Western Kentucky University

Career Guide

What Can I do with an English Degree?

 Many liberal arts students adopt their majors more as life paths, declarations of their passions, than as conduits to narrowly defined jobs. In the case of English, the commitment is to the quintessential human activity, language as a measure of and vehicle for experience and imagination, for theories and ideals, for reason and rhetoric, for logical and emotional appeal, and as a means of understanding human nature and encouraging personal growth.

You may be an aspiring writer with a compelling desire to hone your craft. Or, drawn by your love of the written word, you may elect the literature option as a way to improve your analytical thinking and enhance your cultural literacy.

On the otherhand, you may adopt the professional writing option because you want to work in publishing and editing. Or, perhaps you plan to teach English at the high school level or to teach ESL abroad.

The good news is even if you simply feel compelled to follow your bliss, without knowing exactly what your day job will be, an English major is an excellent choice in today's market. Communication and analytical thinking are valuable skills that will prepare you to adapt to the career shifts that are predicted for 21st century graduates.

This guide is intended to help you consider how you can use an education in English to prepare for a rewarding career.

You may think that everyone who majors in English plans to end up in a 'words delivery' career of some sort, but that's not the case.

 English majors develop numerous transferable career skills and can find employment in a wide variety of occupations. Aside from the fields you may expect to find them in 'education, publishing, communications, library work, and journalism', English majors can also find employment in other areas such as intelligence work, industry, public service, human resources, lobbying, and professional studies (law and medicine). You might be surprised to know that Newsweek reports that in their search for 'well rounded docs,' medical schools are seeking more 'nonscience students,' including English majors (September 10, 2007) or that the FBI loves English majors.

'Sometimes liberal-arts majors struggle a bit more than other majors when launching their careers, but the evidence shows that they tend to advance farther and be more sought out by CEO's for high-level jobs than non-liberal arts grads. . . Employers can train new hires in specialized skills on the job. But they can't train workers to have the critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and the capacity for lifelong learning that today's organizations require.'

Katharine Hansen, Chief Writer for Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters

Our students are trained for leadership in business, public service, and not-for-profit organizations because they are sensitive to the condition of all men and women, they understand the forces that complicate human life, and they recognize the choices that make us heroic or tragically compromised. [They] can contextualize and historicize human experience, and they are mindful of the tropes and narrative patterns that a society employs to represent itself. English majors think critically and express complex ideas with clarity and acute awareness of audience. They are trained in the world of ideas and the power of artistry.

Dorothy Baker, Association of Departments of English Bulletin (Winter 2003).

English majors have more to offer the workplace than their expertise as readers and writers.

Among the skills English majors gain are several that work to their advantage in managerial positions. Exposure to a wide variety of ideas and culture promotes tolerance of different points of view; study of human nature through literature develops an ability to relate effectively to people; systematic study of literature prepares them to handle complex ideas; and mastery of information retrieval systems helps them to do the background work and 'see the big picture.'

The question is not so much 'What can you do with an English degree?' as 'What can you not do with it?'

Even a brief list of sample job titles held by former students in the discipline demonstrates the flexibility of the English major. Liberal arts majors in general, and English majors in particular, are ideally positioned to adapt as the marketplace requires accommodating cultural differences, assimilating new ideas, and learning new skills.

Admissions representative High school teacher Physician
Advertising copywriter Human resources manager Presentencing advocate
Attorney Information officer Public relations officer
Bank officer Labor relations specialist Research assistant
Counselor Librarian Sales associate
Editorial assistant Manager Screenwriter
Environmental advocate Marketing consultant Technical Writer
ESL teacher Nonprofit grant writer  
FBI agent Freelance writer And many more

The pages in this career guide will present you with many career possibilities.

However, as is the case for almost any major, you cannot simply sit on your hands waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

To put a liberal education to work, you need to plan ahead!

For more information on prospective careers, and for assistance with employment goals or skill development, visit the Career Services Center:

Career Services



 Last Modified 7/22/13