How I Came to Study English in College (and why I stayed that way)

A few months ago someone commented on one of my blog posts asking if I could write about how I came to study English literature in college. Since my second to last semester of college begins in just two days, I thought now would be a good time to finally answer this question.

Growing up, English was always my favorite subject in school. I hesitate to say that it was my favorite class; unfortunately, English class was often viewed as a bit of a joke, particularly in high school. It wasn’t viewed as a “real” subject worth studying; instead, English class was merely another requirement, an easy class used to boost people’s GPAs. I hated this negative, deceiving, false stigma associated with studying English. This stigma is partly why I started blogging in high school in the first place. I wanted an outlet where I could discuss books without being viewed as strange or being told that I was wasting my time on something that didn’t matter.

You can imagine what people thought when I told them that I wanted to major in English literature in college. This pill was made a bit easier to swallow by the fact that I later wanted to go to law school (phew! people undoubtedly thought. Some practical light at the end of the liberal arts tunnel!) The puzzled glances I received astounded me. What was so bad about studying English?

Then came the inevitable question: Did I want to be a teacher? While there is nothing wrong with being a teacher–it’s one of the most important jobs, in my opinion–it frustrated me that people could only see one path for my future. When I told them I wanted to pursue a career in law, their eyes grew even wider. Most of them said they couldn’t picture me as an attorney–that I wasn’t cutthroat enough, competitive enough, or loud enough. (I don’t know when they started measuring one’s volume on the LSAT, but apparently these people were privy to secret information that I wasn’t). One day while I was checking an old man’s book out at the local library where I worked, he helpfully reminded me that “You have to be smart to be a lawyer, you know.” Fortunately, one of my coworkers stood up for me, chiming in with a generous “Oh, Holly doesn’t have to worry about that.”

But his comment bothered me, and in some way still does. Why did studying English automatically categorize me as a particular kind of person in the eyes of so many people? What gave people the impression that teaching was not only the sole profession that English majors could choose, but that it was also the sole profession that we should choose? What was it about this specific subject that closed its students off from all other occupational pursuits?

However, my time in college as well as my experience holding various job positions has taught me that those people in my high school who held these negative opinions lack any understanding of what it is actually like to study English literature. I like to split my degree into two parts: content and skills. When people look down upon English majors, they often do so by emphasizing the content aspect of the degree. What use is knowledge of obscure books that only other English majors ever read? Who cares what Jane Austen or William Faulkner had to say in their novels? While this view is inherently false in its own right for reasons I’m sure most bookworms understand, it also completely disregards the other half of English degrees.

My favorite aspect of my English degree (and the part that I value most) is that it teaches me how to think critically, work with large amounts of information at once, organize my thoughts, form and defend evidence-based arguments, and write. These are valuable, practical, marketable skills that have served me well in nearly all courses, internships, and jobs I’ve experienced. Although these skills happen to be applied to English literature while earning the degree, they can be applied to any and all contexts: historical texts, financial grant applications, social media pages, etc. I truly believe that the ability to write well is a priceless skill—just ask all of the friends, coworkers, and family members who ask me to edit their writing on a regular basis.

To answer the reader’s initial question, I chose to study English literature in college because reading and writing have always been passions of mine. However, I think a more interesting and important question is why I’ve continued to be an English major after so many people have advised me otherwise. The answer: because I believe the degree offers valuable skills that are essential for my professional success.

What are your thoughts on studying English literature in college? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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40 thoughts on “How I Came to Study English in College (and why I stayed that way)

  1. Congratulations for having the courage to do what you wanted, not what other people told you to do! I wanted to study English but got talked into a Business degree instead. It was awful and I hated it. At some point I’d like to go back and study English just to prove everyone wrong! 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I studied English Language and Linguistics at uni, and I definitely see where you are coming from. Unfortunately in the UK, Linguistics is seen as even more “pointless” than Literature despite the fact we are learning critical thinking, writing, persuasiveness and can generally write much better than other graduates! In the UK (when I was at school) English was one of only 3 core subjects, yet graduates in this field are seen as much less worthwhile than graduates in sciences or maths. I could chat about this all day, but as long as you are confident in studying English I say go for it!

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  3. I loved this post! I especially loved how you still persevered in doing what you love despite everyone questioning why, or even worse, your capabilities of making something out of it. I found the same thing happened with my desire to study history! It seems that some people can’t see past its usefulness when your goals don’t involve teaching.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Erin! My roommate is a history/art history major, so I definitely get that. It’s hard to explain to people how the valuable skills you’re learning will transfer to other disciplines in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Honestly, I think English is one of the hardest majors out there! Yes, math and science are challenging, but in those subjects, there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. With English, you have to know how to think and how to express yourself. I really admire you for wanting to fine-tune those skills in college. They’ll serve you well as a lawyer! (Incidentally, English has always been my least favorite subject BECAUSE there’s no right or wrong answer. 😂)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha to each their own! 🙂 That’s a great point, I never really think about it that way. English is so subjective that it’s easy to get lost in what is correct/incorrect sometimes!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a fantastic post, Holly! I considered majoring in English in college at a time, then I opted for something else, but I always thought it was strange how people kind of looked down on people wanting to study English. It really is a fantastic major to have and if you are passionate about the topic, that’s great – plus, like you said, this kind of degree gives you tons of transferable skills you can show off in any kind of interview, no matter what the field is.
    Lovely topic, Holly 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I think that’s what matters the most, that you love it, after all we do this for ourselves 🙂 ❤
        I majored in communications & literature 🙂

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  6. This is an inspiring and timely post for us high school seniors trying to decide what to study in college! I also want to study English and I’ve met with some skepticism, but both my parents support my decision so that’s encouraging. I hope you have a great last year of college! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I loved this post! I’m currently going into my second year of university and as an English major I can’t recall the amounts of times people have said “so you want to be a teacher?” and “that’s such a nice course for a girl” to me. It’s frustrating because they have no idea how much studying english lit has already helped me. Although books are fiction they reveal truths about the world through them and the critical thinking skills I’ve learned through my course is invaluable! After finishing uni with a degree in English I can see myself doing all sorts of things and I love the idea of having so many options open!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I didn’t want to be a teacher when I studied English in college either. When I graduated I worked in publishing for a little while and then ended up getting my masters in Education. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t want to be in the classroom after all. It’s been quite a journey!

