Pst. Hey, you. Yeah, you—reader. I have something clichéd and important to tell you: follow your Moss Hart and Kurt Vonnegut (you see those puns there?)—make the switch to English.
The Major Less Traveled By
Everyone has dreams and aspirations of what they want to be. During my childhood years, I wanted to be a scientist, but once I hit high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. When I arrived at college, I was set on the psychology degree: I took my first psychology course the first semester of my freshman year in college, and being a psychologist immediately waned after that. After my first semester as a psychology major, I decided to switch to art and graphic design. I went through a semester with that, utterly full of contempt with my decision—art and graphic design is too niche for me, and I was not enjoying it to say the least.
Having hit an inescapable roadblock, full of stifled self-discovery and creativity, I switched to computer science on the premise of money and job security, and did that for the two years that followed (from the beginning of my sophomore year to the end of my junior year). At the end of my junior year, though, despondency set in: I discovered that I was not going to graduate on time. My computer science advisor did an awful job at preparing me for the road to graduation—I was advising myself, really. Always having had a convivial and ardent relationship with English, I changed my major one final time to, you guessed it, English. After my experiences in college, I realized that I just wanted to walk away with a degree in something that I was passionate in—writing.
The Plight of English Majors
I am certain many of you readers are expecting some sort of heartwarming story of how a relative introduced me to works like Moby-Dick or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; however, my story is less melodramatic. Growing up, specifically in my early teen years, I read many “complicated” literary works on my own from writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, William Blake, and a few others. It was because of these writers that I started to write short stories and poetry in my early years, with the hopes of being published one day.
Many of the works I read made me curious about an English degree, but I was always discouraged from pursuing it. Trying to figure myself out, I went on a “soul search” (if you will), aiming to accurately decipher what it is my heart and “soul” really wanted to do. Through my early schooling years, I won many awards on written proficiency, was asked to be a public spokesman for my high school, helped many students with their papers, and excelled exceptionally in all of my English classes; apparently, I was good with English.
Since I had been writing since my early teen years, it only made sense to major in English, and to stop thinking that money was the key to happiness. Because English at my university is such a short degree, and I had taken some college courses during my high school years, I talked to the Chair of the English Department at my university and he said completing an English degree was feasible in two semesters. With that level of confidence and assurance from the Chair of the English Department, I plunged head first into the pool of words.
The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made (& Why)
In the brief time I have been an English major, I have had the time of my life. I am now at the end of my college years, and believe I made one of the greatest, yet most maudlin choices of my life: being an English major. I say “greatest" choice because it has allowed me to express myself in a way I never thought possible; it has sumptuously opened up so many doors to my mind, and introduced me to some of the greatest writers I have never known. I was always interested in English, but had never delved too deep into it.
I say "most maudlin" choice because it was difficult switching from computer science, a profession that has (almost) guaranteed eminence, to English, an unpromising exertion. With the inherent creative nature of English though, I never felt incredulous or nervous to open my mouth and offer an opinion or interpretation in class discussions—English, in my opinion, never has a “right” or “wrong” answer, and that contemplation is compelling.
For example: in a Survey of American Literature course I took, the ability to propose a differing opinion from the professor when it came to interpreting works was always available. In that class, we analyzed works by Allen Ginsberg, William Dean Howells, Langston Hughes, Kate Chopin, Robert Frost, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ralph Ellison, Henry James and many, many others (I could go on for days). Because English is an interpretive medium, the professor (and students) willingly disagreed with each other without tantalizing or irascibly mocking each other. For this reason, I took fervent interest in the engaging discourse of English—I liked talking about things interpretively, and being able to have intelligible conversations in a logical way about things that might be illogical. Being interested in all things English (from the writing to the language to the words [etymology] to the literature), I found insouciant reprieve in its open-endedness.
Sometimes “The Best Decision” is the Hardest
But, as I mentioned before, a somber tone incessantly followed me after I changed my major.
Had I stuck with the computer science degree, I could have had a plethora of careers lined up for me with little to no effort: front-end or back-end development, systems analytics, software engineering, database management—the list could, quite literally, be endless. Nevertheless, I changed my major because I figured I would be unhappy with many of those job titles, and it would have taken me far too long to get into the field. Unfortunately, the many computer science professors I had did an awful job at teaching, and an innumerable amount of the concepts I learned were not sticking with me due to the way I was being taught.
Since I changed my major, I have gotten the perpetual countless stream of questions: “What are you going to do with that degree?” “Do you know that that degree is useless in the coming economy?” “Are you going to teach?” “So, you’re going back to school for another degree, right?” And so on. Discouragement filled my mind to the brim, overflowing, like a darkness surrounding the forest—I could not escape my own thoughts of feeling like a completely and totally paltry man with a degree that might be barren. Despite looking far and wide, I have found many options for my English degree, but none quite quenched my insatiable thirst to feel invigorated. So I began writing for a video game blog and quickly discovered that that is what I want to do—interpret and review entertainment (video games, films, tv, music, etc.).
