What can be done with an English Degree?

My son is in his fourth year of his Bachelor of Arts, Honours English Specialist program. I don’t think it’s come so much as a revelation to him, as a pending “harsh reality” that his degree isn’t all that marketable.

When he began his program of study he wasn’t looking too far into the future. He loved literature and reading and philosophy, etc., so it seemed like a good fit. And frankly I was so thankful that he pursued post-secondary studies, rather than becoming the vagabond he threatened, that I didn’t ‘steer’ his decision at all. But alas, he will graduate and go out into the world and do . . . what?

Of course he can continue and get a Masters, or return and get a second (more useful?) degree - or continue to teacher’s college, but if he were to stop right now (as he’d like) what industry/occupation values an English degree? Is there an area that he could target for future interesting work?

analyst for an investment firm such as Goldman Sachs. Or more likely, a job in the research department editing the drivel put out by an analyst into something resembling English. Can pay well.

There are plenty of fields where the mere fact of having a degree is more important than the subject. So perhaps he’s not doomed to vagrancy yet.

My English degree led me, via a roundabout route, into IT. My literacy was welcomed when it came to writing reports and specifications - too many people in IT have difficulty stringing a sentence together.

Of course, I had difficulty stringing a program together, which is why someone else did most of that and I wrote the reports. Putting technical concepts into laypersons’ terms is a useful skill.

The guys writing corporate courses for a US company I used to work for (my work included reviewing courses) had degrees in English, Teaching or Journalism.

Well, your son could move to Avenue Q…

But seriously, professional writing encompasses a number of disciplines from which your son could make a living. There’s technical writing, journalism, web writing, editing, copy editing, marketing writing, and other varieties of language professions. A guidance counselor can help, as can groups such as the Society for Technical Communication. Take it from me, I’ve got an English degree and a good job despite my parents’ fears that I’d turn into a shiftless ne’er do well. :slight_smile:

The musical Avenue Q asks the age-old question What do you do with a B.A. in English? (Youtube Video)

Back about 40 years ago I got an honours degree in English. After sampling various career options, including working as a cleaner in a steelworks, I finished up as a librarian.

But, having said that, there are not enough librarians with specialties outside the humanities such as English and history. I did well in my career partly because I have interests outside English, including university-level study in mathematics and in legal studies.

He can get a job as a tech writer, and spend his days posting to the SDMB.

Really, millions of words are published every day – on Web sites, in manuals, magazines, newspapers, press releases, corporate reports, RFP responses, contracts, data sheets, marketing bumpf, etc. Most of the people who have the information for these things don’t write very well and need your son’s help. He just has to find his niche.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. He can find his niche and really push hard to get ahead, if he wants. Experienced writers tend to be focused, organized, logical and consistent, qualities that are in short supply in many business fields, especially IT.

Financial institutions often welcome people with degrees in English and other liberal arts. They can write. They can think critically and creatively. They can analyze information. My partner, who is a VP of operations at a major international bank, is a case in point. She later got a masters degree in information science (which really didn’t turn out to be that useful), but it was the lowly bachelors in English that got her in the door. Her career is going just as well as colleagues with degrees in supposedly more “practical” fields like business and finance.

Heck, I have a degree in musicology (essentially music history) – another “fluffy” liberal arts degree – and have a good job in the mortgage industry based on my considerable research and writing experience.

Another vote for technical writing. There’s an awful lot of horrifying technical information out there that needs to be written down and, quite often, the people with all the technical knowledge lack the time, inclination, and/or ability to do the writing. No, it isn’t glamorous at all, but someone is always churning out something that needs proper documentation.

Alternatively, he could do what my friend with a BA in English did and fall back on his engineering degree. Your son has an engineering degree, doesn’t he?.. :wink:

What does he want to be when he grows up? As long as it isn’t something that requires a specific degree other than a B.A. in English, I would think he could do it with a B.A. in English.

A college degree, especially in the liberal arts, isn’t meant to be Job Training for a specific career.

(But then, I’m probably not one to talk, because I ended up teaching the subject I got my degree in.)

Or analyst other places. When I was looking for work about seven years ago, I looked into openings in state government. In California, the state has a job classification ‘analyst’ that requires a bachelor’s degree. . . in anything. The pay wasn’t bad.

I level my coffee table.

But the degree is useful as an way into a million places that don’t seem english related. In It I’ve worked with a bunch of English Majors, though they usually had a preexisting interest in computers.

The Accentures of the world are a good entry point if you have a liberal arts degree but would like a decent paying job.

Edit and proofread.
Become a paralegal.

And what others have noted.

My sister has used her (IMHO worthless) English degree to get jobs in Advertising, then Marketing. She is now VP of Marketing for a company that everyone in the US has heard of.

Go to medical school. They love seeing someone that didn’t major in biochemistry come in. Just add the pre-med classes and there you go. Going to law school isn’t much of a strech either.

Companies don’t look at majors or grades as students and parents like to believe. Most of it is just an on/off switch for having a 4 year degree or not. There are places that look carefully about educational history but that isn’t the norm. I have never heard college quifications mentioned at this mega-corps besides they graduated from somewhere.

Fear not. A degree in English offers a cornucopia of opportunities.
Check out this link from The University of Texas.

FWIW I am going back to school next year to finish my English degree because I know it will make me much more marketable than I am now.

I’ll second the advice about medical school or law school. I weighed going to med school after I got my English degree, but it would have taken me about 2 years to go back and do a post-bacc science program before I could even apply. Instead I decided to just go ahead with my Master’s in English and teach, as that only takes an extra year.

I have three friends with B.A. degrees in English who are now law students. They were as prepared, if not more so, than their classmates with a pre-law undergraduate degree.

If I could go back and have my last year or so of college back, I’d take some computer classes. There seems to be a huge market for technical writers that also know code (which I don’t, at all.)

I have an English degree, I’m a photographer. Go figure. I never planned to do anything specific with the English degree, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to go into teaching or writing or anything like that.

An English degree is just a good general degree for any of a number of white collar jobs. As has been said, it’s a liberal arts degree, so it’s not really meant to be job training of any sort. However, as has been said, a whole slew of jobs frankly don’t care what your degree is in, so long as you have a degree in something. Heck, for a few months way back when, I was temping and got permanent job offers for accounting positions, of all things. A liberal arts degree for most people, I think, is nothing but a foot in the door. It doesn’t matter what your major is. In fact, I can probably count on one hand how many of my friends have actually majored in a subject directly related to their profession.

Since this one involves more informed opinions, let’s move over to IMHO.

samclem GQ moderator