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English Major Overview

If you’re thinking about pursuing an English major, you may be curious about what you’d be getting yourself into. There’s a lot of different opinions floating out there about English majors, but we’ll cut through all of that and give you the facts. Here’s what you need to know about majoring in English. 

What is an English major?

An English major is a humanities degree option that emphasizes the study of the English language. Students in this discipline focus on the connection between literature, culture, history, and other fields of study. While working toward their degrees, English majors analyze novels, poems, and films, and from across the world. In doing so, students develop skills in reading, writing, active listening, discussing, debating, and presenting.

Coursework to expect

If you major in English, expect to take a lot of reading- and writing-intensive courses. Starting out, most schools require English students to take at least one introductory-level class focused on critical reading and writing skills. From there, English majors can expect some flexibility in their course selection. Along with studying novels, English majors usually gain exposure to other types of literature such as poetry, plays, and film. Some majors may focus on a specific concentration such as 20th century American literature or British poetry. 

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as an English major:

  • The Novel (European/Modern American/Japanese/etc.)
  • Creative Writing
  • Drama
  • International Fiction
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Literary Theory and Criticism
  • Poetry
  • Shakespeare
  • Teaching English
  • Women Writers

Opportunities after graduation

Although some will have you believe it, English is not a dead-end major that leaves students with limited post-graduate options. A degree in English actually opens doors to a variety of graduate programs and career paths. Granted, your post-graduate path may not be as clear-cut as it would be if you majored in something else. But that’s just because there’s so many routes you can take. It’ll be up to you to shape your career following graduation.

Jobs you can get with an English degree

As an English major, you’ll learn skills that are transferable to a variety of fields. Employers value creativity, critical thinking, communication, reading, and writing – all of which are skills cultivated by English departments. Below are some popular career choices for English majors. Note that we’ve listed median annual salaries according to the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that entry-level salaries are typically lower. 

1. Technical Writer 

Technical writers compose instruction manuals, help sections of websites, and other documentation regarding the use of products and services. They use precise language to make complex and technical topics easier to understand. 

2020 Median Pay: $74,650 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 7% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. News Reporter

Reporters research and write news stories for television, newspapers, radio, and websites. They keep the public informed on important local, national, and international stories. Reporters often have certain beats such as local news, sports, business, or pop culture. 

2020 Median Pay: $49,300 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): -11% (decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Also see: Top journalism scholarships

3. Copywriter

Copywriters prepare marketing and advertising copy to promote goods and services. Their writing is viewed in places like company websites, blogs, advertisements, email newsletters, and social media. 

2020 Median Pay: $67,120 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): -2% (decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

4. Public Relations Coordinator / Social Media Specialist 

PR coordinators create and maintain a positive public image for companies, brands, or individual clients. They write press releases, manage social media posts, and handle face-to-face engagement at special events with journalists and media professionals. Some PR coordinators may specialize exclusively in social media. 

2020 Median Pay: $62,810 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 7% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

5. Paralegal 

Paralegals assist lawyers by investigating facts, preparing legal documents, and researching legal precedents. They have excellent research skills, a keen attention to detail, and strong problem-solving abilities. 

2020 Median Pay: $52,920 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 11% (much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

6. Librarian 

Librarians help patrons find books and other resources, conduct research, and set up systems for cataloging and shelving books. They’re typically employed by local governments, universities, and K-12 schools. 

2020 Median Pay: $60,820 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

7. Fundraiser

Fundraisers organize events and campaigns to collect money and other donations for organizations. They’re commonly employed by nonprofit organizations, universities, and some hospitals. 

2020 Median Pay:$59,610 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 14% (much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

8. K-12 Teacher

K-12 teachers educate students in public and private schools, working with grades ranging from kindergarten to high school. Some teach traditional English classes, while some specialize in ESL (English as a Second Language). 

2020 Median Pay: $62,870 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4% (as fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Advanced Degrees You Can Pursue with an English Degree 

Many students use their bachelor’s degree in English as a stepping stone to pursue an advanced degree such as a master’s. From law and medicine to journalism, there’s a big range of post-graduate programs you can enroll in with an English degree. Below are some other popular choices: 

  • Master of Arts in English
  • Master of Education 
  • Master of Fine Arts
  • Master’s in Media Studies 
  • Master of Business Administration

Frequently asked questions about English majors

How do I pay for an English major?

There are many ways to pay for an English major. One of the best options is to apply for scholarships. To start, you can look for writing and essay scholarships to play to your strengths. You can even look into scholarships specifically for English majors. We also have lists of scholarships by state, and a scholarship search directory to find custom-tailored scholarships to suit your needs.

However, scholarships typically can’t cover the entire cost of your college education. You may have to take out loans to help pay for college. Those can include federal and private loans. Our ultimate guide to student loans can help you sort through the process and find the best loans for you.

How do I know if the major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in English, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you enjoy reading for pleasure? 
  • Are you passionate about writing and being creative? 
  • Do you enjoy learning about different cultures and historical periods? 
  • Do you value clear communication?
  • Would a degree in English help you achieve your career goals? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then an English major could be right for you!