You know you’re in trouble when the subject line of an email from your academic advisor reads “Worried About Finding a Job with your English Major?” My gut reaction is that yes, I am worried that I will fulfill the stereotype of an unemployed millennial humanities student living in her parents’ basement because I was silly enough to think that studying English, philosophy and religion would lead to a career both fulfilling and well-paid. When I stop and think, however, I realize that I’m actually not worried about finding a job with my humanities degree.
The reason that comforts my wallet is that my course of study has actually prepared me and made me competitive for the job market in ways that studying a STEM field couldn’t. Business Insider lists 11 reasons to “ignore the haters and major in liberal arts,” including being able to do things machines can’t, knowing how to deal with people and cultivate better social and emotional intelligence. The most convincing argument that they give is that “you actually learn how to think and write.”
Reading and analyzing texts in my English classes has helped me strengthen my reading comprehension, synthesis skills and ability to see the big picture in a field that I know little about. I have written countless essays during my studies at the U, and as a result, I have greatly improved my writing’s clarity and flow. I can read, write and think, and I know that these skills will be applicable to my job, no matter what field I work in.
Imagine this: 100 years in the future, coding skills will be ubiquitous. Most people will have some idea of how computers work and will have the basic tech skills required to work in computer-reliant industries. Will those tech skills prepare them for researching a new target audience or for pitching a product to shareholders? Will they be able to write a professional report that clearly describes how to improve a system? Does knowing how a computer works prepare you to teach others in a way that is at once effective and respectful? Even a genius in a STEM field won’t make a very good employee or citizen if they don’t know how to communicate well, work with others and adapt to changing environments.
The English Department at the U puts it best: “Employers value English majors because they know how to pay close attention and negotiate complexity, how to adapt, revise, and innovate, how to present their ideas forcefully, and most importantly, how to think creatively and for themselves.” I may not know how to code a program, but I know how to write, think critically and learn quickly. I’m not afraid that I won’t be able to find a job after graduation because I know that I am well prepared for the workforce.
There is one other reason that I’m not worried about finding a job with my English Major. The deeper reason, the one that comforts me when the existential angst that I associate with graduation presses in, is that it doesn’t matter whether or not I get a job after graduation. Don’t get me wrong, being unemployed or underemployed after graduation would be financially, psychologically and socially painful and taxing. I’m not even saying that I would take my failure to find a job before graduation particularly well — there would probably be many tears shed and many more job applications sent out during the days surrounding graduation. I, like many graduates, would have to work my butt off at a job that I never foresaw working in order to pay bills. I would be embarrassed by my inability to find gainful employment, especially since I pride myself on my academic and professional achievement. Even with all of the shame and confusion that would result from being jobless at graduation, I know that I would still be intrinsically worthwhile.
My worth as a human being is not dependent on my job, my education or any other form of “success.” I would not be any more worthwhile as an employed person than I would if I was unemployed. It is a terrible mistake to think that working, and getting paid to work in particular, is the only thing that we can do to give back to society — I help others by volunteering, cultivating friendships and working to promote justice. Even if I did none of those things, I would still have intrinsic value as a human being. I’m sure that I’ll get a job with my English Major but I know that, even if I don’t, I will still have my dignity.