Finally! A Satisfying Answer to "What Will You Do with an English (or Other Useless Humanity) Major?"

Countless undergrads will be returning home soon for Thanksgiving vacation. And as sure as the sun rose and set on our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers, some well-meaning though woefully misinformed and likely inebriated friends or relatives will sidle up to non-engineering majors and say something akin to, “What on earth do you think you can do with that worthless degree?”

The traditional stunned response has been to stand there gaping like a landed trout at the temerity of one’s glass-bowl acquaintances. But HuffPo has a much more satisfying answer, courtesy of Cornell University’s professor Daniel Schwarz:

Some months ago I was giving a talk…at the midtown New York Public Library. During the post talk question period, someone who…apparently knew I was an English professor–asked somewhat aggressively, “And what do your students do?” Since I knew fifteen or so of my former undergraduate students were in the audience, my response was: “Let’s ask them.” And as I went around the room, they responded: “I graduated from Harvard Law school and now work for the city of New York”; ” I am at MOMA working on foundation relations after doing an M. A. in Museum Studies at NYU”; “I work at Christie’s as a Junior specialist in European Furniture, porcelain, and decorative arts, after completing a Magister Literarumdegree–accredited through the University of Glasgow– from Christie’s Education”; “I am working in hospital administration”; “I work in the financial industry”; “I am preparing to take the law boards in a few months and am working as a paralegal”; “I am an editor in a major publishing house”; “I am a professor of English at a branch of CUNY”; ‘I am in medical school in New York,” and so on.

Other of my former undergraduate majors have become authors and journalists (one won a Pulitzer not so long ago) or have been successful in the theatre and film industry (I was Christopher Reeve’s teacher and advisor). One is the founder of a major hedge fund.

Among those former English majors not in the audience, one writes for Jane’s, which specializes in defense and military technologies; another for Brides; and a third works for an ad agency. Others do technical and business writing or are excelling in various areas of library administration.

English majors choose a major that not only challenges them intellectually but gives them pleasure. They love to read and think that reading matters…English majors believe in education as an end, not merely as a stepping-stone in the path to a career, but they are not necessarily impractical…What an English major brings to career possibilities is the ability to think critically, speak articulately, write lucidly and precisely, and to read powerfully, deftly, and with understanding of subtleties and nuances. They know how language works and have the written and oral skills to communicate effectively.

So the next time your cousin, who constantly mis-uses to/two/too on Facebook, snarks about your major, give him a good old-fashioned, grammatically correct verbal knock-out. And revel in all of those delicious career possibilities that will be open to you.

To read the rest of the original piece, please click on the link above.