As stated on the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” the only career options available for the useless, impractical English major are fast food, teaching, writing press releases or — only in lucky cases — working in radio.
These are the widely held beliefs regarding English majors and their validity. There is a widespread assumption that all English majors are lazy and will graduate just to work dead-end jobs. Although pursuing an English degree is vastly different from pursuing a degree in STEM fields, business or economics, it is no less valuable, no easier to complete and no less credible.
According to 2015 data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which collected data from hundreds of institutions across the country — including BU — 40.8 percent of English majors were employed full-time, 18.7 percent were continuing their education and 21.5 percent were without an income. Although these numbers do not seem too promising, they were not vastly different from fields like biology, in which 25.2 percent of graduates were without an income. English majors actually surpassed biology majors in employment rates, and their rate of employment had improved 3.7 percent from the previous year. This growth was also seen in terms of salary; graduates in 2015 had a mean starting salary that was 13.6 percent higher than it was in 2014.
This growing rate of employment proves that there is a demand for students graduating with English degrees, which occurs for a variety of reasons. It is no secret that English majors learn strong communication, writing and public speaking skills — abilities that are necessary for employees to possess in order for a company to be successful. In a MetLife survey, 97 percent of business executives rated writing skills as very important. In another job outlook survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers rated the “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization” as the most important skill. Employers will not hire a candidate who sounds uneducated after they have just completed their education.
Not only do English majors possess strong writing and communication skills, they also possess empathy. According to a study conducted by the University of Toronto, those who read fiction typically have higher levels of cognitive empathy, which is another factor linked to increased sales. In “The ‘Soft Skill’ That Pays $100,000+,” author George Anders discovered over 1,000 listings for high-profile companies like Microsoft, Dell and Pfizer that listed empathy as one of the necessary qualifications. Everyone prefers to interact with a salesperson or employee who is empathetic.
English majors also benefit the University in numerous ways. Though STEM majors are extremely popular at BU, we need diversity in order to retain credibility. English majors are not held to a lower standard than students at professional schools — they too are expected to complete a rigorous course of study to earn their degrees. BU’s ability to provide a rigorous and well-rounded education to all majors is what makes us great and adds value to our degrees.
Students majoring in English are receiving just as valuable and credible an education as those studying fields outside of the humanities. Although it is tempting to view English majors as lazy students who peruse the stacks of Glenn G. Bartle Library all day long in preparation of flipping burgers or teaching high school students, these assumptions are false and must be reconsidered.
Emily Kaufman is a sophomore majoring in English.