English Resources


The Grinnell Review

The Grinnell Review is the College’s mainstream journal of art and literature. In addition to publishing once a semester, The Grinnell Review sponsors periodic van runs to Iowa City for fiction and poetry readings sponsored there by the University of Iowa's Writers’ Workshop and Prairie Lights bookstore.

We have uploaded the 40th volume of The Grinnell Review.

For Students

Declaring the Major

The process of becoming an English major begins by asking a member of the English faculty to become your academic adviser. Generally, this person would be someone with whom you’ve already studied; if you’re at a loss for an adviser, consult with the chair of the English department for suggestions. With your prospective English adviser, you then develop a plan for completing your major. The English department has developed a form for this purpose, the Plan for the English Major (pdf), which you should print, read carefully, and complete before or during your meeting with your adviser. You might fill it out in pencil, in case you decide to make changes. On the form, we ask you questions about your tentative or not so tentative general future plans, explain our goals for your learning as a major, and then take you through the requirements with a few pieces of advice along the way. When you and your new adviser have agreed on your plan, please give a final copy to the adviser for inclusion in your advising folder and make a copy for yourself.

Because the Plan for the English Major is specific to the English department, you also need to fill out the College Declaration of Major and Comprehensive Academic Plan, which you obtain from the Registrar’s Office. This more comprehensive form asks for, first, a 100- to 200-word rationale of what you’ve done so far in the way of a liberal arts education and then the goals you set for yourself in your remaining semesters of study. Next, it takes you back over the courses you’ve already completed and forward to the courses you plan to take. Your prospective adviser will also work with you on this comprehensive plan.

The penultimate step in the process is to obtain the signatures of both your new adviser and the chair of the English department on the Declaration of Major and Comprehensive Academic Plan; those signatures indicate that each has reviewed your plan and tacitly approves it for completion of the major. You should also bring your copy of your Plan for the English Major to your meeting with the chair. Since the number of prospective English majors is fairly large, be sure to begin this process well before the deadline for a declaration of major so that you can see the necessary people before you run out of time. The final step is taking the form over to the Registrar’s Office before the deadline for the declaration of a major.

After Graduation

What can you do with an English major?

Many students wonder what kinds of working lives are available to English majors. This section of our site offers information that may help such students imagine jobs and careers available to English majors. As you will see, English majors enter the professions you might expect (teaching, publishing, editing) as well as all the professions and many careers generated by the creativity and initiative of individual alumni.

The materials in this section (aside from those about graduate school) include information gathered by Grinnell’s Center for Careers, Life, and Service in the past.

Graduate School

Graduate School in English

This is a space for present and former English majors considering graduate study in English.

Any discussion of graduate school at this point needs to begin with sober realism: the academic job market in the humanities has been bad for a long time and continues to deteriorate, due to structural changes in colleges and universities. Most college courses are no longer taught by tenured or tenure-track professors. Thomas H. Benton (a pseudonym for William Pannapacker of Hope College) has written two widely-read articles discouraging students from going to graduate school: So You Want to Go to Grad School? and, more recently, Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go. Penn professor Peter Conn looks at the academic job market and concludes that, as graduate programs continue to produce doctorates, We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities.

We have chosen the resources on this page to help students consider carefully what it means to undertake graduate study today.

Graduate Study in Literature

The Modern Language Association (MLA), which is the principal professional organization for English teachers in higher education, offers Career Resources and Advice to Graduate Students: From Application to Career. You can get a general sense of programs’ reputations from the U.S. News World & Report Rankings; those come with the usual caveats about the limits of ranking educational programs.

You can now find good commentary about graduate education from graduate students and faculty. Some of the most useful resources gain their energy from compiling multiple perspectives: see, for example, Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate School from the Survey of Doctoral Education and Career Preparation, these Metafilter comments on graduate school in English (archived), and this active LiveJournal community: So you want to go to grad school?

Faculty offering their advice include the English department of UC-Santa Barbara, who write specifically about Preparing Your Statement of Purpose. If you choose to go to graduate school, you may profit from reading Robert Peters’ book Getting What You Came For.

Naturally, you may also consult with Grinnell faculty about graduate school. Many students ask their advisers and other faculty about the process, and we run an annual information session that allows students to hear multiple faculty perspectives on graduate study in literature and creative writing.

Graduate Study in Creative Writing

Continuum publishes The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Students, whose author, Tom Kealey, is one author of The MFA Blog, which offers an MFA Tip Sheet, a post on opportunities after the MFA.

Poets & Writers magazine offers a database of MFA programs as part of its tools for writers. They have also published Seth Abramson’s list of top 50 MFA programs (with explanation), and an excellent MFA Resource Database. Abramson has also compiled a list of MFA programs ranked by funding packages.

Grinnell students are also welcome to consult our faculty, particularly the creative writing faculty, on graduate work in creative writing and what programs might best suit each student’s interests.


What Does the English Major Help You Do?

You will use the skills you develop as an English major every day in whatever environment you decide to work. When asked about the skills developed in the major, alumni and faculty consistently name writing, critical thinking, reading, oral communication, and research skills. As one faculty member put it, “English is an excellent choice because it trains one carefully in, and gives one considerable practice at, writing, a skill that is highly regarded outside of academic life. English as a discipline teaches the student how to read thoughtfully, develop an idea, organize ideas to a purpose, and write with accuracy and precision. By virtue of the fact that most English classes are centered in discussion, our major can also give one confidence as a speaker.”

