Although there are many great reasons to major in English, and it can lead to a wide variety of options and career choices, an English degree has its downsides as well. The disadvantages of an English major stem largely from the same source as its major advantages: its lack of focus and specificity. In addition, there are a couple of unique challenges to being an English major that might make you think twice about pursuing this degree.
Lack of Focus
Getting a degree in English does not prepare you for any one career path, unless you get a more specific degree such as English Education or Creative Writing. This leaves your options open and makes it easier to switch from one kind of job to another, but at the same time doesn’t prepare you for the workforce as well as some more specific majors (business, journalism, theater, etc.).
As an English major you may find yourself spending the first few years in your chosen profession trying to catch up, to learn the specifics of that field. Or you may be unsure what job to pursue at all. These disadvantages of an English major are particularly salient for the student who specializes in literature, an area with far fewer career options than writing. The best way to overcome this drawback is to study a particular area of English, such as education or ESL, or to at some point during your education take an internship in the field you would like to pursue after graduating.
Lack of Content Knowledge
Another potential English major disadvantage is that English professors tend to focus on teaching skills such as critical thinking and reasoning, and less on concrete information. There is little to no memorization in an English class, and very often there are no tests—only long research papers. This can be a good thing, since critical thinking skills and abilities such as doing research are so important. At the same time, however, English majors come away from college knowing very few facts and details. This can cause a student frustration, if he or she prefers learning concrete information, and can leave you wondering if your time in all those discussion-based English classes might have been better spent.
Some majors take up more of your time than others, and English is one of them. English classes are heavy on out-of–class work that can’t be done quickly. You won’t get many daily assignments, but you can expect to read several books per class per semester as well as doing shorter readings. And then there are the papers, research and otherwise. English majors are often given final paper assignments of 10-20 pages in length, and several shorter papers throughout the year. Reading, writing, and researching takes a significant amount of time, and English professors expect the best from their students. An English degree is a significant time investment, one that can leave you with very little free time (especially if you’re a slow reader and/or writer).
Making the Choice
Every major has its ups and downs, and English is no exception. The disadvantages of an English major outlined here might make you think twice before pursuing this degree. It is a valuable field of study, but it’s up to you to decide whether the advantages outweigh the shortcomings. In either case, you’ll know what to expect from this worthy but at times frustrating major.