What Can You Do With an English Degree? Careers & Salaries Revealed

Contrary to what some believe, an English degree will not automatically doom anyone to perpetual unemployment or working as a barista. Like all humanities degrees, English degrees equip students with a skill set that will be valuable in any workplace, in a variety of fields and industries. Excellent written and oral communication skills are as necessary in the design and execution of lab experiments as they are in drafting professional e-mails or delivering speeches. After all, what use is an experiment if the results are not communicated and disseminated clearly and effectively.

Not all English majors aspire to become bestselling authors, and becoming one is not the only ticket to success. English majors can choose to work in many fields, some more writing-focused than others. Writing, speaking, and critical thinking are transferable skills to many areas, including politics, marketing, and public relations.

We would also like to add that an English degree has some serious earning potential. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in English earn an average salary of around $50k. Not bad for someone straight out of college!

 Look at our list of some of the most popular and lucrative careers for English majors. 


Journalist

Journalist at work
photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Journalists serve an essential role in society and have been doing so since freedom of the press became an enshrined right. The core function of journalists is to inform the public of important information and news, with the pursuit of truth being a key component of what they do.

Journalism is a dynamic and comprehensive realm of work; it can entail anything from beat reporting, writing about community happenings in the local newspaper, to conducting an in-depth report about the effects of corporations relocating overseas on the local economy. It encompasses politics, entertainment, sports, medicine, and much more.

Someone with an insatiable curiosity about the world, a knack for asking the most incisive questions, and a talent for writing would excel as a journalist. Not to mention, English majors are naturally suited to this profession. They learn to communicate effectively through writing and hone their critical thinking skills by engaging with complex pieces of literature. An English degree can also hone the ability to develop compelling arguments and synthesize bits of information.

Many English departments offer tracks in journalistic writing. But this is not the only option. There are opportunities for getting a start in journalism during or after college, such as freelancing for or interning with news outlets. Some go on to pursue a graduate degree in journalism. 

The salary range for a journalist is typically between $36k-47k/year, with the median being $41,604.


Copywriter

The catchiest jingles and ads are penned by copywriters, some of whom may have English degrees under their belts. This goes to show the versatility of an English degree, which opens many opportunities for someone with a creative itch but who does not aspire to become another New York Times bestselling novelist or a poet. Copywriting is another creative and writing-intensive career option for an English major.

Copywriting, like journalism, is dynamic and varied. Copywriters are responsible for producing engaging and clear texts for various modes of advertising, such as print media, catalogs, and websites. This sounds straightforward, but copywriters need to be very creative and imaginative as they must create content that will attract and retain the desired audience of a company, agency, or client. 

Nowadays, it is not enough for a successful copywriter to be a highly creative and talented writer; copywriters need to understand how search engine optimization (SEO) works to bring traffic to a website and be versed in a variety of content strategy tools. Copywriters also need to stay on top of the latest advertising trends and have a keen interest in commerce and popular culture as well.

Copywriters work in-house, as long-term employees of a specific company or agency or as independent contractors and freelancers, taking on a variety of clients and projects successively or simultaneously. There is no clear-cut path from English degree to copywriting. Undergraduates can intern or dabble in the freelancing world to develop a portfolio before they graduate. It is also helpful to choose one or more areas of focus for writing. Many agencies and clients want copywriters who are well-versed in niche areas, such as cars, technology, etc.

As for salary, a copywriter can make anywhere between $36k-$76k, depending on experience, location, and niche. The median salary for copywriters is $52,821.


Technical Writer

Many employers looking to hire a technical writer prefer someone with a bachelor’s degree in English, communications, or STEM. With that said, English majors bring a lot to a technical writing position, such as writing well, synthesizing information, and communicating effectively. 

Not only are employers eager to hire undergrads with a strong writing background, but the job outlook for technical writers means good news for an English major looking into the field. Due to ubiquitous and rapidly evolving technological and scientific products, the demand for technical writers is predicted to increase over the next decade.

