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It pays to follow your passion

By Haley Jena, The Miami Student

"And what are you going to do with that?" English majors have been on the receiving end of that phrase countless times, with perpetrators listing anywhere from relatives to family friends to a guy in my orientation group.

The pains of choosing a so-called "easy" major include, but are not limited to, mastering the art of receiving and brushing off doubt and dismissal, not constantly grinding your teeth or rolling your eyes at a family reunion from the disapproval of a random family member and -- a personal favorite -- experiencing a neighbor audibly laughing in reply when you tell them you plan to major in English.

"When I told my parents I was switching to be an English major the questions started flying about what I was going to do with my future. Any time I tell anyone I'm an English major, they always scoff and tell me how I'm going to be a 'starving artist'," says senior professional writing major Allie Paul.

Parents, relatives and neighbors aside, even presidential candidates have chastised the less obvious payback jobs. Republican Senator Marco Rubio stated in March at the International Association of Fire Fighters' presidential forum in Washington, D.C., "... So you can decide whether it's worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major. Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight."

While the market for Greek philosophers is stereotypically small, along with the assumption of slim employment for art historians, theater lovers, literature experts -- you name it -- this isn't true, contrary to popular belief. Pursuing a major in English (or another humanity) doesn't equal financial struggle. As cited by The Atlantic, 2010-2011 data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce illustrates English and history majors respectively carried a 9.8 and 9.5 percent unemployment rate, respectively, immediately after graduating, whereas economics and political science majors reported an unemployment of 10.4 and 11.1 percent, respectively, and computer science degrees only slightly lower at 8.7 percent.

In fact, notable alumni of the beloved English major include Mitt Romney, Conan O'Brien, Barbara Walters, Clarence Thomas, Steven Spielberg, Chevy Chase, James Franco, Jon Hamm, Steven King, Sting, Diane Sawyer, Martin Scorsese -- the list goes on. Former CEOs that majored in English include Grant Tinker (NBC), Judy McGrath (MTV) and Michael Eisner (Disney).

From holding a prestigious CEO position to being a movie star to a novelist, the English major offers several different options. This includes being a politician, publisher, reporter, copywriter, humanitarian, critic, editor, lobbyist, writer for a variety of companies or publications, journalist, social media manager -- you name it.

Dr. Cathy Wagner, professor and Director of Creative Writing at Miami, is familiar with the success that comes from a degree in English, especially at Miami.

"There is a lot of debate on this subject, and different research seems to produce different statistics, but there's evidence that humanities students, while they don't do as well right out of the gate as STEM majors, do as well as business majors (apart from those in Finance and Accounting), and many catch up after some years. And Miami students, out of humanities majors nationally, do very well," Wagner says.

The decline of the English major would be understandable if it proved to open less doors for job interviews and career opportunities, but clearly, this is not the case. Steve Strauss, USA Today columnist, small-business expert and best-selling author, says he prefers to hire English majors.

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"They know how to think, to think for themselves and how to analyze a problem. Business majors are fine, but they are preoccupied with theory, proving themselves and doing it 'right.' But the English majors are used to getting a tough assignment, figuring it out and getting it done, (usually) on time," Strauss says.

Despite the social incrimination, there is a clear variety of job opportunities available to English majors. They are not suffering storywriters that are concentrating solely in medieval British literature. They do not write poetry with a quill pen by candlelight to pay the bills. The English student is constantly submerged in skills of comprehension, analysis and communication, along with other skills of critical importance in any pursued job area.

"I'm really excited for the new developments for students coming out of school with a B.A. in English mostly because there are so many new positions and opportunities available. English majors are finally being seen as a valuable asset in the real world -- especially since almost every aspect of life revolves around language," Paul says.

This is not to bash on business or engineer majors. If you have ambition to pursue business, do it. If your goal is to work with English, do it. As cliche as it is, there's something for everyone and to do anything but said joyful passion based off of a false convention is nonsensical. We English majors can deal with the eyerolls and cynical comments that come with a passion for English just fine, but why should we have to? Culture can achieve balance by offering a multitude of different majors and career directions -- no need to rag on a select portion of them.

The name of a major won't automatically deem your worth of success nor salary potential -- drive and experience will push you forward. I would be infinitely more driven to succeed in English, the field I love, than I ever would in a statistical field. Why choose to be a less than mediocre engineer over the opportunity to be something great in English while simultaneously achieving contentment?

We've all been told to find a career we love so that we never have to "work" a day in our lives; to find a job where you can trick someone into paying you for doing something you'd do for free. No matter the title of the major, goals are made for a reason and passions should be pursued in all fields.

jenahm@miamioh.edu

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