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What you can do with a Literature Degree

Updated on June 7, 2010
Photo credit: Google images
Photo credit: Google images

"What do you do with a B.A. in English, what is my life going to be? Four years of college and plenty of knowledge have earned me this useless degree..."

So sings the hero of Broadway's "Avenue Q." However, he is happily mistaken, as those with a literature degree have a staggering array of careers available to them after college.

Why is English a useful major?

If you're a liberal arts major surrounded by engineering and science students, you've probably had your intelligence mocked on numerous occasions. For those who find more joy in calculating derivatives than delving into Shakespearean subtext, your decision to major in English is an admission of insanity.

Literary concept #1: Irony

It is ironic that you are the one being mocked because as an English major you are taught critical thinking and effective communication... not to mention superior writing skills. All of which is extremely important to employers, who are in need of your creative and flexible mind. When analyzing texts, literature majors look for new ways to understand the author's meaning and intent. This translates well to the workplace where executives applaud fresh analysis of existing and potential situations.

Literary Concept #2: Characterization

Passionate. Motivated. Profound. Employable. By pursuing a literature degree, you signal to employers that you care about more than just money; you chose this major because you have a deep appreciation for what you study. Potential employers recognize these traits and assume you will show the same enthusiasm for your job as you have shown for literature.

Remember, when you study literature, you are also studying aspects of philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, culture, race, sexuality, gender, and religion, which allows you to be flexible in your job hunting.

What careers are available to literature majors?

Literature students find careers in teaching, publication, the arts, public relations, politics, administration, fundraising, advertising, broadcasting, and other professions that require critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and exposure to a wide range of subjects.

For years, studying literature has been a great way to prepare for law school. In fact, the two most common majors for students accepted to law schools are study of the classics and mathematics.

Literary Concept #3: Authorial Intrusion

How's this for a shocker? The Harvard Alumni Magazine reports that, on average, "literature majors outnumber biology majors for admittance to medical schools in the United States."

Moreover, if you're a bookworm who likes burrowing into technology, many industries are seeking employees with terrific writing skills and cultural knowledge. These qualities are valuable not only for editing or manual writing, but also for tasks like new media scripting and website production.

Want to help the world? As English is considered an international language, there is a high demand for those who can teach it abroad. There are several programs that offer opportunities for graduates to teach in countries all over the world, so when combined with a few courses in ESL (English as a second language), your degree can fling open doors to exciting cross-cultural adventures.

How to get the job you want after graduation:

  • Narrow your focus- Employers want to know your professional aspirations, because they assume that if you like what you do, you'll do it well. Although many options may be available, you're more likely to get the job if it's what you know is best for you.
  • Know thyself- Be able to identify your skills and market them to the interviewer through effective communication, and your resume/cover letter. For instance, if you were required to take a foreign language and you excelled in these studies, now is not the time for understatement. The ability to understand another language is very important in this era of globalization and outsourcing.
  • Be fearless and creative- Don't feel intimidated by a lack of specific vocational experience. Remember, most skills can be learned on the job, but critical thinking and good written and verbal skills will always be in demand.

Finally, check out this link from the University of North Carolina for a list of occupations, Internet, and career resources tailored to meet the needs of all you dexterous (aka "clever") literature majors.


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    • Rebeccasutton profile image

      Rebecca Sutton 3 years ago from Rock Hill, SC

      We English majors need more people like you to stand up for us! Great hub. People are not willing to understand and accept the value of a lit or English degree. It is very true that the workforce desperately needs highly literate people. And yes, you are so correct in saying that studying English is actually looking at other subjects as well, including the development of critical thinking skills. Thank you!!!!

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 5 years ago

      Sure; with a literature degree you could apply for a job as a copywriter, publisher's assitant, editor, translator (if you know another language, of course), or any other profession that requires critical thinking and strong communication skills.

    • profile image

      Kempson J Brunik 5 years ago

      its worth going through your suggestion and every line that you have stated but its not exactly a kind of ideas and suggestion i am looking for, could you please tell me something like a specific job type or opportunities that i can find in Spain or America?

    • profile image

      gbalkcum 6 years ago

      I am a 40 year old college freshman! I have worked in business/accounting offices the past 20 years. Right now my major is Business (logical step, right), but I'm realizing I don't want to study business. I love literature and English came easy to me in high school. Given the options that I've read here, with my business experience and an English degree, I would probably have lots of opportunities! For 20 years I have done what I HAD to do. Now maybe it's time to do what I WANT to do!

