Employers regularly report how much they value the research, reading and writing skills gained through a liberal arts education. They consider the ability to communicate with a wide variety of people and to understand the broader context and world in which we live to be very valuable. Any major in the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Iowa will prepare you for a wide variety of careers. Extra-curricular employment, internships, volunteer projects and activities will shape the particular career path you enter.
Can English majors get jobs?
In 2018 we saw about 18% of English majors go into teaching high school English. Approximately 20% go straight into graduate school (law, medical, MBA, screenwriting, Public Policy, Social Work/Counseling, Higher Education, Masters of Teaching, MFA Creative Writing or PhD English). There are another 5% that report waiting a year and going to graduate school at that point. Almost 60% go into a wide assortment of careers. We know we have some free-lance writers and editors, but most students get paid internships or entry level careers in fields such as fund-raising for non-profits, marketing, sales, public relations, social media management, editing/publishing, advertising or politics. Some employers who hired May 2017 graduates include: WiseInk Creative Publishing, Palgrave MacMillan, ENREACH (teaching English abroad), The Network for Public Health Law, University of Iowa, MidWest One bank, Roll20.
The key to employment after graduation is NOT your major. The key is to gather a resume and portfolio of real life experiences on and off campus throughout all four years here at Iowa. Use your writing skills at your job, get internships, volunteer to do social media for a student organization. Your passions and your experiences will open doors after college if you keep your mind open.
It is seamless process for strong students in the English major or the English and Creative Writing major to get certified to teach high school English. The Teacher's Education Program (TEP) is a standalong certification program that adds approximately 12 courses to the regular English major and 14 courses to the English and Creative Writing major. Students doing English and Creative Writing and the TEP may find it necessary to do summer coursework or stay one extra semester. Students usually enter the TEP program in their junior year. Their entire last semester of senior year is used for ONLY student teaching so all other coursework must be finished by that point.
Students interested in teaching at the high school level should notify their advisor as soon as they know this interest so they can take the appropriate coursework to apply for admittance to the TEP in October of their junior year. Generally students should have a 3.0 GPA or higher to apply for the TEP. Students graduating with their certification to teach have a high success of employment by the fall after graduation.
If you want to teach literature at the college level you will need to earn a PhD in English/Literature. Our English majors find it rewarding to assist faculty in their research projects as a good way to see if they like the work behind being a professor. Additionally many of our students going to graduate school pursue honors in the major and write a thesis in their senior year which can then work as a writing submission for their graduation applications. Honors begins in your junior year. If you love analyzing literature and discussing its impact on the world, this may be the career for you. Notify your advisor and faculty members that you are interested in this path and they will guide you. Our graduates are enrolled in PhD programs around the country and often go to work at colleges and universities of all sizes.
If your true love is creative writing and you believe you would like to teach creative writing at the college level then you will go to graduate school for an MFA degree after finishing your English major. Your faculty will be able to help you think through which graduate program might be the best fit for your writing skills and interests during your junior year. You may want to do a senior honors creative writing project in your senior year to submit as a writing sample for graduate programs. Our graduates are in the best MFA programs around the country in fiction, non-fiction, playwriting and screenwriting. It can be difficult to find a full-time job as a creative writing professor but if you are a strong student and build good connections with your faculty and peers you will find it easier. Many of our previous students are teaching or directing writing programs or writing centers around the country. Some teach part-time while working on their own personal writing endeavors.
English majors love words and books so often it makes sense that they will be drawn to the field of editing and publishing. We offer a publishing track within either major in our department and that five-course track allows students to gain some familiarity with the vocabulary and procedures found in the world of editing. Often our students interested in publishing will also major or minor in Journalism & Mass Communications. This is a field that takes awhile to break into and having experience while in college is very valuable. The department offers a couple internships in publishing but we also encourage students to pursue off-campus internships by working with their advisor and the career center. Additionally we expect students to get involved with one of the campus literary publications: Ink Magazine, earthwords, and Fools or The Daily Iowan. There is nothing like hands-on experience to give you that shot at the first post-college entry level position. Students may end up working at book publishing company, magazine publisher, or even editing for a business website or zoo publication. Alum, Eric Sundermann, has landed in New York City as the editor of Noisy while we have alum across the country at other publications.
