ADVICE FROM A GRADUATING SENIOR IN ENGLISH
Coming into my senior year, I was convinced I would be living in my parents’ basement after I graduated. After four years of hearing, “English majors become baristas,” and being asked why I chose my major, I had become discouraged and resented studying something “impractical.” It wasn’t until I took the course ENGL 399 with Professor Pacheco and went to the SMEF career fair in February that I realized I was employable, and that my English degree prepared me for my life after graduation more than I could have hoped for.
It is easy to get discouraged in the college of liberal arts at a big, STEM university. But fear not. I have made plenty of mistakes over my four years, but I have also had many victories. If you’re scared of the future or starting to question why you chose your major, I’m here to tell you what I wish someone would have told me sooner: chill out. Keep these three things in mind and you’ll be fine.
Know Why You’re Studying English
In almost every interview I had, I was asked, “Why English?” It wasn’t a dig at my major or a questioning of my qualifications; it was genuine curiosity. Employers don’t see many English majors. Heck, English majors don’t see many other English majors! Because of this, when a recruiter sees “BA in English Literature” on a resume, he or she definitely will want to know why. At first, I was scared to answer this question because I thought it set me too far apart. But then, I came to embrace it. It was fun recalling why I chose this major in the first place, why I still love it, and how it has prepared me for the future. Know your own personal English story and know how to tell it well. If you are passionate, recruiters can tell, and passion justifies any major.
In addition to knowing why you’re studying English, know how your studies apply to the jobs/internships you are applying for. Employers will ask you why you are qualified for the specific job, especially if the degree seems like a “stretch” for the position. English majors have many skills outside of writing—analysis, design, team-building, and persuasion are a few I can think of—and you want to figure out which ones you possess to capitalize on them at the interview.
In one interview, a recruiter asked me, “As an English major, are you intimidated that the other students you will be working with have more experience in this area than you?” I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to answer, “No. My English degree has prepared me in so many ways. Let me tell you about them.” Always be prepared. And never apologize for your major.
Explore Until You Find What You Want
One of the most liberating and the most daunting things about a degree in a liberal arts field is that it comes with no prescribed career path. After graduation, it seems that all that waits for you is a big question mark. If you don’t know what you want to do after graduation, this can be pretty scary. But this also means you have a lot of exploring to do, which can be fun.
Do not waste your time while at Purdue just because you don’t have a set career path. Let your time at college be a time of exploration of all opportunities—there are so many out there. Even if you are a senior, there is still time to explore. Interview professors and professionals, go to networking events, shadow different individuals who work around Lafayette if their careers potentially interest you. Take classes in different disciplines, just to see what you are good at and what you like. College is your one opportunity to try and to fail with little to no consequences.
I took advantage of exploration opportunities through internships, volunteering, and classes. I took an internship in market research with an organization I am involved in on campus just because they needed interns. I had no idea what market research did, but I was eager to learn. After that summer, it turned out market research was something I was good at and something I enjoyed, which opened doors to another internship in marketing and made me consider a career in it.
Similarly, I volunteered at Indiana Legal Services to see if law was a path I wanted to pursue and quickly found out that it was definitely not. This semester, I took the class “Boiler Communication” (COM 491) which acts as a student-led public relations firm. It is a class that is extremely practical and gives real-world experience. One semester of the class is the equivalent of half a year of professional experience. All of these things helped me figure out what different careers look like, and where I potentially fit into the professional world.
Explore your options until you find what you want. And once you find what you want, run with it. Get as much experience as you can. Practically, these experiences will help decide what you want to do, as well as provide you with stories to tell in interviews. Don’t let the unknown future scare you—embrace it with open arms!
Don’t Freak Out
This is the most important tip I can give you and the hardest one to put into practice. When the engineers of campus are buzzing around by the third week of school getting full-time job offers and internships while you’re just hammocking in the trees reading William Carlos Williams, it’s easy to think you’re doing something wrong or that you’re late in the game. You’re not. Breathe. Chill. That isn’t the timeline for us, so there is no reason to panic.
The biggest and best companies want to secure the brightest students for their engineering, science, and technology programs before any other companies can. For this reason, their job hiring process is much quicker than in the fields liberal arts majors (usually) pursue. The timeline for many job openings that fit us (project management, marketing, public relations, technical writing, etc.) is in the spring semester, as late as April. While that means your future will be uncertain for longer than other students, it does not mean you are not a qualified candidate or an undesirable potential employee. The companies usually just don’t need to hire months and months in advance—these positions are more immediate placements.
While you’re waiting for jobs to begin to open, use your time wisely. Spend your fall semester figuring out what companies you like, strengthening your LinkedIn presence, building a portfolio, and networking wisely. Don’t let our slower timeline become an excuse for you to be lazy—don’t stress, but be strategic.
At the career fair in February, I got interviews with every single company I talked to. I got invited to recruitment events by companies in the big leagues, like Sales Force and Oracle. And I ended up getting an awesome job with an awesome salary in an awesome place. All because of my major and what I was able to do with it at my time at Purdue.
Chill. You’ve got this. If I could do it, trust me, you definitely can too. I believe in you.