- Why become an English major?
- What jobs or careers are open to English majors?
- What is the structure of the English major?
- What’s the difference between the Literature and Creative Writing tracks?
- What class should I take first?
- What summer opportunities are available for English majors?
- What campus and local opportunities are there for English majors?
- How do I pick an advisor for my English major?
1. Why become an English major?
Students come to be English majors for many reasons!
- They are interested in honing their communication, reading, discussion, and critical thinking skills.
- They want to learn how to fashion nuanced interpretive arguments.
- They love literary expression in any or all of its forms.
- They double major in English if their first major is in a field where communication skills are important.
- They are interested in questions about identity and culture, the various dimensions of aesthetic creation, and the ways that literature may reflect, process, or critique a given society’s values and imagine a more just world.
- They want start a novel or work on a collection of poems or short stories.
- They want to join a diverse, energetic, welcoming department of writers, scholars, readers, peers, and mentors.
For individual stories on how and why students became English majors—and the experiences they’ve had as English majors—check out the “Meet Our Students” section of our department’s web site.
2. What jobs or careers are open to English majors?
Best-selling author and small business columnist Steve Strauss writes that “English majors are easily the top choice when it comes to getting the type of teammate who can make us all better.” English majors find work in fields where writing skills, reading skills, discussion skills, and critical thinking skills are important. In a recent Job Outlook Survey, employers rated the “ability to verbally communicate with individuals inside and outside the organization” as paramount. A Metlife survey found that 97 percent of business executives rate writing skills as very important. As such, English majors go on to careers in law, medicine, publishing, editing, social justice work, business, grant writing, teaching, and more. Wherever there is a need for producing written content, assessing written content, communicating broadly, and thinking incisively, there is a demand for the English major.
For more people’s advice and observations about careers for English majors, check out the following articles:
- "Want a Job with that English Degree?" by Paul T. Corrigan
- "The Next Hot Job in Silicon Valley Is for Poets," by Elizabeth Dwoskin
- "Everyone Knows English Majors Can't Get Jobs. Except the Employers Who Hire Them," by Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
- “Triumph of the English Major,” by Gerald Howard
- “Why English Majors Are the Hot New Hires,” by Bruna Martinuzzi
- "The Myth of the English Major Barista," by Robert Matz
- "English Majors, Rejoice: Employers Want You More than Business Majors," by Aimee Picchi
- “Why I Hire English Majors,” by Steve Strauss
- "Hunting for Soft Skills, Companies Scoop Up English Majors," by Nikki Waller
3. What is the structure of the English major?
The English major is a ten-credit major, and students regularly fulfill some of those credits via overseas or off-campus study. All English majors take two foundation classes—English 201 (“Close Reading”) and English 202 (“Introduction to Literary Theory”)—that provide a basis for advanced coursework. Students then take coursework in literature across history and the English-speaking world so that they acquire a working knowledge of the literary traditions that come together to make up English. In addition to these fundamental courses, students take a number of electives according to their individual interests. And as seniors, they either pursue individually designed thesis projects or spend a whole semester with a small group of colleagues reading and analyzing a single important text.
4. What’s the difference between the Literature and Creative Writing tracks?
All English majors take English 201 and 202. Students who are particularly interested in focusing on creative writing also take English 203 (“Fundamentals of Creative Writing”). Knowing the literary tradition is important for writers, so creative writers also take courses in literature across history and the English-speaking world. They have the opportunity to take advanced courses in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and mixed genre writing. And for a senior thesis, creative writing students work in a small, intensive workshop to develop an extended creative work of their own design—for example, the first part of a novel, a collection of poems or short stories, a memoir or other piece of creative nonfiction, or a full-length play. The thesis class gives students significant time to work on their writing—and in the process develop a project that we hope they’ll continue to work on after graduation!
5. What class should I take first?
That depends. Many students become interested in declaring an English major on the Literature track because of a 100-level course in literature they have taken. However, if you already know that you want to major in English—even if it’s still a secret—it is important to take English 201 (“Close Reading”) as soon as possible.
Many students who enter the English major on the Creative Writing track take English 135 (“Introduction to Creative Writing”), but if you already know that you want to major in Creative Writing, we highly suggest going right to English 203 (“Fundamentals of Creative Writing”) as your first creative writing class. Doing so will give you the opportunity to take more advanced level classes later on in the major and thus be even more prepared to embark on your thesis project.
We highly encourage students to declare their English majors as soon as possible. Doing so will help accelerate the development of your writing, reading, discussion, and critical thinking skills, which will in turn strengthen your performance in other Willamette classes. Declaring early will give you more flexibility over the course of the major to take classes that especially interest you, and having that flexibility will make it easier for you to incorporate off-campus study programs. English majors also have special opportunities to meet visiting writers, attend lectures, win prizes, attend talks on graduate school, and participate in other activities or collaborative projects with faculty and fellow Bearcats. Getting in the loop early makes it easier for you to get the most from your time at W.U.
6. What summer opportunities are available for English majors?
English majors regularly participate in WU’s various grant-funded summer programs. They work independently or collaboratively on creative projects through the Mellon-funded Learning By Creating grant. They also work independently on research- and interpretation-based projects supported by the Carson grant program. And they participate in Liberal Arts Research Collaborative (LARC) programs grants that bring together faculty and students from across the humanities.
7. What campus and local opportunities are there for English majors?
Any campus activity that involves writing, communication, discussion, reading, and critical-thinking skills is a potential activity for the English major. That said, English majors participate at high levels on the campus newspaper and the campus literary magazine, and as trained Writing Associates working with others to improve writing skills at the campus Writing Center and College Colloquium. Every year, the English Department brings several visiting writers to campus for readings and performances, and English majors frequently get the opportunity for special “meet and greets” with those writers as well.
Across Oregon and in Salem, there are many opportunities for English majors including:
- The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland
- The Silverton Poetry Festival in Silverton
- Wordstock in Portland
- The Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria
- Activities at the Salem Public Library and the Oregon State Library
- The annual Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature
In other words, the possibilities abound!
8. How do I pick an advisor for my English major?
Your advisor may be someone with whom you have a particularly close relationship for one reason or another (perhaps you’ve been in that professor’s class, or perhaps you share similar interests), but that’s not necessary. In fact, it may even be advisable to select an advisor whom you do not know, so that you have the occasion to develop a relationship with yet another faculty member.
Your advisor’s goal is to meet with you one-on-one at least twice per year to help guide you through the major, so that you can meet the major’s requirements, fulfill your other university requirements, graduate on time, and have the best course schedule possible for your particular interests. Not every professor who teaches English classes is available to serve as an advisor; when choosing your advisor, select someone who has the job title of Professor of English, Associate Professor of English, or Assistant Professor of English. We look forward to hearing from you soon!