Hack College Presents: Getting And Using An English Degree


For decades now, many have thumbed their noses at the prospect of obtaining a degree in liberal arts, mostly based on the assumption that such a degree could be of little use in the competitive job market. Graduates with a degree in English—one of the world’s most popular liberal arts majors—have become a symbol for struggling baccalaureates perpetually searching for a job to put their undervalued skills and learning to use.

In some respects, navigating the job market can be a bit of a challenge with only an English degree in your arsenal. However, with a little bit of self-reflection and creative know-how  finding the right job in a field you love should not be much of a problem.

Part I. The English Industry

If the above heading sounds strange to you, don’t worry, it should. For all intents and purposes, there is no English “industry,” which is another reason why knowing where to find the right career path with an English degree can be a bit more difficult than someone with a degree in a field like business, science, or fashion. However, having an English degree can open several creative and challenging career opportunities if you know where to look.

Careers Pathways for English Majors

  • Law: One of the common bonds shared by attorneys, paralegals, and other qualified members of the legal profession is that their undergraduate (or, in some cases, graduate) degrees are often in English. If getting involved with the legal system as an attorney or even as one of the many professionals that work with the law on a daily basis, then having an English degree should give you the foundational skills needed to be successful.
  • Marketing and PR: If an English degree proves anything about your skills and qualifications, then it should be that you are an excellent communicator that can captivate people with your words. If marketing, copywriting, and/or strategizing public relations campaigns for a brand seem like attractive professional duties, then a degree in English can help you land a gig with one of the many of the marketing and PR firms out there.
  • Writing: While establishing a career in writing after college can be much easier with an English degree in hand, becoming a successful writer could take several years, or even decades. A degree in English will help you to land a job as a technical writer or even a paid blogger, but don’t expect the degree to convince publishers to finance your first novel or poetry collection right off the bat. Should you play your cards right and really work hard at fine-tuning your writing skills and creativity, then launching a career in writing could pay off generously over time.
  • Public Service: Working in public service is a great opportunity for college graduates to take a leadership role in their city or community and begin putting their tried-and-true knack for communication to good use. Those who earn degrees in English will generally possess the communication and writing skills necessary to edge out competitors and land desirable jobs or professional gigs.
  • Teaching: These days, the demand for great teachers in the United States is at an all-time high. Public education in the U.S. has suffered for decades, and now the stage is being set for a new generation of teachers to come in and begin revitalizing our complex school system. A degree in English will make you especially suited to take on the challenges and rewards of being an educator in the 21st century.

Salary and Career Outlook

Like most liberal arts graduates, those with an English degree shouldn’t expect to make a six-figure salary right after college, or even over the course of their entire career. The College Salary Report for 2012-13 published by PayScale.com lists several popular career pathways for English and other humanities majors, as well as the salaries you can expect upon graduation.

If earning a decent salary with an English degree is your prime objective, then technical writing leads the pack with an expected salary of close to $70,000 a year. Other careers, such as copy writing and secondary school teaching, offer salaries that range from $40,000 to $50,000.

In the end, a choosing a profession with a degree in English should hinge more on your personal goals, motivations and strengths, and less on making the biggest paycheck right out of college.

Every organization needs a great writer, researcher, and communicator, and most graduates from English departments have all three of these skills more than covered. Unfortunately, because the career options for English majors are not so cut and dry, it will take quite a bit of careful thought and consideration before jumping into a career that you’ll love. Students who choose a high-quality academic program often find plenty of career resources available.

Part II. Top U.S. English Programs

Because English has been one of the more popular majors in the United States for several decades, there is no shortage of academic programs devoted to this discipline. While having so many options can be a great thing, sometimes it can make finding the right program a bit of a challenge. Below are some of the finest English programs available at U.S. colleges and universities.

University of California Berkeley

Ranked #5 in the country by U.S. World News and Report, the English program at U.C. Berkeley has enjoyed acclaim and admiration for decades.

  • Accreditation: U.C. Berkeley is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Specialized Degrees: The university is well-known for being rather conservative with the number of specialized degrees it offers. As such, the English Department at U.C. Berkeley offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in English only—other, more specialized degrees within the English Department are currently unavailable.
  • Industry Perception: In addition to belonging to a university of tremendous historical and academic repute, the English Department at U.C. Berkeley is celebrated as one of the best programs in the world. In some cases, just graduating from the school is enough for employers to hire you on the spot.
  • Cost: As a public university in the State of California, all residents pay less than half the amount of tuition that non-resident undergraduates pay; this amounts to $7,492.75 per semester compared to $18,931.75 per semester, as of 2012. Graduate school costs are comparable.
  • Financial Aid: In addition to the various pools of state and federal aid administered by U.C. Berkeley itself, there are several English-related fellowships and scholarships that incoming students can compete for with their application to the university.

