The 9 Most Common Misconceptions About English Majors (And Why They’re Not Always True)

We're laughing soooooo hard...

We're laughing soooooo hard...

It was recently pointed out to us on Twitter by a not-so-subtle tweeter that “if you need a website to defend the degree it probably isn't worth it.” Of course, this person was *probably* referring to, and they also shared some other blunt insight that we won’t go into here. By now, you might wonder why we even gave these things the time of day, but we believe that there’s a reason why we should respond in our own way.

Of course, he has a point. Shouldn’t a truly useful degree be more obvious? Why does there need to be an entire website dedicated to proving that an English degree is useful if it inherently is?

The English major has a PR problem.

Too many English majors are doubting their choice of degree, and too many would-be English majors are choosing other degrees because “you can’t make any money with an English degree,” “there aren’t any jobs,” “I don’t want to teach,” etc. The misconceptions and negative stereotypes that surround the degree itself and what an English degree can do for your future go on and on, but they can be changed!

We asked YOU, our Dear English Major audience of thousands, the following question:

“In your experience, what is the most common misconception or stereotype about English majors?”

This is how you responded, and we’ve elaborated on each misconception and why it most likely isn’t true.

  • Misconception #1: You want to be a teacher.

First of all, most of us are probably English majors because at some point, we had an incredible, inspiring teacher who made us fall in love with reading and writing and changed us for the better. So we can all probably agree that teachers are AWESOME and make the world go round! Many English majors DO want to become teachers, and they should go for it. We never, ever want to give the impression that we don’t support our teachers.

But not every English major wants to become a teacher, and as teachers know, an English major is not the same as having an education degree. Being a well-versed English major does not automatically qualify one to teach. There’s a lot of work that goes into becoming a teacher, especially becoming an English teacher.

(If you DO want to become a teacher, check out this article where real English teachers share their advice on becoming a teacher or professor.)

  • Misconception #2: You won’t make any money if you major in English.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in 2014, English majors had an average starting salary of $33,574. As of May 2014 national mean annual salary is $47,230 for all occupations regardless of level, according to the United States Department of Labor. So, just take a moment to think about that!

Just like any degree—sciences included—there are some English majors who will never go on to directly use their major in their career. But there are plenty who do, and they more than manage to take home a respectable salary from it every year.

  • Misconception #3: The skills you learn in English class don’t translate to the “real world.”

This stereotype could refer to several majors, but basically what people mean is: “How do the skills you gain in college directly translate to the real world and a full-time job?” More specifically though, people are saying something like: “I took an English class in college once, and we read The Great Gatsby, talked about it, and then I had to write an essay on symbolism. There aren’t any jobs in the real world where any of that is useful!”

True… kinda. At a job interview, you probably are not going to be reading a novel and then writing an essay to prove yourself. But in many careers, you will be expected to be able to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively with your peers. You will be expected to present ideas and information in a digestible, appealing way, as well as defend your ideas, the same way you did in that Great Gatsby essay. And you will need to do that again, and again, and again.

Fortunately, English majors are well-practiced when it comes to the aforementioned. Good communication is key in a world that relies on it, now more so than ever. Have you ever visited a website? Been advertised to? Yes and yes? Then you’ve seen the work of someone who is a great communicator. And that means there are jobs for folks who can communicate, and communicate well.

  • Misconception #4: There are no jobs for English majors.

Have you SEEN the Dear English Major homepage? Have you perused LinkedIn (and stalked the job positions that professionals with English majors have)? Have you checked out our resource pages for careers in copywriting, editing, freelancing, grant writing, library science, marketing, publishing, social media, teaching, and writing? These areas are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the various fields you can enter as an English major. The next time someone makes fun of our beloved English major… be ready to tell them what careers are out there!

  • Misconception #5: English majors always use perfect grammar and spelling, AND know the meaning of every single word.

Yes, while it’s true that we’re known for using impeccable grammar, knowing where to put a comma, and knowing how to spell words like “antidisestablishmentarianism,” we still don’t know everything. In fact, we can all use an editor from time to time. Editing is a profession unto itself and requires a unique skillset.

  • Misconception #6: We’ve read ALL the “classics.”

When your great uncle finds out you’ve never read Great Expectations or Treasure Island, he might be horrified. “WHAT? But you’re an English major! What are they teaching kids these days?!” While the classics are classics for a reason, a lot has happened in literature since 1883. You’re probably reading new and relevant authors that he has never heard of, and learning just as much—if not more—about literature, life, etc. Ya know. The important things. 

  • Misconception #7: An English major is easy. You just read books and write essays that are basically book reports.

Um. Ok. Anyone who says this has never, ever taken a REAL, college-level English course. English majors are often required to read multiple novels PER WEEK, do extensive research, and write essays that require you to reach far, far beyond a general summary of a book. Anyone who spends time doing this for weeks on end is either going to burn out or gain some serious brain muscles!

  • Misconception #8: We love editing and proofreading your writing and will do so for free!

“Can you proofread this?” “Does this make sense?” Ok, it’s true—sometimes helping our friends out is a true joy. We want to read what you’re writing (because it’s fun and interesting) and we can really lend a hand too—hey, writing isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea. But no, we’re not your personal fact-checker, and we don't want to rework entire paragraphs for you (unless you're really really really nice). And when you get a real job, you’ll need to HIRE us, because editing and proofreading are real skills that we have spent years and years practicing.

  • Misconception #9: We’re always judging you when you speak or write something to us.

No, no, no! English majors are people, too! (Promise.) We use slang, we end sentences with prepositions from time to time, and we are just generally grammar badasses! ;) Sometimes we text lyk dis and sometimes we insist on using full, proper sentences. Speaking to your friends versus speaking to your boss are two different things; so are texting and writing research papers. Don't assume we're always picking apart your grammar like evil grammar police. We get it. You're human.


Posted on August 20, 2015 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles.