What Do You Do With A BA In English?

You will actually get hired more than most:

Defying all conventional wisdom and their parents’ warnings, most English majors also secure jobs, and not just at Starbucks. Last week, at the gathering of the Associated Departments of English, it was reported that English majors had 2 percent lower unemployment than the national rate, with an average starting salary of $40,800 and average mid-career salaries of $71,400. According to a 2013–14 study by PayScale.com, English ranks just above business administration as a “major that pays you back.”

But using numbers to dispute the fatalism over humanities is a bit like reading novels to cure consumption – at best it is a distraction before the next coughing fit. Besides, engineers and dentists still earn more than English majors. Rather than citing more statistics, we might ask why humanists keep simultaneously pursuing this field and lamenting its perpetual crisis. The answer is that crisis, which comes from the Greek word for “choice,” is what humanities do best.

Meanwhile, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wishes certain political reporters had studied the liberal arts rather than communications:

The expression “liberal education” is quite important. Today, when we think “liberal education”, we think “Would you like fries with that?” But as the common root with the word liberty suggests, liberal education is an education that helps make us free. Only by first understanding not only the empirical scaffolding of our Universe–a.k.a. science–but also its conceptual scaffolding, a.k.a. the ideas, concepts and history which shape the world we live in, can we ever hope to be free, that is to say to be able to make informed, conscious decisions. …

Nobody stops to ask what education is for, because the answer is implicitly accepted by all: an education is for getting a job. It is, in other words, for being a cog in the giant machine of post-industrial capitalism. It is, in other words, for the opposite thing that our forefathers wanted for us.

Update from a reader:

Good grief, can Gobry be any more melodramatic about the need for a liberal education? I don’t dispute the importance of the humanities, but explaining condescendingly why we’re all “less free” for not reading Aristotle is asinine.

I majored in Russian in college, because that massive, eternally tsarist country has, in spite of the odds, turned out some of the greatest literature we have. And besides that, the language and culture are fascinating. Even though I only had the opportunity to spend three months there, my studies and time abroad were formative experiences. They have certainly shaped how I approach the rest of my life, and I continue to foster a love for all things Russian.

Unfortunately, the world can support only so many American Slavophiles, so I also majored in Chemistry. Why? Because I needed to get a job. Yeah, I guess it’s a bummer that I can’t “freely” pursue whatever I want, but we can’t all get paid to mock people for not reading Plato or Max Weber. When I’m not at work, I can spend my time doing whatever I want; but when it comes to making a buck, whether we like it or not, concrete skills that produce tangible goods make money.