What Can You Do as an English Major?

L. Pontifell

Luke Pontifell of Thornwillow Press. (Photo by William Biersack)

by Carrie Victoria

College English majors are commonly bombarded with the ever-popular question: what can you do with an English degree? Most people think English students will have to become  teachers and that there are no other options. However, Mount Saint Mary College’s Career Center and the Division of Arts and Letters organized an English-driven program on February 21st that opened the eyes of students at the Mount. This program, Careers for English Majors, enlightened students that a degree in English opens up the doors to a number of job opportunities—journalism, book and magazine publishing, advertising, business and technical writing and, yes, teaching.

Five professionals in industries where an English degree comes into use gathered together to inform students of their own experiences in the field, as well as offer advice to those wanting to pursue a career that isn’t teaching. Polly Sparling, Senior Editor at the Hudson Valley Magazine, has been in the  business of publishing and editing for 35 years. Her job entails management of the magazine, editing of the content, and maintaining consistent style and tone throughout the magazine. Jane Hanley, the Mount’s own Assistant Director of Marketing, informed students that writing is a “marketable skill” in business,  as well as in medicine and law. Susan Andreas has been the head of copy editors for a medical advertising agency, CDMiConnect. She advised that, if students learn to write well and communicate clearly, jobs will be available to them. James Nani is a “cub reporter” for Times Herald Record, a daily newspaper, and his job finds him reporting on various issues occurring in west Orange County. Luke Pontifell began the company Thornwillow Press, which produces handmade books. He is proof that one can turn a hobby into a business. All of these professionals took the transferrable skills they developed in their studies and traveled down their own paths in life.

Students had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions. During this portion of the program, students found that copyeditors make sure that there are no mistakes in the text, including grammar and facts. When asked if one needed a master’s degree to become a copy editor, Andreas answered, “Not necessarily; job experience is more important than the advanced degree.” One student asked if any of the panelists ever lost their passion to write, and everyone on the panel agreed that they never have. Sparling said, “It’s hard to equate writing with a job. Writing is organic.” Nani then contributed that writers are always striving to make their writing better and more exciting, so one never really loses that passion.

When it comes to résumés, students learned that theirs should be perfect. If there is one single error, the résumé becomes trash. Sparling suggested that students list a variety of their interests on a résumé to show the employer that they are curious about life—the foundations of a good writer. Andreas also mentioned that one should appear as though he or she wants to work. Most panelists agreed that a writing sample should be included with the résumé. With the last question, students found that they should be familiar with Adobe products, such as InDesign and InCopy, when working in these fields. Hanley suggested that students also become familiar with HTML in case they work with online writing and editing. Finally, Nani suggested that students learn how to take quick notes and never forget to have two essential tools handy—pen and paper.

At the end of the program, the panelists gave the students parting advice; Andreas told the students, “Talk to people—face to face.” Networking is important in these industries, and students should begin to build their networks sooner rather than later. Sparling  said, “Don’t be afraid to do low-level work at a place that isn’t your dream job.” Everyone starts somewhere, usually in the lower levels. Nani advised, “Keep reading. Keep writing. It’s the only way to become better at what you do.” Finally, Pontifell  stated (urged?), “Take chances. Be courageous.” It gets people places. Who knows where one  might end up when being adventurous?

Careers for English Majors gave students the chance to answer the ever-popular question: what can you do with an English degree? It’s a simple answer—the opportunities are endless. Anthony Krueger expressed this when asked to state the main thing that he  had gotten out of the program: “An English major has many opportunities. There are a variety of jobs that you can do. Now I know that my creativity is not limited; I can go beyond the map.” Contrary to popular belief, jobs are not limited for those who have an English degree, and this should give every English major out there hope.