English degrees = useless?

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 I could write speeches for Harper with an English degree…oh the possibilities!

I could write speeches for Harper with an English degree…oh the possibilities!

BIG FAT NO

Article: Destiny Kaus – A&C Writer

In the Broadway Musical Avenue Q Princeton, a hopeful but broke college graduate, sings “What do you do with a BA in English? What is my life going to be? Four years of college and plenty of knowledge have earned me this useless degree!”

Not going to lie, from when I spent a year in the English program here at the University of Regina right up until I started working on this article, I believed English degrees were useless.

However, after speaking with Dr. Garry Sherbert, an English professor at the University of Regina, I can now wholeheartedly say that the statement “English degrees are useless” is a huge pile of BS.

Why? Because English teaches you to express your thoughts to others, read critically, and communicate clearly through writing and speech: extremely valuable skills in today’s society.

Sherbert asks, “How are you going to know that what you’re hearing from the government or what you’re hearing from the media isn’t a load of crap?”

The truth is, you won’t unless you spend a significant amount of time studying English. Taking a couple English classes for one semester won’t magically turn you into a critical reader; years in an English degree will.

But, let me ask this question: Will a BA in English get you a job? Heck yes it will!

Sherbert says, “I can’t think of a job where a person who has a BA in English isn’t crucial in some way or another.”

Of course employers want employees with top notch communication skills. Ah, but will a BA in English get you a job that you actually enjoy? In my opinion, with enough determination, it will.

“I haven’t got a friend in English who hasn’t gotten the job they wanted,” says Sherbert.

Yes, students with English degrees may struggle and cry for a while, but, like any other person with any other degree, with enough perseverance, they will eventually get a job they enjoy.

And, heck, some of the jobs you can get with an English degree are unreal: author, editor, linguist, paralegal, publisher, and speech-writer.

As an English lover myself, I can say that these jobs sound deeply exciting. But, when I was in the English program, nobody told me about all these options.

“English has a perception problem,” says Sherbert. “We’re not good at telling students that this will get you a job because it’s our nature in the humanities to try to get away from that pragmatic kind of thinking.”

This actually kind of makes sense. I can see now the reason why I wasn’t told about job options with an English degree. It’s because, as Sherbert says, “We’re trying to say life isn’t about what you get back, life’s about what you give. It’s about what you learn; you learn knowledge for knowledge sake. It’s not always just to get a job or to get money.”

Somebody hand me a tissue because that statement is beautiful.

Now, obviously, some jobs like becoming a lawyer or teacher take more than just a BA in English. As Sherbert says, “The more you take your BA in English and extend it the more probability [you have] of getting what you want.”

Sherbert goes one step further by logically analyzing the job market.

“I think it’s difficult to get a job when the job market is hard,” says Sherbet. “And I think it’s easy to get a job when the job market is good.”

Boom. That’s the truth. It doesn’t matter if you have a BA in English, a BA in whatever-else-you-can-get-a-BA-in, a Law degree, or any other degree. If the job market in any area sucks, finding the job you want will suck, too.

Heather Becker, a University of Regina Education student with a major in English, understands the job market’s impact on one’s career.

“I realize and I’m told all the time that there might not be jobs in teaching after I’m done university,” Becker says. “So I’m living in that reality right now, and it doesn’t really bother me because I’ll have my degree, and I can use it whenever.”

Interestingly enough, Becker hasn’t always been an Education student. In previous years she has studied Kinesiology, Pre-journalism, and English at the University of Regina.

While in the English program, Becker suffered numerous lapses of panic because she too was never told what she could do with a BA in English.

Becker says, “I started googling things that you could do with an English degree.”

Poor girl. But, I can definitely relate since I did the exact same thing when I was in the English program. After a year in English, Becker switched over to Education because the English program ultimately left her hanging.

“I didn’t know where it was leading me. I had no idea. No clear path. Nothing,” says Becker. “At least now that I’m in education I know that I have a teaching certificate afterwards.”

But, did Becker make this switch to heighten her chances of finding a job after graduation or because she truly enjoys teaching?

“Because I enjoy it,” Becker says. “I like teaching.”

Such a simple statement, but oh so true. I wholeheartedly agree, because after a year in the English program, I left to go into Education with a major in English (No, Becker and I are not clones of each other).

Like Becker, I chose teaching because I have a passion for it. I love English and I love teaching, so why not combine the two and add some students into the mix?

While Becker and I chose to move on to Education, fourth year English student Carter Selinger plans on finishing his BA and then possibly moving onto a MA degree.

His love for English started in his younger years when his dad read him the story of Gulliver’s Travels. As Selinger grew up into adulthood, his love for English progressed.

Selinger says, “I remember feeling a strong pull towards the English faculty at the U of R after hearing how a giant, Gulliver, saved the tiny people of Lilliput by peeing on a building that had caught on fire.”

You can’t get stories like Gulliver’s Travels without English. If only nowadays we could pee on buildings to save lives.

Along with his English studies, Selinger also plays for the University of Regina Cougars hockey team. English + Hockey? Hmmm…

“It usually raises a few eyebrows,” says Selinger. “I play for the hockey team so people think that a hockey player studying English is especially weird. To quote The Big Lebowski, I would say ‘Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.’”

I agree with Selinger because, honestly, who cares what other people think? As long as you’re studying a subject you enjoy, you’re golden.

Selinger further elaborates on this issue by saying, “I am not that concerned with the way that the general public perceives my degree. I am more interested in how my degree helps me perceive the general public. BOOM!”

Let me just concur with that ‘BOOM!’ In my opinion, English degrees are incredibly beneficial because they allow students to perceive society with a critical lens.

Is Selinger concerned about finding a job after graduation?

“Not really,” Selinger says. “My Dad and sister’s boyfriend were both English majors, and are now both successful residential painters so I know I have that to fall back on.”

What a champ. But, seriously, back-up plans never hurt. You never know where life will take you.

As Princeton from Avenue Q continues to sing, he exclaims the lyrics, “The world is a big scary place. But somehow I can’t shake, the feeling I might make a difference to the human race.”

I believe students with BAs in English can do just that: make a difference in the world.

Image: Emily Wright

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