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.
What Does an 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.”
The materials in this section include information gathered by Grinnell’s Center for Careers, Life, and Service in the past.
What Careers Do English Majors Select?
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.
We welcome additional short narratives from alumni. Please send them to Erik Simpson.
“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.”
“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.”