While some of our English majors become high school or college teachers, many others have gone on to fill, successfully and happily, the following roles:
- inner-city ministers
- insurance agents
- school administrators
- military officers
- dance teachers
- resource managers
- government workers
- investment managers
- social workers
- museum curators
- pharmaceutical representatives
Some well-known people who majored in English include:
Dave Barry: humorist, writer
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason: television writer/producer
Carol Browner: Head of the Environmental Protection Agency
Chevy Chase: comedian, actor, writer
Tom Clancy, novelist
Mario Cuomo: Governor of New York
Michael Eisner: Walt Disney CEO
Jodie Foster: actor, filmmaker
Kathryn Fuller: World Wildlife Fund CEO
Cathy Guisewite: cartoonist (“Cathy”)
Tommy Lee Jones: actor
Steven King: novelist
Michael Lynne: Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of New Line Cinema
Paul Newman: actor, entrepreneur
Joe Paterno: football coach (Penn State)
Sally Ride: astronaut
Joan Rivers: comedienne
Diane Sawyer: broadcast journalist
Herb Scannell: President, Nickelodeon Networks, MTV Networks
Paul Simon: songwriter, singer
Steven Spielberg: filmmaker
Marty Schottenheimer: NFL Coach
Christopher Reeve: late actor, activist for the disabled
Amy Tan: writer
Clarence Thomas: U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Emma Thompson: actor
Grant Tinker: TV Executive
Harold Varmus: Nobel laureate, Director of National Institutes of Health
Barbara Walters: broadcast journalist
Sigourney Weaver: actor
Pete Wilson: Governor of California
Bob Woodward: journalist, author of All the President’s Men
These two lengthy lists should more than adequately answer the question “What can I do with a B.A. in English?” A shorter answer to that question would be “Almost anything.” But why should this be so? As you weigh your academic options at Ouachita, you should take some time to ask the following questions:
- Why do English majors succeed in such a wide variety of areas?
- What happens to English majors during the course of their study?
- What attitudes and skills do they acquire during their studies?
These questions assume that your education at Ouachita is—or should be—about much more than getting a job upon graduation. In other words, such questions assume what we know from Arthur Holmes’s The Idea of a Christian University: That the purpose of the liberal arts is to educate the whole person. These questions, then, deserve our attention. Here, in brief, is how we respond to them.
English majors are critical readers.
Throughout your professional career you will encounter, many thousand times over, texts that you must read and interpret. How best to prepare for this? Study poetry. George Gopen, in “Rhyme and Reason: Why the Study of Poetry Is the Best Preparation for the Study of Law,” says that the close study of poetry is far and away the best training for reading and interpreting texts. No other discipline concentrates your attention on words, their possible ambiguities, and their contexts. As his title suggests, Gopen (who earned his law degree and a PhD from Harvard) focuses on law, but his claim applies to many other areas.
“The English major suits the ‘pre-Law’ student best . . . because the English departments tend to care about reading and writing skills more than any other departments, but also . . . because some of the methods they use in teaching literature, most particularly poetry, are directly applicable to the study of law.”
English majors are creative communicators.
English majors learn how to think deeply and creatively about form and content. Steve Holcomb, President and CEO of Mangan and Holcomb (a marketing, advertising, and public relations firm in Little Rock, Arkansas) writes that
“during my 38-year career, I have seen that liberal arts majors, particularly those who study English literature and writing, make outstanding copy editors and creative concept developers because of their ability to read and understand a wide range of materials and to coalesce such content into meaningful and compelling communication.”
English majors can go global.
Because English is the international language, English majors have opportunities to take what they learn with them anywhere in the world. There is a high demand to teach English abroad, and a B.A. in English will be extremely attractive and marketable, opening doors to numerous cross-cultural adventures.
English majors are passionate learners.
We find that most of our English majors want to develop as readers and writers for the intrinsic value of these activities. Our English majors are passionate about their studies in ways that students who are in more vocationally oriented majors are not. Many English majors seem to have a strong internal motivation, something bound to be attractive to employers.
English majors are students of humanity.
English majors read—and are shaped by—the greatest thinkers and writers in human history, artists who have given shape to our deepest hopes and fears. English majors understand what it means to be a human being, having encountered in fiction, poetry, and drama the depths and heights of the human imagination. The study of literature (if we are open) educates the heart.
English majors make good friends.
Ashley (née Burgamy) Eaton, a 2007 OBU English major, wrote to tell us how as an English major she found deep fellowship among her colleagues.
“The work was hard, but it was good, so good. And I was in great company. I had the tremendous privilege of being among superb classmates – people who, like me, had found English to be a noble and wonderful study. What started out as mere schoolwork became the topic of passionate discussion during free time. Friendships were formed over talks of literature and poetry.”
English majors have fun.
Staffed by the likes of Mary Poppins on Speed, Dr. Thunderlizard, Pickwick, Railwoman, Tonks, Crustulum, and the Emperor of Ice Cream, the English Department is an interesting place. Walk through the English Department suite, aka The Bugtruck, and you’ll see what we mean. You never know what you might learn. And you might even get a nickname.
So, Are You An English Major?
- Do you like to read?
- Are you interested in words and ideas?
- Are you comfortable with writing, and do you have creative flair?
- Do you like to play Balderdash or Scrabble?
- Do you enjoy stories?
- If so, we’d love to talk with you. Come see us in the Bugtruck.