English Degrees Are Useful: Five Reasons

Since leaving university I have learned, through necessity, to be humble and even a little bit ashamed about what I studied: that is, English with Creative Writing. I have adapted my expression when telling people what my degree was to one of appropriate uncertainty and embarrassment. I hide it away on job applications in the hope that it won’t stand in my way if it’s the last thing they see. So, with the help of some of my literature-studying Twitter comrades, I came up with five reasons why an English degree is a useful degree to have, in a professional and personal sense. Thanks to @littlejevans, @danielle_ism, @i_lovelivelearn and anyone else who helped me compile this list!

Using your words

Being able to express yourself is so important. It’s surely the best way to make friends and influence people. In the same way that a language barrier can be alienating and upsetting, this is also true of situations where everyone speaks the same language but nobody can really find the right words to express what they’re thinking. As a language master English graduate, you won’t find yourself in this situation personally, and if you do find yourself in a situation where other people are struggling to understand and be understood, you can help to facilitate the conversation. This will make you a very useful person to have around during events or meetings where a wide range of people are meeting and communicating, especially as some of the most fiercely intelligent people in the world cannot express themselves to save their lives. Maybe this is where you can step in to help everyone get their message across in the best way possible.

It’s like a degree in history, politics, philosophy, sociology, anthropology… all rolled into one

Often, this is a criticism levelled at studying English literature: it’s not specialist enough. It doesn’t qualify you to do any one thing, in the way that nursing or teaching does. You just learn a bit of everything and hope that some if it is relevant to your assessments and possibly your life. I’m sure everybody who has studied English has heard about how this is a bad thing. Who says this has to be true? Surely it is a good thing – it broadens your horizons and makes you a more sympathetic and empathetic person.

Analyse this

Studying English forces you to be very analytical, all of the time. When your tutors are constantly asking you “but what did Alexander Pope mean?” you find yourself adapting to this permanent state of analysis of every word that is spoken or written by anybody in the world. Of course this can sometimes be a real pain, as you might end up stressing over a simple email such as ‘Thank you for submitting an application for this vacancy’ wondering why it’s submitting an application and not applying and trying to get inside the mind of the recruiter on the basis of nine words and an email signature. But aside from the obsessive nature of an analytical mind, it does help you to ‘read between the lines’ so to speak, which can be incredibly useful in professional situations.

I can beat you in an argument

Whether or not your English degree will enable to actually win real-life arguments depends mainly on what kind of person you are. I hate confrontation and tend to quake in my boots at the merest hint of anything more malicious than a spirited debate. The idea of argument skills don’t actually pertain to you having a screaming match with your flatmate, though. It’s all about knowing how to construct an argument and how to dissect the other person’s argument. A fairly common task in English lessons, from GCSE to BA, is picking a side of a controversial debate and building an argument. Knowing how to make an argument for anything is an incredibly valuable tool. Think about something in your personal or professional life that you are very passionate about, then think of the people or person who is against what you are for. If you have studied English for any considerable period of time, you should be able to construct the argument from their side. So – now you know how to put their argument together, you also know how to take it apart.

Not a slow reader

One thing that I (and presumably many other English grads) can do, which often surprises people who didn’t study English, is read, digest and summarise large amounts of written information in a short space of time. This is second nature to me, but it is a skill that some people lack and envy. This ability makes you pretty much indispensable in any kind of assistant role, as often the people who have the largest amounts of information to deal with are the ones who find it hardest to deal with that information. It also makes you great in a press or communications role, because you’re the best person for the job of taking press releases and creating something wonderful from them in no time at all. Finally, as I’m sure any English student with an interest in blogging can tell you, it makes you great at creating written content.

It should be obvious that this is not an exhaustive list, and nor is it intended as a smug diatribe on how great English students are. I know that I have had a lot of disparaging comments about my choice of degree, mainly from people who studied more conventionally worthy subjects, and it’s just nice to take a moment to appreciate that English is a worthwhile subject – even if, as I’m sure you’ve all heard before, ‘you already speak English’. Please chime in if you have any more reasons! Or if you disagree, we all know that English students love a good debate.

CC BY 3.0 - Paper Cat - Flickr

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5 thoughts on “English Degrees Are Useful: Five Reasons

  1. I totally agree with all of this! I’ve come to terms with what I chose to, and enjoyed, studying but it took a while after all the ‘So you didn’t do environmental sciences’ questions. Your point about reading fast is absolutely spot on. My boyfriend and I are sharing a laptop so we read a lot of online articles together and it drives him mad that I move down the cursor so many paragraphs before he’s ready. And he has a law degree but can’t keep up.
    I’d also add that an English degree engenders empathy – you spend so much time in the mindset of others that you learn to put yourself in another’s place. Something that is invaluable at management level.

  2. I love this! I studied journalism, and outside of being a reporter many people wonder what good this is. There are lots of reasons, many of which you named! Although we didn’t study literature, most people who are in journalism and write a lot also read a lot. I didn’t realize until I started my job search how many different types of editorial opportunities there.

  3. Absolutely love this post. So needed, the amount of people who ask me ‘So do just like read books?’. Yes obviously all we do is just ‘like’ read books, no writing, no challenge at all… But then at least we can talk properly…!

  4. Pingback: Why study English? | Clare's ELT Compendium

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