Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

Where Have All the English Majors Gone?


Last week, The Washington Post published a surprising statistic about American college students—English majors are down 25% since the Great Recession. I was on my third-to-last semester in college in the fall of 2008, and while the fear of dire job prospects was very real, I was too far into my degree (and too dense when it came to math and science) to change majors or transfer colleges.

I was also prepared to live on very little, since most of the people around me convinced me there was no financial future in words. The perception remains that studying coding, computer science, math, and engineering will guarantee a career soon after graduation. So much so that STEM majors have doubled in less than 10 years. The truth is that yes, while STEM majors are more likely to make money shortly after graduation, English majors in their late 20s have a lower unemployment rate, as the latter work their way into high-earning management positions and the former sometimes struggle to keep up with the demand to update their skills as technology advances.

Being able to tell a compelling story is becoming increasingly desirable in STEM fields. As the head of Australia’s central bank, Philip Lowe, said, “it’s important we don’t just talk about numbers, coefficients and rules, but stories that people can understand.” History has taught us that facts and figures can only do so much to sway people or advance campaigns, whether business or political. A good storyteller is just as valuable (and employable) as a software engineer. The perfect hire in tech has a little bit of English major in them.

I taught writing at a university that was known for its STEM programs, and saw firsthand how neglecting language arts and creative writing hindered brilliant students from obtaining grants or research positions. You may be the greatest scientific mind of your cohort, but what will help you branch out and open doors of possibilities is the story that you’re able to tell about yourself and your work.

We’re not saying that more kids should choose English or Writing as their major, but that maybe taking AP English or Comparative Literature isn’t a bad idea. Developing good reading skills and speaking and writing properly are real life tools, not unnecessary distractions from a lucrative career path.

While I have you here, why not invest in a beautiful notebook that will make you want to write in it, or even go back to school?

One thought on “Where Have All the English Majors Gone?

  1. I was an English major in college (1968-1972) who taught in the Peace Corps after college and then went on to become a speech writer for the government in Public Affairs. The ability to communicate effectively in ANY field will propel you beyond anyone else in that field who is a subject matter expert but cannot articulate that subject effectively. I retired at 55 with a six-figure salary and a great retirement package. And I am still writing, and still supremely grateful I for my college major, and still putting it down in a Rhodia webbie or Heritage!

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