English is not a vocational major that prepares you for one particular job (like an accountant, for example). Instead, a degree in English provides you with a broad range of skills useful for any number of careers. Skills that make you a good job candidate include the ability to:
- Write and speak effectively
- Edit someone else’s writing
- Express your creativity in any number of ways (design a brochure, write a campaign letter, reorganize an office, and others)
- Learn new information quickly
- Work well with others
- Develop hypotheses, research data, and interpret and summarize data
- Organize ideas and information
- Think critically and solve problems
With these skills, English majors have achieved success in a variety of fields, including writing, editing, publishing, teaching, public relations, technical writing, paralegal and legal, marketing, consulting, business, government, museums, libraries, consulting, and more.
This post takes a look at the variety of career possibilities available to English majors. Each section explains the requirements, outlook, and salary range for this career path. Because you can do so much with a degree in English (and this chapter couldn’t cover all the possibilities in detail), the last section describes how to investigate other jobs relating to English (or careers that require skills related to English studies). There, you can explore even more potential jobs, as well as learn how and where to research more detailed information.
A professional writer may work for any of the following publications or organizations: newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, trade and professional publications, consumer publications, advertising agencies, government agencies, colleges and universities, not-for-profits, and businesses. Some writers are self-employed; their career is based on freelance writing jobs or assignments with one or more publishers, and they may write essays, columns, opinion pieces, magazine articles, biographies, book reviews, and other pieces for publication.
Most creative writers, for example, are freelance writers and are self-employed. For this type of writing, the writer creates original fiction and nonfiction texts for books, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, newsletters, radio and TV, and advertisements. If you want to be a creative writer, you might write short stories, novels, poems, song lyrics, plays, screenplays, essays, columns, or other work for publication. You may be commissioned to write these works (know in advance that the work will be published), or you may write the work and then seek to have it published.
Freelance writers usually have a good deal of writing experience that they got working for publications or companies. So although it’s not a career you may be able to pursue immediately, it is one that you can aim and work toward as you gain more and more writing experience. As another possibility, you may find work as a technical writer. In fact, this field provides many new opportunities for writing. The next section discusses this type of writing in more detail.
As mentioned, the best opportunities for a writing career are in technology. Technology is becoming increasingly more complex and more prevalent. Also, new information and products are constantly being introduced. These factors create a demand for technical writers who can teach people about products and how to use them or who can take complex information (scientific or medical information, for example) and convey it to a lay audience.
As a technical writer, you may research and write about products. Types of publications you might create include user manuals, catalogs and parts lists, training materials, marketing information, and so on. You might also write proposals requesting funds and facilities for research.
If you want to pursue a career in this arena, you need a degree plus some specialized technical knowledge depending on the field in which you want to work. For example, you might specialize in science, law, medicine, engineering, business, or computers by taking classes in these subjects, getting a minor in these fields, or pursuing relevant work experience.
In addition to pursuing a writing career, some English majors look for work as an editor. Editors work for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, business and not-for-profit organizations, advertising agencies, public relations firms, radio and TV stations, and government agencies. Some small and many large companies have in-house newsletters and other materials that require an editor or writer.
What do editors do? To start, they assess the needs of their particular audience and then plan and create publications based on these needs. They may use in-house writers or hire outside writers and negotiate contracts. Or if the publication has a writing staff (for example, a newspaper or magazine), the editor may assign articles or assignments. Once the work is received, the editor reviews, edits, checks facts, and rewrites, as needed. Finally, the editor may oversee the production of the final product (book, magazine issue, newspaper, and so on).
An English major is a good fit for a career as an editor. If you want to pursue newspaper or magazine editing, you may also consider getting a certificate or minor in journalism. For all editing work, seek out experiences working as a writer or editor
If you enjoy writing, you may purse a journalism career, working as a news analyst, reporter, or correspondent. These professionals gather information, and then write stories or articles for publication. For radio or TV, news analysts (also called newscasters or news anchors) collect information from various sources and then broadcast the story on the radio or TV (either live or through a videotape). Often, news analysts specialize in a particular news area, such as sports, weather, investigative reporting, and so on.
Reporters look into breaking news stories that affect the local, state, national, or international scene. By following up on tips, interviewing witnesses or participants, taking pictures, and visiting sites, they organize the facts into a coherent story and then write an article for a written publication or air their reports on the radio or TV. Some reporters have a specific area (or beat) that they cover, including health, politics, sports, entertainment, science, business, technology, and others.
Working conditions for a journalism career can be stressful. Often, this type of work requires travel, as well as being on call to handle breaking news. Working hours vary and don’t follow the traditional 9-to-5 schedule. For example, some TV stations broadcast news 24/7, and the reporting staff needs to be available at all hours and work long hours. Newspaper deadlines are often late at night. Meeting these deadlines also adds to the stress factor.
Although most employers in this field prefer a degree in journalism, English majors may also be considered for these jobs. In addition to English, you may consider taking journalism classes, getting a minor in journalism, or getting a journalism certificate. For TV and radio, consider specializing in broadcast journalism. As a student, look for practical experience working on a school newspaper, magazine, Web site, or other publication. Also, consider internships or summer jobs working for a news organization.
In addition to public relations, advertising is another area that provides opportunities for English majors. The skills of writing and speaking effectively, as well as the ability to integrate images, are key. You may consider any number of careers within advertising. Usually, you start with an entry-level job, possibly as an assistant or advertising copywriter. As you gain experience, you may advance to other careers, including advertising or promotion manager or marketing manager.
An advertising copywriter creates ads for radio and TV to promote the sale of goods or services. In this job, the copywriter starts by consulting with sales media and marketing representatives to learn about the product or service. Collectively, this group may brainstorm to come up with ideas about a particular advertisement or campaign. For example, they may think about the style, format, medium for the ad, and other factors.
The copywriter then writes, edits, and proofreads the text for the advertisement and may also make suggestions for the art, photographs, or illustrations to be included. The copywriter might also help estimate production costs, oversee work done by outside contractors, and prepare a marketing program. In addition to writing the ads, a copywriter needs to keep current on trends in advertising and consumer buying.
The following list of other career possibilities:
- Account executive
- Bank officer
- Book critic
- Bookstore manager
- Business manager
- Circulation assistant
- City manager
- Comedy writer
- Communications manager
- Congressional aide
- Crossword puzzle writer
- Curriculum planner
- Desktop publisher
- Documentation specialist
- Editor, film/video
- Editorial assistant
- Educational program specialist
- Entertainment agent
- ESL teacher
- Fact checker
- Fashion merchandiser
- Greeting card writer
- Hotel manager
- Human resources corporate communication
- Human resources trainer
- Insurance agent
- Interpreter and translator
- Legal assistant
- Literary agent
- Magazine writer
- Manuscript reader
- Market research
- Media planner
- Personnel manager
- Product manager
- Public information specialist
- Publicity assistant
- Research assistant
- Sales representative
- Script reader
- Special events coordinator
- Speech writer
- Sports writer
- Technical consultant
- Travel writer
- Video scriptwriter/producer
- Web content manager
- Web developer
Shelley O’Hara. 2005. What Can You Do with a Major in English Major. Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey