Those pursuing an undergraduate degree in English literature might feel like their only option is teaching.
The University English faculty doesn’t agree.
As English literature majors, students develop core skills that can assist them in careers not only in teaching, but also in law, creative writing, public relations specialists and library sciences.
Basil Clark, professor of English, said that students in the program learn skills that help them in other areas of study as a graduate student or during the job search after obtaining an undergraduate degree.
“It is an excellent pre-professional major for communication, law, personal work and working for human resources,” he said.
Elizabeth Rich, professor of English and the English department chair, said that English majors have gone on to many career paths.
She said that two literature majors recently became lawyers and others have worked in military intelligence, public relations, library science and publishing.
Rachel Schienke, a creative writing senior, said that her time in the English department has given taught her things applicable for her career.
“The lessons you learn as an English major and the lessons you learn in a classroom can be applied to the real world in any way you want it to,” she said. “I’ve acquired critical thinking skills that with creative writing go beyond just what I’ve learned as a English major.”
Daniel Gates, assistant professor of English, said that an English major can open students’ minds through the diversity that comes with learning core skills and interacting with new people.
”Any course of study that leads you to study with different people can benefit you as an English major,” he said.
He said two requiring these core skills include law and advertising.
“They both require sensible language and the ability to express yourself persuasively,” he said.
He added that any career requiring close reading and good writing “is a good career for an English major.”
Although career opportunities are available for English majors, members of the English department recommend that students choose a minor that compliments the major to be marketable in their careers.
Rich said that depending on students’ career plans, they have several options when it comes to deciding on a minor.
“Anything in the sciences and professional programs are good for students who want to graduate and find a job right away,” she said. “For those looking to go to graduate school, picking up a foreign-language, philosophy, history or psychology work quite well.”
Gates said that there are many good minors to choose from and that any minor in the humanities or social science would pair well with an English major.
For English majors who want to continue their literature education in graduate school, students should expect to take more specialized courses than what they take as an undergraduate.
“Graduate studies is so rigorous and demanding that two or three classes a semester require students’ complete attention,” Rich said. “While the undergraduate English major is more focused than a general education literature course, for instance, it is still far more general than a graduate-level set of courses.”
Clark said that graduate students spend much of their time dedicated to research and that “a graduate degree is a researching degree.”
English students who are looking toward graduate school also have options in where they choose to continue their education.
Rich said that a lot of graduates from the English department are attending universities all over the country for graduate school.
“Recently, many of our graduates have gone on to graduate studies in English and find themselves at places such as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Georgetown University, University of West Virginia, University of Indiana and University of Kentucky,” she said.
Lauren Boulton, a creative writing senior with an interest in literature, said that she would like to further her education in English.
Although she wants to teach, she said that knowing about literature and being able to write creatively will help her.
“I’m considering my Ph.D. in literature,” she said. “It’s good to be competitive in your job market and be able to teach both.”
She also said that a core skill from her literature education will greatly benefit her future work.
“Analyzing literature can help you be critical in your own work,” she said.
Student groups and on-campus organizations related to English offer students time with others in their major.
These organizations include Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, and campus publications.
“English majors have been lively and productive in the past several years and have created a chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, a creative writing group [Cardinal Ink], and greatly populate the ranks of writers at the Valley Vanguard,” Rich said. “SVSU’s literary magazine Cardinal Sins is also highly populated with English majors.”
Gates, who is the faculty adviser for Sigma Tau Delta, said that the society is a “highly recognized organization in graduate school” and that it can be fun for students “to get together with others who are passionate about literature.”