Real Talk: What's the Hardest Part of Being an English Major?

Like anyone going through school, having a network of people who can lend their support as you experience the ups and downs of it all is invaluable. Every major has its own set of challenges, and English majors are no different. However, as we're sure you're already aware, English majors seem to have a unique set of hurdles to overcome—sometimes, it can feel like we're constantly being told that we're majoring in something useless, we won't find a job when we graduate, we'll never make "good money," it's an "easy" major, etc. 

Over the past few years, one of the best things about Dear English Major has been reading about the many experiences and perspectives of English majors, from their deepest struggles to their hard-earned triumphs. Whether it's an experience that we can learn from or just commiserate with, it's always rewarding to see others connect in a meaningful way. 

We asked our audience of English majors what the hardest part of being an English major has been, and everyone who shared their perspective did so anonymously. 

Below, we've shared every single response we received, and we organized all of the responses into 5 major (loose!) themes. If you're struggling with any of these things, we hope you find some comfort and encouragement in knowing that you're not alone! 


1. The judgment of others.

"Being treated like an idiot by one's contemporaries. When I was a graduate student in English, the hardest part was dealing with the reactions of classmates. Some were studying biology, others chemistry, mathematics, and so forth. If they asked what I was studying, and I told them, some would smile sadly, turn away, and keep walking. Others would say something like, 'What the heck are you going to do with THAT?'"

"My biology professors being disappointed. That being said, I'm so much happier where I am and have more job offers. A lot of the 'hardest' parts boil down to perceptions of my major, not the major itself."

"Having people tell me my degree is useless but then sending me their papers that are due at midnight at 11:00pm so I can help them make edits."

"I would say the hardest part has been the assumption that my degree is worthless for anything than becoming a teacher. When I switched my major in college I had a friend (who ironically was an art major) say, 'But what will you do with that?' It's unfortunately a big assumption nowadays that anything other than a math or business degree is useless."

"I think the hardest part of being an English major is that you have to be earnest, and yet many people are still underestimate and unappreciative to the English major because they think it is not as important or invaluable compared to any other major."

"The hardest thing is finding a job and people telling you, 'Oh, so are you going to teach?' No one understands you need two majors for that and maybe I don’t want to be a teacher!"

"While being an English major allows me to do what I love, telling other people about my degree was always a fearful interaction for me. I once read ten novels in one semester for just a few courses, yet I was constantly told that I should feel better about my 'less-challenging' material. Because English focuses on the subjective, I think people believe you can fumble your way through and come out alright. I’d like them to tell that to the multiple essays I wrote for other people during my college career because they didn’t feel like picking up a book or trying to connect with anything in it. English as a field of study is undervalued, but it’s a good thing we have some literary underdogs that remind us to persevere."

“Schools seem to worship anyone with a major involving science and math, so much so that it seems to be impossible to show off the talents of an English major. In my last year of study, I’ve discovered the HUGE amount of work that can be done if you have an English degree, which is phenomenal. Sometimes it can just be hard to portray how smart us ‘book nerds’ really are.”

"It has been very hard for me to translate my knowledge and skills to other people. Many times I will be in a situation where those around won't take my knowledge seriously or don't acknowledge my depth of knowledge on a subject. I feel as if I've got a million books filled with knowledge in my head and no one with which to discuss or share that information. I live in an area where such knowledge is not appreciated. I graduated in 2016 and live in the rural Midwest."

"Having received my BA in 2016 and MA (coming this May) in English from the same university, the largest struggle has been changing the perception that getting two degrees from the same university is a no-no. As a senior undergraduate, so many people tried telling me that I’d receive no recognition for receiving my MA since it was at the same institution as my undergraduate degree. To be honest, I was terrified if I’d ever find work with that kind of stigma looming over my head. Then one professor that I looked up to and respected both professionally and personally told me to ignore those people; that the MA would be a good stepping stone into PhD programs or something out in the workforce. Further, how could I turn down a teaching assistantship and stipend? Everything seemed to just fall into place in deciding to return to my school as a graduate student. I’ve never been happier on deciding to pursue my MA; the relationships I’ve made with faculty both inside and outside of the classroom and finding where my true passions lie within English studies will make one bittersweet moment after six years in the same department."

