Studying English comes with facing a lot of assumptions about your career options, how you spend your time, and even your personality. Of course, stereotypes never tell the whole story. But they also don’t come out of nowhere.
In this post, I’ll look into some common English major stereotypes, what drives them, and how true they are. This is all in good fun, but may also be helpful if you’re currently studying English or considering doing so and want to know a bit about what you’re in for.
1. Earning an English Major Is Easy
Many people feel that compared to the rigors of a science or math degree, studying English is easy. There are a few different ways to look at this stereotype.
As an example, I’ll use the requirements for the university where I earned my undergraduate degree. At this school, a B.A. in English requires 36 credit hours, while a B.S. in Biology takes 67 credit hours. Based solely on this information, it might seem clear that one course of study is more difficult than the other.
However, there are other aspects to consider as well. While most English majors would probably shy away from having to do advanced math and lab work, I also think it’s fair to say that many science majors would feel intimidated if they were asked to write a twenty-page literary analysis. They might also struggle to get through some of the more complex texts English majors take on, and the research involved in each area of study is quite different.
Every specialty requires practice – that’s why we go to school in the first place. Claiming one degree is easier than another minimizes the effort students put into their assignments and the work they’ve done to develop their skills.
2. All English Majors Become Teachers or Professors
Two of the most common questions English majors hear are, “What are you going to do with your degree?” and “So, do you want to teach?”
Although liberal arts degrees are often associated with poor job prospects, the skills you develop as an English major translate well to a variety of careers. Writing experience is sought after in marketing, advertising, public relations, and communications departments.
English majors may also go on to careers in publishing or library science. There are plenty of options out there besides teaching if you’re passionate about language and literature.
3. You Can’t Make Any Money With an English Degree
There is some truth to this English major stereotype. Many of the jobs that are best suited to the skills you develop while earning an English degree aren’t in the most high-paying fields.
However, that’s not to say that you can’t earn a decent living. Here are the average salaries for some of the careers mentioned above according to Glassdoor:
- Marketer: $118,311/yr
- Advertiser: $51,618/yr
- Public Relations Manager: $75,185/yr
- Communications Manager: $81,299/yr
- Editor: $57,236/yr
- Publisher: $67,329/yr
- Literary Agent: $58,512/yr
- Public Librarian: $56,803/yr
- University Librarian: $57,358/yr
- High School English Teacher: $53,071/yr
- University English Professor: $68,880/yr
- Freelance Writer: $48,279/yr
As you can see, there’s a wide range here. Finding the right company to work for and making an effort to grow your skills and gain experience can help you turn your English degree into a successful career.
Sometimes, the greater challenge when it comes to finding a job after earning an English degree is how competitive many of these positions are. It can be hard to find openings and to make your resume stand out from all the other applications companies, clients, and institutions receive.
4. English Majors Are Grammar Snobs and Excellent Spellers
Spelling and grammar certainly come naturally to some English majors. Personally, I’m a terrible speller and almost never win at Scrabble, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person with a literature degree who has this problem.
The same goes for grammar. I once received an email from a family member who told me they felt self-conscious writing to me because they were worried I would I would be judgmental of their grammar.
Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think most English majors aren’t walking around openly criticizing others’ grammar (although we might correct you silently to ourselves). Just like business majors don’t typically spend their free time trying to sell you stuff, we aren’t particularly interested in rubbing our expertise in your nose all the time.
That said, I am not above making fun of grammar mistakes in professional writing like marketing emails, billboards, and such. If someone’s paying you to make a sign or craft a campaign, take the time to run a basic grammar check on the copy.
5. Studying English Takes All the Fun Out of Reading
Critical reading is a key skill all English majors have to develop. In higher-level English classes, you spend a lot of time analyzing language, from overarching concepts like symbolism and theme right down to word choice and even punctuation.
And, once you start reading critically, it can be difficult to turn off the voice in your head that assesses and obsesses over the text in front of you. Some think this must make reading a chore, and that it becomes impossible to read just for pleasure.
However, English majors chose their area of study for a reason. We like thinking deeply about the books we read! Paying attention to details and language doesn’t make reading boring for us – it makes it more enriching.
Sure, we might be less willing to invest time in books that don’t challenge us. We might cringe a bit at certain cliches or roll our eyes at cheesy plotlines and unrealistic dialogue. That doesn’t mean we can’t still appreciate the areas where a book written for entertainment value does shine.
6. You Only Read “The Classics” / You’ve Read All of “The Classics”
In addition to thinking English majors are snobby when it comes to grammar and spelling, people also tend to pigeonhole us when it comes to assumptions about our reading preferences. It seems that, because we enjoyed our high school literature classes, we must exclusively pursue titles by authors who commonly appear on syllibi.
Of course, this isn’t the case at all. English majors have unique tastes just like anyone else, and while many of us do enjoy books that are considered “Classics,” that doesn’t mean we don’t like other types of literature as well.
In fact, I believe most English majors fall in love with reading not in higher-level literature courses, but as children reading commercial series like Harry Potter or Nancy Drew. As such, it’s not that strange to find people pursuing degrees in English who like to unwind with a good fantasy or mystery novel.
Plus, many university English departments are making efforts to diversify their course offerings and reading lists. As such, there are now more classes than there used to be that feature authors from many different backgrounds and books that aren’t usually included in the English literary canon.
To a similar end, English majors haven’t read every book that’s considered a “Classic,” either. We have limited time just like everyone else. Most of us try to spend it on books that we truly enjoy and are interested in, not in marking titles off a list just because they’re considered prestigious.
There are a lot of English major stereotypes out there that paint a certain picture of what it’s like to study literature, and the kind of person you have to be to do so. In reality, many of them aren’t entirely true.
In this post, I looked at six popular English major stereotypes and shared my thoughts and experience with them:
- Earning an English degree is easy. Although English majors may require fewer credit hours than degrees in the hard sciences, that doesn’t necessarily make them “easy.” This course of study requires unique skills and a huge time investment to accommodate the amount of reading and writing expected of students.
- All English majors become teachers or professors. An English degree helps you develop strong communication skills that are valuable in many different fields.
- You can’t make any money with an English degree. Popular job paths for English majors offer a wide range of salaries. However, many of these fields are highly competitive.
- English majors are grammar snobs and excellent spellers. Some are, but not all. And many won’t judge you too harshly for making common grammar mistakes in casual settings.
- Studying English takes all the fun out of reading. Learning to read critically doesn’t mean reading can’t be fun anymore. In many cases, it actually becomes more fulfilling and interesting!
- English majors only read “The Classics” (and have read all of “The Classics”). While they may read more of the English literary canon than most, that doesn’t mean English majors exclusively read from this genre of books (or that they’ve managed to read every title considered to be part of it).
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