What did you do with your English B.A.?

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It’s back to school week for area colleges. For those just starting their college careers, good luck. For those mid-stream, have you settled on a major?

And, for those who have recently graduated with an English degree, this video is for you:



Okay, English majors are an easy target. But here’s the thing: when people ask me what we look for in new hires for the station, my response has been the same for 30 years. We are looking for people who can read, write, listen and speak…well. Plus, some common sense goes a long way.

Here’s Garrison Keillor on English majors:



Everything else–how to push all the buttons or move information around on digital platforms–we can teach new employees. But, can you write? Can you speak clearly and effectively? Can you read a document or background piece with understanding and a concise takeaway? And, can you listen with an open mind, can you suspend your own opinions in order to really hear what others have to say?

So, English majors, if you’re looking to work in journalism, you may have a jump-start on other majors.

History majors, you’ve got a shot at this kind of work, too, if your English major friend is willing to give you a few pointers.

On the other hand, if you want to make lots of money, regardless of your major, you’re proably not thinking about journalism. (Full disclosure: I majored in political science.)

What’s your major? What did you do with it (for those who graduated recently…or decades ago)?

12 Comments on “What did you do with your English B.A.?”

  1. Dale Hobson says:

    I get a BA in English from SUNY Potsdam in 1975 and became a Domino’s pizza delivery guy, then a roadie for a dance band. Then I became a small publisher of poetry using an 1890s letterpress, then became a commercial printer, then managed a college printshop, then became a free lance publications designer, then an early website designer. Now I work for North Country Public Radio.

    Go thou and do likewise.

    Dale Hobson, NCPR

  2. Danielle says:

    My brother got a BA in English from SLU in “87. He was a salesman for Pitney Bowes, then he worked for the Entertainment Company and now he is a lawyer. I think he should have skipped the other stuff and gone straight to lawyer as he in truly happy! But I think that the other experiences were a big part of his life growth!

    Anywho, that’s a neat question!

  3. Alan says:

    I got a BA in English… then a LLB and an LLM. I have written daily in every form I can imagine: essay, postcard, letter of opinion, grocery list, poem. I can whip off a construction contract or a restaurant review or a real pen on paper letter faster and as coherently as any one I know. A broadly based ardently pursued English lit degree is the best basis for working with the culture. But it won’t guarantee you’ll be a good speller.

  4. Claire Woodcock says:

    As an English major right now, I’m usually asked a lot of questions such as, “What are you going to do with that?” or “Eeeww I hate writing papers,” or even “I don’t read.” When someone tells me that they don’t read, I’m forced to assume that they just don’t want to think. The critical skills I’m obtaining at school are helping me think about the world around me, and that’s the best feeling on Earth. So no matter what job I do (or don’t) end up with, I think it’s pretty worth it.

    P.S. I miss the station!!

  5. Ellen Rocco says:

    Claire–we have no doubt you’re going places…with that English degree! We miss you here at the station, too. (Readers: Claire was a summer apprentice, working with our digital and news teams and doing lots of editing and writing.)

  6. Lucy Martin says:

    BA in history here. Never really knew what to do with it but have had a reasonably fun life in spite of my own lack of direction. (Today’s amazing adventure consists of sanding and prepping the wooden garage door for much-needed painting.)

    Thank goodness I too have a shot at the big buck and bright prospects of journalism – there are so many hot English majors crowding the field.

  7. Hank says:

    I majored in Math and Science; my one mandatory English literature course in first year almost cost me my year! I failed the final and had to write a supp on which I got 45 (the passing grade for a single supp was – you guessed it – 45.)

    But then, 7 years later, I married an English major and became a better – and much happier – person. End of story.

  8. Peter Hahn says:

    I majored in Religious Studies. (I passed the English AP test) I later went to graduate school in Plant Pathology where I worked on early plant genetic engineering. Then I taught plant disease epidemiology in a Mexican University for a couple of years, then retooled as a cancer researcher. Im not sure your major makes much difference in the long run.

    In those days, we didnt have to worry about huge debts. That kind of changes things. But getting a good education is still the most important part.

  9. David Stuller says:

    Long ago I majored in philosophy and English.

    “What are you going to do with that!?”

    Well, becoming a sheep herder in Montana (my frequent reply) didn’t work out for me.
    (First day on the job, I was put in charge of taking inventory, but for some reason, I kept falling asleep.)

    After working as a surgeon’s assistant for a few years, I went back to school, and have been a Speech/Language Pathologist (therapist) for over 30 years.

    So, in a way, I ended up in the repair business: First repairing people, now repairing English.

  10. Chris Morris says:

    What did I do with my English degree?

    I cooked in 100-degree kitchens, mowed lawns, painted, made sandwiches, begged free weekly newspapers to let me write (for free), made plenty of mistakes (and learned from most of them) – and eventually got a gig at a little newspaper in Vermont. From there, I soaked up everything that more experienced and wiser people taught me, and now I’m happily working for a great philanthropic organization.

    The lesson, I think, is that if you have patience and set goals – and listen when other people are giving you great advice – it doesn’t matter what degree you have.

    One other thing: As an English major, at some point in life, your friends will ask you for help editing or writing something. And if you’re lucky (like me), those friends are great cooks or great artists, and they will trade you awesome things for your help.

    Fun post. Thanks, Ellen!

  11. Ellen Rocco says:

    Here’s the thing about English as a major: what you learned (pretty much) stays the same, decades later. On the other hand, I was a Latin American political science major and I want to tell you EVERYTHING has changed. None of what I learned is current anymore. Perhaps I should have stuck with math as a major…

  12. Derek Maus says:

    I used my B.A. in English and History to get an M.A. in English and a Ph.D in English, which I now use to teach (you got it) English at the collegiate level, but that’s hardly the most common or even a necessary pathway.

    My advice to anyone thinking about going to college in any field at any institution is to consider at least minoring in English in some form if not outright having a double-major. Knowing how to use the language in which you communicate skillfully and effectively is a boon in any field, whether engineering, mathematics, politics, farming, teaching, art or pretty much anything I can think of (other than mime, and I’m sure the cohort of professional mimes in the North Country would set me straight on that…).

Comments are closed.