If you are considering an English degree, you have most likely been met with the question of “What exactly will you do with that?”
Often when we think about undergraduate degrees, we tend to think in an overly simplistic math formula: [x major] = [x job]. However, some degrees, such as a bachelor’s degree in English, offer several transferrable skills, rather than a route to a single career. I was an English major during my undergraduate years at UGA, and I have noticed these skills transition from my major to my careers in higher education and counseling.
Written and Verbal Communication
At times, the concept of written/verbal skills can be watered down to imply that one simply has decent editing abilities. While this skill is certainly a part of written communication in particular, the true strength of an English degree program is learning how to communicate in a variety of ways. English-oriented courses push students to hone not only their capacity to understand others, but for themselves to be understood through tasks such as detailed essays, presentations, summarizing, reflecting, inferring, and more. The ability to be understood is incredibly important, given that communication is the keystone of success for numerous careers. From sharing research to giving a sales pitch, written and verbal communication methods connect us and our ideas to our environment and network.
Diving into dense texts and analyzing their meaning with professors and peers helps English majors develop the capacity to not only see what is in front of them, but what lies beneath and around the topic at hand. Critical thinking allows the participant to understand a subject within its context, why it is the way it is, and how the subject is interconnected to others. Critical thinking is the foundation for nuance, problem-solving, and proactive action, all of which are needed in professional work.
As with other degrees in the humanities, English courses often will not have neat, single, “correct” ways of completing assignments. Instead, professors will encourage students to push their growth edges and think/create in novel ways. From an occupation perspective, creativity goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking to help drive multiple solutions rather than being stuck in a single way of thinking.
English programs are not just reading Shakespearian plays. Instead, English programs regularly require students to engage in varying worldviews through the stories and voices of others. These experiences help students see the humanity in people who are both similar and different from them. This competency is incredibly important in personal and professional life because, in an ever-diversifying workforce, working well together not “despite” differences but because of them is paramount.
Further Skill Specialization
Another important factor to consider about an English degree at UGA is the multiple types of emphases offered within the degree track: Advanced Studies in English, American Literature, Creative Writing, Eighteenth-Century Literature, English Language Studies, Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies, Humanities Computing, Medieval Literature, Multicultural American Literature, Poetics, Rhetoric and Composition, and Studies in the Novel. Each of these areas will hold its own specific skillset along with the abilities listed above.
I find it helpful to remember that while a degree is, yes, about developing a skillset and laying the groundwork for gainful employment, degrees can also bring joy. There can be incredible pleasure in sharing the creative space of a literature classroom, in developing a new idea, in bonding with friends over a beloved book or film. At graduation, the hope is to not have suffered through years of torture just for the sake of finishing, but to instead transition out with memories of academic meaning, purpose, and happiness.