Yale University

For more than three centuries, Yale University has stood as one of the United States’ most prestigious universities and its English department is widely considered to be the cream of the crop.

  • Accreditation: Yale University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE).
  • Specialized Degrees: While Yale’s English department does not offer any specialized degrees above and beyond undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, interdisciplinary study is encouraged, particularly in the department’s graduate program.
  • Industry Perception: Yale University is considered to be one of the great pinnacles of higher learning by people throughout the world, and the university’s name is synonymous with academic excellence and achievement.
  • Cost: Like most Ivy League schools, the cost to attend Yale University is somewhat steep. Total costs for the 2012-13 school year, which include tuition, room and board, supplies, and other projected expenses, amount to $58,600.
  • Financial Aid: Because the cost of attending Yale can be prohibitive, the university is proud to offer a robust financial aid package for specially qualified incoming and continuing students, some of which cover the entire cost of attendance. The English department itself also offers financial aid in the form of scholarships and prizes for outstanding written works.

University of Pennsylvania

Commonly referred to as Penn or UPenn, the University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin and has gone on to become one of the United States’ most renowned institutions of higher learning. The university’s English Department is considered to be one of the very best in the country.

  • Accreditation: The University of Pennsylvania has recently reaffirmed their accreditation with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
  • Specialized Degrees: UPenn offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in English.
  • Industry Perception: UPenn’s English program is widely considered to be one of the strongest in the country.
  • Cost: According to CollegeData, the cost of attending UPenn for the 2012-13 academic year was estimated at $59,428. The bulk of this amount goes towards tuition, which was set at $43,566 for the academic year.
  • Financial Aid: In addition to offering several financial aid packages through the government, UPenn and the Department of English also offer scholarships, grants and fellowships to students with financial need and/or outstanding academic achievement.

Northeastern University

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University has since grown to become one of the country’s most admired institutions for research and higher learning. The university’s English program is celebrated for its innovative course offerings and a bachelor’s degree program that can be completed entirely online.

  • Accreditation: Northeastern University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
  • Specialized Degrees: In addition to offering a comprehensive online bachelor’s degree program in English, Northeastern also has an excellent undergraduate English degree program at the university itself that can be combined with specializations in cinema studies and/or linguistics.
  • Industry Perception: Like many of the schools discussed so far, Northeastern University’s English program is generally perceived to be one of the very best in the country.
  • Cost: The cost of attending Northeastern University for the 2012-13 academic year was estimated at $53,226, or $335 per credit hour; this includes tuition, mandatory student fees, and room and board. The university’s online degree program in English costs roughly the same amount.
  • Financial Aid: Northeastern University offers financial aid packages in the form of federal loans and grants, as well as a list comprehensive scholarships for which students can compete every year.

Part III. Launching a Career With Your English Degree

So far, we have discussed career and educational expectations when it comes to pursuing a degree in English. As mentioned previously, a degree in English can open up a number of interesting career possibilities for those with an open mind, a sense of creativity, and above all, a healthy dose of patience. If you still think English is the major for you, below are some helpful tips to help you get on the right career track following graduation.

Organizing the Job Search

  • Portfolios: Depending on what you specialize on within the English major itself, a portfolio may or may not be an extremely important aspect of your job search profile. In most cases, however, a portfolio of your best written work is required by English departments in order to graduate. The Indiana University of Pennsylvania has created a very informative resource on how you can start creating an outstanding English portfolio right now.
  • Cover Letters and Résumés: While résumés are still an extremely important way to communicate your skills and experience to potential employers, the cover letter is where recently graduated English majors really have the chance to shine. By putting your top-notch skills and talents in the English language to good use in your cover letter, chances are that employers could take positive notice, despite the fact that your résumé may still be a bit bare. For more information, the University of Washington provides some handy tips on résumé and cover letter writing for English majors.
  • Personal Branding: Creating a personal brand for yourself is necessary for competing in today’s cutthroat job market. Given the huge number of people who graduate with English degrees at universities throughout the country, finding innovative and creative ways to distinguish your own unique talents in the field will surely help you stand out from the rest. This excellent infographic provided by MarketingProfs.com will show you how to begin crafting your personal brand today!

Never Hesitate… Communicate!

In the end, a degree in English will prove that you not only have earned valuable, high-level skills in reading, writing and critical thinking, but also that you have to ability to communicate effectively in the English language. As businesses and organizations begin to realize how important effective communication is in our globally-connected world, employing someone to eloquently speak on the organization’s behalf is crucial. No matter what you decide to do with your English degree, know that now, more than ever, your expert communication skills will always be in demand.