Like a typical young adult with a transient lifestyle, I commonly find myself meeting new people. As we make friendly conversation, one of us usually ends up bringing up an inevitable question:
“Are you going to school right now?”
I, currently, answer yes, which always leads to a rather predictable follow-up question:
“What are you studying?”
“I’m an English major,” I say (a little proudly--although it wasn’t always that way).
A polite nod, a weak smile, and then (I can always see it coming),
“And what are you planning to do with that?”
“I’m not quite sure yet…” I used to answer, and the judgment was almost palpable. Not only was I paying for four (or more) years of college for a humanities degree; I was paying for four (or more) years of college for a humanities degree that I didn’t know what I was going to do with.
In an attempt to sidestep the judgment (real or imagined), I often found myself tacking a little on to my answer, hoping to appease my new acquaintances:
“...but I’m thinking about grad school,” I would say, although even that wouldn’t usually satisfy them, so I added a third addendum--“Probably law school.”
“Oh! That’s exciting!” they would say, finally giving my response the approval I was, for some reason, desperate for.
Am I actually planning on attending law school? Not really. I resorted to saying that because I did not want to live up to the stereotype of being yet another English major who graduates, not knowing what to do with her life, a “useless” degree in hand. The further I delve into my college education, however, the more I realize that a “useless degree” does not exist, especially the one I (and many others) have chosen to pursue.
In fact, I find my degree in English increasingly useful. I am strengthening skills like critical reading and concise writing. I am learning to not only handle but also apply criticism (generally constructive) on my personal writing from a variety of audiences. I am participating in classes where I am pushed to create, present, and discuss original content and ideas. I am developing research skills so that I can compose powerful papers and creative works alike, leading me to understand a variety of subjects beyond the one on which I have chosen to focus my post-secondary education. I am becoming fluent with editing and proofreading, since I not only seek to improve my own papers, but find myself with many friends who “just need someone to read through [their] paper and make sure it makes sense.”
I understand that constructing a powerful sentence is one of the most highly influential things a person can do. And I’m learning how to do that.
Most of the time, I no longer worry about whether or not people believe my degree is useful. I’m sure maturity has something to do with that, but most significantly, I realize that majoring in English is an honorable and empowering path toward a college degree.