Versatile Skillset of English Majors

English majors are equipped for numerous career paths given their expertise in reading, researching, and writing about complex information. Many of our graduates pursue advanced degrees in literature, cultural studies, creative writing, rhetoric, and law. We also have alumni who transition to the nonprofit world (as social organizers or grant writers) and to the corporate world (as administrators, public relation professionals, and technical writers). The specialized skillset of English majors includes the ability to:

  • Think critically
  • Read and interpret complex texts
  • Consider cultural contexts in meaningful ways
  • Develop arguments based on evidence and for specific audiences
  • Write with style and rhetorical effect
  • Develop research projects using digital and traditional sources
  • Write using multiple technologies
  • Organize and manage large and small scale writing projects

The Varied Careers of English Majors

after/words, “an interview series for, by, and about students of literature.”

Media and journalism: The media sector covers everything from film to television, newspapers to news blogs, advertising to PR and gaming to game reviewing. Depending on your area of interest, there’s a niche for just about any English graduate, whether you want to produce, write, edit, review, schedule, promote, manage or run.

Advertising, marketing and PR careers: Roles in advertising, marketing and public relations are all popular options for English degree graduates. While still involving high levels of creativity and excellent communication skills, these roles all demand more of an explicit focus on generating profit and expanding business or brand reach. This more revenue-based mindset is also often paired with higher starting salaries compared to more purely artistic/creative media roles, and career progression possibilities may also be more clearly defined.

Careers in law: Those who study English at are also likely to develop many of the skills required for careers in law and the legal sector, although a graduate-level degree will be needed for many legal roles – including becoming a lawyer. Despite this restriction, there are many careers in law available with just an undergraduate-level degree. These include administrative, organizational and research-based roles, within local and federal courts, as well as government agencies and independent legal firms. A paralegal or legal secretary, for example, will often hold just an undergraduate degree.

Publishing: Often intersecting with the media world, publishing nonetheless constitutes a distinct sector. In recent years, the publishing industry has seen much disruption, thanks in large part to the digital revolution. Although this means many traditional print publishing companies are becoming smaller or struggling to survive, those that have adapted to the world of digital publishing are continuing to thrive – and in need of graduates with the skills to help them keep evolving. Digital publishing encompasses areas such as e-books and electronic journals (e.g. scientific periodicals), as well as online magazines and news sites. English graduates entering publishing careers may be involved in a variety of areas, including administration, production, editorial, marketing, public relations and sales.

Teaching and academic careers: Although careers in teaching often require additional qualifications and/or experience, an English literature degree can be a great way to develop the academic knowledge and communication skills needed.

To teach at primary or secondary level, you’ll usually need to complete a professional teaching qualification and gain some experience working with children and/or young adults. For university-level teaching, you’ll be required to gain at least a master’s degree (in the field you wish to teach) and often also a PhD; many universities combine teaching and research roles. Careers in teaching and academia can also tie in with careers in media. For instance, university tutors often submit papers to journals, contribute to or author entire books, and comment on contemporary issues in the mass media.

Careers in the public sector: An umbrella term for state-funded roles within the public domain, the public sector is responsible for hiring large numbers of administrators, civil service workers, health service workers, government workers and police/armed forces personnel every year. English degree graduates are likely to be well suited to public sector roles, thanks to highly developed spoken and written communication skills, the ability to research and analyze complex written information, and the ability to contextualize issues based on historical, political, cultural and social contexts.

Careers in business, accounting and finance: If you’re that rare breed of student who can manipulate both words and numbers with equal dexterity, then you may want to put your broad skillset to use within the business world. For highly numerate graduates, careers in accounting and finance are a very real prospect; even as an arts graduate you shouldn’t be treated any differently when applying for these roles, so long as you can prove your mathematical skills. Entry-level administrative roles can provide opportunities to develop skills in leadership and strategy, building on the communication skills you augmented during your degree.

Careers in medicine: The medical profession is increasingly interested in the values learned from humanistic courses such as English. An English degree, or a double major in English, would enhance your application to medical school.

Creative Writing Graduates

Wiley Cash is The New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy, which are both available from William Morrow/​HarperCollins. Wiley is writer-in-residence at the UNC-Asheville and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Fiction and Nonfiction Writing at Southern New Hampshire University.

Leigh Ann Henion is the New York Times bestselling author of Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Secret WorldPhenomenal was named an editor’s pick by O: The Oprah MagazineBackpacker, and Barnes & Noble Review. Her stories have been noted in three editions of The Best American Travel Writing.

Mesha Maren’s debut novel, Sugar Run, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books. Her short stories and essays appear in Tin HouseOxford AmericanHobartThe Barcelona Review, and Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and she has been the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She currently teaches fiction at the MFA program at W. V. Wesleyan College.

Katie Herzog is a staff writer at Grist. Her work has been featured in The GuardianMother JonesSalonBuzzfeed, and more. She lives in Seattle and is currently at work on a book of essays.

Matt Owens holds an MFA from Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and currently teaches in the Creative Writing Department at UNC Chapel Hill. His memoir, Same Kind of Stranger, is near completion, and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Oxford AmericanGuernicaCrazyhorseThe PinchRedivider, and Hobart, among others.

Tamiko Ambrose Murray holds an MSW and is co-founder of Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community. She is a community-based researcher and freelance writer, and has taught classes in UNC Asheville’s English Department.

Hannah Epperson works as a news writer in UNC Asheville’s Communication and Marketing Department, and studied creative writing in UNC Asheville’s Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences program.

Casey Hulme is UNC Asheville’s first Digital Communication Specialist. She gets to use her creative writing background to tell UNC Asheville’s story and share it with a variety of audiences through the university website, social media, and advertising.

Matt Sandbank lives in Austin, TX, where he runs his own shadow puppetry business, called “Matt Sandbank’s Shadow Factory.”  Each of his performances is designed to teach elementary school audiences different skills and concepts from the Language Arts Curriculum, and he also facilitates poetry-writing workshops, using shadow puppetry to more fully engage his students.