Dreams Deferred MyStory Happenings Project MyStory

5 Successful English Majors

This post is for all of my discouraged English majors. I know you have your doubts and sometimes you lose hope but you’re not alone and I suspect that we understand each other pretty well.

I’m going to share a story that might be familiar to you (and not just because I might have shared it before): you might be going through it right now or remember a similar time in your lie. When I first started seriously thinking about college, some time in high school, picking a major was the most uncomplicated detail; I knew I would be an English major. Essays weren’t (aren’t) my favorite activity but I loved reading and writing. It was an easy fit for me. I only started doubting myself when I noticed the condescending tones of “concern” that came from other people when I told them my major. How funny is that? I wasn’t worried the least bit but other people felt like offering me career advice whenever I told them my major. They told me I should do business instead. No thanks. If you really don’t want to do business, then you’re probably going to be a teacher. I’m not going to be a teacher, I’d say politely.

When you tell people you’re an English major, they think you only have two options: change it or be a teacher. When I started doubting myself, I went so far as to ask my advisor if I should consider changing it. She didn’t let me, thankfully (after a good conversation about why I shouldn’t). I’m glad I didn’t. English majors get a bad rep but the truth is that we are in great company. I did some research to show you!

I’m providing a list of 5 well-known and greatly successful people who majored in English for their undergraduate degree! Every person on this list has varying professions in different fields just to show you the wide variety of career options you have for the future.

Barbara Walters (left) interviewing Geralt Ford (center) and Betty Ford (right) and the White House in 1976 (Public Domain Picture)

Barbara Walters: You may recognize Barbara Walters from such popular television programs like ABC’s 20/20 and The View. You may have even seen some of her famous interview specials that include Michael Jackson, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, and Monica Lewinsky. But her career started many years ago, long before women were even expected, much less allowed, to have as much airtime as she eventually did. Her career started in 1962 when she became a writer and segment producer for “women’s interest stories” on NBC’s The Today Show. In 1974, she was the first woman on network television to acquire the title “co-host” and eventually she became the first female co-anchor of any network evening news for ABC Evening News. But one of her greatest accomplishments was creating The View, a talk show hosted exclusively by female co-hosts who discuss a wide range of political and social issues. Walters received her English degree at Sarah Lawrence college.

542px-andreajungAndrea Jung: Andrea Jung is currently the President and CEO of Grameen America, a nonprofit microfinance organization, “dedicated to helping women who live poverty build small businesses to create better lives for their families,” founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Muhammad Yunus. Before Jung’s position at Grammen America, she was the first female CEO and Chairwoman of Avon Products, Inc., a poplar manufacturer and direct selling company of beauty, personal care, and household products, from 1999 to 2012. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University.

472px-ride-sSally Ride: English majors can even travel to space! Sally Ride was a physicist and astronaut. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Physics at Stanford University. Sally Ride became an astronaut after answering an advertisement for the space program in. Though many people questioned her about her gender at the time, she eventually went on to became the first American woman to travel into space aboard the space shuttle Challenger for STS-7. You might be thinking that she didn’t get chosen because of her English degree but instead because of her degree in physics. We may never know exactly why but it’s only important to recognize that your degree in English can lead you anywhere, even beyond Earth!

800px-steven_spielberg_1999Steven Spielberg: You may not recognize his face but his name will certainly ring a bell. He is the famed and academy award-winning director of more than 20 films over the course of his career, spanning over 40 years. You’re probably a fan and don’t even know it, as he is the director behind such classic films as Jaws, the Indiana Jones series, the original Jurassic Park, E.T the extraterrestrial, The Color Purple, and War of the Worlds. He is also one of the founders of DreamWorks Studios, the film production label behind movies like Shrek and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. He won the academy awards for Best Director and Best Picture for the film, Schindler’s List, a movie about Oskar Schindler, a man who risked his life and his own money to save thousands of people from the holocaust. Spielberg earned his degree in English at California State University, Long Beach. Though he clearly possesses many different skills, I’m sure his experience with the English major has proven quite valuable to his work over the years!

398px-diane_sawyer_2011_shankboneDiane Sawyer: Similar to Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer is another female broadcast journalist who paved the way for women in television. Her career began as a weather reporter for a small news station in her state of Kentucky. Soon after this stint, she became a White House press aide and then eventually, literary assistant to President Richard Nixon. Sawyer’s big journalist break came as a CBS reporter and correspondent in 1978. In 1984 she became the first female correspondent for 60 Minutes, a popular newsmagazine television program. She has received a Daytime Emmy for Excellence in Morning Programming and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1997. She received her degree in English at Wellesley College.

My message is always the same: a degree in any field is never a sentence to one specific job for the rest of your life. Some people think that an English major will get every door closed on your face. But the reality is that English majors have proven time and time again that their degree offers a unique set of skills that can be valuable for a limitless amount of careers, some you may have never dreamed of. You can be the CEO of a successful company, you can travel into outer space, you can write and direct iconic feature films, and you can pave the way for a new generation and group of people. There is no door that you cannot open. Next time someone gives you that recognizable side eye, show them this article and tell them what’s up. And so they know it’s real, rock one of these awesome t-shirts that you’re sure to love!


Tiffany Araya
UAlbany Class of 2016 
Major: English (Honors) 
Minor: Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Project MyStory Theme: Dream Deferred 
Follow her personal blog at www.EattheCakeBlog.com

Established in March 2015, Project MyStory is a community building effort to help students better acclimate to UAlbany and to work more effectively toward their goals. We began in UAlbany’s Academic Support Center (ASC), where you will see many of the posters featured above. We are now co-housed in ASC and in the Center for International Education and Global Strategy (CIEGS).

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