Why the World Needs English Majors

By Dr. Cynthia Westerbeck, Chair Westerbeck_Cynthia
English Department

Words. Words. Words. We text them. We tweet them. We “Google” them. Far from diminishing their value, the digital age has made us more dependent than ever on words to communicate with others and negotiate the ever-expanding horizons of cyberspace.

Now, more than ever, the world needs English majors who value both the power and beauty of words. While the rest of the world is fragmenting into sound bites, English majors embrace the joy and challenge of reading long, complex texts. Whether reading Arthurian legends, Shakespeare’s plays, or contemporary novels, they develop the abilities to adapt, focus, empathize, communicate, and problem-solve that are so critical for success in the modern workplace.

As NPR Commentator Juan Vidal observes, “Reading requires—especially today—intense discipline and the capacity to sit still and engage. It’s a skill you can develop, this quieting of the mind. Some books make it easier than others, sure, but the fact remains: A strong reader is a champ at refusing the sweet mutter of distractions.” This ability to “sit still and engage” means that English majors are uniquely prepared to offer employers the kind of focus and discipline they seek in their employees.

So who are these employers, your parents might ask. Who wants to hire someone who spent college lost in a good book? The answer: every business and organization that uses words to communicate. In other words, ALL businesses. Who writes the press releases? The product descriptions? The web site copy? The policy drafts? The board reports? Who better than an English major who understands the power of words and knows how to “refuse[e] the sweet mutter of distractions”?

While many of our English majors do pursue careers as teachers and writers, others have found satisfying careers as librarians, journalists, lawyers, doctors, documentary filmmakers, museum curators, human resources directors, and administrators. In fact, PUC’s president and three vice-presidents all have degrees in English. They likely selected English as a major because they loved to read and only much later discovered how all of that reading prepared them to face the challenges that come with administration. Who knows where the journey into a great book might lead.

It is true that there is no easy answer to the question “what are you going to do with your English major,” but only because there are so many options. The good news is that the major prepares students to confront that question with all of the analytical tools learned through years of reading deeply, thinking critically, and writing well.

If you love words, join us in Stauffer Hall where you will find a community of fellow readers and writers engaged in making words matter – whether teachers holding paper conferences with students, actors learning to convey words on the stage, or students engaged in class discussion about a novel. Even our restroom walls are covered with words by great writers! Check out our Pacific Union College English Department Facebook page to see pictures of students and faculty celebrating words in poetry readings, writers’ forums, senior presentations and many other events. We’d love to have you join the conversation.

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