In Which the Revelatory “THIS Is What I’ll Do With My English Degree” Strikes Again

English majors grapple with the “where will this take me?” question on a daily basis. It looms over us when we’re six hours into a critical essay, when we’re holed up in our rooms instead of outside with our friends because we have a poem in our heads that just has to be written, or when we’re making small talk with nosy distant relatives at family reunions. I find that the “problem” (and I use that term loosely, the reason for which I will get to in a second) is just how many places an English degree can take us. How do we decide which path to take? What if we want to follow more than one? Of course, the number of directions we can go with our degrees can also be seen as a blessing, because we have the freedom to choose from so many unique fields knowing that we’re prepared for practically anything our careers will throw at us. I think the French phrase “avoir l’embarras du choix”–to be spoiled by how many choices one has–perfectly captures how I feel when I consider my future after Geneseo.

Anyway, the point of this post was to talk about how much my future plans have changed (because of feeling I have so many options), but also how I’ve now come back to a field I had previously considered–publishing. I originally considered getting into editing/publishing because I (wrongly) believed it was just correcting spelling and grammar in things people write, something that I think has always come naturally to me. Now I know that’s what copyediting is, and that editors do something much different. I learned a lot about editing and publishing as part of the Gandy Dancer class this past spring, and even more just last night at the publishing Q&A Rachel Hall organized with an author and her editor. Although by the end of last semester I wasn’t sure I have what it takes to work in publishing, I’ve been reconsidering it the past few days. The problem was that before, I didn’t really have a reason for wanting to work in publishing besides that I didn’t know what else to do with an English degree, since I don’t want to teach (unless it’s at the college level, but that’s another dream I’m not so confident about). But recently I realized one of the things I love the most about being an English major–reading my peers’ creative work. I LOVE workshopping peers’ poetry, whether written by all of you 🙂 , written by people in my Foundations class last fall, or submitted to Gandy Dancer last semester. I almost enjoy reading stuff my fellow undergrads write more than reading an established poet’s published collection… Now, this realization is making me lean towards editing perhaps for a college literary journal or a small press, which is great because it means I don’t necessarily have to “make it” in a big competitive publishing house in a big city–good news since I have yet to find my inner Carrie Bradshaw. I would be much more comfortable somewhere smaller. I just really enjoy reading young writers’ work; there’s something so inspiring about poets still finding their voices, writing stuff that blows me away while I know they’ll only get better from here because they’re still young and so full of potential.

So, there’s my recurring English major rant. Tune in next week for “I’ve Decided to Join the Circus After All” (let’s hope not).

4 Replies to “In Which the Revelatory “THIS Is What I’ll Do With My English Degree” Strikes Again”

  1. Hi Carrie!
    I am constantly defending why I’m an English major to my friends and family. For the longest time I was unsure of what I wanted to do, but I have always been someone who has considered teaching. I had two extremely inspiring English teachers in High School, both inspired me to pursue an English degree. Last year after taking a literacy class with the School of Ed, I realized teaching is something I really want to do. I think it would amazing to inspire students the way my teachers have inspired me. Without them I’m not sure where I’d be, much less what I’d be doing in school. I’d probably be a Lit major–but where’s the fun in that? (sorry Lit majors)
    I guess what I’m getting at is, we can do whatever we want with our degrees. We are driven, creative, inspired minds. I don’t see why anyone would think for a second we’d be unemployed.

  2. Arianna and Carrie,

    You are both 100% and absolutely right. I think something that confounds us is that our lives are long, and are not limited to the scope of our majors even. An English degree can lead you to retail, to law, to medicine, to consulting, to publishing, to writing, to journalism, to politics, to business, to fashion – you get the idea. An English degree can take you anywhere, because it prepares you as a person for creatively approaching life, and communicating complex ideas with others.

    And – just as a note – I get the ‘what are you gonna do with that’ question about Biology now, too. A bachelors in biology does pretty much nothing for you when it comes to working in biology; you really need to go on to get at least a masters to find work. But my PhD will not define me any more than my BS does now; I can still be flexible; I can ALWAYS gain more knowledge and become something new – something even I never expected. I can get my PhD and decide to be a hairdresser, an architect, a manager of a bioinformatics company, a designer, an independent business owner, and more.

    The only way you are limited, is by believing others when they tell you that you are.

    Please excuse me while I go take my own advice.

  3. Hey!

    I was super excited reading this, Carrie! I have literally the exact same thoughts and unless something better rears its mystical head (which I doubt will happen since I’m very excited about my current plan), I want to get into Editing as well. I’m currently TA-ing for Foundations of Creative Writing and loving every second of it. Many people often hear me complaining regarding the work load, but in all honesty, there are few things I’d rather be doing. Literature and reading has always been the biggest staple in my life, as is writing now.

    So, here’s my dilemma: I have no idea how to get into the field and that terrifies me. Sure, with writing I can submit anywhere and everywhere and try my hardest to get published, but with editing, I feel lost: like a bunny that has strayed into a rose bush instead of a cabbage patch. All I want to do is tear people apart so they can rebuild and create amazing work while I create my own in my spare time. But I have no idea where to go or who to talk to. I have yet to take Gandy Dancer, but I will try to register for it in the spring semester so I’ll have that on a resume. Did you think it really helped hone your focus?

    As you’re someone else that’s considering the same career path: advice?


  4. We should all join the circus. That’s like the coolest job in the world. I remember going to the circus when I was little and it looked so cool. I would try my hardest to make children laugh.

    What’s the point of any liberal arts degree really? The things you learned or the things you enhanced with your English Creative Writing degree, just like any other degree, can be applied to anything. I’ve read stuff on the deep web of how people with English degrees got jobs in Software Engineering, the government,and pornography. And that’s what I think the charm of the English degree is. You don’t have to get a job that has to do with an English degree. For example, you don’t have to be a teacher or work in publishing. I believe that a degree works only and only if it can get you into a job or a career that you can enjoy.

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