What Can You Do with an M.A. in English?: The 2017 Graduate Alumni Survey

Newly minted M.A. alumni having fun on the concourse of Bramlage, May 2016

Every ten years, the Department of English surveys its alumni. We pride ourselves on maintaining close relationships with our alums and have a strong interest in what they — or you, if you’re an alum — did after leaving the hallowed halls of the English Counseling Services Building or Denison Hall (if you graduated before 2005).

This moment of formal connection with our alumni has another purpose. We’re also interested in the careers of our former students because they offer some guide to the professional future of our present students. Knowing which fields our alumni enter helps us prepare our current M.A. graduate students for their lives after graduation.

Conducted during October 2017, the survey brought us responses from more than 160 alumni who earned the Ph.D. or M.A. degree with us between 1950 and 2016, with the majority of responses arriving from graduates since 1990. The survey also delivered good news for former and current students in the program. Students faced with the perennial question “What can you do with an M.A. in English?” will be pleased to learn that the answer remains “lots.”

The reported unemployment rate among our graduate alumni is impressively and reassuringly low: only 2% of respondents reported being unemployed immediately upon graduation from the program, while only 1% are currently unemployed, which is well below the current national unemployment rate of 3.7%.

What’s more, our graduates continue to occupy an astonishing variety of careers. A substantial number (a little over a third) currently teach for a living in secondary or post-secondary education, but the remainder work in a number of diverse fields including university administration, professional writing, journalism, information services, librarianship, H. R., the law, marketing and P.R., insurance, publishing, medicine and health, accountancy, and arts administration.

The graduate degree in English has also left our alumni well-placed for further education: more than 40% have earned or are currently completing another degree. Just as our students enter a diverse range of professions, so our alumni’s educational afterlives are equally varied. The Ph.D. and M.F.A. may be the most popular advanced degrees for our graduates, accounting for 27% of the degrees earned, but our former students have also earned qualifications in librarianship, the law, business, and education, among others.

The graduate alumni survey made clear the professional value of the skills and knowledge that our students develop through graduate study in English. While a third of respondents noted that writing, critical thinking, and communication skills helped them get their jobs, nearly 50% of respondents reported that these skills helped them do their jobs.

The difference between these figures is even more striking when it comes to our alumni’s knowledge of literature and other coursework. While only 19% said this content knowledge helped them get their jobs, nearly 40% of respondents said that knowledge helped them do their jobs. This statistic is perhaps less surprising when we consider how often other disciplines discover the unexpected benefits of literature. Steven Johnson’s Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter Most (2018), for example, reports that people who are good at long-term planning also tend to read a lot of novels.

In 2018, the future of work seems as uncertain as it’s ever been as we speculate what changes increasing automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence may bring. In the face of such unknowns, the value of the M.A. degree in English becomes, perhaps paradoxically, even clearer. We don’t train students for one particular profession, but this approach is precisely the strength of our discipline, not a weakness. Our students leave our program with a flexible array of skills and knowledge, leaving them well-placed to deal with whatever the twenty-first century job market throws at them.

The most joyous aspect of the graduate alumni survey is undoubtedly its overwhelming endorsement of our program in English.

More than 100 alumni respondents expressed their willingness to participate on a career panel or in a career mentoring program for our current students. The survey’s open-ended questions about the degree and the program yielded more than 50 single-spaced typed pages sharing reflections about past experiences and offering guidance for the future – and the vast majority of respondents remember their graduate study and teaching as a time of intellectual growth in a highly supportive learning community.

As one respondent put it: “The professors were uniformly excellent; they were passionate, dedicated, knowledgeable, and always available. My fellow students, many of whom remain my friends today, were an inspiring, intellectually curious, and just plain fun-loving crew. I will never forget the discussions. It was an all-around incredible experience.”

As we delve into those 50+ typed pages of responses, you can join us this Friday, October 19 at 3:30pm in Leadership Studies 123 for our annual Alumni Connections career panel. You can hear directly from some of our graduate alumni about their path from K-State to their current career:

~ Miranda Asebedo (B.A. ‘07, M.A. ‘09), Young Adult Author at HarperCollins

~ Wendy Barnes (M.A. ‘04), Online Programs/Outreach Coordinator for K-State Counseling Services

~ Brett Currier (B.A. ‘09), Digital Scholarship Librarian and library manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

~ Kylie Kinley (M.A. ‘13), Academic Advisor for A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications

If you’re interested in joining the ranks of our graduate students, or know someone who is considering an M.A. in English, you can find out more information on our web site at http://www.k-state.edu/english/programs/graduatestudies/. Our priority deadlines for graduate teaching assistantships for Fall 2019 is February 1, 2019. Our deadline for international students is December 1, 2018.

Anne Longmuir, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies and Karin Westman, Associate Professor and Department Head

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