“An English major?” I can still hear the disdain in my father’s voice. “I thought you were going to be a doctor?”
His words fell on deaf ears. I was 19, and I didn’t care that, on average, English majors earned significantly less than the national average for college graduates. I loved writing. I loved reading. I was going to do what I loved.
Three years later, I was a 22-year-old college graduate with no foreseeable job on the horizon. I didn’t even have an internship. That’s when I got scared. Seriously, what was I going to do with a bachelor's degree in English?
Why people fear life with an English major.
We like to think of college as an investment. But with the class of 2015 having the largest debt in college graduate history, you’re more likely to feel like you invested in your school’s endowment rather than your own future.
It’s even worse when you major in English. In fact, computer science majors make 157 percent more than English majors, so it’s no surprise that humanities majors in general are on a very sharp decline. Kids who would have been humanities majors are putting all their eggs in STEM baskets instead, or just going the blue collar route entirely.
You know what? I resent the safest choice approach to choosing a major. In fact, I couldn’t be happier with my degree.
What my English major did for me.
Travel and work wherever
According to the Harvard Business Review, there are 1.75 billion English speakers. English is still the best language for the business world, which is why most of the other 5 to 6 billion people on our planet really want to learn the language, too.
That’s why countries like South Korea, China and the UAE pay English teachers -- even fresh college grads with no teaching background -- fantastic rates to teach English. Usually, they’ll cover your flight, apartment, medical expenses and even offer a steep tax discount.
I spent my first year after college teaching in South Korea. Not only was it an incredible cultural experience, I had the opportunity to travel extensively. China, Japan and a month-long vacation in Thailand were among the highlights. And due to different standards of living, I was able to do that while saving money.
Teaching and working in another country also opened the door to future business and travel writing opportunities, too.
Take pride in writing
Don’t have any illusions. No one is going to pay you for your college memoirs. However, you can get paid to write as a freelancer. And we’re not just talking pocket change.
High-end freelance writers can make upwards of $250 per hour. Granted, you won’t be able to start out this high, but starting rates of $30, $40 or even $50 per hour are fairly common for freelancers. When it comes to search, content is still king, and businesses need more content than ever before.
We can thank Google for this. Its recent Panda Algorithm scans pages for relevant, well-researched content that plays by its SEO rules. Essentially, Google has created a greater need for better writers, rather than content mills. No complaints here.
If you want to break into this market, my advice is to keep writing. Write for free. Write even if it seems like no one will want to read what your stuff. I authored two weekly blogs -- for free -- over the last five years. They built up my visibility and gave me an online portfolio. More importantly, both blogs eventually scored me jobs writing for larger organizations.
Start your own business
Start a business? Wasn’t that reserved for the kids who actually majored in business? Not at all.
In fact, if you really take a look at the most successful entrepreneurs of the 20th and 21st centuries, you’ll find that very few actually studied business. That’s because doing business is far less about academic knowledge and far more about acquired experience. Skills like analytical reasoning, communication and out-of-the-box thinking propel great business leaders to success.
That might be the reason why more and more CEOs want employees with liberal arts degrees. In today’s dynamic workplace, being able to adapt and problem solve in innovative ways is key to success. And it’s exactly what you’re expected to do as a humanities major in college.
When I started my own writing business in 2015, I had experience writing and marketing, but little to no experience doing sales or managing a business. What I did have was a penchant for adapting quickly, getting excited about off-the-beaten-path ideas and doing a lot of research.
That’s how my business landed clients like Google, Uber, Scholastic and Harry’s in our first year.
This year, I’m working harder than I ever have in my life, but I’m also happier and making more money than I ever have in my life. Not bad for an English major.