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The English Major

Andriana writes about why YOU (yes, you!) should choose an English major!

Andriana writes about why YOU (yes, you!) should choose an English major!

Hi everyone!

This week, I decided that I would do some shameless promotion for Carleton’s English department, and write about why I chose an English major. I have written a few posts already about the process of declaring a major at Carleton, as well as the general excitement of sixth term. But I wanted to take this opportunity to write about my positive experience with the English department specifically. (And maybe also sway a few English majors-to-be…)

Before I get started, though, I encourage you to also check out Greta’s post on choosing the Latin American Studies major. Just in case, y’know, English *somehow* isn’t your thing ; )

Why I Love English!

English has always been one of my favorite subjects. When I was growing up, my parents fostered my love of reading, with my father further encouraging me to use literature to learn more about my Greek heritage. This made me realize that I can use literature to learn—about other times, other places, and other people. As such, I also discovered the joy of finding the right book and reading for pleasure!

When I began to take English courses at Carleton, though, I fell in love with literature in a new way. In my two years here, I have taken courses on literature that I had never considered, and never knew that I could find interesting. For example, from what I studied in high school, I didn’t think that I could enjoy American literature. Transcendentalism was the bane of Junior Me’s existence!

And yet, I loved the Modern American Literature course that I took last term. I realized how much variety there is under the umbrella of American literature—it isn’t all transcendentalism! (Phew!) We covered the Harlem Renaissance, modernism, and the Beat Generation, among other movements, encouraging us to approach literature from different perspectives. We were also able to contextualize the literature within the political and cultural environment of the periods, which helped me be a better reader.

One last thing: While studying with Carleton’s English department, I have really learned how to read. (And, no, I don’t mean that I finally figured out my ABCs.) Essentially, these English courses have taught me how to look for details in the text (close reading!) that I never would have noticed before. It’s an entirely new and improved reading experience! What more could you want?!

Why Should You Be an English Major?

Good question! Whenever I tell people that I am studying English, 73% of the time (yes, this is an accurate statistic) I get the following response: Really? Are you sure? What are you going to do with that? Are you planning on being a teacher? Admittedly, I recognize that an English major doesn’t seem to have the same hiring potential as, oh, I don’t know, a STEM major…

BUT! That doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities beyond teaching (which, by the way, is an excellent career path, but by no means the only one!). After graduation, English majors pursue all kinds of career paths, including ones that don’t seem to be traditional choices for the discipline. And there’s a very good reason for this.

The English major fundamentally teaches students how to communicate. Not only are you learning to read, but you are learning how to figure out what language means, to identify nuance and recreate it.

You also learn how to write! This is probably one of the most important skills I’ve learned in college. Before starting at Carleton, I had little experience with formal papers. I didn’t know how to write a good thesis, or even how to write a topic sentence. My English courses have helped me express my ideas and make an argument more clearly.

What I really want to convey here is that these skills are crucial in literally every field. There is not a single industry that does not rely on communication in some capacity. Even in my biology class last term, my professor mentioned that STEM fields need good writers. So no matter your interests, the ability to communicate effectively is paramount.

What Makes Carleton’s English Department Special?

Carleton is a pretty small school! We only have about 2,000 students, and 60 English majors. Coincidentally, that is the perfect environment for an English education, which relies heavily on discussion. In fact, most of the English courses I’ve had at Carleton primarily practice learning through discussion rather than lecture. The small size of most classes (the largest English class I’ve had was around 25 students, and the smallest 10) is conducive to really great discussions. Everyone gets comfortable around one another quickly, and everyone gets the chance to talk.

Also, the small size of the courses means that professors are really supportive and accessible. (Did you know that Carleton is #1 in undergraduate teaching?) I once spontaneously spent an hour after class discussing one of the topics from the day with the professor. Professors also often encourage students to attend office hours for any reason, even if it goes beyond the course subject. Additionally, some professors (not during the pandemic, of course) will invite students over for dinner, a class get together, etc.

Essentially, there are lots of opportunities to really get to know your professors and fellow students in the English department. I love this! It makes learning feel like a more personal process, and is one of my favorite things about the Carleton experience.

At the end of the day…

You will most likely decide that you want to be an English major. But even if you don’t—though you definitely will—you should still take a class or two. This will improve your writing skills immensely (even if you’re already an amazing writer), and you’ll have some really great conversations about some really great literature. Enough said!

Andriana is a sophomore at Carleton, where she is earning a major in English and a minor in Cross-Cultural Studies. Although she is spending the year at home in Richmond, VA, Andriana is already excited to return to Carleton in the fall. When she isn’t busy studying, Andriana can be found binge-reading, playing music, or watching a favorite movie or show for the umpteenth time. Meet the other bloggers!