Ways to make your English major more marketable to businesses

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Style Isn't Just About Shoes

One of the chief complaints of businesses these days is that the college graduates they hire can't write. Ouch. The larger implication of that statement is that the college graduates can't think, because good writing skills come from clear-thinking individuals who can present ideas coherently, concisely, and -- yep, you guessed it -- correctly. Increasingly, the big business bosses are turning to students who have majored in the liberal arts, the humanities, because they are more likely to find young people who can communicate information effectively and who are well grounded in a variety of subjects. It turns out that students who major in English or history are becoming more and more attractive hires to corporations (a quick search online turned up this article top of the list, but there are many more http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/272709_englishmajors05.html). It's easy to feel that an English major is somehow removed from the construct of the work-world, but that's just not so. Everything you read, everything you write is training in the much-prized art of communication; it's as simple (and as complicated) as that.

English Plus Business Means Success

There are several recent books and studies on the increasing need for good English from college graduates; one survey by Peter Beidler showed that "of 150 graduates in English from Lehigh University. Results indicated 33 percent were employed in business and industry, 14 percent in communications, and 15 percent in teaching" ("What Can You Do With an English Major?" Journal of College Placement 45.6 (1985): 46-48) -- and that was in 1985.  The percentage employed in business has gone up since then.  The need for good writing skills, good grammar, punctuation, and spelling is real and applies across disciplines.  Add to that the general knowledge base of the well-read, well-rounded English major, and you're a very attractive hire these days. 

Branch Out

Furthermore, it isn't just employers who are looking for competent English skills -- if you go on to graduate school, a B.A. in English will get you into an increasing number of M.A. and even Ph. D. programs -- from law to history to (in one article I read) medicine (http://nl.newsbank.com/nojavascript.html) (obviously, you'd need some science in there, too!). Why? The answer is at once both reassuring for students majoring in the humanities but also a serious indictment of the state of education generally in the US -- high schools are producing students who can't write. Or spell. Or use punctuation correctly. What was once taken for granted from any high school senior is now coached and tutored during freshman English courses to students who in some cases have never read a novel, never mind constructed a complete sentence in their native language. Business corporations, exasperated with the poor skills of some of their applicants, are relieved when they see a well-written application form and welcome students who exhibit the ability produce concise reports or draft letters competently. PowerPoint presentations are a dumbing-down of ideas for people who can't write, to communicate to people who can't think: English majors who can convey pertinent information quickly are valuable commodities.

Read. Think. Write.

I started teaching college courses in 1984, and since then I have watched English skills decline slowly but steadily in incoming freshmen.  This may well be partly due to the fact that we are becoming increasingly attuned to visual images rather than the written word -- and I've often wondered, recently, whether or not students would concentrate more on a book if there were buttons to press on it, and the advent of small, book-sized, computer readers (such as the much-hyped Amazon.com Kindle) might address this particular concern.  But there is no avoiding the simple fact that the more you read, the more you are exposed to good writing, a universe of information, and examples of cogent argument.  Enjoy being an English major.  It opens more doors for your future than you may be aware of, and while some degree programs may offer business courses for the interested student, there's no denying the fact that literature promotes incisive thinking.  And we could all use more of that right about now. . . .   

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Comments 51 comments

Di 8 years ago

I am pleasantly surprised with English Degrees becoming so popular in the business world. I have a BA in English- Writing and a Philosophy minor. The most common professions for English majors in the past were: Journalist, Teacher, and if you are lucky a WRITER! I am now tutoring at a College, while pursuing my writing career. Thanks for your information!

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 8 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Hey, Di -- thanks for your comment. Oh, and keep on tutoring; it's greatly needed, and I hope the kids appreciate you!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Good news to hear that "the world" is finally turning in the favor of liberal arts backgrounds! My journalism degree is nothing but a liberal arts degree combined with business courses. I figured at the time it was a good idea since liberal arts had been looked down upon for such a long time. Nice to see positive change. Like you I was wondering just how long the business world could tolerate employees without good reading comprehension and/or writing skills. Now there's a Duh! moment... grin

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Love those English Majors. Language is civilization. Language makes us human. So good to read your article, Teresa.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Dolores, you are SO welcome. Thanks!

