What Can You Do with an English Major?: The 2017 Undergraduate Alumni Survey

Undergraduate English majors about to become alumni ~ May 2019

Results from our most recent survey of English undergraduate alumni confirm what we’ve long known: that the English major accommodates itself to an extraordinarily wide range of fields.

We heard from 176 alumni who graduated between the 1940s and the 2010s. We are proud of all of our graduates, but some occupations definitely piqued our interest! Among the standout job titles were Lead Copywriter and Content Producer, Radio Free Europe in the Czech Republic; Chief Judge in the 22nd District of Kansas; and Vice Consul to the US Embassy in Mexico City.

While about 30% of our undergraduate alumni respondents chose not pursue a second degree, about 70% did, selecting the M.A. (20%), an advanced degree in Education like the Ed.D or the M.A.T. (16%), and the M.L.I.S./M.I.S. (7%), among other options.

As with our survey of ten years ago, 25% of our alumni are employed in business — management, business owners, business administration, human resources, marketing, and more.

This statistic in business might surprise some readers, given persistent cultural expectations about career options and career prospects for English and humanities students. Our undergraduate alumni, though, are following national trends: they are finding, enjoying, and creating jobs in for-profit sectors where their skills in writing, communication, research, project management, and creativity are valued and rewarded.

A new development since our last survey: the number of alumni working in digital content management or website management, a change signifying the cultural shift toward media communications. More alumni than in the past have gone into the professions (law, medicine, ministry, industry), and fewer report employment in primary and secondary education. A strong cohort works in libraries.

Whether they work in traditional fields like education or libraries, or new and developing fields in the technosphere, most alumni confirm that the reading, writing, critical thinking, and communication skills they developed as undergraduates helped them secure their current job and continued success, whatever they are doing and wherever they find themselves.

Alongside the many comments praising the teaching faculty and experiences in and outside the classroom were suggestions for helping current undergraduates discover their own paths. Many testified to the importance of writing and analysis in almost every discipline. Some suggested a stronger career focus earlier in the degree plan, an approach which we have been taking in recent years and will continue to develop.  And a number of alums volunteered to serve as mentors or career consultants for our undergraduate students. Thank you for this pledge of assistance — we’ll definitely be in touch, if we haven’t already recruited you for an Alumni Connections Career Panel or an information interview with a current English major!

Naomi Wood, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Karin Westman, Department Head


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