What can I do with an English major?
". . .the word is the making of the world"
—Wallace Stevens,"Description Without Place"
This epigraph represents an essential mission of the Department of English at Fredonia. In our programs—whether in literature, secondary education, journalism, composition, creative writing, or critical theory—students focus on the artistry of language: understanding it, appreciating it, analyzing it, and critiquing it. Additionally, and most importantly, we strive to prepare our graduates to use language in ways that will responsibly contribute to the world they want to build. Not all of Fredonia's English majors will enroll in graduate schools, although a significant number have done so. Not all of them will teach English in secondary classrooms in New York State and throughout the nation, although many now do. With critical thinking and communications skills developed through degree completion as an English or English Education major at Fredonia, our graduates have consistently been prepared to enter a variety of fields that rely on articulate speakers and writers, and clear thinkers.
Unless you major in a highly professional skill, like accounting, you are not likely to walk right into a job directly related to your undergraduate major, or stay in that job for a lifetime. Many of the good jobs people do now didn't exist ten or twenty years ago. A classic study done by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University revealed two fascinating things:
- that most college graduates work in fields that are, at most, marginally related to their college majors;
- that the typical college graduate has three quite different jobs in the course of his or her professional career. That doesn't mean working for three different advertising agencies—it means jobs in three quite different organizations, three wholly different fields.
And the constant in all this, the determinant of success, is the use of the basic linguistic and personal skills that a liberal arts education, particularly an English major, teaches.
Our graduates work for schools, journals, publishers, business firms, advertising and marketing firms, newspapers, non-profit and arts organizations and government agencies. They go on to graduate programs in English, Education, Business, American Studies, Journalism, Law, Library Science, Fine Arts, Women’s Studies and Social Work. Every year, many choose to pursue our Master of Arts degree in English or our Master of Science in Education (English) degree.
We are justifiably proud of the diverse accomplishments of our alumni. Here is a sample of the sorts of careers our English graduates have built, and a selection of their comments on what they learned at Fredonia.
In banking, like Erin Sceiford, class of '01:
"Shortly after I graduated with an English degree from Fredonia, I was offered jobs in a variety of different areas: banking, law, human resources, and mental health. Fredonia's English curriculum prepared me well for these types of jobs by helping me develop the communication and critical thinking skills that employers expect. The English department was flexible and offered me the opportunity to pursue my own specific interests, such as creative writing and women's studies, within the program, and customize the curriculum toward my career goals. The English faculty encouraged me to pursue my goals and were easily accessible for help and feedback with class work, scheduling, and even job searching. As a whole, my experience in the English department was excellent and I am excited about the opportunities my degree has offered me."
In law, like Carrie Shannon, class of '01:
"My English major helps me professionally every day. The skills I learned through the various classes and seminars, such as proof-reading, analytical reading, and grammar skills are essential in my profession. Coming into this field a few months ago, knowing nothing about Aviation Law, I felt very confident that I could apply my skills from my English major to my position as a paralegal. So far this has proven successful. Thanks to my excellent education at Fredonia, my transition from college to career has been a smooth one!"
Many of our graduates have gone on to careers in journalism, publishing, finance, public relations, advertising, non-profit organizations, social work, television, human resources, counseling, library science, creative writing, film, government work, marketing, technical writing. Others have gone on to do post-graduate work in English at universities like Duke and USC, and the Universities of Maryland, Buffalo, Binghamton, Stony Brook, New Hampshire, Colorado, Montana, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, and Ohio State. Many have earned the Ph.D. and teach at such institutions as SUNY Albany, Penn State, and the University of South Florida. Mark Peters, class of '94, is finishing his doctorate at SUNY Buffalo and editing an on-line journal; here's his take on English at Fredonia:
"As an undergraduate English major at Fredonia, I had the time of my life. I wrote a weekly newspaper column, spent hours discussing everything under the sun with my professors, and read more books in a shorter amount of time than I could believe. Though I wasn't interested in becoming a teacher back then, I learned an awful lot about great teaching from the dedicated, humorous, and generous faculty. I can never remember a professor being too busy to talk, and I haven't had so much fun in school before or since. As I search for a teaching job, I hope I'm lucky enough to end up in a great department like Fredonia's."
Russ Leo, class of '01, was awarded a five year fellowship to study literature at Duke. He said:
"I'm telling you very honestly, in reviewing graduate programs I am beginning to see just how far ahead of the game I am—and the English department at Fredonia is entirely responsible! Many of the graduate programs offer general courses in this or that and from what I can tell the vast majority of these courses are offered in the balanced and comprehensive program at Fredonia. I mean, what I have been able to take as an UNDERGRADUATE outdoes most grad programs! It's amazing—as an undergrad I took in-depth, focused seminar classes on Foucault, Milton, Chaucer,"Imperialism, Globalization, Nomadism, "Feminist Theory, and Early American Literature. All of these classes, which are interrelated and balanced, outdo most of the graduate catalogs I have been looking at. THAT is a testament to the department. So, you can probably tell, I'm pretty happy with my education."
And what about secondary teaching? Jeff Waid, class of '94, said:
"I think the impact you had on me has been greatest as personal examples. When I came to you, I wasn't sure I had made a decision (teaching) that I could live with long term. I was hopeful, but with only one toe in the water. What I found, though, were curious, compassionate, challenging teachers—intellectuals—that I respected and admired. You made literature live, and teaching an exploration. Fredonia was at once a cocoon, a safe place to grow, and a ship on which to sail into unknown waters. I felt we were travelers on a joyful journey with you as my (our) guide. It is a feeling I have tried to impart to my own students."
Heather Bennet, class of '91, put it this way:
"An English major is not really about what you do, but more about how you do it. It prepares you for anything you decide to do by broadening your perspectives. It trains you . . . not to accept things at face value . . . giving you an edge over someone with skills alone. The job I now have was given to me because I was a 'creative writer.' I work as an administrative assistant for a telecommunications company . . . So I guess I would answer What can you do with an English degree? with: Anything. I still praise my professors at Fredonia . . . they have given me a confidence in my talents no one can take away from me. And that will get me through any career I choose."
In the end, the best reason to major in English here or anywhere is because you like it, you're good at it, and you want to do more of it. That is, of course, why anyone should choose any college major. What Fredonia English majors do in their courses—read, think, write, talk, organize, formulate, summarize, analyze, speak, interact, lead, plan, work with people (not to mention exult and laugh and dream)—is what anyone must master in order to succeed and excel in the world. We of the Fredonia English Department are proud of our graduates in teaching and the business world. We're good at what we do, and we help young people develop into competent and confident young professionals who are good at what they do. If, at the same time, we give them a view of the examined life and an ability to think independently and grow personally, we are especially pleased.
—The Members of the Department of English, Fredonia
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