To Be or Not to Be an English Major
So, You're Thinking About Being an English Major.
Or maybe you're wondering if you should have been one. Deciding on a major isn't an easy decision and society only seems to add to the pressure, coaxing you at an early age to decide on "what you want to be when you grow up." I got asked this question for the first time in the fourth grade and I was sure I wanted to be a bus driver. Man, I thought they were awesome. Then I decided I wanted to be teacher. Then a marine biologist. Then a ballerina, an actor, and an archeologist. At one point I even wanted to be a chemist, which is scary considering how bad I am with numbers and how short my attention span is. All that plus chemicals equals disaster, possibly of catastrophic proportions. What was I thinking?
Well, I was thinking too hard. I went through so many ideas of what I wanted to do with my life that by the time I finally got to college, I didn't trust myself to decide on a major that was right for me. I had a lot of interests and I did well at most of them. But is interest and being "good at something" enough in being happy with your major? No. Not at all.
Why You Should Be
When I finally decided on being an English major I fortunately felt at peace with the decision. After all the flip-flopping and hesitation, I finally made the decision based off of not only my interests and my natural abilities, but also based off of what I knew I could see myself doing as a career (which was still a whole lot of stuff) and because of the flexibility the English major gave me. And so with that statement, the number one reason you should be an English major is:
1) Learning and perfecting universal skills that can take you anywhere. Many people think that all English majors want to be teachers, like that the English major isn't made for anybody else. It's a huge misconception. Maybe you're thinking about becoming a lawyer? Maybe an editor? A researcher? A politician? English could be the right choice for anybody looking into these fields because of the vast amount of skills one learns. English majors learn to not only "read and write," they also learn how to analyze and communicate with the utmost proficiency. They learn and profect universal skills that can help them succeed in any job they decide to do.
2) Creativity. So you've got a creative streak. Maybe you tried being another major but that wild flair for inspiration was too overwhelming to be ignored. Being an English major might be your outlet as it offers a conducive environment for sharing opinions, theorizing ideas to death, and can even allow you to take creative writing classes if that is your thing.
3) You know you want to go into a literary field. If you know beyond a doubt you want to go into a literary field, then English is probably for you. For those who know they want to be editors, literary agents, English professors, and writers of all flavors, the English major can offer you extensive training and experience for these fields.
4) You love literary theory, analyzing texts, and having opinions. This is a pretty straightforward reason. English majors HAVE to study literary theory, analyze texts and be opinionated pretty much all of the time. They write essay upon essay arguing one opinion or another based off of careful analysis.
Why You Shouldn't Be
1) You just love to read and write. You need more than just a love of reading and writing to be an English major. Many people have these passions but aren't cut out for English, especially if you don't like assigned readings or:
2) You are simply wanting to be a fiction author. Okay, I have this goal too. I'm not saying English doesn't help you achieve this goal, but it's not a necessary step. Looking at some of your favorite authors might show you how many of them weren't English majors themselves. Some authors who were English majors even say they hated it. I know I did sometimes and that's because of:
3) Having to be opinionated, dealing with overly opinionated people, and subjective grading. As an English major, you have to be opinionated. That can be a good thing and a bad thing of course, but I hated being forced to argue for the sake of arguing. I constantly found myself having to argue why I didn't have an opinion because I could see both sides of the argument (blah, paradoxes.) I also got tired of listening to people talking, talking, talking. My attention can be very short, like I've said, and the constant back and forth by people made me feel like my head was going to explode and I'd just zone out, missing the majority of what was said in class. The lack of opinions and the inattentiveness made me a poor student in the participation department. Sometimes I would have to lie about my opinions (or rather, lack thereof) just to make sure I participated because I didn't want my grade to suffer. Sometimes I'd just come off stupid. I felt robbed of myself sometimes because of all the lying and BSing I had to do just to make the grade. Grading for the English major is also mostly based on the opinions your professor has on your work. English majors take tests but essays and participation are the majority of what you do. Because of this, sometimes you might have to deal with a professor who grades you poorly and says your writing needs a lot of fine tuning, and then have another professor who thinks you're the shiz and never scores your work with less than a B. Confusing, right? It can also be very frustrating to write in a way that a professor does not like, especially when he gives you lower grades because of it. Great English professors do not grade with bias, but darn if you won't run into professors that do.
4) You're more creative or devious than the typical English professor at your college can handle. Sometimes, creativity works against you as an English major. English can be very formulaic. If you don't like following formulas, standards, or even decrees, English might not be for you. Your creative writing just simply might be too outlandish for the typical English professor, who loves her rules and standards dearly. You might also have a problem writing what you want to write because of decrees made by a professor. For instance, some professors of creative writing want you to write "literary fiction," not "genre fiction," and therefore do not allow you to write anything that can be considered "genre." This was a major dilemma for me. No one could give me a solid defintion of what is "literary" and why "genre fiction" was outlawed. "Literary fiction" got treated like aristocracy when "genre fiction" got treated like a bastard brother. And as an American, I fought for my equal rights and said down with the aristocracy. Well, I did in a less colorful and patriotic way. I finally found my opinions and argued about how what is considered literary is ever changing and chose to write what came naturally to me even when it was found to be "genre." This didn't go well with many a professor, however.
You Need to Weigh the Pros and Cons
Overall, I am glad I decided to be an English major. It was definitely a love-hate relationship, but I don't know anyone who loves everything about their major. I love studying pretty much all that the English major is about (I even love studying etymology, British lit, and ancient texts,) but my problem was the majority of people associated with the major. Simply put, it's like the old adage, "I loved my job, hated my boss." You need to see what about English you love, what about it you hate, and which one outweighs the other. Knowing what you want to do with your degree isn't the most important aspect of choosing a major, but it should be noted that English is not in high demand, especially right now with the economy the way it is. English can definitely be the door opener to your future or even a stepping stone for where you want to be, though. For instance, now that I'm a graduate student in psychology, I've noticed I'm more at ease and more willing to write research papers than most of my peers. I can also see in many perspectives and communicate these perspectives well, which is a must in the psychology field. My passion for writing and literature is stronger than ever. I learned who I am and wanted to be as writer while I was in college. You can't be everyone's favorite and fit into the cookie-cutter mold. Whatever opinions, good and bad, I received in college make me strive harder to be the best writer of my "genre" that I can be. Whatever that may mean.