If students love creative writing and are well aware of their audience and the power of words then we often find them drawn to careers in Advertising. Heather Wendt (pictured) has opened her own advertising agency. Students interested in advertising may find themselve picking up an extra major, minor or coursework in such areas as: Communications, Art, or Journalism. We would encourage them to explore both creative fiction, poetry and non-fiction writing as well as some business writing courses. They will mostly likely also get involved with the Advertising student organization on campus to learn more about the field.
Film, TV, Theatre
English and Creative Writing majors who love the arts often double major in Cinema or Theatre and it is not uncommon for them to dream of a career in the "biz". Some will start by attending graduate school in film or theatre but others will head right off to try their hand at creative writing in one of the industries. These students are usually involved in side projects while enrolled in undergraduate coursework. They submit their projects to local and national festivals.
You might find them joining Student Video Productions or EPX. Alum, Brigid Marshall (pictured) has made her way in L.A. writing and performing comedy. She shared this tidbit after her visit with us: "I think students need to develop a 'special skill' if they intend on truly pursuing a creative passion, writing or otherwise. For example, if they want to write short stories (or fiction, newspaper articles, blogs, what have you) -- it's not going to pay the bills right away, so they need something that allows for a flexible schedule; I would recommend something like learning photoshop, or simple web design, if they don't think they can stomach a job working in sales (ie a day-job). More and more I see the need for skills like that when students come away with degrees like English, which do not have set career paths. Thanks again for having me! Feel free to give my email to students who might find themselves with more questions or want some humor-filled, yet practical advice."
English majors are often excellent at working on projects independently and have strong organizational and communication skills. As a result they are often drawn to working in administrative positions. These positions require writing skills for letters, websites or speeches, they require good communication skills with clients who phone or drop in and they are often flexible positions that can utilize each student's individual strengths. Graduates might find themselves doing event planning or promotion, maintaining spreadsheets or supervising other workers. We find our majors do best in this field if they gain experience as an undergraduate. Possible ways to gain experience or knowledge include: working a student job in a department on campus, taking free online LYNDA coursework in certain software applications, becoming an officer for a student organization, or doing coursework for the certificates in Event Planning or Non-Profit Management or the minor in Human Relations. This type of work can often allow our graduates their evenings free to write creatively.
The more outgoing of our English majors often want to take their valuable kills in understanding people and context as well as their writing skills and go into a career in marketing or public relations. The ability to tell a good story is critical to these careers and our majors are just the right people to tell that story. They often study both fiction and creative non-fiction writing and may apply these skills in marketing for a business, a sports team or a fine arts venue. These students are also encouraged to work in public relations or promotions for their student organizations, to join the Public Relations student organization and to minor or double major in Communications or Journalism. Rob Cline (pictured) is the Director of Marketing and Communications for Hancher Auditorium and speaks regularly to our English@Work class about his career path.
Occasionally we have students who are big picture thinkers and want to open their own business or manage a small business near and dear to their heart. The English major has helped them understand larger societal issues, how to communicate well with a diverse population and how to share their ideas verbally and in writing. These are fabulous skills for a business or non-profit manager. We encourage students to work in a part-time job related to their interest area, to volunteer with a non-profit that interests them and to explore complementary coursework in Entrepreneurship, Non-Profit Management or Enterprise. We have graduates who have left and opened their own ice cream store, started a non-profit or run a local arts venue.
The English major is an excellent preparation for law school. We teach students how to make sense out of complicated readings, how to conduct research, how to articulate their ideas verbally and in writing and to consider the complexity of human relationships in our world and the specific nature of word choice. Students intending to go to law school will have both their English advisor and a Pre-Law advisor. They will have the opportunity to participate in a MAPLA law conference on campus or nearby if they ask their advisor about outside opportunities. It is not unusual for students to consider the area of law that appeals to them and take coursework in that area alongside their English studies. Those areas may include: Rhetoric, Human Rights, Social Justice, Ethics and Public Policy, Politics or Business Administration minor or Entrepreneurship. Our majors who go on to law school have reported that they felt well-prepared for the rigor of that program. We recommend that students considering law school maintain a 3.5 or higher GPA and do honors coursework as well as volunteer work.
