Careers in English

Career opportunities for students majoring in English

Students completing an English major at Iowa State University will finish with a solid foundation for a wide variety of career paths. Graduates can aim for the traditional options such as creative writing, publishing, or teaching English, but students should not feel limited by these areas when considering whether to major in English at ISU. Many career options do not require a specific major; instead, they simply require that the student has demonstrated proficiency in a range of skills and accomplishments.

English majors will graduate with well-developed critical thinking skills, analytical skills, skills in writing and argumentation, expanded levels of creativity, and the ability to express their ideas concisely.

In an age of technology and information, these skills are in high demand in the workplace. Students finishing within this department will find that they have substantially increased their own marketability to an incredibly broad array of work environments and career choices.

As examples of how an English degree can lead you to interesting and dynamic career paths, consider Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute, Nobel laureate, and former director of the National Institutes of Health. They both hold master’s degrees in English. As Michael Bérubé, director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University and the 2012 president of the Modern Language Association, explains in a recent editorial for CNN, “Dempsey studied Joseph Conrad and William Butler Yeats; Varmus concentrated on Anglo-Saxon literature. In other words, they immersed themselves in dealing with complex material that requires intense concentration, and they honed their intellectual skills in so doing. It turns out that those skills are useful—and transferable—anywhere there is thinking to be done” (Bérubé, Jan. 4, 2013, “What Will You Do with an English Degree? Plenty.” CNN

Further, you might be interested to know that many entrepreneurs in the high-tech industry come from liberal arts backgrounds, including English. For example, Jayson Jarmen, CEO of Lux, an Internet company, and Ernst and Young entrepreneur of the year in 1998, also received a Masters degree in English. At a recent meeting of the Board of Directors for his high-tech company, he discovered that five of the six members had been English majors, and the sixth majored in Japanese literature (“English Grads, Brilliant Careers.” College of Arts & Sciences, University of Washington, Winter-Spring 2006).

Why English majors who have graduated recommend the major to others

  • Mastery in language gives you so much pleasure in life along with success in business.
  • What better way is there to learn about life?
  • It helps in all areas of any career path you may choose—writing, speaking, listening, creating, thinking.
  • It gives students an opportunity to explore who they really are.

 (from Peter G.Beidler, “What English Majors Do Out There, How They Feel About It and What We Do About It.” ADE Bulletin, no. 133, Winter, 2003, p. 32)

What jobs will English majors be qualified for after graduation?

Many students within this major will end up specializing in English Education and go on to become teachers. One of our former English graduates, Sarah Brown Wessling, even went on to become the National Teacher of the Year in 2010. When President Obama introduced Wessling in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House, he said this:

Her students don’t just write five-paragraph essays, but they write songs, public service announcements, film story boards, even grant proposals for their own not-for-profit organizations. [The president added,] I’m not sure I could have said that when I was in school.

Other recent graduates have moved on to become editors and published writers on a wide variety of topics. Still other students have used a major in English as preparation for advanced degrees in areas such as business or law; however, there is a much broader need for English majors in the job market today.

Most people will change jobs and careers several times during their lifetimes. People who have the ability to speak and write well, can immerse themselves comfortably in complex problems, apply critical and analytical skills effectively, and understand the diversity of human nature are going to be people who will have an edge in the job market. These are all skills that English majors develop through classes in writing and speaking, literature (which exposes students to complex problems and the diversity of human nature), argumentation, and linguistics. Businesses are often looking for people with the skills of English majors. According to CNN Money, “The verbal and written communication skills that English majors possess remain in top demand at nearly every company in America” (see

While it may take a little more research and thoughtfulness to figure out the kind of work environment that might best fit your personality, you should be reassured that English majors have been successful in a wide variety of careers. Here are some examples of types of jobs held by English majors*:

Communications/Media Business/Industry Government/Nonprofit
assistant copy editor
casting director
television reporter
public relations assistant
radio production assistant
research analyst
technical writer
public relations specialist
book buyer/seller
account representative
marketing consultant
web content developer/writer
technical writer
human resources manager
information architect
corporate librarian
advertising copy writer
market research analyst
executive director
speech writer
grant writer
museum collections assistant
fundraising coordinator
legislative assistant
public relations specialist
human services coordinator
special events coordinator
*From the University of Washington Website, “Careers for English Majors.”

Who are some common employers of English majors?

As indicated earlier, many English majors have gotten into the lucrative high-tech industry and have even ended up creating their own high-tech companies. Here are some of the positions that English majors have filled at these companies.

    • IBM, Yahoo!, and Dell often hire English majors as bloggers. Corporations such as these have an increasing need for proficient writers to run social media accounts, monitor and respond to user feedback, and help keep the public informed through corporate blogs.
    • Google and Alta Vista need competent graduates that can help with search engine optimization. SEO, a fairly new industry, is the process by which search engines properly analyze and rank Web pages. These companies have found that English majors are very skilled at performing the detailed research needed to see the larger patterns in data.
    • Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple have an ever increasing need for technical writers to develop user manuals, detailed instruction manuals, and other documentation for consumer products. As sophisticated technology becomes more available worldwide, English majors are often hired to help translate complicated concepts for new customers.

Why not explore the requirements for a major in English and expand your opportunities?