Tag Archives: college

I wish people valued English degrees

I always seem to end up in comment threads on Reddit where people are bashing English degrees as useless, calling them a total waste of money, time and resources. And I always want to respond to these people because I don’t think they are correct, but know I shouldn’t because it’s not worth arguing to an audience of primarily males in technology and science fields. Understandably, they don’t value the study of the English language the same way I do.

Then again, I don’t go around calling an Information Systems degree a waste of time, do I? I respect the hard work and thought that goes into a math degree, or a biology degree. Those aren’t fields I would have been successful in, and I am glad there are people out there who are interested in taking care of that work for me. But of course, not everyone approached the argument the same way I do.

So, I want to take a moment to partially vent and to also explain why English degrees are just as important as Engineering and Science degrees.

1) You know those tv shows you love to watch when you get home from a long day in the lab? English majors probably wrote those, or people who studied some other form of art that you find equally useless. Do you really want to watch a tv show that an engineer wrote? The exceedingly rare duel-talented  master engineer/writer aside, you probably don’t.

2) How about those magazines or internet articles on your smartphone that you read while on the toilet during your daily bowel movement? Chances are, someone who studied English or journalism wrote those. True, they may also have had a side interest in technology or a random passion for bridges that led them to pursue architectural writing, but they still studied English to develop their skills as writers so that that article you’re reading isn’t riddled with errors.

3) That thing we all live in, you know, society? Yeah, English majors help make that possible. A society may as well be full of robots (read: cybermen) instead of people if it lacks the various forms of creative expression–art, literature, music, etc. These are the things that make us human. They evoke feelings and inspire us. They are part of what make life worth living. Sure, science and technology help make our lives easier, but they are also conduits of  those expressions, allowing us better access to the things that make sure being stuck on this giant rock for 80+ years doesn’t totally suck.

4) Ppl dat tak lke dis would never stop unless people who study English become teachers and correct the little bastards that think chat speak is ever acceptable outside of a text message to someone who already has a low opinion of them.

5) English majors can truly do anything. An English degree teaches you communication skills and big-picture thinking, but it also allows for so much more than that. Studying English allows you to pick your focus, to choose what you’re passionate about and explore it. What if you love the English language, to make words fit well together, to communicate ideas and explore them in depth? What if you also love computers? Or video games? Or single-cell organisms? These are the areas that English majors, after figuring out the basics (using literature) are able to explore and discuss. English majors are not limited to books, they simply start out with them and continue to grow from there.

Now, I won’t argue with the fact that too many students are becoming English majors and coming out saddled with debt and only a job at a coffee shop to sustain them. It happens far too often. And it’s not good. But it’s not the degree they chose that was useless–it was most likely the advice they got along the way, or the lack there of, that led them to that end result.

English majors can’t approach the educational experience the same way a computer engineering student would, because if every English major takes their studies at face value and only practices the literary-focused work that is set in front of them, then yes, they probably will be unemployed for years after graduation because  the world just doesn’t have that many uses for literary scholars.

English majors need to look at their studies as only a fraction of their learning experience. English courses can’t be the totality of one’s learning experience. That’s why I don’t think English majors are taking the easy way out. In fact, they are taking a much harder path. They have to learn the skills of a scholar–deep thinking, close reading, supporting an argument, consolidating big ideas and explaining them for others to understand–and then also learn about something else so that when they get out of school they have an interest to pursue and can use the skills of an English major to help them pursue it.

Studying English give us to the tools to do what ever we want to do, but it’s up to us to figure out what the hell that is.

So screw the haters, English is not a worthless degree. It’s priceless. (Aside for all those student loans, of course.)

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This Big Scary World

It’s always a strange feeling to realize that many of my friends have been out of school for at least a year now, while I am still waiting to finally move away from campus. Some of them have already switched jobs twice, some are engaged, some are married and some have taken their year off and are headed back to school. In a way, I am ahead of people my age because I finished grad school a year early, but I also feel like I’m a year behind.

When you’re in school, you always talk about that big and scary “Real World” where you’ll have to find a job and support yourself. Now, suddenly, it’s a reality, and I’m really scared. But that’s normal, right?

Maybe I’m not setting myself up for the smoothest of transitions. I’m in the process of moving to a new place away from my parents but populated by a good number of my college friends. I have an apartment, I have furniture, I have savings, but no job. That’s right, I’m part of the ridiculously high percentage of college grads with liberal arts degrees going off into the real world without a job. And again, I’m really freaking scared.

