What Do You Do With a BA in English? No, Seriously.

Sorry for the lack of post last Sunday! I was busy participating in a very important event. The short of it is that everyone was walking around wearing robes and funny hats, and all things considered in my life, “Harry Potter convention” would be a really good guess, but actually it was GRADUATION.

Hooray! *confetti* *party blowers* *general hoopla and tomfoolery*

After four years of whacky college fun, I now officially have a DEGREE! A good, old-fashioned Bachelor of Arts in, wait for it, ENGLISH and MEDIEVAL STUDIES. Hooray! *confetti* *etc*

So now that I have this shiny, new degree, what am I going to do with it?

My answer: NOTHING. At least, not right now.

Here’s the thing. I get that question quite a lot: “What are you going to do with that?” Especially if I mention Medieval Studies, which I honestly don’t with most people, especially adults (I mean real adults with established careers/lives, not me and my 20-something peers), because then there’s extra emphasis and the question becomes, “What are you going to do with that?” along with a small, knowing smile.

Nothing. Okay? The answer is nothing. There is no job that requires you to have a BA in Medieval Studies. There are some jobs that require you to have a PhD in Medieval Studies, but by some I mean one, and by one I mean: academic.

Similarly, there are no jobs that require you to have a BA in English. There are many jobs that would like you to have a BA in English, even more jobs that would tolerate your BA in English, but there is no job that I can think of that states, “NON-ENGLISH MAJORS NEED NOT APPLY.” Let’s be real, here. I have picked some pretty useless specialties when it comes to real-world applications.

But that’s because my studies weren’t necessarily ABOUT real-world applications. As a professor stated at graduation, we English majors (I opted for the English major ceremony–figured I’d let the other two graduating Medieval Studies majors do their own thing) have made the “brave decision” to “live in the world of ideas.”

I actually laughed out loud at that one. World of ideas, I thought. Wow, that makes me feel just great. Maybe it is brave in this kind of job market, but things that are brave and things that are smart often don’t overlap.

And my decision to study English had nothing to do with bravery. I studied English because I like English. I love English. I love books. I love dissecting them and seeing what they’re really all about, and what they mean as a reflection of the society that produced them. I love experiencing new places and people and lives that are not my own, and I think that stories are the single most comprehensive way we have of doing so without actually becoming other people. I also just love reading them. Until college, I didn’t even know how to read books properly. I thought you read them front-to-back. I didn’t know that books were webs. Maps.

Maybe learning how to read and interpret literature correctly isn’t the most useful thing in the world, but being an English major does allow you to hone one infinitely transferable skill: bullshitting.

What I mean by that is basically the ability to argue anything as true. Because that’s what they teach you to do when you study English. When you come up with a thesis, it is completely irrelevant whether or not the thesis is correct or whether or not you even agree with it. The point is, you can argue its correctness in such a way that people will agree with it.

In H.G. Frankfurt’s essay, “On Bullshit,” Frankfurt states that the bullshitter “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

English majors: enemies of the truth. I didn’t say it was a force for good. But it’s applicable as hell. I haven’t completely decided against going to law school at some point in my future.

So what do you do with a BA in English? Whatever you want. Whatever you can. I’m in the process of pursuing a job that has NOTHING to do with anything I’ve studied in college, but I think I’d like it just fine. I think my “written and verbal communication” skills have been enhanced by studying English and history. And maybe a little bullshitting will come in handy too–it usually does, whatever you’re doing.

I am not sorry that some of the last papers I ever wrote for college were about the theological validity of the Byzantine Iconoclasm, religion in the works of Jack Kerouac (Kerouac! *shakes fist*), and a critique of the concept of American identity using Herbert Marcuse’s repressive tolerance. What does all of that amount to? Maybe my brain’s a little bit sharper. Maybe it’s all just bullshit. Or maybe I figured out something that could prove important some day. At this point, I honestly don’t know.

The point is, if you want to be brave (or dumb, depending on how you look at it), then be brave. Go ahead and live in the world of ideas for a little while. It might not make living in the “real world” any easier, but understanding it will be.

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11 thoughts on “What Do You Do With a BA in English? No, Seriously.

  1. Your post made me…

    1. Update your bio from “Current English Major” to “Former English Major”. I suppose I will now have to change our twitter info.

    2. Make me wonder when you’re going to finish drawing artist photos for said bios.

    3. Start hunting for EVEN more jobs that will require my college degree even though no one wants to interview me much less hire me. Because apparently job experience is somehow not important. Also when I asked my boss for more money this week he told me to get a second job. =/

    4. Hum a bunch of “Avenue Q” songs.

  2. My BA in English. In a road too often paved with rough cobbles of regret, there’s a sweet spot where things smooth out for a bit. There is a hell of a view there and a nice spot to pull over to have a picnic under a shaded tree. That would be my BA in English.

    • KILLED YOU DREAMS??? Why are you letting some silly blogger on the internet affect you so gravely??

      This was a response to all of the people (and there were many, many, many of them) who gave me shit when they discovered I was studying English. I’m sure that you, as someone who is on or is considering a similar path, have met and dealt with these people already. These are the kind of people who will look at art and literature and call it “useless.” Frankly, there is no place in my life for people like that, and I wish that college/fresh-out-of-college me had realized that.

      As I stated in the blog, I didn’t study English and Medieval Studies because I wanted a job in either of those fields. I studied them because I *like* them, and I *know* they are important. It’s true that you will pick up some “applicable” skills – writing, writing, writing (no one in my office knows how to write an email!!), critical thinking, just THINKING – which not everybody does, and yes, bullshitting. But just wanting to learn, and know, and understand for the sake of learning and knowing and understanding is a noble goal.

      All art and philosophy does require some bravery. I laughed when my professor said this because I assumed he meant it was “brave” in relation to the job market. How BRAVE of me to study English when I should have been studying to be an accountant! But that hardly required any bravery on my part. Studying English and Medieval Studies was the easiest choice I ever made.

      What’s brave about the world of ideas is the amount of time you spend exploring the mind – both your own and that of others. How deeply will you search for those ideas? How painful will it be to try to express them? Can you accept failing again and again to do so? Can you keep yourself from going crazy when all you do is search for pattern and meaning in a world that is essentially chaotic? When you decide to study literature, or any kind of art, you’re basically studying the meaning of human existence. Who could possibly call that a useless pursuit?

      But the real point is: Do not listen to me. In particular, do not listen to 2011-me, because she was trying to harden herself for being in the “real world,” and if anything was useless, it was that.

  3. actually this is the shocking reality, i also got a BA in English studies in morocco I was so optimistic when I decided studying the English literature, I thought that I would go further with it but after 3 years so far I am facing the reality , that no one cares about your silly majors that u have experienced at the university , that means; have nothing to do with the labor market unfortunately; the solution is that I must begin from 0 in an other field that is more required than ” English studies” ,

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