In Defense Of Being An English Major

As we celebrate social work month, we would like to highlight another profession that also spends a lot of time defending themselves. The following was first published @ and has been submitted by the author, Nick Bente.

I recently read that English Lit was the seventh most worthless major you could pick in college –
I’m going to attempt to prove them wrong.

Here goes nothing –

I loved being an English major. I think it was the second best decision I ever made in college. The absolute best decision I ever made in college was swearing off tequila forever. I don’t care if I win a Pulitzer, that still won’t make majoring in English the best decision I ever made. I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to be an English major. I was exposed to so many great and wondrous things across the entire spectrum of art. I’ve read more prescient works than most people could even imagine. I’ve been able to debate and discuss without any fear of repercussion with some of the absolutely finest scholars in the country and some of the most brilliant professors I could imagine. And no matter what – if I defended myself well enough, no matter how much they might disagree – I was never wrong!

Because I feel that’s truly what’s important. I’m never wrong, and that’s all that matters. Just kidding. But seriously, so many people are used to this notion of black and white, and right and wrong they forget about the middle of the road. What about the ambiguity of life? I hate to break it to you – but life is not black and white. Nothing is ever clearly defined as right and wrong.

Before an engineer jumps down my throat and yells at me after adjusting the glasses on his face and fixing his pocket protector saying “well, this equation to solve for this number relies on this variable which is always a constant is necessary to prove the right and wrongness of whatever otherwise the universe will implode!” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the world outside the realm of paper math. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with definitive answers for the construction of a building or the propulsion of a jet engine. I’m a pilot by profession and I know there are absolute right and wrong answers in this world (right – engines are required for sustained flight, wrong – passengers don’t appreciate barrel rolls).

What being an English major taught me is beyond the scope of numbers on a page and equations formulated by long-since dead guys. It lies within the scope of words on a page written by long-since dead guys. Huge difference. And while I will be the first to admit that numbers and equations are important and necessary for everyday life, I won’t argue that computers don’t make our lives easier, or skyscrapers aren’t impressive. They do, and they are. But when it comes to the boundaries of the human condition these facets of life fall tragically short of what’s vital. An equation does not bring you into the mind of an individual, a formula cannot show what’s in the heart. Words can, and words do.

I’ve always felt the purpose of education was to broaden an individual’s knowledge base. To take something they are interested and passionate about and introduce them to things which they might have remained woefully unaware. Enter the professor. Since I started my study of the English language and its countless works, I’ve learned how little I truly know. Plato writes, “I know that I know nothing.” And as an English major I’ve never taken anything so much to heart as I did that sentiment. I cannot speak with absolute certainty on any subject, and there is more in heaven and earth and in all philosophies that I will never know than I currently comprehend. And that, to me, is marvelous. Show me an engineer or architect who shares this sentiment. I’d love to meet them.

So while Newsweek (see article above) currently lists English Lit as the 7th most useless college major, I disagree. While we may not all become famous writers and authors (I currently write unpaid for this blog and freelance for very little money, but I write nonetheless) we all can go forth with an appreciation of humanity and emotion and an understanding on what it means to be alive. Being an English major taught me this. It taught me to be eloquent, it taught me to be critical, it taught me to focus, it taught me patience, it taught me understanding of opposing ideas, it taught me to argue, and most importantly – it taught me how to take all of that and be a better human being.

And while Newsweek says that being an English major will lead you to a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, a starting salary of only $32k a year, and only the potential for limited growth I say that being an English major will lead you to a much better understanding of those around you and the arts upon which the world was founded and the sentiments and resolve contained within.

So while not all of us will become the next Dave Barry or David Sedaris we will forever go into the world with a novelist’s eye. And some may view me as being hypocritical as I am not currently using my degree in any professional capacity – I write freelance articles for websites and don’t make enough to survive on that alone – I still use my degree everyday, I use it when reading a book after work, I use it at work to edit citations and decorations, I make my boss sound much more eloquent and articulate on paper than he does in real life – and while I wasn’t hired because of my degree, far from it, it’s still useful. I have friends who have told me they regret their degree. I won’t say what they majored in out of respect but not a single one of them has been an English major.

Also – I kick ass at scrabble.

Thank you.


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