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 6 years ago

      I'm so happy that so many of you have gotten something special from this hub! Keep reading, writing, and loving literature, my friends :)

      Thank you for you wonderful comments!

    • profile image

      banbanessa 6 years ago

      I have always loved reading and writing English literature, but I've never considered it as an option for college. Reading this article helped me to realize that maybe literature is my calling. I'm so happy that I've stumbled upon this because I think I've just found my future. I can't thank you enough for writing this.

    • profile image

      winfrida 6 years ago

      Am from Tanzanian,am taking my literature degree..honestly i love literature since i was in little gal,i used 2 ready stories and creat my dreams was faling apart after i joined the university bcoz tht was the tym when i discover tht literary degree is considered 2b valueless by most of the people,after viewing ur post i discover tht its wrong and mistake 2 wat i thing 4rm nw on i wll work on it cz ts my dream 2 bcome a femous writer and composer...thanx alot and plz friend we have 2 join and bcome 1 and help each other by connecting with job opportunities so that we can all remove those ideas bout our course,i hope we wll keep in touch,thanx again

    • profile image

      thenightingalesighed 6 years ago

      Thanks so much for this article!

      I'm currently going for a theatre degree with a minor in cinema, which is also seen as useless. I want to be a writer or director, but really, anything in either industry would be fine with me. Sometimes I feel extremely stupid for doing this, especially where I excel in all my studies, so I could do something like a science if I wanted to. But the thing is, I'm just not as interested. I like science, but it only holds my interest for a little bit, and then I get bored. I can't see myself taking multiple classes in it. Theatre and movies are my life, my passion, and for me, money isn't really what I worry about. Yes, I want to be able to make enough money to live on, but I don't see it as "I have to be rich". I also have a full ride to the school I'm attending, so besides books, I really won't be spending much money.

      Not to mention, I think there's a lot of skills that I'll be getting from these degrees, like you mentioned. Analytical skills, people skills, leadership skills, the ability to improvise and make do with a budget.

      I think it's important to learn for the sake of learning as well. Not everyone who comes out of college gets a job in exactly what they got their degree from, anyways.

    • profile image

      Tommah 6 years ago

      U have no idea how bad i needed this ! i am an English literature student and i am preparing to write my research on how wrong people are for thinking English literature is useless .This is of a great help !! Thank U !!

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 6 years ago

      I'm so glad this Hub makes people happy. Truly rewarding. Thank you all who read and pass it along... :)

    • profile image

      Rilindise 6 years ago

      Reading through the above i am no longer perplexed but rather filled with joy and inspiration for it feels good being a critical thinker i am so proud of the degree i am about to have in literature and i believe i am going to achieve my dreams of becoming a famouse writer someday which would be read to a wider audience

    • profile image

      Anthea 6 years ago

      Thank you for making this article! I am about to take B.A. Literature in a very popular university here, and you've given me so much hope! I used to think that I will just waste four years of studying in college, but now I know that following my heart will still have positive results! Oh, how I love reading and writing. I actually want to be a famous writer all over the world and I know that there's nothing wrong in it. I'll also pursue law after this. Thank you so much!!! :)

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 6 years ago

      Thanks for reading :) My advice would be to take some classes in each as part of your undergrad work and see what you like best. However, recently I've noticed that one of the most important things to do when preparing for a career is to find internships at the places where you'd like to work. Therefore, I would advise looking for some part-time work at a library, a newspaper outlet, or a publishing house to further "try on" these various professions...

    • profile image

      Bekah 6 years ago

      I grew up with an overwhelming love for literature. The first chapter book I ever read was Charlotte's Web when I was four. My best and favorite class is English and I am at the very top of the class. Sadly, I am now a senior in high school and I have no idea what I want to do! There is a never-ending battle in my mind about whether I should study English literature, Journalism, or Library Science. Any advice?

    • profile image

      Ruchika Jain 6 years ago

      Ah! How I loved every word I read. Thank you for all the encouragement. Jasmine up above says it right. I had forgotten that burning enthusiasm in me before I started this course, for helping the world, as you say. We tend to undermine the popular mentality of not running after money, when we should be proud to be different and culturally rich. This is certainly what I needed. Can't wait for the cross-cultural adventures to begin!!

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 6 years ago

      Thanks Steff! Don't give up! I have a Master's degree and it took me 8 months to find a job :)

      It sucks, but I'm sure you will find something. Especially now that you know how awesome your degree is!

    • profile image

      Steff 6 years ago

      Thanks much for writing this article. It's uplifting for English Majors like me. I'm out of university for six months and have not found a job yet (though I do have 2 months work experience in editing). I can tell you, it is not a nice place in life to be. Reading this article has given me some hope again.

