From the Desk of an ‘Unemployable’ English Major

“So, what are you going to do with an English degree?” is a question I was often forced to answer as an undergraduate student at my small, Jesuit, liberal arts college. Ironically, it wasn’t my professors, peers, or advisors who asked. Rather, my family members, acquaintances, and even relative strangers had the strongest opinions on how I chose to spend my tuition dollars. 

I couldn’t help but feel taken aback (and a little embarrassed) by their questioning. Already a financially insecure college student, hearing from others that my major would render me unemployable was worrisome. The first few times I got this question, I would eagerly try to change the subject. But by the time I became a senior, I was used to it and had gained confidence in my major and the skills it was nurturing in me.

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From Jane Austen to Latin American short stories to poetry workshops, my coursework was always challenging, interesting, and downright fun. As a kid, I spent nearly every weekend in the library and dreamed of being an author when I grew up. Devoting my college career to literature felt like the next best thing, so I eagerly declared my English major within weeks of getting to campus. I never worried if my major was “employable,” because the practicality of it struck me as a no-brainer — reading and writing were skills that would translate well to any job, right? Being an English major taught me how to think critically and question everything, receive feedback and also offer constructive criticism of my own. I learned how to communicate my thoughts and opinions respectfully. 

While I was in school, I landed internships in various fields that might not seem typical for an English major — from teaching to publishing to marketing to digital media. Rather than being turned off by my liberal arts major, interviewers would often ask me questions about it. This was a good opportunity for me to emphasize my writing and communication skills, along with my time management expertise. Three 10-page papers due the same week? No problem! The same goes for any major. When you can express the soft skills you developed from your coursework (using specific examples!), no employer will be able to dispute the relevance of your major in the workforce. 

Like many college seniors, I spent the last few weeks of the spring semester frantically applying for jobs. I cast a wide net, applying for anything that sounded remotely interesting — roles ranging from copywriting at large media companies to marketing for nonprofits to being a program manager at a Jesuit high school. Nearly one year out of college, I’m working in fundraising and development at an education nonprofit — a path I didn’t expect to embark on, but one I’ve come to love. 

My work challenges me daily to build on the skills I learned in my college English classes. Communication is a HUGE part of fundraising. We reach most of our donors over email, so it’s important to write authentically for our audience, be clear and concise, but also persuasive about why our mission matters. In addition to emails, grant writing, copy editing, and writing persuasive marketing pieces are critical areas of development that rely on a strong foundation of reading, writing, and research.

During the interview process for my current job, I remember feeling really intimidated by the other applicants I was up against. I didn’t major in humanitarian studies or public policy … how could I expect to work at a nonprofit? Once hired, I was relieved to discover that most of my colleagues’ college majors didn’t dictate the career they ended up in. On my team, people have majored in anything from social work to psychology to global studies — and they’re all incredible, dedicated, motivated, and gifted fundraisers. 

I’ve learned that having a passion for the work and believing in your company’s mission is a good starting point for any job, regardless of your major. If you feel passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll be eager to learn new skills, build on your existing ones, all while absorbing institutional knowledge like a sponge. Excluding a handful of careers (such as a doctor, accountant, engineer), you can be taught almost anything once you actually start the job. You don’t need to major in fashion to work at a magazine, or philosophy to work at a law firm, or biology to work at a hospital. Certain qualities jump out to an interviewer, regardless of your undergraduate studies — like being a strong leader, effective communicator, and a team player. Rely on those and you’ll be ready to tackle anything your chosen career will throw at you.

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