Albeit melancholia has followed me after I made the choice, I am glad that I made the choice. It is arduous to say that with conviction sometimes—I get trapped in my mind, in the ongoing onslaught of advertisements for degrees that are seen as “worthwhile” and wonder, “Why did I change my major? What did I do? Will I amount to anything? Am I actually going to ‘make it’?” This has prompted a brooding cloud to accompany me, reminding me in persistence that I may have made the wrong choice. Though I think these thoughts, I quickly recollect myself and proudly say, “I am overjoyed with being an English major because I am, in all honestly and actuality, happy with what I am doing and what I’ll be able to do—even though I am not certain I will immediately be able to get into the field I want.” Melancholia has followed me since I made the choice, but true and honest happiness trails closely behind.
To Follow One’s Passion is Self-Liberating
Changing my major on several different occasions had me feeling depressed, but when I finally landed on English, I was able to discover more about myself. In that self-discovery, I have learned to be pleased with my choice of English as a major, and be proud of it and everything I have done thus far. There are many reasons why I am glad to be an English major.
Here are a few of my personal reasons why:
- I feel like I have found my true self (or, as true to myself as possible, as I'm still young). What I mean is, in my heart, I should have (perhaps) always been an English major. When I was younger, reading Poe and Shakespeare, I said to myself that I wanted to get into English, and try to publish one day. Even when I was a computer science major, I decided that I wanted to go back to school for an English degree—English has always been inherent for me, and I am no longer lying to myself, picking a degree that I believe will garner me the most income, but bring about the greatest amount of personal sadness.
- If I never made the choice to be an English major, I would have never read (and enjoyed) some of the classics such as The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, Sula, 1984, Death of a Salesman, Howl, The Awakening—and so on. Though I did not discover my favorite works of literature this way (Edgar Allan Poe still stands as my favorite poet), I have learned to appreciate different writing styles, which has helped me further develop my own writing voice. Needless to say being an English major has prompted me to read more rigorously and closely in the one semester than I have in my entire life thus far, and I am thoroughly enjoying that. None of the works I have read changed my life per se, but they have given me new perspective on things, and assisted in my understanding of the world around me in times when I was not born (especially The Great Gatsby—man, what a novel).
- Because of English, I have been able to have comprehensible and coherently unbiased conversations about things in such an intellectual way. This is all thanks to English: the concepts I have studied and learned, the many papers I have written, and the exegesis and colloquial conversations I have had in class. In studying English, I have learned how to more effectively communicate: perhaps the greatest skill I can apply in the “real world.” Through everything I have studied, many concepts have stuck in my mind, and I can quickly call upon them like the force: able to choke, push, or shock any person in a conversation to make my point more valid (...none of that literally, of course). Knowing how to communicate in a way that is transparent and unambiguous is the most important lesson that English ends up teaching, and, because of this fact, I have become a better speaker.
Because of all this, I intend to continue my English education, and go to graduate school (at some point) for a MFA in Creative Writing (or something English related). Even now, I frequently study the craft of writing from furthering my understanding of grammar and syntax to trying to pick up a hobby in literary criticism and theory. Being an English major is more of a positive than a negative: my vernacular changed; grammar more verbose (which could be a bad thing [laughs]); writing more prolific; logic more cohesive—everything about my speech has become more grandiose than it already was, and that is a very invigorating thing.
Studying the craft of writing is a very enriching: as with any hobby or passion, it opens the mind and frees the soul (just another cliché thing that may, in fact, be true). I love understanding the way punctuation is supposed to work because it helps my communication, a skill that all businesses and companies look for. Because of this, I believe that English is a very employable degree—even if you, or your family and friends, don’t believe so.
In reality, the next steps for me is to continue writing. At this current moment, I have two personal blogs, and I am an editor of two other blogs (8BitChimp and TheMashUp). Because of my knowledge with blogging and understanding of that atmosphere, I intend to continue that profession—admittedly, I don’t get paid right now, as I am still a full-time student. To be more concrete with my future goals, I want to write for an entertainment website/company known as IGN (formerly Imagine Gaming Network), and work on getting something published.
I understand many people's apprehension of becoming an English major, but I want say that the English degree has a lot to offer. Moral of the story: Do not be afraid to follow your heart and become an English major—it can teach you a lot of things, especially how to effectively and understandably communicate. To all aspiring English majors, those who are curious about English or contemplating about making the switch to English, my advise to you is simple: Do it! Make the switch—it is extremely rewarding. As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
About the Author
Jeremy Winslow is a full-time student in the final semester of his senior year at Notre Dame de Namur University (majoring in English and minoring in Computer Science and Business), and an editor of a few blogs including 8BitChimp and TheMashUp; he is based in the Bay Area, but from Sacramento, CA. Though being a student takes most of his time, he does his best to manage his time with the myriad of potential projects he has going on. Apart from being a fervent wordsmith and pensive writer, he is also an emphatic tech nut—he enjoys technology, and keeps up with the latest trends in the tech world. When he is not studying or slaving over some obnoxiously massive paper, he is usually writing some sort of non-fiction (poetry or prose), biking, playing guitar or video games, reading anything and everything, programming/coding, or watching a film (yes, film—not movie). Aside from 8BitChimp and TheMashUp, you can keep up with Jeremy on Facebook and Twitter.