Filling out college applications made me realize two things: that I had not yet chosen a career path and that I wanted that path to include writing. I checked “English” under the “intended majors” list and hoped occupation ideas would occur to me later.
I was happy with the decision, but hadn’t even graduated high school before that “intended major” became a negative topic to some adults surrounding me. My aunt, for instance, told me repeatedly that I should do something more useful with my time in college. She urged me to go into accounting, saying it insured a high-paying job compared to the uncertainty of liberal arts.
People would assume that, as a major in English and a concentration in writing, I wanted to be a teacher. To the general public, it seemed that getting any liberal arts degree directly translated into either becoming a teacher or a starving artist. I was certain there was a middle ground where I would be more comfortable.
In spite of the mountain of homework every college student has, I was glad to have the ability to choose classes based on my interests — something my roommate (who was studying to become a nurse) could not always say. In frustration, she would think back to high school where she dreamed of studying film and considered changing majors. Her considerations were always pushed away after discussing job prospects with her mother.
To advance my personal job outlook, I started building a resumé and portfolio. I gained experience by working for school publications. I took on internships to get hands-on knowledge in archiving, database maintenance and communications. These helped prove my capabilities to future employers. Eventually, I was able to seek out job positions based on these experiences.
The expert says…
Dr. Deborah Uman, chair of the English Department at St. John Fisher College (www.sjfc.edu), frequently addresses concerns regarding liberal arts or humanities fields. Through her own research, she has discovered that employers are actually more likely to take candidates with these degrees than those trained in one specific area.
Addressing the negativity, Dr. Uman says, “The belief is if you don’t go into something with a direct line to a job, like nursing or accounting, what do you do?” She goes on to say that, “people panic and don’t understand the value of a liberal arts degree.” In reality, the critical thinking, analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills are most developed in majors concentrating on reading, writing and communication.
Dr. Uman points out the significance of a liberal arts degree as being able to analyze, organize thoughts and materials, communicate effectively and recognize and use rhetorical techniques. Seemingly basic skills such as using Standard English for reading comprehension and writing composition become invaluable because, although the market may change, these skills will not.
Some jobs require specific studies, but changing jobs and careers is becoming more and more common. With more variety, a student is able to decide if he or she wants to go on to advance in education past the undergraduate level or supplement his or her coursework with experience, such as internships, service learning, independent studies or clubs — opportunities that may not be available to students on a specific learning track.
So, if you are thinking of majoring in something as broad as English, be sure to smile at those who think you are setting yourself up for disaster. They clearly don’t understand the world of possibilities that lie ahead of you.
Annemarie Maurer went to St. John Fisher College (www.sjfc.edu) and is the administrative assistant for NextStepU.