by Jennifer Ward
“Education is one thing no one can take away from you.”
Many of us who were English majors might have heard: “Well, I guess you could always teach,” or “Are you sure a degree in English is worth it?” While I was an undergraduate student in my twenties, I was questioned a lot, and it didn’t feel good. There were times I doubted how useful my degree would be post-graduate life. Would I end up working as a barista? I thought. I hoped not. As much as I love coffee, that would be a nightmare. The angst of figuring out what I wanted to do career-wise was part of it. Though I’ve wondered why we often question the valuable skill set we acquire with an English degree and all that we have to offer the world. Today, I argue that those of us with an English degree hold a remarkable advantage over everyone else—we can write.
While pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I worked as an administrative assistant for a large hospital in Midtown East. After a while, I didn’t like my job. I wasn’t valued there, and the work became tedious. It became my personal hell from 9 to 5 within the small confines of my cubicle, and I knew I wanted to do something different. But I wasn’t sure yet what that was. After earning my degree, I used my communication skills to land an administrative role in another large hospital on the West Side of Midtown. I was offered a higher position and a considerable salary leap. Because of my degree, I earned enough to support myself and pay for college with no loans.
As an assistant supporting the hospital’s chief staff, one of my responsibilities was editing the hospital’s newsletter. I reviewed written submissions and planned the newsletter’s layout. I’ve taken various English courses—journalism, literary theory, linguistics, and creative writing. They’ve helped prepare me for the multiple professional roles I’ve taken on. Although my knowledge of feminist theory or Marxist theory in literature may not have been something I needed to know in the office, the analytical and writing skills I gained were quite valuable. Around this time, I began looking at graduate schools. I had considered pursuing an MBA or MPA and thought about law school. I eventually knew my heart wasn’t in healthcare administration. So, I moved on.
Soon I started working as a substitute teacher, and before I knew it, I landed a permanent position teaching English to seventh graders. The most rewarding parts of teaching are getting to know my students each year and sharing with them what I know about literature and life. I didn’t become an educator because I had to; I became an educator because I wanted to.
Today, I’m teaching at the same public school in Brooklyn I was when I began my career. I’m also spending time with my other passion—writing. I am building a small side business as a freelance writer. In my spare time, I write fiction and creative nonfiction as I work to develop my presence as an author. Soon, I will be completing a second master’s degree—an MFA. I’ve learned over the years that an individual with a background in English or creative writing is quite marketable. Teaching has been a wonderful, stable career for me, but there is so much more out there in the world. Why stop there? A degree in English for anyone could mean working as an author, a freelance writer, an editor, a social media marketer, a literary agent, a journalist, a technical writer, a copywriter, and the list goes on. While some of these industries are challenging to break into, it is possible to be successful. While most of us with a humanities degree will never be rich, we will acquire a wealth of transferable skills we can bring anywhere. To anyone who wants to undermine the value of an English degree, I say, “Stop and take another look.” Much of it boils down to one primary skill we all need for any career—communication. And that’s an area any English major would undeniably shine.
Hey there! Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, please let me know by sending a like or comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts! This article has been updated. The original story was published here. You can also subscribe to future blog posts at the top of the sidebar to your right. Additionally, you might enjoy the excerpt from my personal essay “The Courage to Rekindle a Dream.”