Skills Developed with an English Degree
An English degree at Western prepares you for a wide variety of career options. Whether in the private or public sectors, employers are looking for people with the kinds of skills that an English major develops. Those skills include:
- reading critically
- summarizing and analyzing information
- interpreting discourse
- conducting research, both primary and secondary
- understanding audiences and other people’s perspectives
- responding creatively
- writing effectively in a variety of forms
- presenting information
- discerning problems and solutions across different systems
- employing storytelling strategies to solidify and change organizational messages
In other words, your ability to effectively understand, communicate and collaborate with others in the analysis and production of documentation, digital or otherwise, is your key competency.
Benefits of an English Degree in the Workplace
In survey after survey, employers consistently cite writing, communication skills, the ability to work independently, and adaptability as the most sought after skills. Whether the employer is a non-profit, a small business, corporation, or a government agency, they know they can teach you the job-specific skills you need. What they want and know they cannot teach is the broad cultural understanding and the analytical and communication skills you spend years developing at Western.
More and more employers are looking for people with the confidence, patience, and ability to design and communicate different kinds of material to multiple kinds of users and readers. That means English majors can play a crucial role in the construction of meaning, which is what our knowledge economy values and sells. In other words, most employers are convinced that ‘it’s not what you have or what you say; it’s how you say it and how you deliver it.’ Organizations, both for for-profit and for-purpose (or non-profit) believe this, and they need people who can help them build value and connect with customers and clients. What’s more, the ability to create, organize, reorganize, and analyze meaning is required of the careers considered knowledge-intensive (i.e. socia media coordinator, editor, videogame designer, teacher) and more traditional or ‘product-based’ careers (i.e. civil engineering, manufacturing, hardware development). Organizations know that technological skills are not only easy to teach, they are simply not enough. A glitch-free videogame is meaningless without compelling narratives and characters; a new and brilliant mobile app is only as valuable as users understand and perceive its abilities; a non-profit’s message is far more powerful if it is designed to spread from person to person rather than from organization to donor. English majors are often in a good position to help organizations create such useful, meaningful, compelling content.
As a result, the English major, in addition to preparing one for a career as a teacher or for entry into graduate or law school, can lead to a wide range of careers, including but not limited to:
- social media coordinator
- videogame plotting/design
- web content creator
- research analyst
- technical writer
- advertising copy writer public relations specialist
- user experience expert (UX)
- usability tester
- book buyer/seller
- web content developer/writer
- human resources manager
- market research analyst
- special events coordinator speech writer
- grant writer
- fundraising coordinator
- legislative assistant
Perhaps the best way to understand the array of opportunities for English majors is to look at what our alumni are doing by browsing any of our alumni newsletters.
If you’d like more information about careers for English majors, check out Western’s Career Services Center or explore any of the following:
- I’m an English Major. Now What? by Timothy Lemire
- Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career, by Sheila Curran
- Careers for Bookworks & Other Literary Types, by Majorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler
- For English Majors Blog
Things to do to Prepare for a Career
Visit the Career Services Center
The Career Services Center helps connect students, faculty and alumni with job and internship opportunities and provides counseling for career success. Students and alumni can register with Handshake.
English Job & Internship Opportunities from Handshake
The Department of English has partnered with the Career Services Center to showcase current job and internship announcements directed specifically to English majors and recent alumni. Check back often as Handshake is updated daily with new opportunities.
Develop a Specialty Area with a Minor
If you have a general idea of what kind of career you might like to pursue, choosing a related minor can make a difference. English majors have made good use of minors in writing studies, foreign languages, business administration, internet resource creation, journalism, political science, and others.
Interview an Alumnus
If you have an interest in a particular career, check with Western’s Alumni Association to see if they know of any English alums who have pursued similar careers. Set up an interview for advice. Through the Ask! Online Network, you can search for alumni mentors based on various career and academic fields. Start connecting today and build career-related relationships that will last beyond graduation!
Develop Your Computer Skills
Many English related jobs involve producing a wide variety of texts, including written, image, audio and visual media. Developing skills with writing, image, audio, and video software will prepare you for entry-level requirements for many careers.
