What Can I Do With a BA in English?
You're more valuable than you think. The skills you develop as an English major, such as writing, editing, problem solving, critical thinking, and analysis, are highly prized by employers in nearly every profession. In this age of information and technology, the particular skills you've developed while engaged in studying, analyzing, and writing about literature are in more demand in the workplace than ever before. Employers in all career pathways consistently cite writing, communication skills, the ability to work independently, and adaptability at the top of their lists of desired skills. As an English major and student in the liberal arts, you will develop these skills in abundance.
The difficulty is often the sheer range of choices. Unlike a student of nursing or landscape architecture, an undergraduate English major has not been trained for one specific kind of work; instead, English majors develop a wide range of transferable skills. It's probably true that no one is going to pay you to write poetry or to research the roles of female protagonists in Elizabethan drama... but whether you're aware of it or not, you've been acquiring and refining a large number of important workplace skills that employers of all sorts place at a premium -- whether those employers are located in the field of education, communications, government, non profit, business, high technology, the arts, health and human services, or law. This can make the task of career exploration feel overwhelming.
Career planning is a process, and it takes time. It begins with self assessment (what am I good at? what do I enjoy? what's important to me?) and research into career fields, sectors or industries, and employers. It's a process in which you'll attempt to match your values, needs, ethics, aspirations, talents, and abilities with the needs of an agency, organization, or institution. This page is designed to help you to begin this process and to access the resources available to you at the University of Washington.
For further reading, check out English Grads, Brilliant Careers (Arts & Sciences Perspectives) and Reality Check on an Old Myth: The "Unemployable" Liberal Arts Major from the UW Transfer Newsletter.
What Do UW English Alumni Do?
UW English alumni engage in an astonishing range of careers from all employment sectors and at all levels. For details, visit our alumni profiles, read our alumni news, or view a list of more than 1,100 unique job titles currently held by UW English alumni.
This partial list of transferable skills developed in the course of the English major is taken from the English Major Skills Workshops, presented by the Department of English and the Center for Career Services. We encourage you to participate in one of these workshops -- this web page is no substitute for the interactive self-evaluation process that the English Major Skills Workshop provides.
working with others
meeting deadlines and managing time
understanding components of complex problems
managing a project from conception to completion
finding solutions to intricate problems
perceiving the world from multiple points of view
using original sources
summarizing and presenting information
analyzing texts and information
creating persuasive messages
using precise language
assessing an audience
drafting documents in accordance with guidelines
Many occupations require an individual who can write and speak well, solve problems, learn new information quickly, and work well with others on a team. This means that English graduates use their education in a wide variety of fields, and your future career may relate more to your personal career interests, work values and transferable skills than anything specific to the content of your major. The following list contains a representative sample of job titles of former graduates with an English major. Use this as an idea list, and remember that it represents some, but certainly not all, of the careers you might consider.
"I felt competent editing and proofreading, even though I had never done it before, and felt that I was being challenged to grow."
Public Relations Specialist
"I learned that the skills you gain as an English major go far beyond literary texts. The ability to think on your feet, the skill of being flexible enough to handle any contingency, and the determination to think through problems are all aspects of being a liberal arts major."
"Our job is incredibly important, since we are the eyes and ears of the attorneys. If we fail to interview the witnesses properly or fail to complete our tasks, the clients lose their liberty/freedom."
Trade and Market Development Intern
"My ultimate career goal of working for the State Department either in France or Switzerland now seems completely attainable."
Commercial Real Estate Intern
"My goals for the internship were to learn more about the commercial real estate business and expand my job to learn skills that could make me more marketable in the future."
Museum Collections Assistant
"While my initial position was limited to running the admissions desk, I eventually was able to interview for, and ultimately secure, a position with the Collections Department."
Literary Manager Assistant
"I have gained valuable theatre experience that I would not have been able to obtain in the classroom. I have been able to watch, and participate in, a professional theatre group."
"Just as when I read a novel and visualize in my mind what type of person the character is, my work in casting goes one step beyond to decide what actor could best embody that person."
Visit the UW Center for Career Services, located in 134 Mary Gates Hall. CCS has a broad array of services available for undergraduates, including career counseling, classes and workshops, employer panels, career fairs, job listings and internships, campus recruitment, and much more. Make CCS your home base for career exploration activities. You can even post your résumé to employers through their job web.
Go on an Informational Interview: Setting up an informational interview with a professional in your field can be an excellent and much less threatening way to practice your interview skills and find out more about a particular job or field. For tips on making contact (including a sample letter), setting up the interview, preparation, and conducting the interview, click on the link above, or see the CCS Career Guide (also known as the "gold guide"). Pick up your free copy at the Center for Career Services in 134 Mary Gates Hall.
Get Experience through an Internship or Volunteer Work: At the most recent series of Career Education Week panels, an overwhelming majority of English alumni and other professionals working in related fields stated that an internship had helped them to get where they are today, either through an offer of a permanent job by the sponsoring organization, or through valuable contacts they made, or through skills they developed which led to their current positions. Employers value experience very highly: it shows them that you know what the job or field is like and are prepared with the necessary skills. Even if you are close to graduation, consider a quarter-long internship or a short-term volunteer project.
Make Contacts: Talk to faculty, counselors, graduate students, and your peers. Get involved in departmental and college functions, lectures, seminars, workshops, and activities. Some of the most valuable contacts you'll make in college may not be apparent at the time you're making them. Networking is extremely important: this is how you get information about career fields, find resources, hear about jobs, get recommendations, forge key relationships and locate mentors. A large percentage of professional jobs are found through personal contacts, not through the want-ads!
Get Involved in a Student Organization: Consider joining a student organization like the English Undergraduate Association or Bricolage, in the Department of English, or the Undergraduate Fiction Writers Association. There is also a vast and diverse array of student organizations on campus to suit almost any interest. Not only will you have an opportunity to make contacts, but you may also have a chance to develop skills like leadership, presentation skills, and teamwork.
Take the "Navigating Career Options" course (GEN ST 350):This three-credit class, offered every quarter, is an exploration of career options that will help you to learn how to navigate your course through the vast domain of job search strategies and career possibilities. Connect your academic experiences to your future career. Elements include experiential learning, individual self assessment and processing, generating career options, group interaction/discussion and journal writing.
Begin the Task of Self Assessment: Take the Strong Interest Inventory or the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory through UW's Student Counseling Center to help you to identify your strengths and interests.
Put Your Research Skills to Work: Begin to investigate possible career fields, employers, and jobs. There are many resources at UW to help you with this task. There are also countless resources beyond UW. Some key places to start on campus are the Center for Career Services, the UW Alumni Association, the Student Counseling Center, and the UW Libraries Reference.
Attend a Career Fair, and Bring Your Résumé: Career fairs are a great opportunity to see what's out there and to make contacts with recruiters. They are also a great place to practice your presentation and interviewing skills and try out your résumé. The Center for Career Services holds their annual Internships and Summer Jobs Fair and their Liberal Arts, Science, and Business Career Fair in early April. They also sponsor a Minority Career Fair every February.