What will you do with your English major?

The English Major and Employment: Myth versus Reality 

People have a lot of opinions about which majors are “practical” and which majors students should avoid if they want to have financial stability after college. Most of these opinions are simply myths, not based in fact.

MYTH: English majors earn lower salaries and find less rewarding work than majors in STEM fields.

REALITY: Graduates with an English major earn comparable median salaries ($53,000) to those majoring in biology ($56,000), environmental science ($57,000), and psychology ($49,000). By age 40, liberal arts degree holders actually surpass STEM degree holders in average annual salary. When it comes to job satisfaction, humanities degree holders report being “deeply interested” in the work they do, and having “the opportunity to do what I do best every day” at comparable rates to engineering and social science graduates:

MYTH: English majors struggle to find jobs.

REALITY: When it comes to getting a job, English majors actually experience lower rates of unemployment (3.4%) than economics majors (4%), mathematics majors (3.9%), mechanical engineering majors (3.8%) and psychology majors (3.5%). So if you worry about getting a job as an English major, you should also worry about getting job as an economics major, a math major, a mechanical engineering major, and a psychology major. But the truth is you shouldn’t worry about getting a job with any of these majors. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the government organization that compiles this data, none of these rates are measurably different from the average for all fields of study. This means that while people tend to have strong opinions about some majors setting you up for stability and prosperity and others setting you up for a lifetime of financial insecurity, the fact is that the differences in unemployment rate are negligible.

MYTH: The reason English majors have low unemployment is because they’re desperate for work and will take anything they can get.

REALITY: Economists have ways of measuring this phenomenon, which they call “underemployment,” or having a job in which you’re employed less than full-time or in which you’re not really using your skills and education. English majors have a lower probability of being underemployed (45%) in their first job out of college than those who majored in biology (51%), psychology (54%), and business (47%). Five years beyond the first job, the underemployment probability for English majors plummets to 29%, which remains lower than the above majors, and is nearly identical to the probability for the aggregated social (28%) and physical (27%) sciences. Not only do English majors get jobs; they get jobs in which they tend to be highly satisfied and using the skills they learned as English majors.

Planning on Going to Medical School?

Humanities majors have among the highest MCAT scores of all majors, scoring higher on average than majors in the biological and social sciences and comparably to majors in the physical sciences:

Humanities majors also have the highest percentage of medical school applicants matriculating at medical school, higher than any other subject group.

How about Colby English Grads?

Recent Colby English grads have studied at Northwestern School of Journalism, Princeton University, Northeastern School of Law, and the Dartmouth School of Medicine. Visit our alumni page to see what our new graduates are doing.

At Colby you will develop personal relationships with department faculty, who are highly accomplished in their scholarship, teaching, and creative productions. Your mentors will help you explore your interests as you develop your skills and plan for your future. They will support your internship and graduate and professional school applications and speak to your accomplishments as you apply for job.

A degree in English will help you find an interesting first job that will serve as a starting point for a successful career. Regardless of whether or not you have it all figured out, you’ll be able to define your own path with the skills you’ve developed in the English major.



(1) Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, “The Economic Value of College Majors” (2015): https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/valueofcollegemajors/

(2) Derek Newton (Forbes), “Studying STEM Isn’t the Career Boost We Think,” (reporting on the work of David Deming, Professor of Education and Economics, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Graduate School of Education) (2019): https://www.forbes.com/sites/dereknewton/2019/09/29/studying-stem-isnt-the-career-boost-we-think/#798b0b0d2539

(3) American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Humanities Indicators), “The State of the Humanities in 2018: Graduates in the Workforce and Beyond” (2018): https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/academy/multimedia/pdfs/publications/researchpapersmonographs/HI_Workforce-2018.pdf

(4) National Center for Education Statistics, “Employment Outcomes of Bachelor’s Degree Holders” (2017): https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_sbc.pdf

(5) Burning Glass / Strada Institute for the Future of Work, “The Permanent Detour: Underemployment’s Long-Term Effects on the Careers of College Grads” (2018): https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/permanent_detour_underemployment_report.pdf

(6) American Association of Medical Colleges, “2019 Facts: Applicants and Matriculants Data” (2019): https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/students-residents/interactive-data/2019-facts-applicants-and-matriculants-data

(7) “The Strive” (recap of AAMC 2017-18 Applicants and Matriculants Data) (2017): https://www.thestrivetofit.com/blog/2017/7/29/pre-med-majors-with-the-highest-acceptance-rates