Let’s say you’re an incoming freshman who just happened to walk into Aca Taco and you saw the Synthesis sitting there—all neat and proper if it’s Monday, disheveled and askew if it’s Thursday—and you thought to yourself, “Neato! A hip local ‘zine. I must read this instantly so as to establish my street cred in my brand new homestead.” If that’s the case, good for you. Reading is awesome. You could be spending this time reading Shakespeare or Hemingway or Game of Thrones, but you’re reading this, so I’ll try to make it worth your while with all the sagely wisdom that a Chico State Alumni/Chico ex-pat can bestow.
Now, if you’re anything like I was as a college freshman, you have no idea what you want to major in. You might be thinking to yourself, “I always got top marks in my English classes in high school. Maybe I’ll become an English major, and I’ll spend the rest of my days sipping scotch, smoking tobacco from a pipe, and wearing tweed jackets with the little elbow patches on them.” As someone who majored in English Literature, let me tell you, it’s not all glitz and glam. In fact, it’s no glitz and glam. It’s a lot of being locked in your room decoding Quentin Compson’s stream of consciousness and writing papers on the divine androgyny in The Color Purple. If you major in English you’re going to spend a lot of time reading and rereading books, all so that you won’t be able to find a job because the only thing you know how to do is read.
There’s an article floating around arguing that everyone should consider a degree in English because reading makes you a better person. That’s totally true. Reading enables you to live a thousand different lives, and because of that, you’ll wind up a more caring, compassionate person. That article is still hella dumb though. It doesn’t address that a degree in English will never get you a job outside academia. Also, you don’t have to be an English major to read. There are such things as well-read engineers.
Another article listed 24 highly successful people who majored in English. This list included Conan O’Brien, Mitt Romney, and a bunch of other rich, white people. However, every single one of the people on the list went on to grad school and got their Master’s in something else—usually business. If you want to make money, English is a great major. But only if you want to go to grad school.
That being said, I majored in English, and I don’t regret it. I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t really care how much money I make as long as I can pay rent and bills and have enough left over to eat decently. My degree in English hasn’t gotten me a job (I’m currently working in a tapas restaurant) but I’m happy. And I can always go back to grad school.