C R Steinberg is interested in studying how the internet affects English degree students.
What Is an English Degree Currently Worth?
According to Nina Stoller-Lindsey of Forbes, "Jobs in academia and journalism where many English majors land... are infamously hard to come by and not all that lucrative." To illustrate just how far from lucrative these jobs can get, one should take a look at yearly earnings in the most popular fields for people who graduated with a literary degree.
- High School English Teacher: $46,110 – $74,160 (According to US News)
- College English Professor: $56,000 – $94,000 (According to GlassDoor)
- Freelance Writer: $20,887 – $106,203 (According to PayScale)
- Digital Copywriter: $48,000 – $108,000 (According to GlassDoor)
- Technical Writer: $39,895 – $85,245 (According to Payscale)
- Librarian: $34,300 – $91,620 (According to Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The wide ranges of earnings for each career are striking, at one point revealing a difference of over $80,000 a year. If a young person's only chance of work is publishing to an online content creation website, earning them a minimum of $21k a year, they might find it a bit difficult to focus on a full course load. As most people can't afford to skip paying their bills, it seems being an English major might cost quite a bit.
According to collegecalc.org, "the average annual out-of-state cost for a bachelor program in English Language and Literature/Letters is $45,470." This won't be a problem for the students aiming for careers in education (unless you include the cost of the necessary teaching certifications) or careers in stable, digital content creation, but for those hoping to work in freelance, it might take a while to pay back those student loans. Not to mention living expenses, emergency costs that crop up, and any new cars/apartments/pets/spouses that students might acquire.
Maybe it doesn't seem worth it, but there must be some value in the skills one gains in college, right?
Fortunately, English majors seem to have a great advantage when it comes to job hunts because they have highly coveted written skills. Dr. Jonathan Wilson, Program Chair of the Bachelor of Arts in English at Ashford University said, “In addition to giving students a solid literary basis, an English degree at the modern university trains students in critical thinking, rhetorical analysis, and effective writing and articulation to communicate in the business and professional worlds.” This would explain why most applications for positions in the literary field include mandatory cover letters and writing samples.
Is the label "English Major" enough to convince an employer to choose a graduate over an experienced, online content creator? If it was truly dependent on the writing samples, the student may not have the backlog of professional work that those without degrees have the time to build up. Luckily, the "skills" they learned in college might be strong enough to land them a job in a career field they didn't want to get into.
In short, if proud holders of English degrees can only hope to break even once they graduate, their degree is only worth what they value it at. The harder a graduate works at finding a career, the more valuable their degree will be. If they land a job in Digital Copywriting, making $75,00 a year, their degree has tons of value. If they spend the rest of their life making ends meet with freelance work, not so much.
An English degree at the modern university trains students in critical thinking, rhetorical analysis, and effective writing and articulation to communicate in the business and professional worlds.
— Dr. Jonathan Wilson
How Does that Maybe-Valuable Degree Compete?
The best way to illustrate opportunities for students is to illustrate opportunities for non-students. Any Google search can easily provide thousands of websites advertising lists of writing jobs for people who don't have a degree. A few include freelance writer, blogger, content writer, copywriter, and web content editor. According to study.com, folks can earn at least $38,536 dollars working in these careers without degrees.
Not being enrolled in school also offers the time needed to survive financially by only writing. According to intelligent.com, it's recommended students spend about two hours studying per credit hour. The average class is three credits, so for a full course load (usually, four classes), students should expect to spend 24 hours studying if they want to succeed. That's after the four, hour-and-a-half classes that meet twice a week (12 hours). The students may also want to pay for things like food, and gas, so more time will be spent in a low-paying, customer service job. Let's say that takes away another 20 hours.
Students today will spend about 56 hours a week working. Not much time is left for finishing writing assignments for a few cents per paragraph.
That degree will have some value one day (the value the student gives it), but it's a bit draining while it's still "in process." Also, spoiler alert, the words "in process of" before a student's future, degree title, or thin resume, doesn't appeal anymore to prospective employers than if they hadn't listed their collegiate experience.
Talk about being a small fish, in a huge pond. Looking for work is going to be a daunting task, to say the least.
Finding a Smaller Pond
With the job hunt being as daunting a task as it is, what options do students have left for steady pay and valuable experience?
Like most careers, English majors can find solace in knowing there are thousands upon thousands of paid internship opportunities across the world. Some of these internships can even be remote, as a lot of written content is now created and shared online. Some businesses have even partnered with local colleges to offer students college credit in exchange for their time spent working. Stipends, salaries, and hourly pay are offered with the wide variety of payments interns can receive. Not to mention discounts with businesses that promote or create useful products.
Internships also offer valuable networking opportunities, and the work completed in that time can usually enter a professional portfolio. The portfolio is vital to any young writer's resume, because it allows them to showcase their skills for future employers.
These internships can be found through most college job boards, and online, internship postings. The only issue with finding an internship outside of the college network is entering a pool of applicants from more diverse backgrounds. Many of these applicants may be older, with much more experience navigating the literary world.
College-level internships are competitive enough without the added stress of more experienced applicants.
On top of that, a lot of internships now require a college degree. The "internship" for some companies, serves as their entry-level position. That, or the internship requires a candidate who can offer 40 hours a week, which is hard for a lot of college students.
The Relationship Between The Internet and Internships
While internships used to be mainly accessed with college resources, they can now be accessed by anyone, of any age, from anywhere.
This has created a new opportunity for older people who want to return to work after retiring or expand their knowledge in an ever-progressing world. According to Marguerite Ward of CNBC, "for people who have been out of the workforce for several years or who want to make a big career change, a returnship—the grown-up version of an internship—could be a second chance at success even if the paycheck is likely smaller than what workers are used to."
If the paycheck was deterring more qualified applicants than students from seeking internships, then they may be able to justify their application now.
Deborah Mitchell, a guest writer on entrepereneur.com, said "after 25 years in the television industry, my career took an unexpected turn when I was terminated from my producing job at CBS News . . . I had to rebrand, and part of my career makeover involved interning again." Her articles goes on to encourage older individuals to seek internships for the valuable skills and experience they can obtain.
Pair this rise in internship applications with the rapid growth of technology use in older adults, and you have a recipe for unneeded millennials.
Talent Can Tip the Scale
Don't let all the competition strip you of any hope you have for being a future author, editor, or whatever literary profession you had your heart set on. While the number of applicants against you is rising, a strong portfolio, a great cover letter, a firm handshake, and an eternally positive outlook can get you whatever internship you want.
Use your time in school to network with professors, librarians, and guest lecturers. You may just meet your next boss or the person who's going to introduce you to your next boss.
After all, in the words of Hemmingway, "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." So use that even playing field, and your well-crafted resume to your advantage.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.