Best Ways to Use an English Degree

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Careers & Salary Potential

What types of jobs are English degree earners prepared for upon graduation? The options are varied, and depend greatly on an individual’s preparation, career goals, ambition and timing. Students who wish to teach in PreK–12, for example, can earn a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in education. Prospective college professors will likely need to earn their PhD before qualifying for an assistant professorship. If writing is more up a student’s alley, consider subjects that are of interest. These may include technology, which could translate to a technical writing position; film, which could lead to screenwriting; or advertising, which could give rise to copywriting.

All in all, the earlier a student decides the direction they’d like their career to lead, the earlier they can pick a concentration and figure out which level of degree is best suited to their choice. English graduates of any degree level will be proficient in writing, editing, communication and research, which are essential skills in a broad range of fields. Below are some typical concentrations, careers at each level of education and unusual jobs that most people do not typically think of when considering the English major.

Concentrations Available for English Majors

English majors offer a plethora of study focuses, ranging from well-known concentrations like education to lesser-known ones like film studies. A student’s ability to hone in on their interests within the English major will open them up to a number of careers within each specialized subject area. Beyond the concentrations listed here, English students can find ones in literary and cultural studies, creative writing, composition and rhetoric, place studies and scientific and technical communication, with the availability of these varying greatly by higher education institution.

An English major with a concentration in education will be prepared to teach language arts at a variety of levels. The study is based on a broad range of topics within language, literature and writing areas and incorporates teaching strategies.
This concentration often includes the study and writing of poems, short stories, essays, and both fictional and nonfictional prose. In addition, students can expect to study and analyze literary movements, historical and modern. The focus of a creative writing concentration is producing original works that may go on to be published professionally.
The digital publishing English concentration focuses more on the writing and editing process, and students are encouraged to find internships at newspapers, magazines and book publishing companies, for example. Digital publishing courses teach students how to write, edit and publish text for online consumption in the age of the Internet.
English majors with a film studies concentration learn how to write scripts and gain knowledge of basic filming strategies. There is at least one perk: being able to watch movies as part of the curriculum. Film studies requires students to examine the history of film, genres, theory and criticism, directors’ roles and legal and business aspects of the field.
A concentration in linguistics within the English major examines language and texts in historical and social contexts. Students learn how culture affects language and how to apply their learning within scholarly and professional communities. Linguistics focuses heavily on subjects such as syntax, contextual language, phonology, morphology and history of linguistics.

Mean Annual Salary by Concentration

English Teacher, Post-secondary$77,660
Advertising copywriter$77,580
Literary Agent$74,040


What Can You Do with an English Degree?

Bachelor’s Degree in English

A graduate of a bachelor’s degree in English program from an accredited college or university will be prepared for a variety of careers. Picking a concentration can boost job prospects even further by providing a more in-depth focus and a career track. For example, a four-year English student with a focus on education will be prepared for a teaching position immediately upon graduation, as some programs even offer teaching certification within the graduation requirements.

English majors learn oral and communication skills. Their background in writing, editing, literature and language studies can be applied to jobs like editor, technical writer and high school teacher, to name a few.

  • Editor SALARY: $50,267

    Editors manage the writing submitted by staff writers or freelancers and ready it for public consumption. Editors work in a variety of media, including news, film and broadcasting companies. A bachelor’s in English prepares graduates for editorial jobs by ensuring students’ abilities to brainstorm ideas, verify facts, proofread and oversee production.

  • Technical writer SALARY: $58,345

    Technical writers are responsible for writing content that takes a specific professional subject like medical science and makes it digestible for the average reader. English bachelor’s degree holders can qualify for this career through a concentration in technical writing.

  • High school teacher SALARY: $48,613

    An English degree with a focus on education will prepare graduates for teaching positions. High school teachers can instruct students in one or several subjects. Location will greatly affect the pay for this career, as it varies from state to state and county to county.

Source: PayScale

Master’s Degree in English

Earning a master’s degree in English sets students up for success in more specific careers with upward mobility. Those with an English master’s degree can typically move straight into management-type positions better than someone with a four-year degree in the same subject. With high-ranking positions comes more responsibility, as with an academic director and project manager, who both must interact with staff, students or the general public while working on program or project development and execution. More behind-the-scenes, independent roles such as medical writer benefit from better pay associated with a master’s but may also deal with more complicated, intensive subjects.

  • Academic DirectorSALARY: $62,880

    Colleges and universities use the expertise of an academic director to develop the schools’ programs and strategies. An academic director must conduct research, meet with staff, students and parents, and constantly develop and revise curriculum, among other duties. A master’s in English is usually the minimum educational background for academic directors.

  • Project managerSALARY: $72,165

    Project managers oversee company projects that require timeline setting, task assignments, planning and strategy. A career in project management requires strong communication and problem-solving skills. A master’s in English, especially with a focus in project management, prepares graduates for a career as a project manager by ensuring necessary organizational skills and knowledge of project development and execution.

  • Medical writerSALARY: $70,276

    Medical writers are responsible for research, analyzing data and writing about complex medical or scientific subjects in a way that is understandable by the average reader. A master’s degree in English, with concentrations in areas such as creative writing, technical writing or scientific/medical writing, will prepare students for a career in medical writing by providing a foundation of research, analytical and professional writing skills.

