I became an English major because I like to read. In this economy and at a college where most students have their eyes set on high-powered consulting or Wall Street jobs, deciding to have an academic subject inspired by a hobby printed on my degree probably doesn’t seem that well thought out.

After all, who would want to hire an English major?

Or, at least, that’s the question I’ve been hearing for the past year, from relatives, from neighbors, from friends’ parents. Unemployment is not an unusual occupation for recent graduates, and who really wants to play work-related Russian roulette by majoring in the liberal arts?

I, for one. As someone who’s gotten plenty of internship offers for everything from consulting firms to award-winning magazines, I must admit it’s getting a little exhausting to be met with surprise, bemusement and a subtle shaking of the head to indicate that whomever I’m talking to knows I’m dooming myself to a life of taking coffee orders and working on a screenplay that will never be finished.

So, dear everyone: Stop hating on English majors.

Maybe it’s not the best major if you’re planning on becoming a rocket scientist or you really hate writing, but at least at Georgetown, it’s not nearly as impractical as so many people are making it out to be. We don’t sit around in darkened rooms reading Shakespeare silently all day and comparing the T.S. Elliot quotes we have tattooed on our forearms, and most of us don’t intend to be behind the counter at Starbucks after we’re done with college.

But even two very successful English majors I know — one a local business owner, and the other a high-powered corporate lawyer — made jokes about how if they hadn’t stumbled into their jobs, they’d be ringing up orders at a McDonald’s take-out window.

This stigma is getting pretty exhausting as is the accompanying idea that if you major in English, you have to dream of being a novelist or really hate learning anything “practical.” It’s interesting that these stereotypes somehow don’t stick nearly as tenaciously to history or foreign language majors.

What’s so bad about majoring in English? Is it because of our strong analytical skills? Is it because of our critical thinking abilities? Is it because we’re taught to approach problems in new or innovative ways? Or because we’re able to get jobs in almost any industry while majoring in something we love?

This isn’t to say that everyone should major in English. Instead, people should feel that they are able major in what they want to major in, not what they feel like they need to. And “want” can be a difficult concept to keep in mind in this kind of post-grad environment, but it’s a necessary one. There have been so many articles published and information printed saying what majors will make you rich or what majors guarantee a job, but when it really comes down to it, there’s no magic formula for your life after college. You can major in finance and end up living with your parents. You can major in art history and become a CEO.

That’s why it bothers me when prospective English majors are scared away by other people warning them about the need to make informed decisions about their academic choices. A major doesn’t define your career path. It doesn’t determine your future salary, despite how much people want to believe that’s true.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but major in something that makes you excited to get up in the morning, because you shouldn’t be sacrificing what you love for something that you apparently should be doing before you’ve even entered the job market.

Kim Bussing is a rising junior in the College. Top Shelf appears every other Wednesday at thehoya.com.

One Comment

  1. Tyler Simpson says:

    The question is not whether there is some kind of value in completing an English major, it is how that value compares with the things you could have done otherwise. Students at universities like Georgetown are fortunate in that they are recognized as being smart capable people regardless of what they choose to study, whereas others don’t have that luxury. However, if you already had the desired attributes to begin with, how can you justify the time, effort, and expense of your education? If what you do get out of your major is personally important to you and you are willing to take on all costs associated with it, then by all means, go right ahead. But with tuition costs skyrocketing and college being subsidized as much as it is, we must scrutinize how much value certain courses of study actually hold. Should we really be paying people to the extent that we are to read stories and talk about imaginary people, if the usefulness of doing so is seen mostly as an accident or side effect? The point is not that no one should be an English major, it is that many fewer should.

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