    In college one of the main reasons I DIDN’T want to teach was because that’s what everyone thought I should do. When I graduated I found that I missed school. I missed being in a classroom environment. So I went back to school and started teaching. Now I’m just feeling exhausted though.

    I think that you hardly ever know what direction your life will take. So getting a degree in a subject that teaches you to read and write, to question and think critically, and communicate with others is a wise move. It can serve you in more than just one career path. I’m very glad that I got my BA in English rather than Education because I feel like I have a strong enough academic background to leave the Education field if I want to. I feel like I have something to offer elsewhere. But even leaving such practical considerations aside, I got to spend four years studying something I love. I know a lot of college educated people who can’t say the same.

    Best of luck in your final year of college!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a really great point! Choosing a discipline that teaches transferable skills that can be applied elsewhere is so important. I’m so happy it worked out for you! Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. From my experience, people don’t know what good an English degree is for unless you want to be a teacher. Online searches often try to be helpful by suggesting business careers. However, I think many people who major in English aren’t really the “9 to 5” kind of people who would be happy in business. In the end, though, I’m not sure a person’s major really matters unless they want to get into a specialized field. Most people I know ended up taking whatever job they could get/moving into a different field because they needed money for rent. I’m not sure how many people actually work in the field they majored in or planned to at the age of eighteen.

    Along with that, I think a major choice might not matter because, while English does teach critical thinking, logic, organization of thoughts, etc.–so do other majors. Math, history, biology, philosophy–you have to think critically and organize thoughts in all of those. So, in a way, major skills are somewhat transferable to various jobs.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a really great point! My college really emphasizes the “liberal arts” aspect of the institution, promoting taking classes in different disciplines and arguing that we’re learning transferable skills that can be applied anywhere.

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      1. I think that is the benefit of a non-specialized degree. If you suddenly switch careers, you hopefully have more wiggle room. Though I’ve found that people typically want five years’ experience in a very specific job title in the exact same work environment as theirs using the exact same programs and equipment. They don’t want to waste time or money training anyone. Transferable skills haven’t mattered in this job market. Perhaps things will change, though.

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  10. I am really happy you chose what you wanted to do and not listen to other voices. More often than not I get commnets about my course and people assuming that I only want to do one particular thing. I recently decided to ignore the comments because the way I see it, they are the ones weak in mind to only assume that there is only one way a subject can be done.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I chose journalism, something I’m really passionate about but my family is really weird. A lot of people thought I’d choose creative writing, pre-law, or film. I love what I do, and despite some worry for the future, I want to keep doing it.
    Keep doing what you love to do. It’ll be worth everything.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. English Lit was a course I had wanted to do for college, but I didn’t get a chance, sadly. I got my degrees in Journalism, and Sociology which has taught me to balance the creativity and the technical aspects of a project. Personally, I think with arts you can be more flexible in the career you choose. But that is, of course, just an opinion. A very thoughtful post, Holly!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ahh this is such an amazing post! I’ve recently been considering studying English literature at university. My heart has been set on studying astrophysics since I was 13, but there are several things making me rethink that. I’ve also considered studying English at university, as I think I would love it. My true love is all the things literary. I’m on a gap year at the moment , so I’ll decide this year what I want to study. I really enjoyed reading this post, and I admire you for continuing on to college to do what you love and not allowing negative comments to deter you!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I only just saw this but it was quite possibly my comment, haha? I have so many doubts about studying english because I often feel really out of touch and I don’t love the teaching style at my university? but I think it gets better after first year. and I have to remember that I really love pulling words apart and putting them vack together. in one way or another that is what I want to do all my life. so it is important that I study english. but I’m glad I have a second major and that I’m adding a minor in media too. anyway thanks for reminding me of why I study english!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing your experience as an English major. I agree, I feel like wanting to major in English — or having English be my favorite subject — does make people think of me in a certain way. I remember distinctly in one of my foreign language classes sharing out that I wanted to be a writer in the future, and hearing a few snorts from my classmates. “But writers don’t make any money,” someone bluntly said. I’ve also been sat down by a few relatives who have told me that it’s great I’m passionate about writing and English, but that I should focus on something else in college and take English classes as something I do for fun — not as a major.

    I’m still trying to figure things out as a Junior in high school, but I do know I want to major in English and not view writing and reading as something I do secondary to another subject. I still have two years, so hopefully things will fall into place by the time I pick and go to a college. 😊 Great post, Holly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely, you have plenty of time to decide! Being an English major is great, but thankfully writing is also something that’s pretty easy to do alongside any pan you choose. I’m so glad you found this post helpful. Best of luck! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I 100% agree with this post! I was an English lit major too and it was actually the more “practical” of my majors to most people (the other was comparative world religion which I LOVED). But when I graduated, all I heard was “you’re going to be a teacher, right?” as if that’s the ONLY thing an English major could qualify you to do. I have a corporate job that I use my English majors skills in every day, from reading, writing, creating presentations and content, thinking critically, etc. I feel like it’s one of the most transferable, marketable majors out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Studying comparative world religion must have been so interesting! It’s so great to hear that you use your English major skills in your job every day– proof that it’s a valuable, practical degree!

      Like

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