Life Lessons: Never Be An English Major


Some of you may be in college or about to enter college. To you, I have only one piece of advice. Whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances, elect to be an English major. “Why not?” you may ask. Well the answer is simple, there is literally nothing you can do professionally with it.

I speak from experience. Heading into college, I had aspirations of being a doctor. I intended on majoring in Biomedical Sciences while going through the pre-med advisory system in order to best prepare myself for Medical School. I would then go on to become a radiologist, and ultimately achieve my goal of being rich as hell. I registered for all of the right classes, scheduled everything in the mornings so that I could reserve the afternoons exclusively for studying, packed up my bags and headed out to college. However, about three days into my college experience, I realized that I had to make an important decision that would substantially impact my entire collegiate career, and in turn, the rest of my life. Either I could commit myself fully to the original plan and spend the next ten years of my life studying extensively while sacrificing much of the social side of college, or I could embrace the social scene, abandon the Med School plan, and go out 4-5 nights a week.

I had pretty much made up my mind right then and there, but my decision was finalized a few weeks later when my Chemistry 1 professor called me in for a meeting in which he informed me that because of my poor attendance, several missed quizzes, and the embarrassingly low score that I got on my first exam, he felt that it was in my best interests to drop the class because it was unlikely that I could turn things around enough to get anything higher than a “D” in the class at the end of the semester.

I dropped the class and drifted aimlessly through the next few semesters, taking care of all of the prerequisites in the College of Arts & Sciences curriculum while trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Eventually my advisor called me in one day and told me that it was time that I make a decision. He asked me what I was good at, and I told him that I enjoyed writing and generally did pretty well on papers. His eyes lit up, and being the English professor that he was, he immediately recommended that I become an English major. Not just an English major though, but a “Writing-Intensive English Major.” The difference is that I would take four more writing classes than normal English majors. It would really set me apart from the other normal English majors. (All 11 of them)

TANGENT:  One of those classes was poetry. Twelve of us would get together once a week, share our poems, and have them critiqued by the rest of the class. Everyone would have their turn, and once everyone was finished, the class was over. Needless to say, this was a complete joke. However, one of the most uncomfortable moments of my collegiate career came during that class. We were going around the circle, and the goth girl next to me began to read her poem. Now, I should probably mention that about ¾ of this class didn’t take it seriously at all. We threw together poems about Brett Favre (these were the pre-dong days), undersized desks, computer screens and anything else we happened to be mindlessly staring at within fifteen minutes of class starting. However, the other quarter of the students, well, those guys were into it. They took that shit seriously.

The goth girl in front of me began to read her poem about how much she would welcome the relief of suicide because her boyfriend had recently broke up with her, broke down midway through it, started sobbing, and ran out of the classroom without finishing her poem, leaving all of her stuff behind. The classroom was dead silent, and eventually the teacher asked me to share my poem while we waited for the goth girl to return. My poem was a 10-liner about the Green Bay Packers. The goth girl returned while the class was critiquing my poem. It was rather uncomfortable.

Anyway, I decided to become a Writing major (technically it was Writing-Intensive English, but “Writing” sounds better) because it seemed really easy, it allowed me to aggressively pursue the social component of the college experience, and I figured that I would be able to wing my way to a degree relatively easily. That all ended up being true. I didn’t read much at all in college – one semester, I counted over 10,000 pages of assigned reading that I didn’t do – but it really didn’t matter because as long as you could write relatively well, it was a breeze. Sure, I may have ended up taking a bunch of classes that surrounded me with pretentious assholes who always claimed that they found a deeper meaning behind everything they read, but I was willing to put up with them in order to avoid working too hard while in college.

Unfortunately, midway through my junior year, I began to realize that securing an internship was going to be substantially more difficult than I had imagined, which led me to believe that finding a job post graduation would be just as difficult, if not harder. You see, everything that you can “do” with an English major can be done better with a different major. Want to become a reporter? Get a Journalism degree. Want to be a teacher? Go into education. Looking for a way into business-to-business sales? Get a general business degree. Want to be a bum who claims to have a “well-rounded” education? Major in Communications. Want to be a 22-year-old author? You’re an idiot. Want to bide time until you apply for Law School? Well, I guess it does work pretty well for that too.

I decided to pick up a Marketing minor after my first round of internship interviews, because I realized that I needed some type of formal business education on my resume in order to be taken seriously in any potential job interviews. Looking back on it, I probably shouldn’t have touted my decision-making skills as an asset on the same sheet of paper that informed potential employers of my decision to major in English. Eventually, I got a job, but I made the entire process much more difficult than it had to be, all because I didn’t feel like putting too much meaningful thought into one of the biggest decisions of my life up until that point.

