Updated on Wednesday 27 February 2013
An English major is a very flexible degree, setting students up for careers in literature as well as many other fields. With so much that the degree can work towards, it can be hard to pinpoint how to use an English degree to prepare yourself for your specific dream career in literature. Here we'll look into some things you'll have to consider and do to kick off your work in the literature world!
There are a great many careers in literature that international students can look forward to after obtaining a literature degree. Whether you're business-minded, creative, academic, or not quite sure, the field of literature has something for everyone. But given the breadth of possibilities for English majors, many schools underemphasize teaching the steps you should be going through to attain your goals and break into certain fields. An English major is a great start, but preparing for a career in literature will take more than just a fancy piece of paper!
One career in literature that is very popular for international students after getting an English major is teaching. For those who want to teach any grade level before high school, just a bachelor's degree will be required; most aspiring high school teachers and all potential college professors will need a master's degree to be considered. But beyond just reaching these academic milestones, international students looking for a teaching career in literature will have to meet certain licensing requirements that vary by state (and may also vary back in your home country). Often a university or college's education major will have the requirements for obtaining that state's teaching license built in, but the literature degree rarely features this benefit. Thus, literature students preparing for a career in literature on the teaching side should research their state's (or country's) requirements and sign up for a teacher preparation program run by the state's own Department of Education or by your home country.
Of course, not all international students looking for a career in literature will want to teach. For these students, it's important to consider whether or not graduate work should be pursued. For many literature jobs in the publishing industry, such as editing, copywriting, and administrative work, a graduate degree is far from required but can help give you a leg up. The publishing industry is fairly competitive to break into and, despite the obvious goal of disseminating literature, very business-oriented. If you want to be someone really shaping the publishing industry, thorough knowledge of business is a must. Whether enough business savvy can be obtained through undergrad elective classes or double major in business — whether a master's in business is in your future —depends on your interests, the availability and quality of business classes at your school, and the exact part of the industry you imagine yourself working. Generally, the more executive the position you want, the more business background (and typically, more advanced the degree) you need to have to get it!
Another reason for literature students to consider grad work is to pursue creative writing. While many English majors have creative writing classes open to students on the literature track, an international student who decides late that he's interested in creative writing might simply run out of time to get in the desired creative writing training during his undergraduate education. With a solid background of literary expertise, many literature majors do go on to get master's degrees in creative writing and give themselves a great foundation to pursue their writing dreams.
Whether or not international students go on to graduate work, a big part of preparing for a career in literature is setting up your experience and contacts during school. That means internships! In addition to the obvious benefits of work experience, networking, and possibly earning some cold, hard cash (if you land an oh-so-coveted paid internship), internships let you test out various careers in literature to see if they're actually up your alley, thus preventing you from committing to a career you'd dislike before it's too late. Some literature internships will be straightforward, like working as an editorial intern, while some will have to get more unconventional, like a mentorship with a novelist for a budding creative writer. The important thing is to get in some experience and get a feel for the job!
Preparing for a career in literature is an important part of your time getting a literature degree. Make sure to pinpoint what you want and follow the above tips to best prepare yourself for the job market.