Email: What to do with an English Major
I own and have enjoyed your two writing books with my homeschooled children.
I recently read about your background on your website and would like to ask you a couple of questions.
My 11th grade daughter is thinking of majoring in English with teacher licensure. She would like to teach English, write books, and is also looking into what else she could do with an English major.
I read that your husband majored in English and was wondering what kind of advice he could give to someone in this major. What suggestions would he or you have for her to be successful with her college classes and beyond?
Any comments, suggestions, and advice for my daughter would be greatly appreciated!
Hi Sabrina’s daughter!
Wonderful that your daughter loves writing and English so much. My husband was hooked on literature which is what led him to his major. There are some unique opportunities that go with being an English major, but, in the interests of full disclosure, I should add that many of them don’t pay well. 🙂
English majors often go into teaching, editing (for a publishing company) or some kind of communications role (sales, marketing, technical writing, copy editing) of big companies. Writing (as in, writing to make money) is the least likely to earn a person a living, though plenty of English majors (or creative writing majors) attempt to get published. My mom, who works as a full-time author of over 65 books, says that the vast majority of writers earn only part of their income through their writing. They almost always combine their writing with teaching.
So teaching is clearly a popular choice and a good one. Jon went into the Peace Corps after his major in English and earned his credential while teaching English as a foreign language in a Moroccan high school. He returned to the states where he earned his MA in American Literature and has been able to work as an “adjunct professor” at multiple universities in both California and Ohio, as well as a high school English teacher. Teaching’s been a great outlet for him as he worked in other full-time jobs.
Jon just mentioned that the English degree is perfect if your intent is to teach junior high or high school English. It dovetails beautifully with that ambition. The teaching path offers a good living with excellent benefits and is conducive to family life, too.
Jon also worked as an editor at a text book company, which is yet another way to earn a living off of a degree in English.
I, unconventionally, majored in history. My writing has been both avocation and vocation. I found that my interest in writing had less to do with literature and more to do with issues: with non-fiction content. I earned my MA in theology which also called on my writing skills. It isn’t necessary to major in English to become a writer (just want to point that out). And some teen writers would do better to major in journalism where more writing jobs are available than can be had through “writing novels” for instance. So if current events are your thing, bypass the English major and go for journalism.
The best way to successfully pursue the English major is to be a passionate reader. Reading literature is what fuels that degree. You must be willing to analyze it, take it apart and look at it through a variety of lenses. If you don’t like taking literature apart or submitting it to scrutiny, best not to major in English. Academic writing involves critical inquiry so that means you have to be interested in that kind of work.
I love your question and hope you’ll ask follow up questions if you have them.
You mentioned above, “You must be willing to analyze it, take it apart and look at it through a variety of lenses.”
Do you recommend books such as, How to Read a Book by Adler or The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer? Or how about the book Understanding Reading that is put out by the Writing Strands company?
I have 5 children in the 10-15 age range.
Thank you and Jon so much for taking the time to answer our questions and share your experiences! My daughter’s greatest desire at this point is to teach English at the junior high or high school level, so what Jon mentioned is particularly encouraging!
I had suggested journalism, but she is not interested in that at all. She will probably teach English and write books, which will be a delight for her. Being an editor might interest her too.
Thank you again for your excellent response!
I was another English major in college, after having some outstanding English teachers in high school. I loved everything about literature and entered university as a literature major and spent my four years supplementing my lit degree with minors in philosophy and history.
I had planned to obtain a high school credential, but when I got to that point in my education, the education classes looked SO boring that I couldn’t abide the idea of spending my money on them. So I dropped out of the education courses and took German and logic instead.
Then when my senior year rolled around, I had to start thinking of how to earn a living with this literature degree. My dad, a business man, kept asking me what I was going “to do” with an English degree. He had talked me into training as a paralegal, and I was accepted into the bst program in the state. But while I was in England after graduation, I just somehow knew that the law wasn’t for me. I came back to the States, dropped the paralegal program, and went back to working in bookshops until I could apply to grad schools in English. I ended up back at the same institution I had been accepted for paralegal, but this time it was for English, and two years later I earned a Master’s degree in English.