What Careers Do English Majors Select?

English majors have selected a wide variety of careers from editor to marketing director, from teacher to writer. As you can see from the following list of alumni job titles of English majors, you are not your major!

Alumni Job Titles

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Professor of English
Producer, Minnesota Public Radio
Vice President, Edelman Worldwide
Systems Engineer
Program Director, Indiana Department of Commerce
Editor, W.W. Norton and Company
Freelance Writer
Vice President Marketing and Sales, Miracles Exclusives, Inc.
Copy Editor, Bureau of Environmental News
TV/Video Producer
Associate Professor of American Studies
Director, Price Waterhouse Coopers Investigations LLC
Senior Editor, Encyclopedia Britannica
Director of Sales and Marketing, EarthWeb Inc.
Assistant Professor of English
Freelance Copy Editor, Proofreader, Writer
Senior Vice President, Sony Online Entertainment
Acquisitions Editor, F and W Publications/North Light Books
Managing Director, Ensemble Company for the Performing Arts
Marketing Director, Second Stage Theatre
Associate Creative Director, Leo Burnett Co. Advertising Agency
Senior Real Estate Portfolio Manager, Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Publishing Operations Manager, Online, Noggin
Education Project Director
Director of CCCnet
Professor of Religion
Research Associate, Rockefeller Institute of Government at SUNY Albany
President, Kamber Management, Inc.
Coordinator of Clinical Services, Children's Hospital, Psychiatric Out-Patient Clinic
Account Group Supervisor, Golin/Harris International
President, Peter Mayer Advertising
Communications Manager, Medical Center Marketing, University of Illinois at Chicago
Northwest Regional Development Officer, The Student Conservation Association
President, Words, Ink
Ceramic Artist
Development Director, Chatham Baroque
President, Hubbell Electro-Mechanical
Principal, Independent Career Life Planning Consulting
Assistant Professor of Economics and Policy
Early Childhood Education Specialist
Publications Specialist, Washington State University Cooperative Extension
President, Macay Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc.
Chancellor, University of Minnesota, Morris
Assistant Director of Career Services, Georgetown Law School
Technical Writer
Senior Research Manager, Angus Reid Group
Deputy Public Defender
Equities Trader/Manager
Workshop Facilitator, Lighthouse Writers
Vice President, Hospice Foundation of America
Associate Creative Director, Dailey and Associates Advertising
Assistant Director, Editorial Production, PP/FA Inc.
Training Supervisor, Andersen Consulting
Partner/General Manager, The Winds

Career Stories

Dispatches from the Work World

The following are first-hand accounts of the experiences of alumni after Grinnell who have graduated with an English major.

Alumni Comments

“More school appealed to me after Grinnell so I went straight to law school.”

“I’ve always been a bleeding heart liberal. My first job was with the Iowa Democratic Party; I interned with Janet Carl in the statehouse.”

“My first job was in this company. I began in an extremely menial job — in the bookstore and security. Then I moved into proofreading, researching and editing.”

“I got my first job as an editor by pounding the pavement. I had used a career office in D.C.”

“I was a book editor who, in 1983, was asked to start an electronic publishing line. Though I resisted, when I got a PC and a few games, I fell in love with the whole thing. By 1985 I was interested in games on computer networks and knew that was something I wanted to do. My first significant job was as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster, which I got through simply meeting people through friends and persevering. My first job in my current line of work was as a producer at the precursor company to Prodigy, and I got that job through word-of-mouth and by virtue of the fact that I was the only person on the East Coast at that time — 1985 — who had a clue about online entertainment.”

“I’d been in the ninth-semester teaching program at Grinnell, so doing corporate training was a great way to use those skills. I kind of fell into my first job. I had been substitute teaching in Minneapolis for two years and there was no teaching job in sight. I took a position at Andersen Consulting as an executive assistant to tide me over until ‘I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.’ I was offered a position in information services to do software support. I firmly believe that the skills I gained at Grinnell allowed me to move into a technical role, without a technical background.”

“I chose my career by following my passion for cooking. I knew it was what I wanted to do from the time I was nineteen. My first job after college was in the restaurant I am now one of three owners of, and I got the job by doing a day-long audition, working with the cooks and then making a soup and bread of my own choosing and presenting them to a panel of owners and managers for scrutiny. It was scary, and I had a beer or two that night as I recall. They hired me the next day, but as a dishwasher and prep person. I moved up pretty quickly. I came to love the restaurant and really had a sense of ownership in my job long before I became a partner. Of course I went away and cooked in other cities for years at a time but I kept coming back. I became a partner 5 years ago.”

Faculty Comments

“English majors go into teaching (college, elementary, and secondary), into computers (software writers seem in special need right now), into museum sciences, into law school, into radio and television, into publishing, into public relations, into advertising, into (especially now) consulting of various kinds. They are always in demand wherever verbal skills and imagination are required. Quite frequently, they use English as a ‘base’ for entry into other fields at the graduate school level.”

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