche is intense.

Market Research or Competitive Research

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: $62,560 per year
  • Job plan: you’ll also need your analytical, communication, and critical thinking skills to excel at this career. You can start in any marketing position and make it clear that you want to gain experience to advance as a marketing researcher. You can also apply for a Professional Researcher Certification. To earn top pay, you may need to get a master’s degree or the equivalent experience.

Historical Interpreter

  • Industry: public sector
  • Median pay: $55,110 per year
  • Job plan: your English degree will serve you well in a position like Historical Interpreter that take advantage of your research and communication talents. However, you’ll probably need to add on a master’s or a doctorate degree in History to specialize in this type of work. You should also look for volunteer positions and internships.

Jobs Requiring Communication Talents

The list of jobs requiring exceptional communication is practically limitless. Our job plans below focus on careers that aren’t obviously connected to your English degree but for which your excellent communication background makes you a great candidate. So, we’ve skipped jobs like Journalist, Author, and Editor, in favor of some less-obvious positions.

ces-2017

Consumer Electronics Show 2017 was organized by events planners.

Event Planner

  • Industry: corporate
  • Median pay: $47,350 per year
  • Job plan: there are a lot of ways you can become an event planner. If you love to throw lavish, large parties or if you helped your three best friends plan their weddings, then you’ve already got experience in this field. To take the next step for a corporate career, you can break in at the entry level in Marketing as a Specialist, or you can get a credential from the Convention Industry Council.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher

  • Industry: education
  • Median pay: $50,650 per year
  • Job plan: adult literacy jobs can be highly rewarding by enabling students to become better, more informed citizens in their community. Teaching ESL requires a master’s or a graduate certification in the special challenges teaching English to non-native speakers requires. Your local library will have more information and may even be able to help you start tutoring adults on a volunteer basis.

Sign Language Interpreter

  • Industry: entrepreneurial
  • Median pay: $46,120 per year
  • Job plan: if you’re not already fluent in sign language, you’ve got an uphill climb. However, if learning languages comes easy to you or if you grew up in a household where sign language was used, you can take classes towards becoming an interpreter. Over 15 million people in the US speak sign language — more than the entire population of the state of Illinois. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has information to help get you started.
american-sign-language

American Sign Language is spoken by over 15 million people in the US.

Fundraiser

  • Industry: nonprofit or public sector
  • Median pay: $54,130 per year
  • Job plan: your persuasive skills are your best foot forward to becoming a fundraiser. Whether it’s for a nonprofit or a political campaign, you’ll likely need a lot of volunteer and intern work before you can apply for a paid position. However, the good news is that this field is dominated by English majors so your sales pitch is your resume.

Foreign Service Worker

  • Industry: public sector
  • Median pay: based on government pay grades
  • Job plan: if you love to travel, working in the Foreign Service for the US government carries perks beyond salary, including healthcare and housing. These careers are based on specialty categories. The categories best suited for English majors include Administration, Facility Management, English Language Programs, and International Information. The Department of State has a comprehensive career guide online.

Step 4: Non-Obvious Job Plans

One of the best things about being an English major is that you’ve had experience with other people’s lives thanks to the literature you’ve studied. So, model yourself after your heroes. Don’t have a hero? Find one! Alive or dead, either way. But if alive, social media gives you an unprecedented chance to get advice directly from the people you admire. Sometimes a mentor can show you a career path you’d otherwise never have considered.

Astronaut

You may not realize that Astronaut Sally Ride got a BA in English. Of course, she also double-majored in physics, and then went on to get a master’s and a doctorate in physics, too. She became the first female US Astronaut after answering an ad in Stanford’s student newspaper.

sally-ride

One of Astronaut Sally Ride’s degrees was a B.A. in English.

 

Law School

Mario Cuomo, former New York governor, majored in English when he graduated in 1953. Although he played some minor league baseball, he went on to graduate with a law degree from his alma mater in 1956.

mario-cuomo

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s undergraduate degree was English. He then went on to law school.

 

Medical School

Hold onto your graduation cap because Mount Sinai, one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country, is trying to recruit English majors for medical school. Their recruitment drive is aiming for more Humanities students because they make for better problem-solvers.

mt-sinai-med-school

Mount Sinai Medical School’s website.

 

Technology

Technology startups are drawing on talent from English majors, too. In fact, English is the third highest-represented non-computer degree in tech startups. In combination, Liberal Arts degrees account for almost double the number of jobs in startups that are taken by tech graduates.

jack-ma

Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, majored in English and is now worth about $30 billion.

 

Career Resources for High Schoolers

If you’re reading this and you’re still in high school — congratulations! Thinking ahead about the kind of life and career you’d like is a key stepping stone on the path to success. Here are some websites that have additional advice for pre-graduation high school students.

Summary

Most people will tell you to abandon all hope of a good salary from an English degree. They’re probably thinking of starving novelists or substitute teachers. However, you’ll have the last laugh on those doubters because English degrees run the gamut — just like most other degrees do. But unlike most other majors, an English degree can point you in almost any direction your heart desires. Let us know if you’ve got an English degree and a unique job!

Sources


Screenshots courtesy of the author. Code by Michael Himbeault is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert by Will Perkins is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and was cropped for content. CES 2017 show floor courtesy of Consumer Technology AssociationPatrica’s natural ASL conservation by daveynin is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Statement by the President on the Passing of Sally Ride by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Mario Cuomo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York is licensed under CC by 2.0 and was cropped for content. Jack Ma, by World Economic Forum is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Natalie has been blogging since before the word “blog” existed. Her work has been published on Engadget, Laptopmag.com, Tom’s Guide, and About.com. She lives in Southern California with her husband, their feline-American children, and a banjo.