Now, I know this is all my own fault, but I encourage any college advisor who recommends that one of their advisees becomes an English major to promptly get fucked. In fact, the entire collegiate advising system can go straight to hell. Anybody who advises a clueless 19 year old to “just do what makes you happy, and do what you love” while making one of the most important decisions of their lives should be removed of that position immediately. A dose of reality was exactly what I needed, but instead I was fed a line of bullshit touting the versatility that I would have upon entering the workforce. The advising system has one job, help me get a job. Unfortunately, when your advisors are intimately involved with a field of study that nobody chooses (for good reason) anymore, your best interests take a back seat to their self-preservation. Too many of these fuckers have watched Good Will Hunting and decided that they’re going to go out there and change the world, one misguided student at a time.

I know that I am not the only person who has picked a horrible major, and that majoring in English is just one of many different ways that you can piss away your college tuition, but it’s still a horrible decision that should never be made. For those of you who have yet to choose your path, here is a rule to follow: if you don’t have a concise plan of what you are going to do with your major, you should strongly reconsider whether or not it’s the right decision. Sure it may make your life substantially easier over the next few years, but college isn’t supposed to be easy. If you think to yourself, “Hey, this was just one instance, surely it can’t be that bad. I’m going to major in English anyway.” You are an idiot, and deserve what’s coming to you – namely, condescending laughter from friends and family as well as a prolonged period of unemployment after you graduate. You’ve been warned.

About Sgt. Hammerclaw

Sgt. Hammerclaw is probably listening to Alanis right now. You used to be able to follow him on twitter, but he twitter-died. RIP @datpuffey.
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22 Responses to Life Lessons: Never Be An English Major

  1. JK says:

    Hey guys, i am about to go to college and I am thinking of double majoring in English and Computer Science, both of which I love. Does having a second, technical major help?

    • Sgt. Hammerclaw says:

      I’m no expert, but if I had any advice to give regarding selecting your major, it’d be to try to have somewhat of a plan of what you want to do professionally and craft your major around that.

      If you want to go into something related to Computer Science in your career, there’s no harm in taking some English classes too if that’s what you enjoy.

  2. FavreandInches says:

    As someone who comes from a family of English majors who’ve done well for themselves, I’m mixed on this sentiment. From a skills perspective, English degrees do make a huge difference in improving your reading comprehension, writing clarity, and speaking proficiency. (Although, depending on the institution you’re at, many of these same skills can be also be attained through a Communication or Rhetoric major – which is what I got – and allow you to have more practice in persuasive writing while not forcing you to trod through bullshit literature courses). These are all qualities that, sadly, way too few college students have these days; as an instructor for a 100 level course at a major public university, I can personally attest to this. No, English majors don’t give you anything readily “marketable” in the way that an engineering or finance major can, but if you’re smart you can find ways to boost your profile. I took extra classes to be proficient in Adobe, Access, and Excel, then learned industry-specific software once I got an “in” to make myself employable, which is why I was hired at 3 different jobs – and turned down other offers – as a graduate during the 2008-2009 economic shitstorm. That I could write well and not sound like an Adderall-riddled Millenial capable of only speaking in internet memes made me stand out from most other college graduates that I was competing against.

    In short, this sounds trite, but it really does boil down to you do with your major. If you’re lazy or a dumbass, an Accounting or Business Management degree won’t help you one iota. If you’re intelligent, articulate, and resourceful however, you can pretty much major in whatever the fuck you want and still land on your feet. You’re right in that it may require more work or a longer path, but it’s not a deathknell by any stretch.

    • Critical Theory says:

      I’d agree with you, but I suddenly remembered that all the English majors I know are functionally retarded. Turns out practicing writing doesn’t magically give you a tool chest of desirable skills, it just makes you a good writer.

  3. Steve U says:

    Bullshit.

    As an English major, there’s no way you know what a “tangent” is.

    • Sgt. Hammerclaw says:

      Hmm…

      Tangent
      1. Something to do with geometry.
      My teacher made me identify the tangent.

      2. A deviation from a particular train of thought, or something.
      I just went on such a long tangent that I can’t remember what I was originally talking about.

      3. Probably a third thing too. (There always seems to be a 3rd obscure definition to words like this)
      Did you see that tangent?!

  4. fat-leaveher says:

    I majored in English/Writing. Who out there wouldn’t trade places with me right now?

  5. Raysism says:

    As background, I went to an undergraduate program with a Final 4 basketball team, a national championship football team and hot girls, and then went to one of the top law schools in the country.

    I don’t have anything else to add here. I just like talking about things I’ve done.

    • BronzeHammer says:

      Ray, you’re good at photoshop. Quick question: I don’t know what I’m doing. Ok, like, pulling Eli out of that pic and dropping him somewhere else. Do you use an erase tool? Magic wand? How do you make it not look shitty?