Seek an Internship
Internships are good opportunities to gain experience in your field of interest. The English department offers writing internships with a wide range of local businesses and non-profits through its internship course ENG 461 Internships in English: Professional Identity offered every spring. Contact Nicole Brown for information.
Submit Your Work to and/or Be a Student Editor for Journals such as Jeopardy or Occam’s Razor.
If you are interested in editing and publishing, then get experience writing for or working with one of Western’s publications. Submissions are usually solicited in fall quarter, while editorial positions are typically advertised in the spring for the following year.
Create a Professional Social Network
Begin actively creating a professional social network. Consider joining Linkedin and begin cultivating contacts in your areas of interest.
Create a Professional Portfolio
For careers that involve producing media, employers will likely want to see examples of your work. Begin creating your own Professional Portfolio by saving your best work in various genres and media. Even if the sample work you collect isn’t directly related to a job for which you are applying, it can serve as an example of professional excellence that shows promise for the work you will be doing.
Attend a Job Fair
Job and Career Fairs are great opportunities to network, try out your resume, and practice your interviewing skills with recruiters. Western holds multiple Job Fairs every year.
Planning Ahead: Career Options After Graduation
Given the growing importance of writing and communication skills within the professions, the study of English is more valuable in today's workplace than it has ever been. Students may choose to enter a graduate program after graduation or seek immediate employment in a variety of jobs.
While the intellectual enrichment to be gained from graduate study is justification enough for the time devoted to it, many students enter graduate programs in language, writing, or literature as preparation for a career in post-secondary teaching. Most community colleges require a Master of Arts as the entry-level degree for teachers; four-year colleges and universities usually require that professors hold a PhD or MFA, depending on the teaching area.
Commonly Asked Questions
The following are some of the most commonly asked questions concerning applying to a graduate program.
You should begin to think about graduate school early in your junior year. Discuss your interest with your advisor as soon as possible, no later than Spring quarter. Write to the schools to which you might want to apply, requesting information about each school's programs and application forms for admission and financial aid. Information is usually free and the better informed you are, the better your opportunities will be.
There are many graduate programs in English, and they vary greatly in their level of competitiveness, but in general most graduate programs are more selective than undergraduate programs. Over the past five years or so, the size of undergraduate English programs has doubled nationwide (Western's major has increased from 280 to 600 majors since 1990), whereas graduate programs have not expanded because the job market cannot accommodate more graduates. As a result, it is increasingly difficult even for very good students to gain admission to graduate programs.
For example, Cornell University's 1995 information states that it accepts about 1 in 30 applicants. Large state universities are somewhat less competitive; the English Department at the University of Washington is accepting about 1 in 20 applicants. Although programs that offer the MA rather than the PhD tend to be much less competitive, most programs expect a minimum 3.3 overall GPA and a higher GPA in the major. A typical GPA for admission to most PhD programs is 3.8 or so. High Graduate Record Exam scores (80th percentile and above) are also expected.
No courses are specifically designed to help you gain admission to graduate school. However, ENG 417 (Senior Seminar) is intended to help prepare you for the more in-depth study and longer papers and projects usually associated with graduate programs in literature. It also may be helpful to pursue independent study in your area of interest in order to develop a well-researched and longer paper to use as a writing sample. Check with a teacher with whom you have worked in the past.
Most graduate programs in English require that you show proficiency in at least one foreign language before you enter graduate school, so one of the best ways to prepare for your application to graduate school is to maintain your skills in a foreign language. If you are not proficient in a foreign language, you should begin taking courses as early as possible. Many PhD programs in literary studies require competency in a second foreign language as well. If you plan to work in earlier periods of literary study (e.g., medieval or renaissance literature), you will be expected to read Latin as well as two modern languages. Graduate programs in comparative literature have even more rigorous foreign language requirements.
The Graduate Record Exam scores are very important; many admission committees look at these scores to decide how seriously to take your GPA, writing sample, and letters of recommendation into consideration. Although it varies from school to school whether GRE, GPA, or other parts of the application receive top priority, you can't second guess this and should assume the GRE scores will be important.
