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The “tea” on the English degree

Daily Campus

Originally Posted: December 7, 2018

It is May 2011. SMU’s campus is buzzing with pre-graduation excitement and seniors are restless to begin the next chapters of their lives. Sarah Bennett, now the managing editor for D Home and D Weddings, is among these students. She is happy to complete her degree in Creative Writing finally, but as with many graduating seniors, some anxieties are beginning to grow in the back of her mind. Will she land her dream job? Will she have to settle for a different position? Will she find a job at all? Though these questions are like persistent flies buzzing around her brain, there is one choice she has never questioned: her major in Creative Writing.

“I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 7, so I kind of never questioned that that was what I wanted to do, and I specifically wanted to specialize in creative writing. I really loved writing and knew that I didn’t want to do anything else,” Bennett said.

English majors are likely painfully familiar with this conversation. Though people would generally acknowledge the advantages of having a strong understanding of language and critical thinking, a mildly debasing subtext remains in discourse concerning the “practicality” of an English degree.

Besides feeling passionate towards her degree, Bennett was also fortunate enough to have parents who did not force her into a field of study, particularly business.

“I, thankfully, have very supportive parents who were not pushing me into business. They knew that I was very academically minded and that was what I loved doing, and they were supportive of that,” Bennett said. “I have friends whose parents told them that if they picked one liberal arts/humanities/creative degree, they also had to have another minor or double major to offset it. Thankfully, mine were not like that.”

This idea of “offsetting” a liberal arts degree with some other major is not surprising. Usually, when parents are contemplating the value of an English degree, they are speaking in terms of monetary value. Especially at a private school such as SMU where tuition is steep, parents are thinking about how much money they spend on their child’s education and then compare that to the annual earnings for degrees with which graduates are more likely to land high-paying jobs. The idea is to break even.

Though this is an acutely pecuniary way to regard education, there is some truth to the argument. SMU Department of English Chair and Professor Darryl Dickson-Carr provides his thoughts on this particular perspective.

“If parents believe that the main goal for their children is to earn a lot of money, then they’re right. You can say objectively that finance majors make more than English majors on average over any time in their careers. That’s just objectively true,” Dickson-Carr said.

The salary data Dickson-Carr is referring to is supported by a variety of research, one being the 2015 study conducted by Georgetown University on The Economic Value of College Majors. READ MORE