What do technical writers do? Technical writers write instruction manuals, journal articles, and how-to guides for products and equipment, and other documents that communicate complex and technical information in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. For example, a technical writer makes it easy for someone with little to no home-improvement background to set-up and operate a table-saw by writing an instruction manual that is clear and precise.

Technical writers primarily work in the computer, scientific, and technical industries. When job hunting for a technical writing position, it helps to have some knowledge or experience in a specialized area. However, novice technical writers should not feel deterred; the ability to learn new things quickly is an asset and it helps to build a portfolio through freelance or internship opportunities.

The average annual salary for a technical writer is $74,650.


Working for a Publisher 

Whether working for big-name publishers like Penguin Random House, a small literary magazine, or starting up an independent publishing company, the world of publishing is a popular field for English majors. The title “publisher” can apply to an individual, company, or organization. There is a broad range of jobs within the publishing company, such as editing, sales, contract negotiations, marketing, website maintenance, and many more. At most large companies, there are separate divisions or departments that perform these duties. In contrast, an individual running their own independent publishing firm may assume some, if not most, of these responsibilities.

In general, publishers are in the business of overseeing the publishing process for print and/or digital publications. The process entails managing teams of editors, overseeing the production and distribution of content, determining the target audience, managing contracts, and interfacing with content with writers and content creators. This is far from an exhaustive list of what publishers do.

Working as part of an editorial team seems like the most natural fit for English majors. But the utility of an English degree is not limited to this role. The fact is that someone with a background in English can work in any part of the publishing process, including sales, copy, and website maintenance. These jobs require some training or proven experience, depending on the employer.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a publisher or someone working in the publishing industry is $67,329.


Copyeditor

Copyeditors have important roles within a publishing company, ensuring that manuscripts comply with formatting and style standards set by the company. But they are certainly not relegated to working for publishers. Copyeditors can be found in a wide array of industries in the public and private sectors. Basically, any company, large and small, that produces print and digital content wants to hire a copyeditor.

Copyeditors are responsible for proofreading text for grammatical and stylistic errors, fact-checking information, and checking and revising a text for style and readability. Occasionally, a copyeditor may oversee the layout of content, which can include advertisements and articles. Not only are the best copyeditors bona-fide grammar nerds, they are also thoroughly familiar with different style guides, such as Associated Press (AP), the industry-standard for news publications.

An English degree is a great start for a career in copyediting. In many cases, a prospective employer may want some experience or a substantial portfolio of work. A good way to begin building a portfolio is by landing freelance gigs or writing for the student-run college newspaper during the undergrad years. Copyediting certification is available to those with little to no prior experience in the field.

The median annual salary for a copyeditor is $58,870.


Editorial Assistant

An editorial assistant assists editors in numerous capacities. They check texts for grammatical errors and stylistic inconsistencies, fact-check information, and serve as a point of contact for writers. Editorial assistants may also help the editor select content for a publication. 

They also work with creative, marketing, and production staff, depending on the company to achieve publishing goals. Overall, this position is an excellent entry point for anyone looking to get into publishing or work their way up to an editorial position or, at the very least, flex those English skills.

English majors develop the necessary skills for excelling in this position, specifically writing and proofreading skills. The ability to do complex research and pitch content ideas are also invaluable skills honed by an English degree. These are the bare minimum skills required of an editorial assistant, which may be adequate for some employers. Some employers may require working knowledge or proficiency in publishing, printing, and graphic design software or advanced knowledge of word-processing and desktop publishing.

The mean salary for an entry-level editorial assistant is $36,620.


Public Relations Specialist

A career in public relations is an excellent fit for English majors interested in communications beyond the written word. People in this field work for a diverse array of organizations, such as schools, hospitals, companies, and non-profits. 

A public relations specialist works to improve an organization’s relationship with the public at large by improving the company’s image and marketability. This is accomplished through written and oral communication in print and media. Public relations specialists produce the content of these communications and develop strategies and plans for a company’s or organization’s public relations campaigns.

Written communications include press releases, speeches, and other kinds of content that will be released to the media and to the general public. PR specialists evaluate advertising and promotion campaigns, as well as public opinions of their clients or the companies they are representing. Furthermore, they reach out to media outlets and agencies that promote the company or organization’s materials. An extroverted English major with a knack for public speaking would undoubtedly thrive in this role.