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

I started college as an English major, but --to my horror-- I realized that my major would turn me into a teacher, so I switched to Art History.

I turned out to be a teacher, anyway. Oh well, I tried.

Nice article, as usual.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Hey, Rochelle: I always swore I'd never go into teaching. And I did. I tried, too -- went into Marketing with Modern Languages. Stuck that one year before going back to English.

Thank you very much for your compliment. It means a lot from a fellow educator.

Benjimester profile image

Benjimester 7 years ago from San Diego, California

I'm gonna pass this along to a friend of mine. He just moved back into town and is wondering how he's going to get a job that uses his Communications Degree. Thanks for the info.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Hope he gets a good job.

lafenty profile image

lafenty 7 years ago from California

I recently returned to school to complete my English degree. Your article is enlightening. Thanks for the information.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Good luck with your studies, lafenty.

MBKL 7 years ago

My English degree did lead me to teaching, though I tried to avoid it. In the end, I'm glad I teach. Being an English major exposed me to literature and writing styles I would not have experienced while majoring in other fields. Also, being an English major trained me to be an incisive thinking and competent communicator, as you've indicated in your article. I've been able to pass those skills along to many students over the years. When talented students ask me if they should consider teaching English, especially when their parents are discouraging such plans, I encourage them enthusiastically. Thank you for your article.

AshleyVictoria profile image

AshleyVictoria 7 years ago from Los Angeles

Great advice for us English majors! Sometimes I feel like job seekers look down on my English major, but in reality I could work circles around their employees if only given the chance to prove myself!

terrowhite profile image

terrowhite 7 years ago

Excellent lens full of useful info. about English major. I wanna to be english Teacher. Thank you so much for this information

GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Another excellent article. Being I'm in the youngin' category you speak of here, I too can't believe how poorly a lot of my peers write and read.

When/if I go to college I will be majoring either in English or History, I havn't decided yet, but I love both equally well.

Its funny how when I watched the Time Life (American) Civil War documentary many of the letters sent home from soldiers to their loved ones spoke and wrote rather eloquently, even in an era of violence and fear. The educational system back then, too, was more rudimentary than today!

Also, I thought you might find this amusing:

In one of my favorite books that details a far off future centering around matter compilers (think of Star Trek's 'Replicator') most people don't read/write very well because most things are represented by icons.

From Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age"

"What's a matter compiler?"

"We call it the M.C. for short."


"It just does, in letters I guess."

"What are letters?"

"Kinda like mediaglyphics, except they're all black, and they're tiny, and they don't move, they're old and really boring to read. But you can use'em to make short words for long words."

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Ha! Love it, Generique -- mediaglyphs rule. I'm sure you will be going to college (I hope you do): they make you read so much (gawd I loved it).

I have some letters my great-grandfather wrote my great-grandmother, and their eloquence, handwriting, and formality used to awe me when I was a little girl. And he signed them "your loving husband, John Conn."

GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Thats sweet. =)

I don't even want to cover some of the phone text messages I've seen today...we've gotten so sped up in our culture we forget to slow love down with romance. ;)

lindagoffigan profile image

lindagoffigan 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Terersa your hubpage was informative about career choices for English majors. At one time,college students would not select a liberal arts major because the promise of a career was not great except for teaching. Thank you for letting hubbers know that the  English major is okay.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago

I come from Singapore, so English is my 2nd Language. Majoring in English is one of the best choices I have made. Good information on the usefulness of majoring in English.

jacobt2 7 years ago

Wow...very useful hub. Thank you, I am thinking about majoring in English.

Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California

My English Degree turned to a life of trying to sell a goddamn novels and shorts to a-holes (no crack at editors etc.). .   And yes, they don't teach writing anymore. They don't teach rhetoric, and, honestly, they teach too much "culture," "ethnicity," and "social theory," where they used to teach the Bible (as a foundation to western culture... which YOU know, but many don't), Greek and Roman mythology (same reason), and Shakespeare.  You can get an English degree now with 3 units of Shakespeare, no Bible, No mythology, NO Chaucer, and with a smattering of American and British lit.  Don't even have to go cover to cover on the Norton Anthology.

