Careers with an English Major: Job Descriptions & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in English? Get real job descriptions and education requirements to see if a career in English is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in English

Majoring in English is a largely academic pursuit, so it's not surprising that many of the careers in this field are scholarly in nature, but some jobs may be more creative and literary. Three careers that you might consider pursuing with an English degree are writer and author, high school English language arts (ELA) teacher and postsecondary English teacher. The following is information about these careers at a glance:

Writers and Authors High School Teachers Postsecondary Teachers
Career Overview Writers and authors generate original, new written content for a variety of different mediums. High school ELA teachers help students prepare for graduation by teaching courses in literature and writing. Postsecondary English teachers instruct students in various kinds of literature, conduct research and sometimes write scholarly works.
Education Requirements Varies; bachelor's degree common At least a bachelor's degree Most often a PhD, although a master's degree may be accepted in certain cases
Program Length Varies; about four years for a bachelor's degree About four years for a bachelor's degree; two more years for a master's About four years for a bachelor's degree; six more years to complete a doctorate
Certification and Licensing Although rarely required, certification programs exist for certain kinds of writers State licensure is required to teach in all public and many private schools Certification or licensure is rarely required
Work Experience Varies widely Varies widely Varies widely
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Slower than average growth (3%) compared to all occupations* Slower than average growth (6%) compared to all occupations * Faster than average growth (19%) compared to all occupations (all postsecondary teachers)*
Median Annual Salary (2014) $58,850* $56,310* $60,160 (postsecondary English teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Writers and Authors

Writers and authors create various types of content for a wide variety of mediums, including magazines, newspapers, books, television, advertisements or generating online content. There are also many specialized professional writing jobs, such as grant writing, technical writing and instruction manual writing. By majoring in English, you could gain the skills and knowledge needed to begin or enhance your career as a professional writer.

Requirements

What it takes to become a writer differs greatly depending on what type of writer that you're interested in becoming. For example, in a salaried position you might need to earn at least a bachelor's degree. However, many industries will look at your experience and writing samples in addition to or rather than your formal education. You may need expertise in a certain field. For example, a company hiring a business writer may ask that you have experience in business or management and a degree related to the field in addition to your English major.

The following are just a few writing positions that could be found online in the fall of 2012:

  • A nationwide staffing company was looking for a technical writer to develop various types of proposals in Alabama. Candidates were required to have an associate's or bachelor's degree as well as technical documentation or proposal development experience.
  • A health insurance product company in Wisconsin was seeking a professional business writer with at least a bachelor's degree and training in project management.
  • A website run by a television personality was looking for online content from freelance writers about subjects like inspiration, happiness and relationships. Candidates would need to produce a certain set number of articles and blog postings every day.

Standing Out

With the BLS projecting below average job growth for writers and authors over the next few years, it can be a competitive and difficult profession. Computer literacy and knowledge of the web can be a solid way to stand out from the crowd. For example, mastery of software such as Microsoft Office (particularly Word and Excel), Microsoft Project, Visio, SharePoint and Adobe Acrobat may be attractive in the eyes of certain employers. For online writing, web-related skills in search engine optimization (SEO) and writing wiki code can be useful.

High School Teachers

With an English major, teaching high school ELA classes is a common choice. Unfortunately, the BLS reported in 2010 that the number of positions in this filed is likely to increase at a below average rate over the next few years. As a high school ELA teacher, you'll typically be required to create a curriculum that adheres to common core standards for education as determined at the state and federal level. You'll monitor the progress of your students and maintain communication with parents, counselors and school administrators.

Requirements

In order to become a high school ELA teacher, you'll need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in English, literature or a related discipline. In some cases, a master's degree is preferable. In addition to this, for all public and many private school positions, you'll need to earn teaching licensure from the state in which you intend to work. This licensure will enable you to legally teach grades 7-12. The number of years of experience that you'll need depends on the job.

In November of 2012, various employers posted the following job listings online:

  • A charter school organization with locations nationwide was seeking an ELA teacher with at least a bachelor's degree, although a master's degree was preferable. A minimum of two years of experience teaching either in a charter or urban school was required.
  • A long-term substitute English was sought by a Connecticut public high school. In addition to state licensure, applicants needed proven English-teaching abilities.
  • An Ohio K-12 school was searching for high school ELA teachers to work with students from grades seven through twelve. A bachelor's degree in English or a related field and proficiency in Proficient in Microsoft Office were required.

Standing Out

Being able to teach Advanced Placement (AP) level English Literature can be solid way to stand out to potential employers. At the end of taking an English Literature AP course, students will take a college-level exam that can be very helpful for juniors and seniors in high school with plans to continue their education at the postsecondary level. The College Board, a nonprofit education organization, provides AP-teaching workshops approved by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).

Postsecondary Teachers

As a postsecondary English teacher, you'll typically instruct students in literature and writing, often specifically relating to certain genres and periods of history. For example, you could potentially focus on Victorian-era poetry or 20th Century Latin American novels. In addition to instruction, you also may conduct research and write a wide variety of scholarly texts.

Requirements

For the majority of postsecondary academic positions, you'll be required to earn a doctoral degree in English. In certain cases, particularly at the community college or technical school level, a master's degree in English may be acceptable, although rarely preferred. The amount of experience that you'll be required to have depends entirely on the position. Typical tenure-track positions require that you spend at least seven years on the job before qualifying for tenure.

Here are a handful of postsecondary positions that were posted in November 2012:

  • In Massachusetts, a liberal arts university was seeking a full-time, tenure-track assistant professor in English. Candidates needed a PhD relating to modern world literature and experience with Anglophone and global literature.
  • A Pennsylvania university was offering a tenure-track position for a full-time English professor. A PhD was required with expertise in American literature from 1865 to the present.
  • In Cincinnati, OH, a private, for-profit university sought a part-time literature professor. Although a master's degree would be considered, a doctoral degree was preferred.

Standing Out

As an English major, having your work or research findings published can be a solid way to get ahead in the academic job market. Try to have research from your dissertation published in a peer-reviewed literary or academic journal. Not only can this be a solid way to build your resume, but a way to earn the notice and respect of your peers and potential employers.

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