What Can’t You Do With a B.A. in English?

by The Cowl Editor on May 3, 2018


Laura Chadbourne ’20/The Cowl


The 2004 Tony award-winning musical comedy Avenue Q opens with a song entitled “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” in which the main character laments his struggle in finding employment with an English degree as he claims, “I have no skills yet.”

Avenue Q’s portrayal of the unemployed English major demonstrates society’s skewed perception of the usefulness and practicality of an English degree.

While much of today’s society views the English major as the “glorified undecided,” in reality, a degree in English equips an individual with valuable communication, research, and writing skills which are applicable in nearly any career field.

“When I was in college and told someone I was an English major they would often disparagingly remark, ‘What are you going to do with that? Teach?’” shared Providence College English professor, Dr. Elizabeth Bridgham. “You can do anything with an English degree. Although I did choose to go into education, studying English provides a student with critical thinking skills useful in even the business and STEM fields.”

As Dr. Bridgham explains, an English degree provides students with limitless career opportunities. Aside from the obvious options of teaching, writing, or editing, an English degree opens doors to employment in all areas of the professional world.

A large percentage of students enrolled in law school were English majors at their undergraduate universities, and the language skills an English major develops transfer well into careers in journalism and broadcasting.

Notably, the CEO of Logitech, Bracken Darrell, expresses an interest in humanities majors as potential employees, as they stand out from the masses.

“When I look at where our business is going, I think, boy, you do need to have a technical understanding somewhere in there, to be relevant. But you’re really differentiated if you understand humanities,” noted Darrell.

Many alumni of the College’s English program have proven Darrell’s argument to be true through their achievements in the business world. Take David Forrest ’93, for example. After Forrest graduated, he briefly worked as a stockbroker before he was employed by a personal finance and investing website called The Motley Fool. Although Forrest’s career seems unrelated to his B.A. degree, he attributes his studies as an English major to his success.

“My English degree has made me successful almost every day of my life. Because I can write and speak clearly, I have been able to demystify both financial and highly technical work for people who don’t typically understand things well,” Forrest acknowledged.

Additionally, aside from the variety of career paths an English degree offers, studying English instills empathy and social awareness in students.

Through reading the assortment of novels required of all English majors, students must read through different gender and cultural lenses, based on the narrator of the story.

To that end, English majors gain a deeper understanding of the human condition, along with the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and look at a situation from a variety of perspectives.

Since most English classes are discussion-based and encourage friendly debate, English majors learn to voice their opinions both respectfully and articulately, a skill that is valuable not only in the workplace, but in all aspects of life.

Lastly, studying English is stimulating and enjoyable. Since English majors are granted the freedom to select classes in genres of literature that interest them, most majors are fascinated by the books they study and often enjoy writing essays for their classes.

“I’ve loved every book we’ve read this semester in my dystopian literature class with Dr. Moffett,” shared Sarah Kirchner ’21. “I’m currently writing a 10 page creative writing piece based on the novels we’ve read in class, and I’m excited to see what becomes of it.”

Essentially, despite the overwhelming benefits of studying English, it remains one of the smallest programs at PC with only approximately 150 majors and 50 minors.  Combined, this only constitutes about five percent of the student body.

This statistic, considering the tremendous oral and written communication, the English major engenders in students, proves disheartening.

To that end, any individual interested in developing linguistic abilities valuable in any career field or simply expanding their understanding of human beings should consider pursuing a major or minor in English.