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 6 years ago

      *Applause* Go Jem! Thanks for reading :)

    • profile image

      Jem 6 years ago

      I love this site, I am also an English major and loving every minute of it as I am able to think out of the box.

    • profile image

      Imlegend 6 years ago

      Fresh Masters Indy, Its (Renaissance)Truly a Rebirth of a new generation

      though We showed great skills and abilities to proof

      ourselves as thinkers, phillosophers,Lovers,nature

      Admirers most of all the onces with abilities to remember

      past and keeping it alive ,putting soul to the

      literature making it happen once again uncontrolable

      power of literature capsuded in our minds. we studied

      both critics and romanticists so now its time to rock the

      World we Truly have the Passion Soon we truly get the

      Lead always hope for the best.Our affinity towards our

      taste of reflection is utmost to its beginning lets hit

      it ...

    • profile image

      RILINDISE ASONG 6 years ago

      Being a literary student has always made me feel disappointed thinking i have not achieved my goals in life but thanks to the comments above i think i now have a place in the society.i'm now exursted with the possible job opportunities you are faced with after your degree program.

    • Megan Coxe profile image

      Megan Coxe 6 years ago from somewhere between here and there

      Still working on my literature degree, but every now and then, I feel the panic of being unemployable. It's refreshing to read a positive view on the subject!

    • profile image

      raymond1489 6 years ago

      Critical thinking is the key. If you think critically, you are not easily led and you are not likely to jump off the ledge, like the other lemmings.

    • profile image

      emril 6 years ago

      Thank you. this is encouraging. i think i am more confident about taking literature for bachelor level now.

    • Beatrice G. profile image

      Beatrice G. 6 years ago from New York State

      Thanks so much for this great hub! I hope it inspires others to pursue their passion. I have friends with B.A.s and M.A.s in English who have worked in law, marketing, and other fields. It really is a remarkably flexible degree. I personally took the narrower route and went on to graduate school in English. It's a tough road but I love both teaching and the research-end of literary study and I'm a firm believer in the adage that if you do what you love, you'll never work another day in your life.

    • profile image

      Ian 7 years ago

      I would also like to point out that the positivistic model of looking at college like a fancy trade school (you enter with the goal to come out with a specialization resulting in a vocational payout), which seems to be waning but is still very prevalent, is rather antiquated and in-line with an old job market. It is estimated that twentysomethings exiting college today will change careers an average of about eight times in the course of their lives. The interdisciplinary bend a lot of colleges are taking seems to be a response to this, and I think highly specialized majors will fall out of any vogue they appear to be in now after another generation or two. In this respect, something like a Lit major is not only vocationally attractice, but there is a larger philosophical aspect to a broad humanities major in general the recognition of which I hope will rise in tandem. That is, there is a certain personal growth that comes with studying the liberal arts that isn't necessarily found in more specific, technically-oriented degrees. Sure, this sounds a bit woo woo, but I think it's a factor a lot of people can identify with. I know I certainly do.

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 7 years ago

      Hello all. Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad this hub has helped so many of you :D

    • profile image

      Jos 7 years ago

      My entire life I have always been compared to my older sister who is now a neuroscientist.

      Because of this, I have always felt some sort of pressure coming from my parents. They think that going into the sciences would open up many doors for me, career wise, BUT I've never really liked science.

      Well, my point is that this article has definitely given me hope to continue with my Literature major (with emphasis in the Spanish speaking world). Thank you so much!!

    • profile image

      Magen Meg 7 years ago

      Thank you so much! It's really help. Well, I got doubt to take English Literature for studying in University, but after I read this, I think I can somehow change my mind about English Literature. :)

    • profile image

      Neelesh JainĀ  7 years ago

      Its really helpful articles.Thanks for it.

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I loved this. Thanks for waving the flag for literature degrees. Mind you, I've never believed that education should be JUST about getting a job. With the current emphasis on narrow, vocational training we might be missing the value of a broader Arts education where you can learn something about what it means to be human.

      Since I'm on my bandwagon,I also have to say that in general I believe Arts courses have deteriorated. In Australia I blame the decline in popularity of many university English/Arts departments at leastly partly on the invasion of postmodernism. I returned to study recently to do an MA and found the pomo course curriculum hair-pullingly dull and mind-numbingly pretentious/hard to get a handle on.


    • profile image

      Margarita 7 years ago

      Thanks so much for your article it's really encouraging to know that an English major can really change your working perspectives.