"Classmates thinking that I have it a lot easier than them at a college with a large amount of nursing/science majors."

"For me, one of the hardest parts of being an English major has always been feeling the need to 'prove' myself. I actually had an adjunct English professor tell me and my fellow English majors that we would probably never find jobs and should take a more 'practical' major; save the 'thing that feeds your soul' for your minor. Ouch. The important thing is how YOU feel. If English is what you want to do, don't give into the non-believers. I graduated in 2016 and since that time have built a successful freelance business from an education that wasn't conventionally 'useful.' If you want to be an English major, be an English major, give it your all, apply yourself, and you'll see that perfect career grow in front of your eyes (take that, naysayers!)."

"For me the hardest part was the judgement from others including a lot of members of my own family. My school valued science above all else so being the the humanities somehow made you less (even if the course was just as difficult if not more so than some of the science majors). I’ve heard that I was an English major because everything else was too easy. I’ve heard the phrase 'those who can do, those who can’t teach' more times than I care to remember. However, I knew the intensity and insanity that accompanied being an English major and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

“The hardest part about being an English major is having to deal with people’s preconceptions that you just read a lot of books and analyze a lot of poetry. What English majors really do is develop the deepest possible understanding of the human experience. We learn more, understand more, and feel more than most people. We aren’t just bookworms. We are world-changers. And we’re here to do just that.”

"The hardest part of being an English major is my family asking me if I am going to teach. When I say that I don't want to teach, they ask me what I am going to do and think that I am not going to find a job if I don't teach."

"Knowing that I am pursuing a rigorous, practical, and necessary discipline, yet constantly feeling the need to justify and/or explain myself when others ask what I am studying. This is typically due to the immediate 'Oh, so you want to teach?' or look of confusion that follows. This becomes extremely frustrating and discouraging after a while, especially when I note my STEM major friends and family being met with immediate praise and approval after answering the same question."

"I began my college career as a nursing major and, as my freshman year came to a close, we had to interview with the head of the department. I was unsure about advancing down the path of nursing and chose to tell the department head that I had been considering a change of course—to become an English major instead. To this she replied curtly, 'I wish I could sit around and read books all day, but I just don’t have time for that.' Her words and the words of every other disparaging soul truly make up the most difficult part of the English Major. Literary criticism, advanced writing, and grammar can all be taught. But to press on in the face of constant speculation and discouragement is another matter entirely."

"Trying to explain to family what you do besides the obvious, reading, thinking, and conversing about imaginary people."

"It’s my senior year of undergrad, and I can confidently say that the most difficult part of being an English major has been social expectations. This has manifested in several ways—particularly in my interactions with people outside the English major or field. I’m always being asked (by friends, family, and strangers) the stereotypical 'So you wanna wait tables?' and 'What are you gonna to do with that?' Even now that I’m graduating, I still feel like I always have to justify my choice of major with some 'practical' response. I can’t just study English because I love it more than any other field and it brings me an incredible amount of joy."

"Knowing how versatile an English degree is, yet still getting asked 'Are you going to be a teacher?' every time you tell someone your major."

"The hardest part of being an English major is breaking the stereotypes. When someone thinks of an English major, they expect us to be the know-it-alls. The truth is, we don’t know everything—we like reading and learning new things. Additionally, we don’t just read and write all day. Shoot, I love to go to the gym and dance! I just wish people could see that all English majors are different."

"The hardest part about being an English major is being underestimated. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that my only option is to teach, or been given a look of disapproval when I tell people that I study English. My own peers in school even assume that my college career was an easy A because they figure my time is spent leisurely reading. Despite all that, I have never been more proud of myself for the path I chose. My skills are needed in so many fields around the world, and I truly believe that English majors can make incredible things happen."

"Having to write 100 essays/papers (ranging from 1-15 pages each) in one semester between 4 classes. People expecting you to know and love classics like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, when you honestly can't stand them. Then they don't take you seriously as an English major because you're not a classics fan."