      • Raysism says:

        Honestly, I’ve never used Photoshop. I don’t even own it. I just use the Microsoft Paint on my work computer. It’s the newer version of MS Paint that comes on Windows 7, I think — the one with “ribbons” along the top.

        If you have the new MS Paint, you just put the main picture on the left, and the picture with the thing you want to cutout on the right. Then you want to go to the “Selections” button and pick “Free Form” (rather than rectangular). Then you just trace around the cutout target and then drag it left into the picture and drop it where you want it.

        Then you can do some clean up with the basic pencil/color tools. It usually only takes me 5 minutes to make a decent entry.

      • BronzeHammer says:

        ARRRHGHGHGHGHGG I HAVE A MAC

        That’s crazy, though. I wouldn’t have guessed it was just Paint.

      • BronzeHammer says:

        Also, I submitted an entry and…THE MODERATOR DIDN’T APPROVE IT? See if I ever pick up a fucking image editing program again.

  6. BronzeHammer says:

    Couldn’t disagree more.

    I don’t understand why universities are saddled with turning you into an employee. If you want a guaranteed job, skip college and go intern or apprentice somewhere. Go to a technical college. Universities can be for that, like if you want to become a doctor, obviously, but if you graduate with a bachelor’s degree and don’t immediately become a member of the workforce, nobody failed, man. College is an extension of high school, and you don’t expect high school to mold you into an ideal employee. You went to learn. It sounds like you didn’t take your major seriously, but plenty of people do, even when they’re “easy” or non-scientific.

    Our experiences are similar in that I flailed around in a hard science for a while before I decided to do what I was good at and switched to Philosophy. I worked hard, enjoyed myself, learned a lot, and became less of a huge dipshit. I wouldn’t change that for anything. I’m in a unique position where it wasn’t crucial that I secure employment, but if it were, I’d have continued substitute teaching like I did when I graduated. Or, better yet, I’d have continued on and gotten my doctorate. That seems like a legitimate employment option for liberal arts majors to me.

    Anyway, blah blah nobody cares, but I think you can have a meaningful college experience without becoming especially employable.

    • Sgt. Hammerclaw says:

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in college. I certainly learned a lot too. I’m just saying that if your objective is to secure employment upon graduation, majoring in English is not a wise decision. If I was going to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I would certainly choose a different path.

      I actually did consider pursuing a doctorate in writing, but that was primarily due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, as opposed to pursing any type of a passion. As I was considering it, my dad asked me the question “So you’ll get your doctorate, then what?” I had no answer to this (which is generally the case when you don’t have a plan), so I decided not to waste anymore money on grad school while I tried to figure my shit out.

    • DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver says:

      Fair point that colleges aren’t necessarily “saddled with turning you into an employee,” but students get pretty mixed messages about this.

      On one hand, they hear from their advisors to follow their passions, etc., and major in whatever interests them most. On the other hand, colleges aggressively market student employment outcomes: X% of students are employed, average salary is $Y, and hey look we have this awesome career services department that’s going to hook you up if you come to our school. Colleges stand to gain a lot from promoting both of these messages to prospective students, so it’s not surprising in the least that plenty of graduates will end up feeling like they weren’t adequately prepared for reality.

      • BronzeHammer says:

        Sure. I cut out a part of my annoyingly-long comment where I said essentially that. I’d never get caught defending Universities and their practices, or saying their career services departments are anything but bullshit marketing factories. I never got any help from mine, and was basically locked out the minute I graduated.

        I was definitely disappointed at first, but after I took a couple years to think about it, I was very happy with my college experience. That may be in spite of the university, not because of it, but still, my time there was valuable even if it didn’t result in my finding a job. And like I said, if I had to get a job, I think I very easily could have. It wouldn’t have been extremely lucrative, I’m sure, but I think the “I’m going to college for four years, after which I must become wealthy immediately” mindset would have been at least as much to blame as my advisors, if I were unhappy.

    • DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver says:

      Also, for what it’s worth, I had to make a similar decision…during my first year or two I was deciding between neuroscience and philosophy, and ended up doing neuroscience. In retrospect, probably a good choice from an “employability” perspective.

  7. Rec Specs says:

    I MaGoReD iN LyFe. \m/

  8. DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver says:

    Well said, Hammerclaw.

    The way I look at choosing a major is essentially the same way I look at choosing whether or not to go to law or business school. If you’re at a really elite institution, you have a bit more leeway in what you study, because employers are more likely to want you when you graduate regardless of how esoteric your major was. In much the same way, law and business schools are still good investments if you’re attending one of the top 5 or 10 schools, but they have the potential to be terrible investments if you’re anywhere below that cutoff.

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