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What to Do With an English Degree

Updated on March 13, 2011

Is an English Degree Really Worthwhile?

In a nutshell, yes and no. There are many things you can do with an English degree, though there is little job security with any of them. They also may pay little until you are in the upper eschelons of those professions. Of course, whether getting an English degree is worthwhile to you depends entirely on what you want to do and what kind of lifestyle you want.

Many people end up getting into an English major because they want to write novels or short stories, and they assume that an English degree will help them to do that. And, it will help to some degree. It can help you with writing skills and understanding your own writing in the context of what has already been written. Studying vast amounts of literature can add depth to writing and make it a more mature work than it would be from someone who has not had the benefit of that study. It can not, however, hand you ideas or make your writing interesting. Those factors are up to you alone.

Here's a quick look at the possible futures ofthose with an English degree.

Working in Publishing

The publishing world is something that greatly interests a lot of English majors. Many believe that a job in publishing will get them closer to getting their own works published. In general, it will not. The work requires long hours and has a high rate of burnout. It is also low paying for the first several years. But, working in publishing is a prestigious job that can get you a lot of contacts for future ventures.

One of the problems with working in publishing is that you pretty much have to live in New York or Toronto to have a real chance of breaking into the industry. the only real exceptions to this are the smaller, university presses that are located in every state.

Becoming a Literary Agent

Many literary agents are people who have left the publishing industry to start their own literary agency or to join someone else's. Agents who have worked in publishing are highly sought after by writers because of the many connections they develop in their former industry. As a literary agent, there is little income security. Any security is dependent on how many of your clients' books you sell. This is risky, but there is also the potential to make millions a year.

Freelance Writing

Man freelance writers are people with English degrees who developed some writing skills but don't want to get into the publishing world. Freelance writers may focus on magazine articles, short stories for magazines and anthologies, Web articles, commercial copywriting, or anything else that pays the bills. The internet has made it easier than ever to find paying markets and clients. In fact, an entire industry has sprung around freelancers who write web content articles for a living.

Having an English degree will matter greatly to some clients and not at all to others. But, no matter how they feel about the degree, what will really win them over is your skill as a writer.


Editing is the perfect task for anyone with an English degree. It doesn't require writing clips, you don't have to move anywhere and often it can be done at home. Businesses often need someone to edit or proofread their business documents, and they may either hire someone to do that in house, or they may outsource it to a freelance editor.

Outsourcing is more common now that the internet makes it easier to find a freelance editor. Some websites hire editors to fix either their own copy or copy that they sell to others. Some people hire editors to fix their business letters or even their personal letters.

In-house editing usually pays a moderate amount, but the field is far from steady. Companies tend to vacillate between keeping in-house editors and freelancers, which can result in layoffs.

Personal Assistant or Administrative Assistant

Some companies, and executives, who hire personal assistants or administrative assistants are responsive to someone with an English degree. Understanding grammar, formatting and style means that you will be able to handle documents, letter writing, sending emails and other grammar-oriented tasks better than someone without a degree.


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    • profile image

      Beaks 4 years ago from USA

      I agree. I know people who have done that in Japan and had a great time doing it.

    • profile image

      rubytraveller 4 years ago

      Plenty of great jobs to choose from and I also think that it is definitely a good idea to do a degree that interests you. With passion comes opportunity.

      I'd like to add one if I may - these days there are lots of people choosing to take a year or so out and teach English abroad, especially with the local job market as it is. A good chance to see the world and spread the language to those who need it :)

      A couple of examples of countries looking specifically for English grads:

      Saudi Arabia -

      Indonesia -

    • profile image

      Beaks 7 years ago from USA

      I looked through it and found two whole typos. We don't have editors here, and I think you're a little hysterical about a couple of typos. It happens. Actually, the last writers' panel that I attended featured a senior editor of a major publishing house who said that after about five rounds of editing, books typically still have about 25 typos each. So yes, it does happen. If it's going to make you that hysterical, I suggest not getting into the industry. You simply can't handle it.

    • profile image

      JoAnna 7 years ago

      Who edited this article? So many errors, I couldn't make it through to the end. My faith in the credibility of the article failed.

    • CennyWenny profile image

      CennyWenny 9 years ago from Washington

      I agree about personal assistants, my degree really helped to promote me when I had less experience than other candidates. I actually work as a legal assistant, where my knowledge of language comes in handy.

    • ellebreigh profile image

      ellebreigh 9 years ago

      Another option is a copywriter at an ad agency. I went to school for English, then did post-grad in publishing and am now at a magazine, but another person from my class actually works in advertising writing ads... and they are making great money doing it!