Becoming an English Major: The Discouraging Set-backs you Might Experience

By: @J_H_Hope

Hello writers! I hope you all are maintaining your physical and mental health as we continue through this chaotic year. Recently, I was having a conversation with my mom, who I must give credit for being my biggest supporter, about the things English majors go through on their journey in higher education.

I have recently finished up my Associates degree in English, so in reflecting on all the things I went through to get to this point, I thought of all of my fellow writers who might be attempting the same thing. I thought of all of you guys who have thought of pursuing a career in English or writing, but was deterred from that path for one reason or another. Whether it be self-doubt or harsh words from outsiders, I am here to give you all my advice that I have collected over the span of these two years as an English major.

Hopefully this will put that spark or drive back into some of you, or for my younger writing friends, maybe it will give you something to consider before stepping into college or the work force. Nonetheless, I hope you learn a little bit about some of the things that English majors encounter along our journey into the unknown of writing.

#1. “Oh, so you want to teach.”

The amount of times I have heard this assumption about me is absolutely uncanny. I’ll cut the people of my small town some slack, the few English majors from here are 99% teachers. However, where the frustration lies is that they don’t ever think about the English majors who wrote the articles in their newspapers, or the English majors who typed up the “how-to” manuals for their nursing or engineering majoring sons and daughters. I want to make something very clear; I am in no way knocking English majors who are going for their teaching certificate!

Teaching English on any level of education is absolutely commendable, and I appreciate the hard work and the strong mental capabilities that is required from each and every one of them! However, the list of careers in English does not end in the education system. English experts are needed in nearly every field of work or study! If writing novels isn’t your thing, try writing up contracts for big business companies. If business isn’t your scene either, look into editing! Everything from textbooks to science fiction novels and each piece in between has to be edited, and if you have a degree in English with a focus in grammar and composition then you are highly sought after! Don’t let the stereotypes surrounding English majors blind you from your potential! Dig into research and find the career that sparks your interest the most!

#2. “Where’s the money in English?”

If I had a nickel for every time that I was asked this question, then I would not have to worry about where the money is to be found in this major. This is the biggest concern among the doubtful members of my family and peers. How am I going to make enough money to sustain myself with a lousy English degree? The response to this is simply that the money is where ever you look for it. I have never understood why people ask me this, but when someone wants to coach football at the local high school so they become a biology teacher they are considered some sort of hero.

Again, I think genuine teachers should absolutely be considered heroes! But it is tragically obvious that there isn’t much money to be made being a teacher. Do I think teachers should be paid what they are worth instead of the bottom of the barrel? ABSOLUTELY! Do I also think any English/writing focused career should also be paid what they are worth and not hidden away as if they are shameful careers? YES! I know that some of you share that pure passion that I have for writing, so I know that you all can understand exactly where I am coming from when I say that I will work however many jobs it takes in order to sustain myself, as long as I can work in a career that I get to write, edit, and create in.

There was a teacher at my high school who taught classes during the day, and then turned around and took on night shifts as a nurse at the local hospital. Why did she exhaust herself by doing this? Because she was passionate about the healthcare field! She taught anatomy to future nurses and doctors by day, and then continued to play her part in the field with patients at a hospital by night. I will be the first to admit that if I have to be a college professor by day and then work my fingers to the bone editing and writing at night in order to live comfortably, then you can all bet money on the fact that I would do it without complaint! However, this isn’t always necessary. English and writing careers, just like every other field of work, are ladder climbing careers.

I am well aware of the fact that as soon as I step out into my first job I will be on the bottom step. All careers have ladders to climb. And if I get to a rung on the ladder that I am most happy at, then I can halt my ascent. We all have the power to do that! You have the power to do with your skills and knowledge whatever you want to do. If you like baseball and you get to be an editor in a popular sports magazine, and you are comfortable and happy with doing that type of writing for the rest of your life, then by gosh you do it! Again, do not let the scary stereotypes of English/writing careers being low paying deter you from reaching for the career that you want!

#3. “Do you really expect to be the next New York Times best seller?”

In short, no I don’t expect this, but I mean come on, that would be pretty cool right?! When I made the decision to pursue this path my senior year of high school, I got so many discouraging comments like this one. Even some coming from my own doctor (who I go to in order to cope with my anxiety!). Ultimately, you have to decide not to let comments like this get you down. This is where your passion and love of writing will be tested the most. Comments like this one, to me hurt the most, because the person saying them truly doesn’t believe in your hard work and drive for success. But, my friends, you have to establish where your definition of success lies.