Our department prides itself on using the study of literature to understand the power of words and the societal context in which they were written. As a result our students often think about how they can make a difference in the world and this may lead them into government work. Sometimes they run for an elected office like David Leshtz (pictured). Other times they write speeches or work administratively for elected officials. There are still other graduates working in non-profits to lobby the government, or administratively in office such as the Office of Child Support and Welfare in Washington D.C. Students interested in government work should volunteer for local causes that matter to them and might consider an internship in Des Moines or Washington D.C. They will work with the Pomerantz Career Center to locate these opportunities during their junior year.
English majors tend to enjoy reading about and writing stories about people who have faced challenges or who have contributed to our society. As a result you will see alum writing creative non-fiction to tell the stories of victime of torture internationally or writing to raise funds to continue cancer research such as Sara Volz (pictured) who is the Director for Development for Opthamology. Our students interested in writing for non-profits to lobby, write grants, raise awareness or fund-raise are encouraged to do the Fundraising and Philanthropic Certificate and additional coursework as matches their outside interests. These graduates are often the ones who express their gratitude at holding a position where they can use their writing skills to truly make a difference in the world.
The modern day librarian can be found in a public library or a school or a business. They might be working with young children or students at a law school. If you love books and media, love research and solving puzzles and don't mind learning new technology, this might be the perfect career for you. This field requires a master's degree but any undergraduate major will work and English is perfectly suited for it. You might take some book history courses where you get a chance to work in our University Special Collections. Amy Chen is the English and American Literature Librarian at University Libraries and is a good contact to learn more about the field.
Researchers can be found in libraries, archives, museums and businesses. If you don't mind researching for long papers and enjoy digging a little deeper or thinking outside the box to find answers this might be a great career for you.
If you also study engineering, science or computer science then you have probably already heard about technical writing as a career option. But English majors can do internships or jobs in this field as well. The key is to look for experiences on campus or at your job to try this style of writing so you can show it off in your portfolio. You will then want to seek out an internship. Examples of technical writing may be as simple as: writing instructions for fellow employees to follow on a new piece of machinery at your part-time job or writing the manual for your student organization. Think of technical writing as that ability to take something complicated and break it down into clear, organized steps or instructions. Look for opportunities to volunteer to do this throughout your time in school.
English majors are often drawn to the human stories in literature. They are often empathetic, good listeners and interested in how humans interact with one another. It is not unusual to find them drawn towards helping fields such as counseling or social work after college. Many double major in Sociology, Social Work, Gender Studies, Psychology, Public Health or minor in Human Relations.
Student Affairs or Higher Education is the name of the field for all the professionals who work at a college campus in advising, student activities, orientation, admissions, career services, study abroad, disabilities services, diversity support, and residence life (to name a few offices). Eventually some of these staff members become Dean of Students or Vice President for Student Affairs. If you think you might be interested in this field, we recommend you apply to be a resident assistant in the residence hall, run for Residence Hall Government or work as a volunteer or paid student employee of an office that interests you. Orientation assistants or peer advisors are examples of that type of work.
This field combines people skills, an interest in serving or helping others, strong organizational skills, public speaking or listening skills and often teaching skills. It requires a master's degree in a related degree (Student Affairs, Higher Education, College Student Personnel,etc.). The good thing is that this is an easy job to shadow as these professionals are all around you. No specific undergraduate program is required.
Most non-profits, whether it is human services or the arts, many school districts, colleges and some hospitals or research facilities hire grant writers to help them fund their efforts. Grant writing involves researching available grants for the subject matter at hand and gathering the documents or data needed to write a persuasive case for why this group should win a particular grant. Students interested in this field should take Creative Non-Fiction Writing courses as well as a class in grant writing (offered at Iowa) and might consider minoring in Rhetoric. Volunteer or apply for internships at non-profits and you will often have the chance to work on a grant or learn about the process.