    • profile image

      Jennifer Rivera 7 years ago

      I really enjoy this article I am a Literature Major and I know once I create a best seller years from now. I'm going to prove that journalists and authors can make just as much nurses, doctors, lawyers etc. Its all hooblah to them. Finally someone notices how far a Literature Degree will take them. Thanks for broading peoples mind's!!!

    • profile image

      ardhendu de 7 years ago

      I think its best to profit from your artistry and aesthetic acquired from literary texts. Utilizing them into life and living is the great optimization.

    • profile image

      Hananeel 7 years ago

      All of you guys just saved a soul i will forever remain grateful.As a matter of fact i think i need to print this page so that i can read it everyday before i sleep in order to be aware of the great opportunity that lies ahead of me after my degree program.I felt disappointed when i was informed by my school that i was going to be studying English literature but now i have no regrets.Once again thanks and like i said before you just saved a soul.

    • profile image

      mr.nofuture 7 years ago

      i hope this is true, i'm a Literature major here in the Philippines and 'til now, i can't see any good thing that will happen to me after i graduate... I DONT WANT TO BE A TEACHER! -_____- it makes me sad when i think of it.

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 7 years ago

      Thank you! ... I do hope you meant "cry" in the good way. Good for you for sticking to your love of literature and not giving in to negativity.

      “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” ~ C.S. Lewis

    • profile image

      Chieu  7 years ago

      You almost made me cried...I never did great in math because of my love for Literacy, my Mother always said if you're bad in Math you're hopeless. I never did folow her advices.....

    • JayDeck profile image

      JayDeck 7 years ago from New Jersey

      As an B.A. English holder, i appreciate your insight. I would, however, recommend that young people major in English as undergrads and spread out from there. Law, business, social sciences, and the health professions are all good options for graduate work. Oh, and there is always education.

    • profile image

      Jasmine 7 years ago

      Thanks a lot for this.Its been a while that I thought about this.I took up literature because I am fond of books but this article was a reminder that Literature is a degree that signals about the person that he/she is not just after money but has a finer taste for just about everything in life.

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 7 years ago

      Thank you for your comments, they were very enlightening.

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 7 years ago

      My advice would be to enjoy your time at community college by taking a variety of classes. Feel out what subjects you like best, and more importantly, which ones you find the most rewarding. The great thing about community college is you can take care of a lot of your GE (general education courses) now that most 4-year degree programs require. I recommend experimenting before making a final decision because it's much more difficult (and costly) to try to change majors after you've declared one

    • profile image

      diana 7 years ago

      well id like to peruse this but I'm not very sure what i want to do yet; its too much pressure and I'm 17 also I'm entering a community college in august and I'm not very sure yet what i want to do? any suggestions ?

    • profile image

      CJ 7 years ago

      Thank you for posting this wonderful article. I was in a dilemma prior to reading this, but I have decided subsequently to major in English. I know this degree will help me out immensely when I go to law school. Moreover, the skills I will acquire will resonate with me forever.

      Great article!

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 7 years ago

      Mea culpa. It's been fixed. I do hope it did not detract from your overall enjoyment of the piece ;) Thank you for reading!

    • profile image

      antara 7 years ago

      Hello, in this great lecture of yours, there is a grammatical error. You have written "high demand" where it should be "a high demand".

    • profile image

      Candace Austin 7 years ago

      I must say since the semester came to an end...I've being having nightmares that leave me heaving and clawing for air. I felt so pressured. Maybe i made the wrong decision switching from Nursing to Literature....i started researching all the avenues that i could borrow into using my B.A in Literature. It's funny i thought i was confident about this but i guess the anticipation of my future needs and wants just collided with old fashion self doubt. Anyhoo, i wholeheartedly thank you for the boost it was well needed.

    • profile image

      Alan  8 years ago

      Correction: MA in National and International....

    • profile image

      Alan  8 years ago

      Thanks mate for your article, it's really good and appreciate your explanation. I'm an English Literature graduate and also an MA Nation and International Literatures in English graduate....I love Literature with all its contents but to find a job is quite difficult. However, I'm fully pumped up by your article and love to continue on my background and not change direction.

    • profile image

      Melissa 8 years ago

      I really appreciate the article because I am interested in literature, but just a reminder that literature is not limited to only English.

    • mqjeffrey profile image

      mqjeffrey 8 years ago

      Thank you everyone for reading and for your thoughtful comments. I have been away from HubPages for too long... (traveling will do that :)

      Again, muchas gracias!