"For me, the hardest part of being an English major is that I am looked down on for choosing English as a major. English, to many people, is the 'easy' major. However, it is not easy. Reading, writing, analyzing, and all the other skills that we utilize every day are not easy. We hone our craft and it can take years to master it. Another hard part of being an English major is the assumption that I am going to teach. I will not be going down that path and I wish people would just ask what my future plans are rather than assuming I want to teach. Finally, the last aspect that I find hard about English as a major is that there is such a wide array of things to do post grad. Almost any field needs a person who is good at communicating and we as English majors check that box. While options are wonderful, all these choices and options can actually be very overwhelming."

"The hardest part is people looking down on you so much for doing this degree, even family members. They think getting a job with an English degree is impossible and ignorant people think you can only teach with your degree. I've even had family members try to talk me out of doing this degree and were mad at me because I chose to do something so 'useless.' They tried to make me change my degree."

“The hardest part has been convincing people that it is a worthwhile major. When I changed my major to English sophomore year, it was compared to a major in basket weaving. Even now, I am constantly told I won’t be able to get a ‘real’ job. The stigma is difficult at times, but following my passion is worth it!”

"The hardest part of being an English major is not having support from your own alma mater. I was an undergraduate senior student at Cal State Channel Islands University when I submitted my first non-fiction story to their infamous literary magazine entitled the Island Fox. I felt a little apprehensive before turning in this piece that was about one of my favorite memories of visiting my grandparents in Mexico because the English professor running it was not a fan of me. In fact, she told me that I would NEVER make it as a writer, which made me contemplate dropping out of school. A week later I found out it was rejected because nobody on the writer’s panel understood it. Now two years later, I’m a graduate student at Antioch Santa Barbara ten months from obtaining an MFA in Writing and Contemporary Media and I’ve decided to submit to the Island Fox again. Even though I’ve interned at a local newspaper and had my articles published for all of Santa Barbara County to read, I’m scared to be rejected by my alma mater. I keep thinking about my English professor saying, 'Are you sure you want to be a writer?' This year I submitted a fiction piece from a chapter from a novel I’m writing. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever written. I’ll be crushed if it’s rejected. The interesting part about this is I’ve always thought my first published work would be from the Island Fox."

"People automatically assuming my career goals include teaching. And when I tell them they don't, the patronizing and pity begins because I've obviously wasted so much of my time and money on a degree that is completely useless if I'm not going to teach (insert eye-roll emoji or GIF here). The idea that I would pursue an English degree simply because I love reading and writing is just absurd to them. Clearly they don't understand the importance of being able to write cohesive and grammatically correct sentences, because there will never come a time where the ability to write correctly isn't impressive. It is a universal and desirable skill that I wish more people took seriously because you wouldn't believe the cringe-worthy things I read from grown adults who can't even form a sentence."


2. Struggling to find a job & career path.

"When I was 26, I made the decision to go back to college and earn a bachelor's degree. I am now nearing my 30th birthday and will be graduating in less than 10 months with my BA in English. As always, I get the questioning looks when I state my field of study, with the first question being; 'So are you going to be a teacher?' Due to the fact teaching isn't the direction I want to go in, the biggest hurdle of being an English major is what happens AFTER I walk the stage with my degree in hand. Will I be able to gain a position that eventually pays for the degree? Will I continue to be stuck in the job that I'm currently in? Will employers take my degree seriously? The unknown is the hurdle in my opinion."

"For me, the hardest part was figuring out what I want to do with my life. My emphasis was in writing and whenever someone asked me whether I wanted to teach, I would say no. However, until you're published, making a living writing is very difficult and I had no idea what I wanted to do in addition to following my passion. Just by chance, I ended up with a teaching position in an elementary autism program and I love it. I don't know if I'll stick with it long-term, but it goes to show that teaching doesn't have to be conventional."

"I'm facing my hardest part at the moment. I graduated with a master's (in Germany though) over a year ago and I'm struggling to find a job. I get invited to job interviews and sometimes get into the last round of the application process (even as far as having been notified to be the 'replacement candidate' in case the desired candidate cancels/declines the job offer last minute), but so far, no luck. I don't regret being an English major, but this seemingly never-ending job hunt is frustrating and depressing."

"Knowing what else I'm qualified for besides teaching English."

