The Easy Major:Working Around Biased Expectations

English majors often go through the exact same experiences with family, friends, and strangers alike. It starts with the generic questions of “So you’re in college now, right” or “You like it up there at that school?” But then it’s almost always followed by “So what are you studying?” English. Creative Writing.

These are answers that we hesitate to give after the first few times we go through this exchange. At first, we’re excited. “Look, I’m studying something I love, something I’m passionate about,” we try to say. But then we get those looks. You know the ones. The why-would-they-study-that looks. The are-they-thinking-this-through looks.

So they ask us their questions, to make them feel better (but make us doubt). “What do you want to do with that?” Some go as far as to ask “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” I even had someone tell me I was taking the “easy major”, and it wouldn’t do much good out there unless I went to grad school.

While most people won’t vocalize it as clearly as this person did, I think this is a popular idea. People think that English majors have it easy while they’re in college, but won’t be able to make it anywhere afterwards unless they publish a book (which they think is impossible) or want to teach (which doesn’t pay).

For me, I knew when I entered college that I wanted to write novels and work in publishing. That hasn’t changed much over the course of my education (I’m more interest in short stories than novels at the moment, but I’m working an internship with a publishing house). However, I’ve also been made aware that I may have other interests outside of just these goals. And frankly, after all of the adults questioning my goals and majors, I feel the need to have back up plans in mind, just in case.

So I took a class that I like to call ‘How to Get a Job as an English Major’ (really Liberal Arts at Work: a Professionalization Workshop) to help me do just that. This class has already taught me how to write a better resume and how to handle a job interview or career fair—both of which are traditionally reserved for business majors.

We’ve been given opportunities to network through career fairs and assignments like an informational interview with someone in a field we want to be involved in. English majors like myself, and other liberal arts majors, aren’t used to the whole networking thing. These experiences help us to gain comfort in this area. As shown in some of our readings for this class (especially in the personal stories in Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads by Sheila Curran and Suzanne Greenwald) networking can be one of the most important—and certainly the most helpful—aspect of a job search.

Networking is mentioned in all three texts we read for the class. I can say from experience just how important it is. My internship came about through personal networking, as my aunt knew the owner of a publishing house who was looking to hire an intern. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. Sometimes connections come from just asking questions at an informational interview to gain insight into what they do, or at a conference.

Each of the readings told us how to use these networking experiences differently. For example, Smart Moves, which was mentioned earlier, gave us many examples of how others used networking to their advantage. Some used them to get jobs or internships, others to gather information, others just to make connections. These examples are helpful to an extent. They give inexperienced people like me a chance to see how everything could work. However, reading about an extroverted Chemistry major who enjoys cold-calling companies for positions or interviews isn’t going to do much to help an introverted Creative Writing major who hates making phone calls if they don’t actually have to, like me.

In Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors by Blythe Camenson, the only advice given is that you need to network. That’s pretty much it. It does little to explain how to do so, or what to do once you’ve made these connections. This book, in fact, did little to help you move forward. While it showed a great deal of careers that Liberal Arts majors could go into, its information was somewhat outdated, and so the few instructions it did give were unhelpful. This book turned out to be little more than an information overload.

The final book that we read for this class seems to be the most helpful in determining a path for yourself. Katharine Brooks’ You Majored in What? gives you instructions on how to find out what you want to do, or at least, possible paths to take. You create ‘wandering maps’ for yourself of your experiences, interests, strengths, mindsets, and passions. Then you make connections between these to find what you like, so that you can set out a path for yourself.

Even more helpfully, this book helps you to set goals correctly. That is, it tells you how to break way-too-big goals down into bite sized chunks, and make them more bearable, and therefore more likely to actually get finished. In my opinion, this author, more than the others, wants to help English majors (and Liberal Arts majors) succeed without having to give up the passions they were willing to follow into college.

And that’s why English majors became English majors, isn’t it? They followed their passions. So why shouldn’t they be able to continue to follow them even after school lets out?

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One thought on “The Easy Major:Working Around Biased Expectations

  1. I really appreciate the overview and review of each of the assigned texts. I wonder, though, if all three weren’t assigned would there still be the emphasis on the importance of networking? It’s the common thread through all three, and part of me thinks that without it being continually emphasized, that advice wouldn’t emerge as being so central to the entire process….

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