The Business of English Majors

Oct 06 2011

To fellow Students of Language, specifically English:

You know all those business students who’ve got bright futures making important business decisions, going to cool places, and doing cool stuff?  You know how you feel better about reading William Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf than whatever it is those BIS majors must be reading? What can beat writing an essay analyzing one of Chaucer’s racier stories, or a class entirely devoted to the elfin syntax in Lord of the Rings? And what about that computer programmer who told you that your major only exists to perpetuate English majors—as if we’re such silly creatures to cherish the beauty, mystery, and history of our language and literature?

Not everyone “gets” why we study what we do.

Literature? Only useful for napping.

Writing? Too mystical for anyone but weirdo loners.

Rhetoric? Rhetoriwhat?

Grammar? Wordboarding.

We don’t always love it, but we indeed love it. And now that businesses are all over the internet and social media has made a sort of democracy out of customer service, research, content creation, and publishing, we English majors are set to embrace our Little, Brown Handbooks and rise from the classroom like Dracula in London.

We can make ourselves valuable in any realm we might explore. We’ll be called upon to decipher the hidden meanings of cryptic emails and to edit business writing to make sure important points are clearly made. We’ll be hired to write blog and Twitter posts, craft website copy, and to help illuminate the mysteries of SEO. Best of all, our skills are indeed appreciated by the business world!

Before you graduate, explore your skills and interests that perhaps exist beyond the Humanities:

Take some business classes.

Take some marketing classes.

Learn how to build websites.

Blog. Blog now and blog often.

Learn what constitutes effective SEO and why.

Keep up.

And most importantly, take those “really hard” professors, especially in your major field.

So ask your friends studying business, marketing, programming what it is they’re learning. Be curious. Be adaptable. Find out what else you can do. Offer to update a businesses’ dull or overly embellished website copy. Tweet. Blog. Learn how often the rules don’t apply and figure out why. Learn about how Twitter’s hyperlinked hashtags and @replies can be ruined by an errant bit of punctuation. From copy writing to copyrighting, the skills of an English major are suitable to a variety of fields, making a future after graduation an IRL choose-your-own-adventure. Start exploring those possibilites right now.

And then go ask that programmer what language his résumé is written in and if he needs any help selling his skills to people who don’t speak C++ or Fortran. After all, he’s a nice guy who is perhaps intimidated by your love of parsing sentences, and you might be working right alongside him one day. Or, like in my particular case, alongside writers, artists, marketers, and programmers who genuinely appreciate what you do because, on some level or another, they do it too.


Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand. —Martin Fowler