Careers for English Majors

In recent years English majors from Geneseo have gone off to graduate school, law school, and medical school. They have gone to graduate school for literature, for creative writing, for technical writing, and for rhetoric and composition theory. They have also found careers in the business world. Recent graduates of Geneseo's English Department are now pursuing advanced degrees at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, Harvard University, SUNY Buffalo, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, the University of Rochester, Georgetown University, Syracuse University, Washington University, the University of Delaware, and the University of Tennessee. One of our majors was awarded the prestigious Mellon Fellow in the Humanities for study toward the Ph.D. Others have received substantial fellowships for their graduate universities. Several graduates who have gone on to earn Ph.D.s are now teaching at colleges and universities and have published scholarly books.

Geneseo's Creative Writing students have gone on to graduate programs in Creative Writing at such institutions as Arizona State University, Bowling Green University, Miami University, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Buffalo, Temple University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Iowa, the University of Massachusetts, Yale University, and Kyoto University in Japan. At least twelve of our graduates have gone on to publish their own books of poetry. Many are now in teaching positions around the country. Others have founded and edited small presses where they are publishing books and anthologies.

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en,
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.

- Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, 1.1.39-40  

Frequently Asked Questions

What degrees does the English Department at Geneseo offer?

There are two degree programs - English and Comparative Literature. These can be combined in a double major. You can also major in American Studies (American literature and History), in Theatre/English, or in English Education.

Why take a double major?

So your transcript will show that your interests and training are broadly based. For example, if you are a language major, or an English major with ability in foreign language (third-year level, e.g., Spanish 301-302), you can extend your qualifications with a second major in Comparative Literature. Since many requirements overlap, this is easily done and may make a difference when you apply for graduate school or for a job (e.g., library science, or work with immigrants, or international business and government).

Speaking of jobs, just how practical is literature and language?

Very practical - right now there are solid opportunities for graduates with the B.A. or with an advanced degree.

But aren't teaching jobs hard to find?

Yes, the market for teachers is tight, though there are always openings for talented, well-trained people. If you are strongly attracted to education, go into it. But teaching is not the only work for a literature major. Far from it - you qualify for a variety of responsible, well-paying jobs.

Do you mean working as a writer?

Communications is a big field today. Applicants with a degree in literature can be hired by business and industrial firms, by book, magazine, and newspaper publishers, by educational, civic, and service institutions, by government agencies (local, state, and federal), by advertising and public relations agencies, and by radio and television stations.

What would I do as a writer?

You will be an editor, a researcher, a reporter, or an information specialist. You might work on newsletters, brochures, technical manuals, publicity, news releases, speeches, advertising, business or scientific reports, radio or television scripts, grant proposals, articles and books on every subject, trade journals, questionnaires and tests, translations, planning and marketing data, or administrative guidelines. In short, you will locate, analyze, interpret, organize, revise, and communicate information.

Isn't that fairly routine and dull?

It's up to you! Business and government officials need people who can handle their material with imagination and originality - who have the ability to cope with unfamiliar facts and "learn on the job."

What choices besides communications are there in industry and government?

Many literature majors have made careers in sales, marketing, personnel work, systems analysis, programming, planning, production, management, training, consumer education, and administration.

How does studying language and literature prepare me for jobs like these?

By training you to observe and understand details, see their relations and implications, and express your conclusions with accuracy and clear logic. There are no skills more vital to success in any profession than reading, writing, speaking, and thinking. Literary study is a practical discipline because the techniques you develop are used to get the world's work done.

Is its subject matter useful too?

It seeks insight into human behavior, problems, relationships - people act as they do. This insight can contribute to sound managerial decisions and judgments.

What if I want a graduate degree that leads to a professional career?

The BA in literature (supplemented by certain courses) is one of the most useful preparations for law school, medical school, and library science, to name just three. Or you may go on to graduate work in English, English as a Second Language, Education or Comparative Literature.

So literary study can help me understand people, sharpen my ability to think, read, and write, and start my career. Is that all?

It offers pleasure, excitement, satisfaction. If you like to read, to use your imagination, analyze facts, defend conclusions, and explore human experience and values, you will find the study of literature both enjoyable and useful.

Where can I learn more about job opportunities for English majors?

Useful books are Dorothy Bestor's Aside from Teaching, What In the World Can You Do?

(University of Washington Press) and John Munschauer's Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People (Petersen's Guides: Princeton, N.J.).

Is there any place at the College here at Geneseo where I can get professional help in finding a job after earning my degree?

There are skilled specialists in this field available to you in the Office of Career Services in Blake A. But don't wait until graduation day to begin planning - talk with your department advisor early in your English program and go over and introduce yourself to Career Services and of course talk with members of the department.