For most English majors, the interest and value of the degree is deeply personal. But we also have to earn a living. The good news is that there are many career paths that people with majors in English pursue. Some of these careers will seem to follow naturally from the major. Others might seem more surprising--until one stops to consider the underlying skills that English majors acquire during the course of their studies. At a time in which it is increasingly likely that a person will pursue several different lines of work over the course of his or her life, the broad outlook and fundamental skills that literary studies entails—effective written and oral communication; understanding other people's perspectives; critical thinking, research, and information management; synthesis, creative thinking, and imaginative vision—are valuable in most all contexts.
When English majors move out into the work world, what they usually "sell" is not their engagement with literary works but the skills this engagement has cultivated.
The knowledge explosion that has been ongoing since the post-World War II era has only intensified in the Internet age. Information analysis and information management skills have become crucially desirable qualities in the present world: this requires, first of all, the ability to comprehend, digest, summarize, analyze, and interpret complex discourses; secondly, it requires skills in research, bibliographic control, database management, and effective presentation and publication of reports and documents of all kinds.
The other major skill set required in the contemporary world of work consists of "people skills" of various kinds:
The ability to collaborate with, understand, and communicate with other people are the key skills here. These skills are enhanced not only through the work (written, oral, and online) that one produces as an English major, but also through the cultural texts one studies (with their emphasis on understanding the specificities and interplay of distinct voices, perspectives, experiences, mentalités, sensibilities, values, ideas, and commitments).
Where there is verbal communication in the world of business, the professions, non-profit organizations, and government—whether in the form of speeches, presentations, commercials, print ads, podcasts, broadcasts, instructions, brochures, press releases, newspapers, magazines, books—there are people creating, editing, and revising the content . . . and there are jobs for English majors.
Likewise, a degree in English can serve as a pre-professional degree, leading to a law degree or an MBA or a medical degree or to divinity school. Or it can lead to graduate study and careers in academia. And, of course, it can lead to a career in K-12 teaching. The undergraduate English major, on its own or in combination with other minors or majors, can, thus, serve as the foundation for a wide range of careers in business, media, publishing, advertising, finance, journalism, and teaching.