Everyone keeps telling me how brave I am and how impressed they are with my courage. Hah, great, thanks guys. That makes me feel good about this life choice.

I think this is something everyone who studies English (or any discipline that can be described as a “liberal art”) encounters when they make the choice not to pursue a career in teaching or academia. What are our skills good for? Well, tons of things. I only went to school for five years to learn how to write and communicate well, including multiple genres and forms. I am great at researching and fact checking. I can edit for grammar, style and content. And I am ridiculously creative–something my liberal arts degree encouraged and required. I can analyze pretty much anything within logical bounds and identify what an audience prefers over something else, and why they prefer it. So why then is it so hard to find a job?

I think it has more to do with the state of the job market and how companies are operating in an employers market. When you have the pick of the masses, you’re gonna pick the ones you don’t have to train. It makes sense and I can’t argue with that. It’s frustrating as someone just starting out and hoping someone will take a chance on me, but I do understand.

I just have to keep looking, and looking, and looking…

What is much more frightening about this big move is that for the first time, my life isn’t scripted. When you’re in your school years, it’s one grade after the next, and then college, then grad school and then a job. But what job? Where do you work? What work do you do? There is no set path anymore.

So here I am, wondering if I am making the right decision. Is this the right place to move? Am I applying for the right jobs? Am I going to live in the right neighborhood? Now, everything in my life is subject to second guessing. Now that is scary.

But everything will be fine, right? …right?

I find myself switching back and forth between absolute terror and unbridled excitement. I can always be a stereotype and work in a Starbucks to pay the bills. And if I can’t pay the bills, I will move back home. I am surrounded by friends, I have a supportive family, I’ll be okay. With that in mind, I feel like nothing can go too horribly wrong. And yet, what if this is the first time I fail? What if I use up all my savings and never get a good footing? What if I can’t make it work? Then I move home and I take a different path. And that’s okay. Deep breaths…

I think the hardest part of this whole ordeal will be coming to terms with my unscripted life. Maybe I won’t use the skills I gained in my college years. Or maybe I will. But I can’t pigeon hole myself into one path. That’s not how life works, and it’s really hard to accept that.

Reminds me of writing a book. Sometimes the outline you spent hours planning just doesn’t work and the story veers off in a totally new direction. Hopefully this one has a proper happy ending, or at least some really awesome adventures along the way.

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Choosing a graduate program

Rather than tackle the MA/MFA/PhD question, I am going to skip right to choosing any graduate program. I’ll deal with the other another time.

When you’re looking into creative writing graduate programs, you have to keep a number of things in mind. When you first start looking, there is the tendency to treat it like your original college search way back in high school. Of course back then, you are more concerned with how many bars are within walking distance and their national rating for campus food. Grad school is a little different. The first difference is how you go about finding programs. I suggest checking out AWP’s guide to writing programs.

5 Things to Consider:

1. What is the program’s focus?

Just like when you’re looking for an agent or querying magazines, you have to make sure your writing fits with the writing being taught. Each school employs writers who fit within genres and categories and you want to choose the school that will cater most to your writing needs. It doesn’t make any sense for a literary writer to apply to a graduate program where most of the professors teach writing for children.

2. Who is on staff?

This ties in with my first point. You want to make sure you are looking at programs that staff professors who write what you want to write. It won’t do you any good if you are learning from a professor whose main focuses are non-fiction or screen writing when you’re only interested in fiction. But also don’t pick a school just because your favorite author teaches there. If that’s the only reason you pick a program, then you are discounting some other very important factors to consider. Plus, you can’t be sure they will be teaching the classes you have to/want to take, or if they will be teaching at all.

3. Who does readings?

A critical part of any writing program is what published writers the program brings to campus. Most schools will put up a list online of everyone they’ve had visit. This tells you a couple things. First, what kind of writers are you being exposed to? Just like the professors on staff, it’s important that the visiting authors appeal to you in some way—even if only to give you insight into a particular avenue of publishing. The second thing to look for is the quality of the visiting writers. If the school only brings in writers who say, have been published by the school’s press, there might not be either the funding or the prestige to get other writers.

After the jump: Funding, Literary Magazines, and Other Considerations

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