"I am one of those English majors who received the much too common doubtful looks and automatic response of 'Oh, so you want to be a teacher?' As quickly as possible, I would always respond to that dreadful question with a definite NO. My passion always has been, is, and always will be writing. I long to create a story that someone will read and be inspired by, just as I have been. Never did I expect to turn so quickly on that dream when I was offered a teaching position after months of being turned down in the writing/editing field. This was my hardest part of being an English major: realizing that I needed to take a job I didn’t want just to make money because my degree was seemingly pointless to others. So I did what I’d been against my entire life, and I became so incredibly miserable that I lasted about four months before quitting. Now I have an interview for a job that I pray I get because it would allow me to not only do something in my field of study but also leave me with spare time to finish my book. So yes, being an English major isn’t for someone looking to find an easy route through life. People will be rude, it won’t be easy finding a job, you most likely won’t make much money... but if you are doing what you love and are truly happy, then who cares about the rest."

"The hardest part of being an English major for me has been selling my degree to potential employers. It appears as though recruiters and certain industries don't understand the true value of having an English major on their payroll. It's really frustrating because there's only so many 'big words' you can throw at the person interviewing you, and it gets to the point where you wonder if you're overqualified for respective positions."

“Listening to people make jokes about our major and not being able to find a suitable career. Sometimes blocking out the negativity of others can be difficult and the doubt can creep in, but just keep at it. Remember why you chose the major. The jobs are out there, I promise.”

"Watching STEM majors with a 3.5 GPA receive guaranteed internships. Although it doesn't affect me because I have my own business, I feel that many English majors are in for a 'rude awakening' (in quotes because really, how did that even become a saying?) if they aren't planning to pursue a career in academia."


3. The courses & the workload.

"I go to a liberal arts school and English is required for all majors. So the majority of my classes are non-majors. Also, because of the lack of English majors at the school, the one senior class that only majors can take is only offered every two years."

"The overwhelming, limitless amount of information presented every single day—while I love the fact that I’m always made aware of different concepts, analyses, and the plethora of individuals that have contributed to literary history, I find myself wishing I understood everything there is to know, although I realize that will never be possible. However, this just gives me more of a reason to explore different avenues of interest for as long as I live."

"The hardest part of being an English Major had to have been the research papers. My senior year I had three papers due in the same week and two on the same day. This would be a nonissue if they weren’t over 20+ pages each. It took a lot of preparation and planning to have these completed on time. It taught me a lot though about following the process and being patient."

"I really wanted to participate in this survey, but now that it's time to say what was 'the hardest...' it's hard. It's hard because I actually loved anything about being an English major: the reading, the writing, the class discussions, the criticism, the challenge. My graduation cap said "Four years later and words are still beautiful." I guess for me, the hardest part was that I DID love everything, and when you're in four upper level English classes in one semester, you cannot spend ALL your time and energy on EVERY assignment. The hardest part was trying to do too much (reading, processing, writing) in too little time."

"As a post-grad I really struggled with reading material that didn't appeal to me. I didn't go into this major thinking I could choose whatever I wanted to read then gain a degree out of it, but there were some courses with material that I felt like didn't advance my understanding and appreciation of literature so that was always a disappointment when it occurred."

"I could say the criticism of my 'low future income' or the 'Oh, so you're going to be a teacher?' question. However, I think the hardest part of being an English major is still having to stick to canonical western literature and course requirements that don't allow me to get read the types and varieties of literature I would like to read."

"I graduated from Iowa State University this past December with a double major in English and Technical Communication. If I were to put a finger on the hardest aspect of being an English major it was the large amount of diverse readings I had to do in a week's time. I was enrolled in a multitude of English courses that all focused on novels/essays. Keeping track of all the different characters, themes and topics was a challenging but rewarding task."

"I guess just coming up with a thesis for a paper and keeping up with readings when I'm busy with other stuff. Sometimes, I can't write on stories because I'm caught up with readings and writing papers, even when I'm super inspired. That is DEFINITELY the hardest part."

"The hardest part has definitely been trying to balance all the reading and writing with the rest of my life. For instance, just this week I have to read three books, take a final exam, and write two papers on the books by Tuesday. On top of schoolwork, I work full time and try to fit in time to run or exercise. Also I've been planning my wedding for the past year and half and now I only have a week to go (if I can finish my homework)!"

