Surviving the 2017 Holidays: A Guide For English/CW Majors

You may find yourself and your post-graduation plans becoming part of the menu when family and friends gather for festive meals during the holiday season

Don’t stress about it — prepare!

By majoring in English or Creative Writing — or just by picking one as a minor — you have positioned yourself for success after graduation.

Here are some resources to help you talk to the people who love you about your prospects and plans.

“English/Creative writing majors don’t get jobs — maybe you should switch to something more practical.”

Just wrong. Wrong in general, but also specifically wrong for the University of illinois. Read the data, know the numbers. Save the links on your phone to show the disbelieving. Need more talking points?  Try thisthisthis, or this.

“So YOU say. What do business people, tech people say?”

“So you’re going to teach, right? Or maybe go into publishing? What else do people do with a BA like that?”

Some English or Creative Writing majors do go into teaching, or publishing, Many do not. Every business, organization, industry needs people who can solve problems with words. You have choices to make about where to use your skills. Take some time to browse this very blog for additional information on jobs that English majors do. Some possibilities include human resourcesadvancement/nonprofit fundraisingcommunicationbusiness consultingscience journalismrunning small businesseslegal writingproject managementbook publishingvideo editingscience editingproject operations, PR and digital marketing, librarianshipB2B publishing, entrepreneurship, content creation, higher ed administrationmanufacturingevents coordination, sales management,  management training, and real estate development.

“You’ll have to go to grad school to get a job, won’t you? What grad school are you thinking about?”

Well, no — you don’t need to go to law school or get a master’s degree to be employed — but you may want to get more education to achieve specific goals. “Grad school” doesn’t have to mean further education leading to a teaching or law career — recent alumni have chosen to get degrees in human resources, information/library science, medicine, nursing, bioinformatics, MBAs, MSWs. Read up on your options, and know what you want.

“Hmph. Okay. But you’re graduating in____, right? So what’s your plan?”

There are many things you can do to reassure the people who care about you that you’re on your way to a stable, self-supporting adult life. Don’t have a specific career in mind yet? That’s okay — you can take concrete steps now that will help you get a job when you graduate. Breaks are a great time to focus on your future.

  • Find time to go to the LAS Life + Career Design Lab
  • Sign up for a course that will give you some professional skills:
    • Publishing and Editing (ENGL 199 – F&G, 2:00 – 3:15pm MW, 1025 Lincoln Hall, Prof. Hapke, CRN: 67795, 3 credits)
    • Writing for Money (ENGL 380, 11am -12:15pm TR, 61 English Building, Prof. Prendergast, CRN: 59085, 3 credits)
    • Environmental Writing for Publication (ENGL 498, 12:30 – 1:50pm TR, 164 Noyes Laboratory, Prof. Wood, CRN 67479, 3 credits)
  • apply for a spring or summer internship.
  • find a part-time job that will help build your skills.
  • create or update your resume
  • get to know Handshake and start checking it regularly to learn more about the kinds of jobs you’d like to apply for. (Pro-tip: use the job function filter to explore the opportunities in different potential careers. “Writing/Editing” is an obvious one to try — but certainly not the only one available to you.)
  • get involved in a campus publication
  • register for a career preparation course:
    • Career Fair Preparation (ENGL 199 – CIP, online, Prof. WIlcox, eight weeks, one credit, Jan 16 – Mar. 18, CRN: 31940),
    • Career Planning for Humanities Majors — freshmen and sophomores (ENGL 199 – FS, 4:00 – 5:30pm W, 104 EB, Prof. Wilcox, eight weeks, one credit, Mar. 12 – May 2, CRN: 39025)
    • Career Planning for Humanities Majors — juniors and seniors (ENGL 199 – JS, 4:00 – 5:30 Thurs., 119 EB, Prof. Wilcox, eight weeks, one credit, Mar. 12 – May 2, CRN: 67456)
  • schedule an appointment to talk to Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships by calling 333-4346.
  • find some upcoming Career Center events that will be helpful to you and put them on your calendar.
  • follow up on contacts your family has suggested to you.
  • find an alumni mentor
  • practice your elevator pitch, get your professional attire, and research employers to get ready for the Business Career Fair.

“<changes subject>”

Take some time to remind yourself why you got into this major in the first place. Spend time with a book you want to read and haven’t been assigned. Write a poem. Make a trip to the nearest independent or used bookstore. Storyboard your screenplay or graphic novel ideas. Geek out by surfing Open Culture, Paris Review, LA Review of BooksWatch a movie with some intellectual heft to it. Send an email to the teacher who first got you excited about words. Let yourself get lost in the sheer joy of language. 

LAS in CU Internship Fair for English/CW Majors: FAQ


Should I go? Why?

  • If you’re looking for a part-time spring internship, or a summer internship in the CU area, all of the employers at this event are local and looking for spring and summer internships.
  • If you’re not sure about an internship right now, this fair is an opportunity to learn about some of the options that are available to you locally.
  • If you’ve never been to a career fair before, this event is a smaller and friendly opportunity to learn how a fair works and practice talking to employers.

How do I prepare?

  • Brush up your resume (or write one if you never have before). Print out several copies to bring with you.
  • Go to the Handshake site for the event, and check out the list of employers who will be coming. Read up on a few that are of particular interest to you, and think of some good q questions to ask the representative who will be at the fair.
  • Think about what YOU could bring to that opportunity: yours skills, your relevant experience, your interest in the work the organization does. Be prepared to work it into conversation.

