In defense of my English major

When you go to a liberal arts college, you essentially live in a bubble. You don’t even blink an eye when your classmate reveals that they’re pre-med with a double major in Philosophy and Biology and you know more foreign language majors than you can count. The world outside of that bubble is unfortunately not as open-minded.

It’s 2017 and whether you’re an engineer or not, most residents of the San Francisco Bay Area — the place that I call home — agree that tech is the industry to be in. I’ll admit that as someone who is fascinated by tech and pursuing a Computer Science minor just for fun, I’m also pretty convinced of this. But when I answer the question, “What are you studying at school?” my minor is only an appendix to the subject that I’ve put most of my time into: English Literature.

I don’t want to make any generalizations because I have encountered so many people who have reacted positively to my choice of study. But a bit more frequently than every once in a while, I face the opposite. Recently, I experienced one such encounter and didn’t realize until hours later that the person’s reaction was actually subtly offensive. I found this very alarming, because my inability to recognize the undertones of condescension in our conversation suggests that I’ve become accustomed to this tone. Apparently, over the past three years, I’ve subconsciously learned to accept that my major will be looked down upon. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.

If there’s anything else that I’ve learned, it’s how to sell an English major.

When preparing for job interviews, I’ve been forced to think about how the skills I’m learning in college will translate to the professional world. The strength I play up most is my ability to write and thanks to my many English classes, I have a writing sample ready whenever I’m asked for one. I know the value of concise communication, I’m proud of my proofreading skills, and thanks to my small classes where 25% of my grade depends on participation, I’m not afraid to speak up and contribute to the conversation. And as an added bonus, I’m never at a loss when faced with the often tricky question, “What good books have you read recently?”

This list of skills wasn’t on my mind the last time someone questioned why I would choose to study English, and instead my answer was simply, “I’ve always loved to read and write.” There’s no doubt that I would make more money and have more secure job prospects if I had chosen to major in something like math or engineering. There’s also no doubt that I wouldn’t be nearly as happy studying either of those subjects. I’m optimistic enough to believe that putting the time into something that I love will pay off — and so far, it has.

My advice to any undecided college student is: don’t rule English out. If you do study English, there will certainly be moments when you question your decision, just like I did after my recent encounter. But in those moments, I’ve never once come to the conclusion that I regret it.