“Not being accustomed to the amount of reading that is required of us. Yes we are English majors, and yes we love to read, but the amount of reading that we have to do for classes is extremely difficult. On any given day, I could have three different stories to read and analyze for classes, and each have different plotlines and characters to comprehend. I love reading, but sometimes it’s too much.”

"As an undergraduate, being an English major was the best thing to ever happen to me. So it seemed like a no-brainer when I picked a master's program in English. Nothing prepared me for how different my graduate experience would be. I knew it would be hard, but I never imagined how every waking second would be dedicated to writing, reading, and grading. As a teaching assistant, I was responsible for teaching two sections of composition with a total of 50 students. The biggest challenge in these two years was the balancing act of teaching, being a student, and having a home life with my husband (a grad student in biology). Weeks consisted of 12 hours of graduate courses (usually from 6pm-9pm), 9-12 hrs of teaching/office hours, and a few hours of tutoring at the writing center. The remaining hours were spent trying to read 3 novels and multiple PDFs per week, completing my own writing assignments/hw/projects, studying for comps., creating lesson plans, grading student work, and researching. Every second seemed dedicated to the major, which made being a newlywed difficult since the schedule of a bio major was completely different than mine (i.e. he was done with lab work by 5pm/6pm most nights and came home with free time to spare in the evenings. I was just getting ready to leave for class by 5:30). I learned the hard way by my last semester that making time for myself and self-love is an extremely important part of surviving any grad program (word of advice for future grads). While the two years of grad school were the most challenging of my life, I wouldn't trade the experience and conversations for anything. I was able to add a post-bacc certification in Women's and Gender Studies to my MA in English. My students taught me just as much, if not more, than I taught them. This journey also taught me that I'm capable of overcoming more than I previously imagined. It also opened doorways to exploring my passions and learning more about myself. Discussions in the English classroom are valuable, and I wish the rest of the world could participate and learn from them."

"The interdisciplinary component of being an English major has both been the most rewarding and difficult aspect of the major for me. In order to analyze a text, a scholar must have a depth of knowledge regarding subjects like science, psychology, sociology, history, etc. as well as the necessary language skills. Being well informed means constantly researching, but this also leads to a very well-rounded education!"

“There’s so much reading, and I say that as someone who has always loved reading. Time is limited, and usually I can barely find enough time to get all the required reading done. I really miss being able to read for fun without the specter of a due date looming behind me.”

"Aside from the high volume of assigned readings and having to show up to class prepared with margin notes and discussion points, the hardest part of my studies was unequivocally the amount of writing I had to do. My second to last semester included four literature classes, including a seminar and Shakespeare I. I truly astounded myself with how I was able to push out quality papers, take part in writing workshops, and keep up with my readings. I had no clue how well equipped I was to handle the boatload of papers that was constantly, unrelentingly veering towards me during that term. Even though I was burnt out by the end of it, I found myself pushing my writing and my resiliency to new places and it was beautiful mess of an experience. And perhaps it is the masochist in me, but sometimes I miss my espresso-fueled minor meltdowns that resulted in well-received response papers about meat sculptures in Italian Futurism, or writing about how one word can change the interpretation of a few lines from a Shakespeare play. Despite the stress and late nights spent staring dead-eyed at my computer screen, it was all worth it. I value my degree even more for it."


4. Struggling to connect with other English majors.

"For me, some of my hardest experiences have been responses from other English majors when I talk about the entertainment I like. It's easy to feel locked out of a community that places so much value on high-brow literature. I feel like I have to apologize for not liking Shakespeare, for not wanting to read Tolstoy before bed, for preferring the Jane Austen movies to the books. English majors should know better than anyone how our entertainment shapes our society and that there is room for everyone at the table! Bring me your 18th-century British poetry, but also bring me your comic books, your Twitter fiction, your rap lyrics. Write me essays about the Chronicles of Narnia and the Bhagavad Gita and Doctor Who. Fellow English majors, let's agree to value all kinds of literature in all its forms and enjoy it without judgment. Just because your preferred entertainment is older doesn't make it better."

"Honestly, English professors have such inconsistent expectations and grammatical rules. I’m a stickler for grammar and following structure, especially for MLA, but each one still manages to develop their own rules. It affects your grades and understanding of what aspects like MLA expect at all!"