As a perfectionist, I started out with a VERY high standard of success for myself. I’m talking, if I’m not studied in high school literature classes in the future then I haven’t been successful, type of standards. While having standards like this did drive me to work that much harder and strive for perfection, they ended up really taking a toll on my self-esteem and self-conscious. While in college, I learned to set reachable standards and goals for myself. Every time I reached a new goal my crushed self-esteem began to build itself back up again. I am here warning you not to make the same mistake I did. Don’t do that to yourselves, you all deserve so much better!

Measure your success in a way that flaunts your accomplishments, not in a way that points out what you haven’t done yet. Point out the goals that you have reached above the goals you haven’t made yet. If your goal is to get two reads on a story you’ve posted. Then, as soon as that second read appears, you celebrate! That is a success! If you keep doing this, then who knows, we might just see your name on a New York Times best sellers’ list after all!

#4. English is more than just composition and literature

When taking the first step into higher education you will be overwhelmed by all of the classes that they require you to take in order to get a degree. I’m sure my fellow college students will back me up when I say that general education classes feel absolutely pointless when starting out. If you’re like me, then you might question why you are required to take a landforms class in your last semester as an English major on a daily basis. Trust me when I tell you that general education classes are never fun for anyone, especially people seeking out some sort of art degree.

When pursuing your English degree, be sure to seek out all of the English options that your school of choice offers. They won’t advertise the more abstract or detailed English classes, because the composition and literature classes are what all students need to graduate. I had no idea that my school offered a creative writing class until my favorite English professor asked me if I’d taken it after I turned in my intent to graduate form. It was a palm to the forehead moment for me, so I’m trying to save you all from that annoyance.

Unless the college or university is known for their English and writing programs, (which is rare) they tend to not advertise the detailed and abstract degrees or career options to students, because they just aren’t as popular. Did you know there was an English degree path in writing and rhetoric? I didn’t; not until I went looking for it. If you know you have an interest in a specific line of study, and this goes for anything, then go out and actively look for all of your options in that path.

I’m afraid that, sadly, the colleges and universities just want students to take the most popular or most focused on paths so they can take their money and get them graduated. The student is responsible for making sure the degree they are pursuing is the right one for them. I encourage you all to constantly be on the search for the perfect degree path, career option, and even class schedule for you all.

Don’t just settle because the institute you attend doesn’t hold your line of study as highly as other math or science studies. And if you find that the composition and literature classes you take are not really your cup of tea, then ask yourself these questions. Is it the course material or the professor that is making this experience a poor one? And does my disliking of this class mean that I no longer like English, or does it mean I just haven’t found the branch of English that I am most interested in? If you end up falling out of love with English as a field of study, trust me it is FINE. People change and interests evolve. Don’t sweat it.

However, don’t get discouraged just because you have a bad experience. I had two really bad experiences with my first two composition classes. The first two semesters of my college experience were really tough for me. I didn’t have caring professors and the other general education classes really distracted me from the classes I was actually interested in. But I knew I still loved to write, so I persisted. Then my third English class and professor ended up being the greatest thing to happen to me. I fell back in love with literature and reading because of her.

All I ask of you all is that you stick it out through the bad experiences, especially if that same love and passion for the subject is persistent inside you. Don’t let a bad class or a poor professor ruin the whole subject for you.

The thing that has helped me the most through all of these set-backs and discouraging moments is having a really good support system. My mom warmed up to the idea of me pursuing an English degree fairly quickly, when I proved to her that it genuinely is the only thing that I can see myself doing in the future. She has been my biggest supporter since day one. I have friends who I’ve added to my support system along the journey as well, and I owe a lot of my persistence to them.

My best advice to you all is to find a grounding support system and allow them to help you along this long and tedious path. Whatever path you take, be it English, engineering, medical, or anything in between, none of you should have to walk the path alone. If your support system only consists of one or two internet friends, then I promise that is just as solid as any other group of supporters.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you all the very best on the road to your own successes! I hope these tips helped you all, or at the very least entertained you. Thank you for reading!

Best wishes and happy writing!

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