With an annual median salary of $61,150, PR specialist is one of the highest paying career options for an English degree.


K-12 Teacher

For those interested in reading, literacy, and education, a career in K-12 teaching can be a gratifying career.

English teachers are passionate about reading and writing, and the best ones inculcate their students with the same enthusiasm for these subjects. English teachers help their students develop written and oral communication skills necessary for many careers. 

Of course, English teachers also help their students develop or improve their reading and comprehension skills. They are employed in many different educational settings, but most commonly in public and private schools.

Unlike most careers on this list, the path to becoming an English teacher often requires additional steps beyond a bachelor’s degree. A state-issued teaching license and various certifications are often required for anyone who wants to teach at a public school. 

To obtain a license and a certification, a prospective teacher must take and pass a series of tests. This is an extra step for anyone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in English without previously taking a teaching preparation program. The requirements for teaching at a private or charter school vary from state to state and localities.

The average salary of an English teacher differs across grade levels and states. High school English teachers, for example, can earn anywhere between $34k and $48K.


College Professor

A high school or undergraduate class on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream can spark a lifelong passion for 17th century English literature and for college-level teaching. College-level teaching is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to explore and share their love for 17th century English literature at higher levels of education. 

An academic career path is ideal for anyone who loves the idea of being paid for researching, reading, and teaching about subjects that inspire them. An English major is not limited to teaching English or literature at a college level. Becoming a college professor in the philosophy or political science departments are viable options.

Colleges or universities employ college professors. Depending on the institution, the position can be either teaching or research-heavy. Typically, small liberal arts colleges place a heavy emphasis on teaching and expect their faculty to devote most of their time to teaching undergraduate courses. Many large universities place a premium on research and expect their faculty to devote much of their time to research and publishing. 

Overall, college professors work as instructors in introductory and advanced-level courses in their fields and produce original research. They can also serve as mentors for undergraduates and serve their institutions in other capacities.

The annual median salary for a college professor can vary widely, depending on whether the position is full-time, part-time. Pay also depends on rank within the department. 

A full-time, tenured college professor in the humanities can earn as much as  $100,353 a year. College-level teaching requires a doctoral degree in the relevant field. In some cases, someone with only a master’s degree can be hired for a teaching position. In graduate programs, those training to become college professors gain teaching experience through teaching assistantships and as instructors of their own courses.


Librarian

Perhaps it is safe to assume that someone pursuing an English degree is a bibliophile, a lover of books and reading. A career as a librarian is ideal for book lovers and anyone passionate about information access, education, and literacy.

Librarians collect, organize, and issue resources, most notably books and other print and digital media. They help patrons and guests locate the information that they need, whether it be materials for a senior thesis project, a book report, or the latest issue of Time Magazine

Librarians may also develop special programs and tutorials for university students or the local community. A librarian can design and present a tutorial on word processing for senior citizens or resume writing for job seekers who have been out of the labor market for some time.

Librarian jobs at academic, public, and special libraries require master’s in library science from an ALA-accredited program. For those aspiring to a high-level administrative position at a university, a doctorate is required. As with public school teaching, a state-issued certification may be required for a job at a public library.

The reported median salary for a librarian is $59,050.


Lawyer 

We cannot restate it enough that solid written and oral communication skills are crucial in any career. This is undoubtedly the case for a career in law. As we have mentioned, English majors are trained to be effective communicators and develop the critical thinking and persuasion skills necessary for becoming successful lawyers. 

In fact, the legal profession is a popular destination among English majors. According to College Consensus, English is one of the top 10 degrees for getting into law school.

We cannot list and adequately describe every specialization in law, as there are so many of them! An aspiring lawyer can choose to get into real estate law, public health, environmental law, or child advocacy. There are many quality law schools throughout the country that offer these specializations and more. 

Here is a list of what students can do with a law degree, including expected salaries.An entry-level lawyer can expect to earn around $60,138 annually.

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