However, the decline of "general" ed. has made English majors valuable because what used to be a core skill has become a "specialty."

The movie _Idiocracy_ is not as stupid as it seems on the surface.  If you haven't seen it... or if you wrote it off because it looked stupid... you should give it a second thought.  It's not as stupid as it seemed.  Orwell's talking critters weren't either.  So, who knows.

Anyway, another great read from you.  If you were a pop star and I was the Billboard charts,  you'd quickly be on your way to rehab, an unwanted pregnancy and marriage to a simpleton that was destined to end horribly and find you on the cover of celebrity magazines focusing on your dimpled, post-liposuction belly dents. So, you can feel good about that.

Twin XL 7 years ago

Great article with some good advice. I considered going back to school to get my BA at one time. I think you may have rekindled my flame!

elliot.dunn 7 years ago

thanks for the encouragment. i just finished my first year as an English major and loved it but am definitely getting tired of everyone saying, "oh...English? cool...but what are you going to do with that?" do you suggest that students pursue a pure English degree or should it be mingled with business, history, economics? again most sincere thanks for the boost.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Hey, Elliot: it really is up to you whether you'd like to minor in another subject. I'd go with your instincts and what you'd most like to do, really. Sure, courses in other subjects might give you an edge. Or might bore you to death. (I tried the economics. . . bad idea for me!)

KatyWhoWaited profile image

KatyWhoWaited 7 years ago

I was always fascinated with Language Development and ended up in Deaf Education which focuses heavily on teaching language skills, much like teaching English as a foreign language. However, in my soul, I was never meant to be a teacher and consequently was never as brilliant as one needs to be for deaf kids. There are two reasons why I never chose an English major some forty-five years ago, both of which I regret: 1. Sister Mary Somebody read Mary McCormick's short story and mine outloud to the class as examples of good short stories. Mary's was piognant and sophisticated and I convinced myself that I could never write as well as my friend Mary. 2. Another teacher started an after-school journalism class and our first assignment was to write a good obituary; I never went back to journalism class. Lesson to all aspiring English majors: follow your instinct and intuition and don't let foolish reasons deter you. It's a wonderful and rich major as Terese McGurk says and I might just try even at this late date for a masters in that area. "Do what you love, the money will follow."

Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Teresa, thanks for the timely hub, (or my timing at discovering your hub), I am right now at a cross roads, and I can see that the only thing I am really interested in is English. You have given me something to ponder as I really do not want to continue my pursuit of computer science. I love writing and reading way too much. Strangely, after considering all the comments, becoming an English professor sounds appealing, and I never saw myself teaching anything but the Bible in a church someday - but who knows.

Is it really safe to say that English majors may be favored among other candidates for employment in the private sector? That's hard to answer, but your hub gives me hope, enough to start doing some research. Thank you thank you, (envision bowing and scraping here).

FreedomChic1776 7 years ago

I completely agree! I am a current history major, english minor, and the more papers I see from my other classes, the more frustrated I am. This gives me much hope for a job after I graduate.

Pio Marcelo profile image

Pio Marcelo 7 years ago from Philippines

I am a college drop out from the Philippines who loves to write. Though I'm not perfect, I always make a conscious effort to learn or at least improve my writing skils. It has always been, at least for me, as simple as being able to communicate my thoughts and ideas correctly and in a coherent manner. That is why it is very disappointing to see college graduates who cannot put across their ideas into a coherent and correct written form. I have learned by experience that communication is one of our basic needs together with food, shelter and clothing and I'm glad that I have come to value this precious skill. I just hope that everyone, students in particular, would come to realize just how valuable it is to be able to write down ones ideas in the right manner. Hope to learn much more from you.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Thanks, guys, for coming by and commenting, It seems so obvious to say that good communication skills are important, yet they are lacking in our kids. It seems obvious to say that a good grounding in Western Civilization is important for a degree in English, but -- as Shadesbreath points out above -- ya don't need to know nuthin' 'bout that, either.

For those of you who are studying English, you are doing what used to be taught in high school, so you are lucky. You are in better shape than your peers.

For those of us who got a broad education, back in the days when one was taken for granted, we can count ourselves lucky, too.

