Here are some things every English/CW major should do before graduation. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, “Four years moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
- Take part in a tea ceremony at Japan House.
- Attempt something you’re not sure you can do.
- Experience a performance in each of the five indoor performance spaces at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Student tickets are never more than $10.
- Get a bite to eat at one of the many food trucks on campus.
- View an exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum and in the Illini Union Art Gallery.
- Be part of the public life of the university by doing something on the Quad outside of Quad Day–a rally, a bake sale, a fundraiser, an informational table.
- Attend a live theater event–if not at Krannert, then at the Station Theater in Urbana, or a performance by one of our student groups like the What You Will Shakespeare Company or the Penny Dreadful Players.
- Go to an off-campus cultural festival (Pygmalion, Ebertfest, Boneyard Arts). Festival passes too expensive? They often need volunteers.
- Attend a live performance of a style of music you didn’t know existed before you came here.
- Make use of the Urbana Free Library or the Champaign Public Library. Both offer quiet study spaces, an escape from campus, performances and talks, and of course, books (particularly books that are unavailable in the university library system or bookstore or books that you just want to read for, you know, fun).
- See a movie in a language that you don’t know (and preferably one that’s not French, German, Japanese, Italian, or Spanish). There are lots of film series and screenings around campus to make this one easy!
- Cheer on the Illini at a college sports event. Not a college basketball/football fan? Check out a baseball or volleyball game or a club sport.
- Go to a live poetry or fiction reading.
- Put in an appearance at the office hours of EVERY professor you have, at least once. Seriously.
- Take in ANY movie at the glorious Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign or a good movie at the Art Theater. Note that, either way, your concessions help to fund an independent, non-profit endeavor, so think of that large buttered popcorn as a charitable donation.
- “I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it….If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be.” That’s from Willa Cather’s My Antonia. Think “buildings,” not “familiar mountain ridge,” and get far enough out in the country to know what her narrator is talking about.
- Take a course on some off-the-wall subject that you knew NOTHING about beforehand.
- Write a letter to the editor of the Daily Illini, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, or your hometown paper, on an issue that matters to you
- Become friends with someone that you didn’t think you’d like.
- Go to an event at Allerton Park — or just spend an afternoon there.
- Put in a request for an early edition of your favorite work of classic literature in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library collection. You’ll get the four-star library experience as it’s brought to you in the glass reading room on a foam cushion with lead weights. The rules may look daunting, but keep in mind that they’re there to keep the books IN, not to keep students OUT.
- Develop a taste for a food you didn’t know existed before you came here.
- Change your mind about something important.
- Apply your English/CW skills to something nonacademic. Your job, your RSO, your volunteer activities, your personal relationships are all places you can use your gift for close reading, writing, analyzing a problem from different angles, giving/getting feedback, making a persuasive argument.
- Read a book that’s not on the syllabus
- Look at the night sky through the telescope in the U of Illinois Observatory.
- Have tea with the ESC!
- Brush up your resume, do a little research, and then talk to a recruiter at a campus career fair. The more you go to these events, the easier and more fruitful they get, and there are many to choose from!
- Spend some time in the stacks at the Main Library (yes, they’re open to undergraduates). Challenge completed when you’ve shifted five banks of movable shelving to get to the book you’re looking for.
- Attend a public lecture, reading, or panel discussion by one of your professors.
This picture condenses a study from 2013, which you can read in its entirety here.
The study was put together by Burning Glass Technologies to advance their own agenda of selling big-data technology that will help people find jobs. But one doesn’t have to purchase their products or services to participate the takeaway here: that supplementing a liberal arts degree (like English or Creative Writing) with additional skills can make it easier to find a good job.
Courses (not to mention certificate programs, minors, and majors) are available in some of these areas, but employers are generally more impressed with achievements than paper credentials.
Your liberal arts major gives you experience in coming at problems from many different angles, finding creative solutions, learning fast, and working effectively with others. Those abilities can also help you use the resources around you to build the skills employers are looking for.
Programs like Illinois in Washington and Illinois Business Consulting can set you up with direct experience in using these skills, but there are many other options. Your part-time job, RSO leadership, campus or summer internship, blog, or volunteer service all offer opportunities to practice skills in marketing, social media, graphic design, data management, and business.
When graduating seniors come to the English Advising Office to pick up their tickets for Convocation, we ask them, “What piece of advice would you give to incoming students in our majors?”
Common themes emerge. The photo above depicts one of many responses urging incoming students to check in regularly with the academic advisers, Anna Ivy and Kristine McCoskey.
It’s important advice, but there’s more to being a successful English department major:
“Really read all of the books assigned, participate in class, and befriend your professors. You will get so much more out of your education here if you really put your whole self into learning.”
What does it mean to “put your whole self into learning”?
It means challenging yourself:
- “Listen to other students about the best professors, not the easiest ones.”
- “Take classes you aren’t comfortable taking. Get to know professors. Go to talks and free lunches and rallies. Get involved!”
- “Take risks! Write that complicated thesis. Choose the most difficult prompt. Bring up that weird discussion question.”
- “Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions made by your professors.”
- “First drafts always suck. Keep at it. Refresh yourself if need be. But never give up.”
- “Take the most interesting, weirdly specific classes that exist. They are always the most worthwhile.”
- “Get to know as many people as you can in your classes. By senior year you recognize almost everyone in the English department.”
- “Take advantage of everything the department has to offer! There are many great resources, organizations, and events that are so, so beneficial!”
Finally, be true to yourself:
- “Embrace being an English major. We don’t study complex math or taxes or anything strictly applicable for any one job. No, we study what it means to be human, which are the most important lessons we should seek to grasp.”
- “Do not be afraid to love and cherish what you study.”
- “Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care and mutual care—including giving yourself permission to pursue your passions, advocate for your interests, and start a riot.”
By popular demand, here are some of the sites that U of I English/CW majors have found helpful for landing jobs:
- I-Link (this University of Illinois resource should be your first step, as these employers are looking to hire Illini. The interface can be frustrating, but the “Advanced Search” bar will help you zero in on the openings of interest to you.)
- Chicago Artists Resource (shows job openings at arts and cultural organizations in the Chicago area)
- Idealist.org (specializes in openings at nonprofit organizations of all kinds)
- Nontech.io (jobs in the start-up tech world that don’t involve tech skills)
- Indeed.com (enormous job database)
- USAjobs.gov (database of all federal government jobs, including internships in DC, at national parks, in the Smithsonian museum system, etc.)
- Support Driven Jobs (jobs in tech customer support–a growth field for good communicators)
- Bookjobs.com (particularly strong on internships in editing and publishing)
- Looksharp (requires a login–and as with all such sites you should be careful about how much information you provide–but it specializes in internship and entry-level positions)
The following websites also have some job listings, but they are even more useful for other aspects of your job search. LinkedIn is a helpful resource for networking (and you should definitely create a profile if you are job hunting–employers will look you up). Want to know more about a company? Glassdoor has a lot of crowd-sourced insider information–which means it can be useful, but should not be treated as a necessarily reliable source. The Muse stands out among career advice websites for up-to-date and non-obvious insights.