What should I wear?

You do NOT need a black suit for this fair, but you should dress professionally: good slacks or a skirt, a collared shirt or professional-looking top, a jacket if you have one, shoes that aren’t sneakers or hiking boots or flip-flops. Wearing the right thing is less important than not wearing the wrong thing: avoid t-shirts, hoodies, athletic wear, jeans, inappropriate accessories, ill-kempt clothes.

Do I need to stay for the whole thing? Should I try to talk to every employer?

No and no. It’s small enough that you could talk to everyone there, but you’re probably better off talking to three or four employers that you’ve researched and prepared for, and then a couple more if time permits. You can show up at any point while the fair is going on, and leave whenever you wish — but generally, the earlier you can get there the better, just because energies flag as the afternoon wears on.

Are there opportunities for non-STEM people?

YES. Elected officials from both ends of the spectrum will be there looking for interns of various kinds. State Farm needs Strategic Resources interns (which can mean a lot of different things, depending on the kinds of projects they’re trying to staff), Japan House wants interns with interests in cross-cultural education and exploration, ATLAS makes it a practice to place non-tech students in tech-related positions…and so on.

Where do I learn more about this fair?

On Handshake.

When and where is it?

IMonday, November 6, 3:30pm – 6pm, in Illini Union B&C.

What about Grad School?

When English and Creative Writing majors ask about grad school, they are generally asking,

What about additional education after I graduate from college? Everyone says I’ll need a graduate degree to succeed in the world. How should I get started on that?

“Grad school” can mean a lot of things, and how you get started will depend on what you mean by that. Your English or Creative Degree prepares you to succeed in a lot of different kinds of grad programs. Let’s start though with the premise behind the question: that you will NEED a grad degree to get ahead.

#WOCintech Chat

Do you?

In some fields, yes.

If you want to be a lawyer, you need a law degree. The U of I’s excellent pre-law advising program, directed by former English major and lawyer, Jamie Thomas-Ward, can help you on that path.

If you want to go into one of the health professions (and yes, English/CW majors become doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and lots of other things), you’ll need the relevant credential. The U of I’s health professions advising can help you with that.

Other fields offer entry-level positions that you can attain with your four-year undergraduate degree, but you may need a master’s degree in the field to advance, for example:

  • social work
  • human resources
  • librarianship
  • higher education administration

There are fields, like journalismmuseum studies, and communication where you CAN be professionally employed with a four-year degree, but graduate school can give students (particularly those with other undergraduate majors) the opportunity to get greater exposure to the field and networking opportunities. Note that there are graduate degree programs for a wider range of fields in this category than I can list here. You can probably find an institution willing to take your money for pretty much any topic you care to study in depth. Such programs will generally give you deeper insight into a subject and exposure to other professionals in the field. Will they make you more employable to a degree that offsets the costs of the program? Hard to say.

There are a lot of paths to a career in primary or secondary education for those who didn’t get a teaching credential as part of their four-year degree. MAT programs and alternative pathways like Teach for America and Indianapolis Teaching Fellows can help you get a teaching credential, but there are also ways to teach without seeking certification: teaching abroad, working in after school or tutoring programs, teaching at a private school.

Opinions vary on how crucial an MBA is to success in business. “Business” also means a lot of things, and our alumni mentoring network includes a number of former English/CW (or Rhetoric, as it used to be) majors who have succeeded in business some with and some without MBA’s. Some (but not all) MBA programs require that you work for a time before applying.

A degree in library or information science can point you in a number of different directions, from running a school library program to organizing digital archives to performing data analytics for a Fortune 500 company. The best school of library and information science in the country is just a couple of blocks away from the English Building, and there are a lot of resources there to help you figure out which degree program might help you achieve your goal.

An MFA in creative writing will give you time and opportunity to hone your craft around other writers of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and it can qualify you to teach writing at the college level. Note however that “qualified to teach writing at the college level” is not the same thing as being able to find a full-time, well-paid job teaching writing at the college level. At the moment the supply of college-level writing instructors far exceeds the demand.

An MA in English or similar field like history is a cool thing to have — if only because it means you get to spend another couple of years taking interesting classes, but it may not improve your employment prospects, and in some cases it can hurt them (as when, for example, the additional degree makes you more expensive to hire than someone with just a BA).

Mostly, though, an MA in English is the gateway to a Ph.D. in English, which will qualify you to teach English at the college level. Be warned, though: there are not a lot of jobs available teaching English at the college level, particularly if you want to teach full-time and get paid a professional-level salary for it. Jobs for those with Ph.D.’s in Writing Studies or Rhetoric and Composition are somewhat more plentiful, but not so much as to guarantee a reasonable return on the investment of five or more years that go into most Ph.D. programs.

Bottom line? Don’t assume that a master’s degree, any master’s degree, will help you succeed. Figure out first which kind of degree is relevant to your goals and then whether or not having the degree is necessary for achieving them.

  • Talk to people in the fields you’re interested in. Our alumni mentoring network is an excellent resource.
  • Look for opportunities to volunteer or job-shadow to get a better sense of what that career path feels like day-to-day.
  • Get work experience. An entry-level professional job after college can help you figure out what kind of grad school you want to go to and whether grad school is really necessary for your particular goals.