Twin XL 7 years ago

Teresa, I always enjoy your posts. Very informative and well written. Thanks!

karpouzian profile image

karpouzian 7 years ago from Iowa

I just stumbled across this, but I appreciate it. I read articles (Hubs) like this, and I keep thinking that there is still hope for me ;)

denoonan profile image

denoonan 7 years ago from Boston MetroWest

I got my BA in LA degree back in 1968. I majored in English, but I usually lied and listed Journalism on my resume (thinking it would make me seem more practical).

Being a good thinker and writer served me well in my career as a Systems Analyst. I have always recommended a Liberal Arts undergraduate education over vocational tracks because business and technical knowledge is relatively easy (and less expensive) to acquire in the post-academic world if one has learned to think about things and ideas.

Good topic. Thanks for writing about it.

Small Talk 7 years ago

This is the age of the computer--hazardous for one's eyesight. Without eyesight, thinking and learning become more difficulty. So many cues are picked up by people with good vision, helping their memory, helping their alertness. Could this be one reason why there is a diminishing of good communication skills today?

Kerry 7 years ago

I graduated (with honors) in 2000 with a dual major in English and philosophy. I attended graduate school for philosophy, but I didn't finish the thesis. I've been waitressing and bartending for the last nine years, and I barely make ends meet. Thousands of resumes later, I don't think my education did much for me in the world of business. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but you don't always find a job. Especially if you live in Western NY or some other perpetually depressed area!

Karraline profile image

Karraline 7 years ago

Wow, Thank you so much! Now I'm going to go and get an English Major. It is now one of my goals, thanks to your valuable information. So you're from Ireland? I would love to go to Ireland!

Aliyah 6 years ago

I was wondering, what jobs are available to an english major, and this article really helped. But, can you name some colleges that are good for english majors, and also is it possible to minor in business with an english major?

sally 6 years ago

No offense, but the English majors employed by "business and industry" are typically clerks, waiters/waitresses, and the people who take your order at McDonald's.

Good English is a must, but as a future Entrepreneur I would wonder why someone would feel the need to spend four or more years in college majoring in a language -- esp. if it is the one they were raised with!

Being able to read, write, analyze, and build coherent messages is something most employers EXPECT someone to already know how to do -- so why then would an English degree be necessary?

If you really want people to know you are a good writer, then write and publish a book on your own time. Submit a column to the newspaper. Write a blog. WRITE AND REVISE, WRITE AND REVISE, WRITE AND REVISE YOUR RESUME! If you want a degree that will help you make the TOP-DOLLAR in "Business and Industry" for example...then go into Business, Engineering, Science (as in Physics, Chemistry, etc), Computer Science (if you are a quick learner since by the time you graduate your info. will be outdated) etc.

People who graduate with a degree in the liberal arts are putting themselves at a disadvantage. I am sure some of them will be able to do well and make good money -- maybe even have a career rather than a job. The thing is though...most will end up working for minimum wage, with a job they dislike, and in the long-run it WILL hurt them. Even if you aren't a very materialistic person and think it's fine just having enough money to slide-by...that is when you are young. Think about the long-run! Do you really want to work until you plop over at your desk because you didn't have enough money for retirement?

Sure, a degree in the arts might seem fine-and-jolly now -- I mean, you are pursuing your PASSION, your HOBBY, something CREATIVE...but seriously, do that stuff on your free time! I'm hyper creative...a classical/jazz guitarist, artist, cook, love fashion, but thank gawsh I learned from my mom's mistake (of getting degrees in english/social work)!

I am a Business, Marketing major and an Advertising minor (although I might change the minor to Economics). I love the arts, and I love languages. So...I do fun stuff outside of class. I'm also going to be an exchange student hopefully three or four times during my college education. So..I get all the fun, but I'll have a marketable degree which I can use to get a good-paying job...but most importantly, the degree actually teaches useful information that I can use when I start my own company!

