The million-dollar question that I love hearing as an English Literature major is, “is getting an English Literature degree worth it?” I love hearing it because I truly see the person in front of me when we talk. This might be cliche, but if eyes are the window to the soul, then words are the windows of the mind. Well, just the fact that I (and other English Literature majors alike) am asked this question says a lot.
These conversations show me what people value most and who they are. I see who they are because language is ideological. It, too, can be utilized to reflect or advance ideologies. Of course, not to be dramatic, but ideologies do have long-lasting effects on society. Keep in mind that Ideologies are not inherently evil; that label depends on what an ideology is used for and the societal impacts and the social realities they produce.
You need to understand that no one and I mean absolutely no one, can be ideology-less. It is just not possible. Ideologies are sets of beliefs that we all subscribe to. Just because you can’t see it does not mean it is not there. The magic with ideology is that it becomes so normalized that you do not realize that the “common sense” decisions you make are ideological.
Talking about ideology here is essential because they do not typically mean it from an educational standpoint when people ask this question. They mean it from a capitalist perspective. Capitalist ideology today is highly pervasive; it has invaded post-secondary speech communities. This invasion leads to the commodification of education, which is why people want to know whether an English degree is worth it or not. They want to know how well we can sell in the labor force.
When asking it, they always point out that majoring in English Literature will not benefit me in the workforce since the jobs available are slim. For example, if I want to engage in my degree, I would have to be a teacher or a librarian. And THOSE jobs, well, let me tell you how little they pay. Ironically, both jobs also are educational. Since teaching from kindergarten through grade 12 is heavily regulated in some nations, and is publicly funded in others, commodifying it is challenging. Its monetary value is low (this, by the way, is reflected in the pay).
Problems with General Degrees
The problem with English, much like other general degrees, is that it is broadly designed. So it does not have specific qualities. I have acquired many soft skills that can be transferred into any field that I may decide to take part in, but it did not give me the hard skills. The same can be said for communications, except they learn more technical skills.
Business degrees other than finance and entrepreneurship at a university level are pointless. I’m not biased; trust me, I minored in business management. All we learn is theory. There quite literally is no application of what you know. Occasionally, you will be assigned a group project to assess a company’s management practices’ quality. Then you are expected to write a detailed report of what you would do differently or write up a report advising the company on what to do to solve all their concerns. These projects and their intensity do vary across the board.
I’m trying to show that students who graduate from degrees such as these also struggle in the market because a) demand is low while supply is high, b) nothing makes them look unique. You look like everyone else on the market.
Note the business/capitalist language that I am using, demand, supply, and market. It’s weird to use them for living, breathing people. It’s no longer “I Renad Hamouda have a special talent to share with the world”; it is “I have a service you will benefit from, that you can access for the right price.”
So we continue to talk. We discuss what I say, and all they can come up with is, “but they can freelance their services, English Literature majors can’t” Who said? The godfather of capitalism? There is a reason English teachers edit your grammar; we know it. There are multiple platforms like Fiverr, Reedsy, Bubblecow, Upwork, where English Literature majors can offer editing services.
Also, there is editing software like Grammarly, Autocrat, and Draft. These organizations need people who know grammar for them to program their software. We could also offer tutoring services. Like TikTok and Youtube, social media platforms are new income streams currently used by English Literature majors.
There are so many opportunities after an English Literature degree, but they do not benefit a capitalist mode of the construct in things’ grand scheme. So we’ve been told that an English degree is not worth it.
So is an English Literature degree worth it? I can’t answer that question for you. It depends on how you see the world and the legwork you are willing to put in to succeed.
To me, it is worth it because I love to read. Books and novels reflect society; thus, I learn more about the world and become more critical of what I consume. I get to study different philosophical and scientific principles (who would have thought) and critically apply them to fiction and non-fiction works. But most importantly, I get to be creative on my terms. There is no price tag that I can put on that.