Source: PayScale

PhD in English

A doctorate in English primarily prepares students for a career in higher education instruction or management. While other non-academic job avenues are available for those with a PhD in English, many graduates of the program head straight into assistant professor roles. A major part of the curriculum in the English doctorate program is experience in instruction as a teaching assistant; other parts consist of high-level literary criticism and theory, graduate research and a lengthy dissertation process. The PhD process usually takes five to six years and is perfect for students who wish to teach or develop academic programs in higher education environments.

  • Vice ProvostSALARY: $151,294

    The job demands of vice provost, a senior academic administrator in higher education, include design and implementation of budgetary and educational factors, managing staff and overseeing the development of educational goals while working with departments and committees. A Vice Provost can develop and execute detailed educational programs and standards and also handle the responsibilities of the teams of staff who report to them.

  • Assistant professor, higher educationSALARY: $65,765

    Assistant professors are required to teach college courses, conduct research and aim to have their works published (and thereby help the college advance in their subject area). Many PhD English graduates begin their career as assistant professors, as the PhD curriculum should include not only in-depth study of literature and theory but also a practicum teaching aspect.

  • Senior researcherSALARY: $88,095

    A PhD in English may prepare a student for a career as senior researcher through the extensive research demands of the degree: Colleges require enrollment in graduate research programs and extensive research and development through their dissertation process. A senior researcher, an example of a non-academic result of the PhD in English, is responsible for data analytics, project management, research and problem solving and may have other researchers report to them.

Source: PayScale

Unexpected Careers for English Majors

The English degree gets a bad rap sometimes, but the skills learned through English programs can result in a variety of in-demand or lucrative careers. Job-seekers who don’t want to work in an educational setting should focus on their skillset and think outside the box. In fact, a surprising number of jobs require and benefit from English degree education components, such as research, writing, editing, communication and SEO writing. This opens up career opportunities in law, PR, advertising and marketing, video game story development and much more. In addition, English degree-holders are valuable in almost any workplace because of their spelling and grammar skills, ability to communicate, and thinking skills, which help an employee accurately relay information and formulate detailed plans of action. More advanced careers for which English degree earners would qualify require strategic brainstorming, planning and execution of projects; organizational skills (such as outlines), and analytical skills.

  • LawyerSALARY: $81,991

    While part of the job of lawyer includes representing a client in the courtroom, much of the rest is formulated from analyzing and researching law, gathering evidence, developing prosecution or defense strategies and preparing for oral presentations to a judge and jury. English degree-holders are well-suited to conduct the necessary research, communicate to all parties and analyze the language of law.

  • Speech writerSALARY: $81,732

    A speech writer is assigned the tasks of writing not only speech outlines and speeches but also assignments such as editorial columns. Speech writers, who work for politicians, corporations and more, research and organize topical content and communicate to their team or manager. Those with an English degree are qualified to complete all of the tasks of this job through completion of their college curriculum.

  • Digital marketing managerSALARY: $64,322

    A necessary trait of a digital marketing manager is proficiency in SEO (search engine optimization), which promotes a brand or company through key words and phrases that boost ranking in a search engine. They are also responsible for coordinating marketing campaigns within social and digital media spheres. An English degree holder would make a savvy digital marketing manager through clever use of word play, brainstorming and organizational skills.

  • Public relations specialistSALARY: $46,683

    Public relations specialists promote a company or brand through a variety of avenues, including writing press releases, event organization, responding to information requests, press conferences and developing marketing material. Graduates with an English degree would do well in PR because of its heavy reliance on written word and communication skills.

  • Medical scribeSALARY: $29,330

    The job of medical scribe is to shape a patient narrative that includes all of the necessary medical information while communicating in terms that patients and their families will understand. Medical scribes are like personal assistants to doctors in this manner; they document all elements of the patient’s care and rewrite it for clarity.

Source: PayScale

Professional Resources for English Majors

Many professional associations have student chapters or discounts for student members, and members can access resources like field research, job listings, publications and educational events.

  • Writers Guild of America: The Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) is a union that represents writers in specific industries such as TV shows, film, news programs, animation and video games. WGAW offers several tiers of paid memberships, encompassing thousands of writers who then receive union benefits of medical and dental, a credit union and discounts on events and services.
  • National Council of Teachers of English: Educators at levels from PreK to college can benefit from this literacy education organization, which provides lesson plans, webinars, a digital journal archive, a members-only magazine, discounts on conventions and learning materials and online professional connections. Members have the opportunities to volunteer, write for the NCTE and join the National Day on Writing and political advocacy groups.
  • Association of Writers and Writing Programs: Students and professional writers alike can take advantage of AWP’s resources, including career opportunities, mentorships, contests, publications, The Writer’s Calendar and writing program advice and materials. More than 50,000 writers, 550 college creative writing programs and 150 writers’ conferences and centers take part in AWP, which aims to advance writing as it relates to a solid education, promote literary success, and support teachers, students and all writers. Students receive a discounted membership.
  • Linguistic Society of America: The LSA’s member benefits extend to students—at a discounted price—and professional linguists alike. Members have access to field research, publications, a professional connection service, meetings and institutes and can dip their hands in issues related to the linguistics field. The Jobs Center provides an in-depth career resource based on position, specialty and language.
  • Rhetoric Society of America: The RSA is a professional organization in the field of rhetoric that caters to students, teachers and scholars. Students can join at a discounted rate. Members receive access to scholarly materials, are eligible to enter for a variety of awards, and can attend conferences and other events, among other benefits. RSA also has student chapters.

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