I continued working in bookshops and as a teacher’s assistant in the German dept. of my graduate school until a place opened at my undergrad university, and I started teaching as an adjunct the next year. Teaching at the university level was truly my dream job, and I loved every second of it. I quit a few years later to devote myself full-time to homeschooling our four kids, and that MA has certainly helped in homeschooling and in teaching our co-op classes — I teach high school courses at both the college prep and honors level. And I have the privilege of teaching at BraveWriter as well. It can’t get better than that!
I’ve also freelanced as an editor, a proofreader, a writer, and a tutor in recent years. Currently I’m working on a book of my own, too. So it’s all good. I wouldn’t change a thing about my educational experiences.
Thank you for posting about your experiences! It is so helpful to get a glimpse into what others have done with English.
How does one get into freelancing as an editor and proofreader?
The freelance editorial and proofreading jobs just came to me while I was in the academic world as both a student and as an instructor. An undergrad professor asked me to go over the rough draft of his writing book and catch anything I saw and to give him any advice I could. I worked as a research assistant while in grad school (it paid for 1/3 of my tuition!), and I did so much work that the professor I worked for put my name on the book as a co-editor, so I had a work published before I started teaching as an adjunct.
I also became involved in several church and missions organizations through proofreading our former pastor’s correspondence, although that work I do without charge. I have been proofreading correspondence with the government of a Mid-East country, including their president, as the pastor is involved in evangelistic outreach there.
I have been asked by several friends to proofread and help edit their novels, although I have discovered that editing fiction is not my strength; I’m much more of a non-fiction writer and editor.
So opportunities just popped up throughout my career. I’ve never advertised or sought this work; it’s just always arrived as I’ve needed it. Academics can spot a good proofreader/editor among their students and will start pushing work their way. It just sort of happens.
Thank you so much!
One more question:
How much freedom does an English teacher at the junior high, high school, and college level have in her teaching? Can she usually choose what literature books to teach, and what methods to use to teach writing and grammar skills?
I am sure she must follow some guidelines from the school, but how restrictive is it?
All this information is fascinating! Please continue to share more if you have time!
I’m also a freelance copyeditor and proofreader, and, like Susanne, my first jobs came to me by word of mouth. This is pretty common, both in the academic and corporate worlds.
When I wanted to start approaching publishers, I studied The Chicago Manual of Style (now that’s some fun bedtime reading!) and an excellent book by Amy Einsohn called The Copyeditor’s Handbook.
There are also courses you can take to prepare for this type of career. For some reason, the USDA offers online and correspondence courses in editing, proofreading, and other fields (http://grad.usda.gov).
Or you might want to check out Editcetera (www.editcetera.com), UC Berkeley Extension’s “Writing, Editing & Technical Communication” department (www.unex.berkeley.edu/online), or UCSD Extension’s “Humanities and Writing” department. (http://extension.ucsd.edu).
If you grew up correcting your friends’ notes before passing them back in class, you’ll like this kind of work. Believe me.
Another thought for your daughter, Sabrina … consider working in a library! It’s a great place to get a part-time job as a student, and it enables one to utilize a love of literature and of teaching. Libraries these days are especially reaching out to young adults, which might make a person who plans to teach high school a great resource. In my area, a ‘real’ librarian has a master’s, but some schools offer a bachelor’s degree, and not all library positions require the MLS. Even if she’s not interested in the field as a career, part-time work can help pay for schooling and lend some valuable insight into both the English and education coursework she’ll be required to do.
(Just sharing, from one education major/English and Spanish minor/library employee from childhood till childbirth who also wants to be a writer)
Once again an excellent written post from you. Keep it up!