English majors who want to leave college and devote themselves to counseling others in an agency or private practice need to go to graduate school. Some will choose a PhD in Psychology, others will choose to get an MA in Counseling or an MSW (Master's of Social Work). Consult with your advisor to learn the best undergraduate preparation for a given graduate program. While in college consider volunteering for a crisis phone line, applying to be a resident assistant in the halls, or volunteering in the prison system.
Employers are more willing to take a risk and hire someone right out of college if you have already proven that you can "do the job" by listing an internship on your resume. Internships can be paid or unpaid. Before you begin to look you should decide if and where you can afford to do an unpaid internship or if you need a paid experience. As a general rule most non-profit, editing and creative internships are unpaid and more sales, marketing and public relations internships may be paid. You can search for internships through Hire-a-Hawk, LinkedIn or an independent web search. Use the Career Center to help you shape your search.
English majors are excellent researchers. All that time in the library and reading dense material and making sense of it will come in handy. You might begin by asking a faculty member if they have a research project with which you could help. Perhaps you work on campus at the library? Get an internship at a museum. Then you might start doing freelance research for the experience you can list on your resume.
There are hundreds of student organizations on campus. The key is to not load up on many organizations but instead just pick a couple of them that really interest you. Don't just be a member who shows up to meetings. Volunteer to lead the group, write their social media with a creative flair, design their marketing or publicity, or write their manual for officers. This is the perfect chance to take on something new and a little scary and master a new skill and learn how to lead others. In the English Department we have the English Society and ATI (English Honors). But many of our majors are involved in the Advertising, Public Relations, Pre-Law, or Dance Marathon groups to mention a few.
Starting Your Job Search
Your job search starts your first year of college. What?! Yes.
Career readiness begins by gathering real life leadership, research and writing experiences that translate into tangible skills on a resume and open doors when you apply for jobs after college. There are many resources on campus to help you learn how to get started in this process. The easiest way to get started is to join a student organization or get a part time job. Then start using the offices and classes available on campus.
Each semester the English department offers ENGL 2040: English at Work (1 s.h.). This course is ideally taken during your sophomore year. The course gives you time to develop a resume, a LinkedIn account, and to become familiar with the Pomerantz Career Center. Each semester the course instructor will invite in 4-6 alumni to speak to you about their career journey and offer advice. All students are encouraged to come and listen to those speakers even if they are not enrolled in ENGL 2040 for that given semester.
The Pomerantz Career Center has many ways to support your internship and job search.
The website offers tips and templates to help you get started with resumes, cover letters or learn more about career options.
There are peer (student) advisors available on a walk-in basis Monday-Friday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. These students can review your resume and give you tips or help you get started with LinkedIn job searches.
There are professional career advisors to help you think through the process of the job search that best fits your goals. Elise Perea and Garry Klein work frequently with English majors.
We have alumni working all over the country in creative, non-profit and for-profit industries. They share their stories in person during ENGL 2040, we have captured videos of them which are available on the computer in 308 EPB, and we will share a bit about a few of them here. Use LinkedIn to find alumni and get to know them and learn about how they got into their field.
Career Resources for UI Undergraduate Students
The Pomerantz Career Center provides high-quality resources and services to students, alumni, and employers. The site has information designed to help you move through the various stages of the job search process, including the Handshake@UIowa website as well as information on upcoming employer visits, internships, and careers after college.
Schedule an Appointment with a Career Advisor: https://careers.uiowa.edu/coaching
Attend a Job, Internship, or Career Fair: https://careers.uiowa.edu/career-fairs
Finding and Creating Internships: https://careers.uiowa.edu/internships/finding-your-internship
Interview Practice: https://careers.uiowa.edu/mocks
Job Search and Resume Basics: https://careers.uiowa.edu/resumes
Post-Graduation Placement Information and Statistics: https://careers.uiowa.edu/post-grad-data