Also...as a Marketing student, I would like to point out that this article has no good supporting data and that I am still appalled that noone else noticed the use of "business and industry" to make the jobs acquired seem top-notch. >___>

So yea, if you want to call your position at the drive-through window a "business and industry" position then go-on-ahead...but seriously...think about when you grow old!!! Do you REALLY want to spend the rest of your life poor and most likely just getting by?

ps: There is nothing wrong with dumbing stuff down! Unless we are talking about a leisurely book, most people (independent of intelligence) would rather skim through a Powerpoint presentation with all the main ideas than having to pinpoint the main ideas themselves. In the Business world that is called, "SAVING time, since TIME=MONEY!"

I am not trying to be rude, but what has Teresa McGurk accomplished which PROVES her article?

NOTHING! She is a good writer (although not the best researcher from what this article shows me), and THAT is misleading many people to take her words for granted.

I know my degree and my entire future career/businesses will be built on manipulating people...but I'm not a bad person...and seriously, you are literally dooming yourself to a life empty of the success you could have had if you had only majored in something not pertaining to literature!

Good luck to you and...heed my words!

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 6 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Great comments, Sally -- thank you for taking the time to respond. You are correct (as you well know) when you say that being creative can be achieved in one's free time, and when you point out that the best-paying jobs entail personal marketing skills (i.e. ya gotta sell yourself).

In an ideal world, many more people would do as you are doing, and be successful doing so: your work ethic is admirable, and your ability to work AND maintain a creative life is to be commended.

What has Teresa McGurk done? Not much at all. She has only existed for a couple of years, being a keyboard name, nothing more.

There is one point I'd question, though, in your thorough comments: you suggest that a life without financial success is empty.

I'm sure there are many artists, writers, monks, farmers, people on disability -- all of whom would disagree.

Neil Ashworth profile image

Neil Ashworth 6 years ago from United Kingdom

That's really good info, thanks for sharing. Very good piece of writing.

Zakariyau 6 years ago

It gives me more HOPE. Thanks

Luna Yee - Business Courses 6 years ago

Amazing hub! There are lots of opportunities as an English major graduate specially in the field of education. Don't worry about having a hard time finding a career I'm sure everything will be ok as long as you work hard and be patient enough to wait for your opportunity.

Isaac 6 years ago

That's inspirational and encouraging to hear, since I am taking one, of five more courses, which I need to graduate with a BA in English, in addition to my BA in General Studies. What an informative, and enlightening article.

Thank you for writing it.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 6 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

You are very welcome.

Rory 5 years ago

Very incouraging Teresa.Thank you for these information.I have a B.A in English , but my major doesn't seem that attractive to most jobs I apply to. I am from Saudi Arabia , and till now I could not get any work chances except for teaching!

I am planing to get my M.A in LINGUISTICS , but I hate it ! I love literature but a lot of people told me I cant do anything with LITERATURE thses days

What do you think ?

Sade Greene 5 years ago

Sally, what do you think I should do. I am a second semester senior English major. Should I go to graduate school for accounting and finance?

Kaila 5 years ago

Thank you for this article. It made me feel a lot more confident about my decision to major in English. Now I'm considering a minor in Business Administration, too. Thanks again!

Angela 5 years ago

I am currently in my third year as an English major with a Writing minor and a History minor, and even if I never get a job I feel it's important for me to carry on these ideas and traditions. Just do what you love and what you're passionate about. The rest will come along.

VanessaY 5 years ago

I too am an English major. I'm still looking for a career with it so hopefully it is able to happen someday soon. I liked this article because I use to feel English majors were not taken as serious, too.

Jenna 5 years ago

I am also an English major. I take a certain pride in my increasing ability to convey ideas and emphasize points without having to use all caps.

MeghanMarie 5 years ago

I'm at a crossroads in my college career. I want to be a writer but, of course, cannot guarantee that anything I write will ever generate interest. So, in order to be sure that I can keep the bills paid, I decided to be a teacher at the beginning of my college path. I am now not so certain because of the lengthy minor in education. I'm 15 classes away from having my major in English. If I decide to continue with the education minor, I'm looking at another 2.5 years from where I stand today. I wish I knew a route that would be much faster than interviewing into the education program, the extra volunteer work hours, the Praxis exam, and a year of student teaching. All of that just seems so unnecessary.

jroberts54 4 years ago

Hi, I'm a freshman in college and majoring in English but I am also considering a minor in marketing so this article was very beneficial to me. Thank you, I will use this article to help me further my education.

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