Why Major in English?

--to learn to think

I wish I could say that the English Department at Bryn Mawr taught me to be a better writer, but that, it seems, was merely the surprising and lovely side effect. Because what being an English major really taught me was how to think. How to be rigorous. How to go deeper. How to be completely and thoroughly original. In my work as an editor and freelance writer post-Bryn Mawr, I've discovered that it's easy to write something that sounds good, even impresses. And yet, the real work is in the thoughtfulness that distinguishes the superficial from the substantive. Bryn Mawr taught me how to uncover that substance--and to make it my own.
--Jenny Sawyer (BMC English Major, '??)

--to learn that thinking never stops

I majored in English because it was hard, much harder than any of the sciences. Along the way, I envied my math major friends, who would do a problem set that was assigned, and then it would be done and they were finished the assignment and could go out and play. An English paper was never done, and this was before the widespread use of computers and word processing software.

In my computer science classes, there was a "there" there, also, and when you got "there," you knew you had gotten somewhere. When do you ever have that feeling when you read a book and analyze it? For me, the answer is "never," because the study of literature is an open-ended inquiry. I've come to believe that science is too, but it was never taught that way back in the day.

I doubt this is the reason that so many Mawrters have majored in English over the years. It's probably that we all love reading. But is that enough of a raison d'etre when you, or your parents, or your student loans are paying 40K a year?

Most of us will not, have not, gone on to English grad school and the training grounds to be English professors, though some have.

In a world where you will have many careers in your lifetime, though, an English major stands up well. Employers of all stripes value communication skills, both verbal and written. And like all humanities majors at a place like BMC, you are taught how to think. You may have thought you knew how to think before you got here, but you didn't, not really. Thinking is also a useful skill for the many careers you will have, even in the corporate world which has gotten a bum rap from dilbert.
-- Ann Dixon (BMC English Major '83, M.S.E., Computer Science, University of Pennsylvania)

--to master the system

"...English, mathematics, and foreign languages are not *about* anything in the same sense that history, biology, physics, and other primarily empirical subjects are about something. English, French, and mathematics are *symbol systems*, into which the phenomenal data of empirical subjects are cast and by means of which we think about them. Symbol systems are not primarily about themselves; they are about other subjects. When a student 'learns' one of these systems, he *learns how* to operate it. The main point is to think and talk about other things by means of this system." ...an English major is someone who is studying how to master the use of the symbol system. The student who wishes to study how particular people mastered the symbol system in particular ways for particular purposes at particular times -- say, great poets or great novelists -- are a subset of the larger English major.

-- James Moffett, Teaching the Universe of Discourse (1969)

--to get a job

Why Major in English?

What Can You Do With a College Major in English?

A Note to An English Major: Contemplating a Career

Career Opportunities for Majors in English