When I decided to major in English and started telling people, the first reaction I usually got was some variation of, “Oh, so what are you going to do with that? Teach?”
Let’s be clear, I have nothing but love for those who take their English training into classrooms. Teaching requires an alchemical combination of charisma, intellect, and goodwill. It’s difficult, sometimes frustrating, and highly creative. No wonder teachers are some of the most kind hearted, engaging, and respected figures we know.
But still, “Teach?” The question bothered me for its blatant assumption — that teaching was the only possible thing you could do with English. That’s far from the case. I knew there must be others paths, but I was unclear on what they were. An English career after graduation was murky compared to those of disciplines like engineering or business management. Conventional wisdom said those students would go on to make big figures in high-level corporate environments. But what about me and my English degree?
Popular media and rhetoric is slowly catching up with what English departments have known for years: there’s a whole lot you can do with a liberal arts degree. In 2016, news outlets shouted headlines like “Revenge of the arts: Why a liberal arts education pays off” (Macleans) and “Good News Liberal-Arts Majors: Your Peers Probably Won’t Outearn You Forever” (The Wall Street Journal). The edge of incredulity is still frustrating, but at least the message is getting out there.