The GRE is similar to an aptitude exam: it is composed of sections on verbal, analytical, and quantitative abilities. The verbal score is the most important for application to English and creative writing programs, although many departments also consider the analytical score. It is difficult to "study" for the GRE general exam, but it is possible to improve your score by being informed about the nature of the questions. GRE provides an informative booklet available at the testing center; larger books published by commercial presses are also available from the bookstore for around $20. Many students have found these helpful as a means of becoming familiar with the nature and structure of the exam.
In addition, most PhD programs also require a special field examination in "Literatures in English." Be sure to determine whether or not the graduate programs of interest to you require this exam, because your application will not be considered if it is required and you do not provide a field score. The best way to prepare for this exam is to be well read in as many areas of literature as possible. In planning your class schedules, keep in mind that completing as many of the "core" courses in the major (especially those numbered 306-319) as early as possible will help because these courses provide a "survey" of literature and theory.
It is very important that you plan ahead. Since it takes about six weeks for the exam to be graded and for scores to be reported to graduate schools, in order to meet the deadline for most PhD programs, you will need to take the GRE in October of your senior year.
Since the deadline for applying to take the October GRE is usually in early September, you should make arrangements for the exam before leaving campus the previous Spring and no later than Summer quarter. If you plan to apply to an MA or MFA program, you can take the GRE as late as December; your application deadline will then be early November. You may register for the GRE examination at the University Testing Center, Old Main 120. It is now also possible to take the general exam by computer.
Although no graduate school is going to expect you to know exactly what area you will select as your specialization, most PhD programs want you to indicate your general areas of interest. Keep in mind that some schools are better in particular areas than in others; ask the professors who teach the courses which interest you most for their advice about the best programs in their areas. If your interest is general, ask you advisor to suggest programs that are strong in most areas of literature.
MFA programs will usually expect you to identify the genre in which you wish to specialize; again, to determine which schools would be best for you, ask your creative writing teachers. Most MA programs offer general degrees in English and American literatures, creative writing, composition, and so forth, and will want to know the general area in which you are interested. Quality of life, location, the opportunities for financial aid, and other considerations may also affect your choices.
If you are planning on literary studies and have not decided to stop at the MA, always apply to a PhD program. You aren't signing any contracts when you apply; you can always stop at the MA level, but it is more difficult to move from an MA program to a PhD program. If you wish to focus on creative writing, both the MFA and the PhD are considered terminal degrees and the same advice applies. It is usually easier to gain admission to MA programs, so you may wish to apply to a school that only offers the MA as an "insurance" back-up, even if your goal is admission to an MFA or PhD program.
Applications are not cheap; increasingly, graduate schools are charging fees of $50 and higher to process applications. However, since graduate school is a major stage in your education, do not limit yourself to one school, unless for some reason there are limits on where you can study (if you are tied to a particular location, for example). Consider applying to at least five schools: 1) Your "dream" school, the place you would most like to attend if all worked out; 2) three schools with very good English programs; and 3) a last choice, if you are not accepted to your other choices. If you can afford it, apply to an additional school in the last category, but never apply to a school which you wouldn't attend if accepted.
The English department at Western offers a strong MA and MFA program. Please contact Erica Dean-Crawford, the graduate program coordinator, for more information.
Although the department is proud of its graduate program, it recommends that you apply to other graduate programs, because in general it is wise not to take graduate work from the same department in which you completed your undergraduate degree. There may be reasons why continuing your study at Western is right for you (if you are unable to leave the Bellingham area, for example), but usually you should plan to attend graduate school elsewhere so that you can expand your experience and have the opportunity of taking classes from a new set of professors.
Most graduate schools only admit students at the beginning of the Fall term. If you are applying for PhD programs, most deadlines are between January 15 and March 1 for the following Fall. MA and MFA programs usually have later deadlines, but most require applications by April 15.
Most graduate applications require the following: 1) Completion of an application form; 2) Transcript of undergraduate courses to date; 3) GRE scores; 4) Writing sample; 5) Personal statement; and 6) Letters of recommendation.