"Professors not understanding the amount of time and energy that huge amounts of reading and writing take. Also, being disrespected by everyone in your university isn’t great."

"Undoubtedly the hardest thing about being an English major is the other people in classes. Don’t get me wrong, I have met some of the most wonderful people who I will stay in contact with for as long as possible, but the degree also invites cold-hearted people who make me forget that what we are studying is a beautiful and magical thing."


5. The personal challenges.

"For me, the hardest part of being an English Major was fighting the feeling of getting burnt-out with my studies. I chose my major because I wanted to study something I enjoyed, but it was so easy to lose sight of what I loved about reading and writing (especially that semester when I had to write five 15-20 page literary analysis essays in the span of a month). During the inevitable periods of stress and anxiety, I often would refuse to read another chapter or write that extra paragraph because I was just so done with all the work, but eventually I'd fight through the attitude of "I don't care"; then the due dates would pass, I'd turn in work I was proud of, and I would feel again the spark of joy for what I was doing. Now that I'm on the other side of my academic studies, I sometimes miss it all, which at the time seemed so unimaginable!"

"For me, the hardest part about being an English major is turning in or sharing my writing with my professors and classmates. It makes me feel super vulnerable."

“The hardest part of being an English major is often feeling alone in what I am creating. Lacking the confidence in myself and my ability to share what I’ve imagined is hard. So much of writing happens within the writer and a lot of it does not survive the journey to an essay, a poem, or a story. My family comes from the math and science background, so it’s hard to explain to them why I love to do what I do. I find courage in sharing my struggle with friends.”

"I’m a Creative Writing major, but the hardest part about taking English courses is getting into the ones you think you’re going to have the most fun in. I took a myth class last semester, and it was essentially Greek classics. That class I did not enjoy because I prefer American literature."

"When I was in undergrad, being an English major meant I felt differently about humans at a young age than my friends and peers. I remember it aged my soul quicker and I lost my youthfulness rapidly. Writing was my favorite element of undergrad—it definitely paved the way for where I am now! As a secondary teacher, I look for ways to illuminate reading and writing as a connection outside of what students are typically exposed."

"The hardest thing about being an English major is the loneliness. For my AA, I attended a community college that constantly glorified its athletics. The English department of this college only flourished because of the demand for remedial courses. As a result, the only time I ever met another English major was in one of the online courses (and most of my degree requirements have been online because the college can’t fill a classroom for literature). In every other course, I felt like the odd one out because I am an efficient writer or strong critical thinker. There have been so many times when I would want to share about a book or a cool fact of literature, but couldn’t because my classmates didn’t care or weren’t interested. I’ve written a lot of journal entries while attending this school. Now, I haven’t been completely alone these past few years. My English professors became my close friends, allowing me to spend hours in their offices talking about books and fandoms. But finding someone my own age and in my own major—not likely or often. I’ve felt like a caged and gagged bird because of how few people I am able to connect with. I hope that changes once I transfer to a four-year!"

"The hardest part of being an English major for me is that it turned me into a perfectionist. Don't get me wrong, being a perfectionist isn't always bad, it can be good in some ways. For example, writing has always been my strongest skill, and being able to help others who struggle with writing feels great, but when it comes to writing papers, a short story or a poem, it can be a challenge when trying to be an example to others and the editing process can be stressful. However, once your work is finished, you can breathe a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back. Overall, it is a matter of learning when it is okay to let yourself go or be professional with your writing style."

"I got a degree in English in 2007. I think besides the fact that everyone said that I would never use the degree and that it was dumb there are few 'hard parts' that stand out. I think that I actually lost my love for reading being an English major. Survey classes and focus classes where reading 10-12 books in a semester was the norm caused me to lose my desire to read as much as I used too (or maybe time did that, who knows). I loved being an English major. I’m not a great test taker so the fact most of my finals were papers was always helpful. I loved (and still love) the ability to articulate myself that I learned in classes discussing literature."

"The hardest part of being an English major was not really having friends who were also English majors so I couldn’t vent or talk about assignments with them. I also never had anyone to proofread my papers."

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to this blog post!

Posted on April 9, 2018 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles.