Lit Skills, Job Skills: Students learn more than they often realize in studying English


Mylissa Zelechowski, who says English “is where I’m meant to be,” has interned writing for a video gaming company, and sees numerous career options ahead. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

The student who chooses English as a major should be prepared. Prepared for the questions, concerns and even mocking about the value of their degree.

English major Mylissa Zelechowski said she gets it all the time. People she meets are “very quick to judge,” she said. But then the Wilmette, Illinois, sophomore tells them how she’s already using her skills, in jobs and an internship. “It usually changes their minds,” she said. Even when it doesn’t, she’s learned you can laugh about it, “as long as you remember that what you are doing
is important.”

First-year Illinois law student Bryan Boccelli, from Chicago, graduated with an English degree last May. He, too, has also often been asked “why English?” And, sure, he knew the skills he was learning didn’t necessarily apply to a specific career path. “But that’s ultimately why I stuck with it,” Boccelli said. “Being an English major gives you so many options.”

English professor Christopher Freeburg, who teaches American and African-American literature, tells his students the same thing. The skills that are the “bread-and-butter” of an English degree – in communication, writing and critical thinking – are also at the core of success in most jobs, he said. Even in many technical fields, the people often making an impact “mainly have to go through our skill set to do it.” A similar case could be made for other liberal arts degrees, he said.

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