The writing sample should be the best paper you've ever written. Most graduate programs in literature will expect a critical research paper that reflects your ability to interpret literature based upon your critical insights and your understanding and synthesis of the ideas of others. The paper should, therefore, use library research and should include endnotes and bibliography, following MLA Style. Needless to say, the paper should be well organized, thoughtful and interesting, and free of awkward syntax, poor grammar, and spelling and typographical errors.
If you are applying to a creative writing program, submit the best work you have written in the genre in which you wish to concentrate. You may wish to consult with your creative writing teachers for help in making this selection. Again, quality of presentation is very important, so, if necessary, retype your paper.
In writing the personal statement put yourself in the position of your audience, a member of the admissions committee. You want to show the reader that you are smart, talented, and serious about graduate school, but not conceited. This is not a time for false modesty, but neither do you want to sound over-confident. The personal statement is the only way the admissions committee will get to know you as a person. Don't go out of your way to be different merely for the sake of being different, but don't feel you have to be very traditional in your approach; let your personality show. Before submitting your statement, be sure to show it to a fair, yet critical reader; a professor or friend who will be honest with you and give you good advice.
Most schools require at least two and often three letters of recommendation. Ask professors who know your work well, preferably those from whom you earned A's and those with whom you have worked recently. If the professor seems reluctant to write for you, take this as a polite "no" and ask someone else. If possible, ask a professor who concentrates in the area in which you wish to pursue graduate work (renaissance lit, minority lit, fiction writing, etc.), who is a graduate of the program to which you are applying, or who knows members of the department to which you are applying. Always be considerate and give your professors time to write on your behalf; generally, ask them no later than Thanksgiving. For each person who is writing on your behalf, do the following:
1. Make a list of the schools, deadlines, and type of letter that is required.
2. Organize all the forms. Be sure to fill in all the parts you are to fill in and sign the part about your right to read the letter (it always looks better if you waive the right).
3. Paper-clip each form to the type of envelope required by the graduate program. If the program does not provide envelopes, address the envelopes yourself.
4. Provide a paper or exam from one of your classes with the professor so that the letter will be specific to your work.
5. Provide a copy of your personal statement.
6. Put everything into a large envelope so that the professor won't be forced to keep track of separate bits and pieces.
First, don't get discouraged; remember that graduate schools are very competitive and many very good students are not accepted, at least not on their first try. Second, think seriously about your commitment to graduate school: is it very important to you? are there other ways to meet your goals? If you wish to try again, then, consider retaking the GRE exams; improving your scores, especially on the literature field test, is probably the best way to improve your chances for admission to a graduate program.
You may find it advantageous to spend a year or so reading widely to help you on the Literatures in English exam. Ask a friend or teacher to take a look again at your personal statement and writing sample to see if these can be improved. Finally, apply to less competitive programs, but, again, only to programs that are solid. Receiving a degree from a poor program will complicate your ability to find employment in an extremely competitive job market.
A variety of job options are available for those with an English major.
In current usage, the "humanities" include English language and literature, other modern languages and their literatures, linguistics, history (including the history of art and music), classical languages and literature, and philosophy. Look back over your courses and seminars, to analyze them and abstract from them not what authors you "covered" or what historical period you become at home in, but what kinds of intellectual functions you learned to perform.
An English degree helps to prepare you for a number of careers. You will find that both the public and private sectors hire liberal arts majors, especially those with the ability to write well, to communicate effectively, to think critically and to organize/design information. Western's English majors, especially those with technical writing experience, are employed in editing, writing, marketing, sales, training and management positions at a host of companies and government agencies throughout the state and beyond. In the last decade, English graduates have been creating careers (and companies) in new media and high technology as technical writers, editors, project managers, information designers, and consultants. English majors work in publishing, broadcast media, journalism, and management for large and small companies. English majors are entrepreneurs.
The last decade has seen a tremendous growth in new medias and technologies. The confluence of computers, networks, software, and the internet has resulted in a proliferation of information and a host of new, job opportunities for individuals to support, drive, and analyze these new fields.
Your advisor has copies of the book Aside from Teaching English, What in the World Can You Do? by Dorothy K. Bestor, which you may borrow. This handy book will help you explore possibilities in a wide range of areas.
