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The English Major Will Not Die

While stocking the Newsstand at Barnes & Noble, I came across a front page of the New Yorker cover that reads “The End of the English Major by Nathan Heller and my first thought was “No, it doesn’t have to be.” Reading further, I saw that the study findings sourced in the article were based on Arizona State University’s falling enrollment rates into the English Major prerequisite courses, among others across the country. This is because many of these degrees are seen as nonprofitable in the eyes of businesses. That is until they need a writer.

According to the New Yorker article by Heller, the number of students majoring in English has gone down considerably since 2012.

This is causing problems for English departments in terms of attracting and retaining students.

Nevertheless, the Association of the Departments of English has released a report with suggestions on ways that these departments can thrive.

These suggestions include experimenting with new majors and courses, emphasizing the value of an English degree, and engaging in ongoing research. By being adaptable and innovative to new technology and career-oriented guidance, English departments can succeed despite the decline in enrollment numbers.

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Coursework Should Include On-the-Job Skills Training

The English Major is more than just learning to write and read with critical thinking. It teaches skills that can be applied in digital media, marketing, technical and engineering, medicine, and law. Writers are needed. The only problem – students are not told this. They are being told that it’s hard work and if we want anything published we have to start submitting now. There’s a lot more to it than that. Especially, if you want to write professionally.

According to Inside Higher Ed writer Colleen Flaherty, the Association for the English Department has been fighting for reform and career guidance for its students since numbers began dropping as far back as 1993. In her article The Evolving English Major (2018), Flaherty reports ” As for skills, the report says that virtually every English department promises to develop students’ skills in reading, critical thinking and writing, and that many add a fourth skill, research. Concerning careers, almost all departments emphasize the range of good jobs and careers available to English majors”.

Many of the companies that I have applied to since moving to the Phoenix Valley are for warehouses, software and technology services, real estate, legal and criminal justice, and other service-based businesses. Many of these companies prefer to outsource writers to do content creation and email marketing and expect SEO and social media management and marketing to be basic skills. But none of these skills are covered in normal coursework. The guidance for arts and humanities is very limited.

The English curriculum doesn’t touch much business writing unless it’s a specialized senior capstone. If I were to say any of my classes taught SEO it would be the pragmatics class I took which I enjoyed very much. Pragmatics essentially teaches how people choose the words and language that they use based on demographics and other cross-cultural influences.

This is what the English Major curriculum should include:

There is no clear-cut career path for English majors

There needs to be more on-hand guidance for this. I remember sitting in my advisor’s office asking for advice since I did not want to be an English teacher. There weren’t many obvious options and once I choose one – did I have the proper skills and experience to do it?

For the English Major, there should be multiple career path options besides a path in education, but ones that include journalism and business writing courses that will help students understand what they need to do to better market themselves to companies.

If we want more students to enroll in literature and humanity-focused courses, we must make them marketable to companies that have the best in technology and are expecting writers to be able to do these various tasks.

The English Major Curriculum Needs to Adapt

America’s education system, while rich and vast, needs to change the standard curriculum for the English major to be more innovative than reviewing Shakespeare (again).

During my English literature and writing classes, we were taken back through the process of learning different types of writing. Essays, academic research, fiction, and so on. We were revisiting literature like Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, and other classics that should be a part of the high school curriculum.

Most of the English courses available to me were geared toward a career in education. However, I had already decided against that career path, so what was I to do?

To me there was no obvious career for an English major. And to make it as a writer, there was a lot more to it than my professors ever led on. There has been a lot that I have had to teach myself.The skills I have had to teach myself in the time since I graduated from NAU should be a part of a standard curriculum. These skills include SEO, copywriting, marketing, and grant writing.

These are vital skills that are necessary to thrive in the technology age we live in today. Writers are still needed in these areas.

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“Oh…there are jobs out there for that.”

A guest said that to me once when I was working a retail position at a store in Flagstaff during my last year at NAU as an English major. She had asked me what I was studying and I told her. This moment has haunted me since.

But I think what many other English majors, including myself, experience after graduating college is the: now what?

There are jobs out there. You just have to go find them.

Create a portfolio while you’re in school. Do all the things your professors are as doing – but online. Find your niche and explore. The English major has much more to offer than just essays and reviewing Shakespeare.

The English department is a vital and important part of the university.

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Is the English Major Dead?

If you ask me, no. It just needs reform. It is still a rewarding department. I am thankful for my education. According to the scholars of the NY Graduate Center, this is not the death of the English major, and the problem lies in how we as a country invest in education. And creating viable careers for English majors, as well as ensuring future students a positive

“The problem isn’t that people aren’t interested in the humanities; it’s that governments have disinvested in higher education and civil society, leaving universities scrambling for resources and emphasizing STEM because it brings in grant money and investors and creates wealthier alumni (in theory — many businesses say that they recruit English majors for their critical thinking skills). In a world in which people read and write all day on their phones and computers, we need to teach people to read and write well, and that’s what English as a discipline does.”


The last thing we need is to discourage students who major in English from pursuing their dream due to fear of not being able to find a job and make a living. We don’t need English teachers living in fear of losing their job if universities drop English as a study focus. There needs to be curriculum reform that involves adding courses that teach core skills necessary for careers for English majors. We need to focus on the skills that make English majors more profitable to companies. And there will always be a need for the humanities.

The English major will never die.

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Flaherty, Colleen. “New Analysis of English Departments Says Numbers of Majors Are Way down since 2012 but It’s Not a Death Sentence for Departments.” Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Events and Jobs, 17 July 2018, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/07/18/new-analysis-english-departments-says-numbers-majors-are-way-down-2012-its-not-death.

“End of the English Major? Hardly!” CUNY Graduate Center, Office of Communications and Marketing, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.gc.cuny.edu/news/end-english-major-hardly.

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