Is the English major disappearing?


“What are you going to do with an English major?”

My favorite English professor had the best answer to this. “What are you going to do with ANY major?” he’d grump, albeit with his famous twinkle in his eye.

He was a man of great discernment and humor. He was also right. Speaking personally, you can do anything you want with an English major. I’ve reinvented my career several times while still using what I learned in college.

Yet in The Decline and Fall of the English Major from, not doing what you want seems more than a mere possibility.  A new report shows that students are veering away from a major that supposedly won’t pay the bills, and not just because of parental pressure either; the humanities themselves “often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter.”

And it’s a shame. Even if you have no intention of being a writer—which is just one aspect the English major can take–learning how to articulate yourself in print, express your thoughts clearly, and comprehend what you read are still abilities surely (or sorely) valuable today. You don’t have to be an English major to learn these skills, either.

How has your major helped with your career or life in general? If you’re still in school, did you pick something other than what you wanted because you were worried about making a living?

Note: I can’t see that NYT’s headline title without thinking of this (versus the obvious).

University Jealousy

I’m jealous of my alma mater.

I just received their Annual Giving Report, a thick, glossy magazine. It’s full of all the fantastic things the campus has accomplished over the past year or so, from new buildings to conveniences to programs.

They even claimed a “Riverwalk” that runs behind part of the campus. This was never a riverwalk. This was a trail that ran by the river. The river was incidental; the path was everything.

Friend claiming the trail

This path used to be reached only behind one of the cottages that sat on the outskirts of the campus. Taking your balance in your hands, you would crash down overgrown stone steps lodged in the hill sloping in back until you suddenly came out onto the paradise of a winding, tree-lined, wild-flowered trail with the river just below.

You felt it was your own, and maybe it was. It was alive with birds and butterflies and the sun-warmed droning of bugs, but never any other human being than the ones you came with. You were caught in a long afternoon out of time, and even after awhile when you’d find yourself walking beneath mansions high up on a hill, houses magnificent in their own wild, mad splendor, it didn’t shake the impression.


We never saw any signs of life up in those houses either, though once a sheepdog watched us solemnly from his yard as we passed below. For us, the trail ended in a lushly green park with lots of trees, old brick-supported bridges…and a merry-go-round!

Now the path is decent. Sterilized. The cottage was bulldozed to make room for a giant campus center, new stone steps were inserted in the hill, and the path was turned into a two-level trail, one with crushed stone and one with wood chips, dotted with benches and sculptures. The walk also guides you in the opposite direction from before, directing you back to the rest of the campus.

I suppose it makes sense.

When I think of what we made do with, from the rickety dorm furniture to the food program that didn’t allow for dietary needs to classes in drafty basements, perhaps I’m a wee bit envious of all the sparkly new things these incredibly young, bright and shining students get. The advantages and the tools they’re equipped with to conquer today’s world.

Would I like starting off in this college now, with all its benefits, new architecture and conveniences? Part of thinking like that means I wouldn’t know what I missed.  But looking back right now, I feel the lack of certain deliciously wonderful, archaic things that are no longer there, simply because I know how essential that bit of wildness, that bit of nonsense is.

Yet we were equipped with the best advantages and tools available at the time too. They may not have aged well, but we did. The Alumni Notes alone show me that.

So I’m proud of it despite my residual envy, because that university helped make me what I am today, and even if some of the beauty of the wildness is gone, beauty still remains. It’s in the lines of the new buildings, the care in the new programs, the awareness in the conveniences.

While some things should, perhaps, have been retained, we all have to move forward. We just have to remember to look back.

What do you remember most from your college experience? If you’re still in school or recently went back, what are you enjoying best?