Of course not everyone studying literature, history, or philosophy will gain exactly the same capabilities from them; differences in students' temperament and variations in emphasis from one instructor to another will lead some students to graduate from humanistic programs with highly developed writing skills while others will tend to be best at critical analysis or original research. Nonetheless, on thinking over the work you did as an undergraduate major in one of the humanities disciplines, you will probably find that you developed, or at least were encouraged to develop, most of the capabilities listed below. Some of them are fairly specific and measurable; some are broader and less tangible habits of the mind. In any case, however one wants to label them, there are certain abilities that majors in English and other humanities disciplines presumably have developed:
- You've learned to read carefully and thoughtfully, paying close attention to words, their exact meanings, and to their connotations.
- You've learned to respond to, and to formulate and defend your responses to, what you read and what you experience.
- You've learned how to use a library, both to find reference information quickly and to use a wide range of sources for research. Once you find the information you need, you can analyze it and compare contradictory pieces of evidence. You don't uncritically seize upon the first set of facts you find in print. Having dug out the information you're looking for, you can organize it so that it can shed light upon a problem.
- Your wide experiences should have led you to an awareness of alternative interpretations and solutions to problems.
- Through the study of literature and history, you have learned to empathize with the feelings, aspirations, and limitations of persons drastically different from yourself. Although it would be impossible to document a specific carryover, it seems likely that the more you come to identify with a wide range of characters through your reading the more you develop the habit of trying to understand rather than judge the people you meet in everyday life.
- As a humanities major, you have learned or are in the process of learning to write clearly and interestingly about your ideas, findings, and conclusions.
- Through your varied reading you should have developed a sensitivity to your audience and their needs.
- You have learned to revise your papers into final form, working under pressure all the while.
- Finally, you may have learned to oral presentations of your idea in a class, a small seminar group, or a one-to-one conference.
Yes, please use the resources available to you through Western's Career Services Center, Old Main 280
If you are planning to teach, consult the Educational Division of the Career Planning and Placement Center. If you plan a career other than teaching, consult the Business, Industry, and Government Division of the Placement Center and regularly review their listings of available job opportunities.
Attend job search workshops as early as your junior year. Learn how to research companies, promote your skills and experience, and identify the hidden job market. The Career Services Center offers several workshops throughout each quarter to help students with every topic you can think of:
- Job search strategies
- Resume writing
- Cover letter writing
- Interviewing techniques
- Developing an internship
- Getting into graduate school
Yes, we recommend attending one of the several career fairs and other events that are offered throughout the year to help students and alumni research employers and job opportunities. Check the special events schedule to see what events are scheduled for this quarter.
During your senior year, register with the Career Services Center to take full advantage of job search services, including on-campus interviews and the candidate referral program.
We also participating in on-campus recruiting. Business, industry and government organizations recruit during fall, winter, and spring quarters. School districts recruit primarily during winter and spring quarters.
Yes, internships and volunteer community service positions offer an excellent opportunity to explore career options and gain practical experience. Students learn a variety of skills through direct participation in professional settings. Internships also offer a way to build your resume, provide contacts for future employment referrals and enhance prospects for employment after graduation.
A wide variety of internship opportunities are available throughout Whatcom and Skagit Counties. While some internships are paid positions, many are unpaid. Others offer small stipends rather than a salary.
Consult the department's main office for internship and/or employment announcements.
- Tell everyone you know that you are actively looking for a job
- Contact agencies, companies or organizations you would like to work for and see if they're hiring
- Check with the state employment opportunity office
- Apply for internships
- Read trade publications, such as the Seattle Business Journal or the Bellingham Business Journal
- Check with alumni and former classmates for tips on openings they know about
- Talk with parents and others about job possibilities in their companies
- Check local newspaper classified ads, especially on Sunday. Examples: The Bellingham Herald; The Seattle Times/PI.
- Call employment/temporary placement agencies
- Check the internet for job posting web sites, corporate web sites, employment directories, technical writing resources, and career fair directories.
- Monster.com [job network]
- SeattleJobs.org (a high-tech. job network)
- Additional resources for job search