    • profile image

      Janet from CA 8 years ago

      Thanks thanks thanks for this article! :)

    • profile image

      William 8 years ago

      In five years companies will not ask what your degree is in, but writing and speaking skills will be essential for the rest of your life. I was a Business major in the 1980's and now have returned to school to work on a degree in English. I worked for two Fortune 200 hundred companies and owned 4 business ventures over the last 25 years. I was a witness to many college graduates that had writing skills that were worse than mine. In college you focused on Accounting, Finance, and a lot of useless bullshit. Most companies have specialized departments and you were never involved with the those decisions. Most entry level jobs revolve around finding customers or maintaining them (The engine that runs all business!!). People judge you by your appearance but they also judge you by what comes out of your mouth and how you write. Excellent communicators will always be needed to present the ideas of the company to prospects. I have developed many profitable ideas over the years but always struggled to make them flow together

      in a clear coherent way. If your just a cog in the wheel then I guess you can get by, if you are a creative thinker or entrepreneur an English degree will help you sell those ideas in the form of a proposal,argument or even a book. I have just started the program but it's a lot like starting over and trying to relearn the rules of the road. This form of self improvement will be fun and profitable for me in the future. I just wished I would have chosen the English major years ago..................

    • profile image

      Pixitri 8 years ago

      I am very proud of my literature degree, but I would just like to add an alternative perspective. If you are currently in school working on your undergrad, just be aware that it is extremely important to network while you are in school. I don't mean at the local sports bar, either. Find professional contacts through your university. This will provide you an outlet before you graduate and will also enable you to explore professional options while you are still finishing your degree. One of the most difficult things I found after graduating was that I did not know in which facet to apply my wonderful, "marketable" analysis savvy. And just because you are marketable to an employer with the literature degree, doesn't mean he/she won't expect you to shell out thousands more to hone those skills into a more specific job/career track. And there you have it: debt ridden lit grad who can't enter the workforce beyond entry level, which doesn't help pay back student loans and most certainly won't help pay for grad school. You wake up to find you could have worked this job without acquiring the debt for your undergrad, and in the four years you spent accumulating debt, you could have worked your way up that professional latter. All I am saying is think about it and make sure it is planned out...

    • ArnikaMaria profile image

      ArnikaMaria 8 years ago

      This is excellent news.

    • profile image

      Tricia 9 years ago

      Thanks for this article. It has been most encouraging.I'm an avid lover of books, poetry and literature in general. Recently I've decided to study Literature as a major. I was worried that this decision may limit my chances, however, since it is not deemed as a marketable degree by many. This article has given me insight into the possible career opportunities I may have. Thanks again

    • profile image

      Carlos Rodriguez 9 years ago

      I agree with Ms. Garcia, it is a great feeling to be able to go in to a bookstore and recognize all of the great authors and poets whose literary masterpieces appear on the shelves. Although you don't really need an English degree to be knowledgeble in the classics. All one has to do is read and develop a love for it. The more you read, the better you will become at understanding the great works of literature both the classics and contemporary. Reading also improves remarkably your writing skills as well as your critical thinking. A literarue degree is good to have (it certainly will not hinder you) in anyway it will contribute to the vast knowledge you have already acquired by studying this fascinating field in depth but it not a requirement (in my opinion) to be a well-read individual. All one has to do like I said is read. Read a lot, the more the better you will be at literature, writing and understanding and interpreting the great works.

    • profile image

      Sushdawg 10 years ago

      I graduated with an English degree last year, and lo and behold, I'm applying for law school next year. I guess it's nice to remember I majored in English for a reason...I just need reminders from hub's like this!

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 10 years ago from New England

      Wow, I had no idea. I thought an English major was just an excuse to get credit for doing something you'd be doing anyway (reading, analyzing, etc.) I still don't agree with the system but kudos for you for letting us know it is sometimes worthwhile.

    • profile image

      Ashley(as if that isn't common enough" 10 years ago

      You may have finally helped me make my mind up.. Thank You for writing something worth reading... something that has become less and less frequent these days.. My Props go to you good sir! :)

    • profile image

      Darth Daddy 10 years ago

      You should get a commission from every English Major at Cal Poly for helping them to sell their parents on paying for their education...

    • profile image

      librarianinthetrees 10 years ago

      You've given hope to thousands...

    • profile image

      Briana Garcia 10 years ago

      correction: with the "ability..."

    • profile image

      Briana 10 years ago

      Oh how I love thee for writing this! I agree on every point as I am an English major. Let us not forget that being an English major also enables you ability to walk into Barnes & Noble and recognize all of the canonical authors decorating the walls. Really, it's a great feeling. 


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