Career Choices

Many of the readers and followers of this blog have blogs of their own. Evan Harrington is one. He recently commented on my Neighbors post and even reblogged it on his own blog. Naturally I went to his blog and browsed through it. One post in particular rang a bell for me. It was titled “Speech” in which he decried the time he had spent going to college and the massive amount of debt he had assumed only to be jobless and still living with his parents at 25. At a dinner with his family honoring his 25th birthday and his graduation he was asked to make a speech. He said:

I rose, muttering to myself, “You guys want a speech? Here’s a speech,” and then I took turns looking everyone in the eye and said:

“Don’t ever major in English. There’s nothing in it for you. It’s a terrible idea. There’s no jobs, you can’t go anywhere with it.” I pointed at my nieces and nephews, “Don’t do it, hope that you’re good at something else. I didn’t really have a choice, I wasn’t good at anything else.” I shook my hands emphatically, “Hope that you’re good at anything else.”

There’s a lot of truth in that speech, especially about majoring in English. He’d have learned that if he’d listened to The Prairie Home Companion which regularly spoofs English majors. But there are other college majors Evan could have chosen that might have even been worse… say art history. Or when was the last time you saw a help wanted at for someone with a degree in philosophy?

There are a lot of career paths in life that most people don’t want to even consider but which would be much more financially rewarding than those offered to English majors.

For example take a look at this:


This is the house of my neighbor who lives on my immediate right. Know what he does for a living? HE’S THE TOWN GARBAGE MAN!

When I was a kid growing up in the small Cape Cod town of Orleans in the mid 1950s there were two people in town who bought a new one of these every year…


One of those people was Charles Wilson, retired CEO of General Motors who famously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the United States.”

The other person who bought a new Cadillac every year was Ralph Mayo, and what Ralph did was something I doubt any reader of this blog would do…he was the guy you called when you needed to have your cesspool pumped out!

So, youngsters, think long and hard about what career path you choose. Being an English major isn’t one of the best.


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6 responses to “Career Choices

  1. Yep.When I went to nursing school, a lot of my classmates were going back to school because they couldn’t find jobs – former majors in English, anthropology, history, women’s studies (what the heck is that?), French… you get the idea. I may not have been rich but I was able to find a job anywhere I went.
    I’d take one of the Cadillacs though, the Eldorado, in a convertable… black *sigh*
    Speaking of transportation, how’s the motorcycle business going? Are you legal yet? 😀

    I could tell you what women’s studies are, but you’d slap me the next time you saw me. Still waiting for PC to give the okie dokie on the school certificate so we can take our tests.

  2. Alternative post from this B.A.-degreed fellow with a double major in English & sociology with a secondary school teaching certificate: 2 points to make initially here– 1) I concur in general with the points above in your post for *most* English majors. It is a great major as a stepping stone to bigger things with more advanced degrees, e.g. law school, MBA, etc., but not the best as the only specialty field from which one launches out into the professional stratosphere. 2) The Master’s degree I earned in clinical psychology (after one year of teaching junior high English 30 years ago) has been the actual foundation of my career, rather than relying solely on that English major from the early ’80s.

    However, the foundation I received from the English language focused undergrad program has served me well in my varied and diverse career. Being taught intensely to communicate well and effectively has been a great asset throughout these past 30 years since giving that English-major graduation-day mortar a frisbee spin on the day that degree was received. My own internal critic when I am speaking or writing has remained relentless through these years, and has been helpful in earning me jobs through those finely-tuned cover letters and resumes, helpful in winning grants that were written effectively and submitted per instructions, and helpful in compiling millions of pages of psychological evaluations, progress notes, clinical notes and memos to supervisees. I have worked beside others and watched many college grads struggle with their written and spoken communications, though they were well-versed in their particular specialties.

    So, given that brief defense of the major, I will add that the degree has never made me wealthy… or even close. Maybe I should have opened a business sucking out cess pools, or being a sanitation engineer, plumber or underwater welder… all of which probably triple most of my past salaries. On the other hand, the sociology major has really brought the big money rolling in through the years. Yeah, right! THAT one was never income-producing… though I do understand society and social groups better than most high school grads… well, as long as that society resembles the 1983 era when the university president signed my sheepskin!

    “If you can not write well, you can not think well, and if you can not think well, others will do your thinking for you.” –George Orwell

    • One would think people would be taught to write and communicate as part of their general education even before college. Unfortunately this is not the case. I remember classmates in college who were so poorly prepared that the rest of us had to teach them basic writing skills so we could get our joint projects done. You make a good point that an English or similar major is a great start towards further goals. It’s just not a good end point.

      In my junior year in college I had two teaching assistant jobs. One was in the English Department grading freshman papers. It was really depressing how many people going to college had such a problems with being able to write a simple declarative sentence.

    • Your Orwellian quote reminded me– I was teaching that junior high school English class in 1984. Since Orwell’s classic *1984* had never been assigned reading in any of my Lit classes, it seemed fitting as a full-time English teacher that year (if not required) that I read “the book of that year”. I wonder what Orwell would say about the Big Brother world that has developed… as I look at this screen which often watches me as well…

  3. Hi Richard:

    English is a sweet word for me. I started the English adventure since I was six and am still continuing the journey. I love the language and it has served me well during my professional career. Without my English knowledge I would never have worked for Texaco or PriceSmart where I earned a decent salary.

    Currently English is my conduit to communicate with the world. Yep, I’m very happy with the language of Mr. Shakespeare.



    There’s much to be said for studying a language other than one’s native tongue, Omar. It opens one’s mind to other worlds that they might never know of. On the other hand, majoring in one’s own language at the college level does little to prepare a person for a job in the real world, while studying a “foreign” language opens up all kinds of possibilities.