Taking the road less traveled: A literary experience


By Samantha Cook, Reporter

Every college student has been there when someone finds out you’re in college. Wide-eyed with fleeting interest, a family member, friend or stranger asks you what your major is.

Normally, one might be prepared to excitedly give all the details on the major, career path and enjoyment that person finds in all of that. Instead, I brace myself as I feel a deflation of my confidence, knowing what reaction is to come. I take a breath, and then I say, “I am an English major.”

Time after time again, I’ve watched the positive interest in people’s faces during this conversation drain, being replaced by condescendence, ending in the question, “And what can you do with that?”

Of course, this is only one of many reactions I receive on a regular basis. A fellow classmate of mine, also on the path toward obtaining a credential to teach high school students, English major Blake McKee said of this, “When I tell people my major they usually say,  ‘ew, I hate reading. That sounds awful.’”

These types of responses aren’t very surprising though,considering that according to the online site Inside Higher Education, “Bachelor’s degrees conferred to English majors are down 20 percent since 2012 . . .”

With fewer people studying this field, presenting to their peers, family, friends and strangers all of the possibilities and realities of studying English and literature, it is becoming a bit of a mystery, riddled with misconceptions.

I must admit though, I was someone who once believed I hated reading.  For this, I can understand some of the feeling behind responses and lack of interest in studying English. However, my mind was completely opened up when I found stories that interested me, instead of only reading the content that was required in school.

Literature has inspired some of the hottest topics in pop culture, from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones. Though these aren’t necessarily the texts studied in English classes, there is much to get out of studying the humanities.

The humanities, particularly literature, focus on soft skills and interpretive art. McKee said, “Even if you are totally wrong about the author’s intended message, you can find your own strange meaning that suits you.”

Often times, my course work feels like a search for meaning and understanding of characters, themes and people who are both similar to and different than myself, instead of a heavy input of information, facts and figures that make my brain feel like it will explode from a knowledge headache.

This is not to say that my studies are sunshine and roses with no hardships.  In fact, this past semester for me has been an anxiety-filled four months including countless pages of writing, nights of four hours sleep and twenty-two books to work my way through.  That’s right, twenty-two books filled with poems, novels, essays, epics and short stories galore.

Overwhelming as all of the readings, discussions and papers can be, I could not imagine studying something else.  While I have been certain that English is the major for me since high school, I have heard many stories from my peers of what convinced them to change their majors, trading STEM for the humanities.

English major Kaitee McDaniel is a peer that I met in my very first semester of attending college.  When we met, she was majoring in biology on a pre-med track. McDaniel attributes the change in majors in part to her bookworm nature from childhood, but mostly she said, “I realized that I would spend most of my twenties becoming a doctor and I had other things that I wanted more than that.”

Not long after our first semester of college, she published her book Strange Currency. McDaniel plans to become a college professor in the future, but has a world of open doors and possibilities awaiting her post bachelor’s degree.

While many of my peers and I aspire to use our English degrees to teach, there are plenty of other options for careers that utilize English degrees.  The online site The Balance Careers gives a list of job possibilities to answer the question of what we can do with our degrees. This list includes jobs with public relations, grant writing, social media management, human resource specialties, and more.

This list did not include the assumed crying while holding our diplomas, still jobless a year after graduation.  For English majors, there is still a world of opportunity and hope for careers. As Robert Frost most famously wrote, we just have to take the road less traveled, and it will make all the difference.