Why you should major in English: the elevator pitch

I tell my students we all do research all the time and when we do, we never think it is boring. That Amazon wish list did not create itself; you had to go through and peruse the site to find what you want. In the same way, I want to encourage you to chase after the things that you find interesting. And it is okay to change your mind. It is why they give out free samples at ice cream shops. As someone who teaches English at a university, I will admit that it may seem like a conflict of interest to try convince you to study it but hear me out. It will not take long, I promise, and it will help you even if I cannot convince you.

The study of literature, writing, and the English language has so many branches. You do not have to love Charles Dickens or Virginia Woolf to find your niche. Writing for television, or a sports blog, or graphic novels (my new favorite is the adaptation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time) or human resources material all require not simply basic competency but writing that convinces. Ever heard of a resume or a cover letter? Creating that one page of writing that sings will make you stand out among the other four hundred applications for that Disney position.

No major will save your life or write you a blank check and technology is disrupting so many industries that no major is safe. How about accounting? Sounds safe until Ernest & Young decides overseas workers are a better value. How about law? What happens when Adobe or Microsoft develop computer software that is able to read and analyze those 1,500 page contracts in the blink of an eye? Learning how to think critically and creatively, how to discern, choose, and convince, these are the skills that are accrued from majoring in English. I will admit they are not exclusive to English and I am not saying that you could not acquire those skills eventually. But unlike technical degrees that teach only very specific skills, majoring in English will train you to think better.

Your parents? How are you going to convince them? I understand; I am a parent as well. Maybe your mom or dad will have cardiac arrest if you tell them you want to change from marketing or communications to English. Here is what you do. You do not change your major, you add English to your major. This way, your parents do not freak out and hyperventilate and irrationally assume you are throwing your life away. “Well I guess if you are going to go into advertising with your marketing degree it would help to be able to string a sentence or two together” will likely be their thinking.

Come on in, the water’s fine. Would you not rather read books with a narrative that stimulates you to keep reading into the night? That statistics book will never tuck you in at night. Let me close with some college peer pressure that your parents fear: Come on man, everybody is doing it. It will make you look cooler.