Kurtis Dunlap is a fifth-year senior at MU. He is an English major who writes about student life as an opinion columnist for The Maneater.
Over the course of my time here at Mizzou, I have been asked “What is your major?” probably four million times. During my first two years, it was pleasant interaction. “Journalism,” I would respond. Nothing unusual; the person wouldn’t think twice about my answer. Now when I tell people that I am an English major, the immediate follow-up question is always “What are you going to do with that?”
“Nothing” is my response. You don’t “do” English; it is a degree that helps me become a more well-rounded person so I can do whatever I want after I graduate. It makes me into the person I want to be, not into what society wants me to be.
Our society has turned into a materialistic one, where everyone is always thinking about what something can do for them. My English degree doesn’t do anything for anyone but me, yet when people hear I am an English major, they instantly think of how it could benefit them someday.
Engineering students could design the next big technological advance or put someone on Mars. Psychology majors could help people get through a tough time in their life or keep a struggling couple from calling it quits. Journalism majors will uncover the truth behind the next big controversy. All these majors and careers serve someone else in a way; English majors concentrate on improving and benefiting the individual, not society.
Choosing to be an English major is not a financial decision. Do I want to graduate and find a high-paying job? Yes. Did I want to choose a major just because of monetary reasons? No. Being an English major allows me to better myself and pick any job I want to do because I want to do it. It is not a means to an end, but a means to better oneself.
I see studying English as an investment in me. I am paying thousands of dollars to attend college, and instead of memorizing formulas or solving arbitrary math equations, I want to invest that time and money into making myself into the best version of myself I can be.
When you ask seniors in high school or freshmen in college why they are choosing to go to college, many respond with “To get a job that pays well.” But usually, right after that is someone who says they want to become a more well-rounded person. There will be plenty of time to worry about money and finding a job later, but wouldn’t you want to go into the job search knowing you are the best version of yourself that you can be? That is what an English degree does.
So the next time you are at a party or a bar, you ask someone what their major is, and they respond with “English,” think twice before you follow up with the condescending question of “What are you going to do with that?” And to all you English majors out there — don’t feel ashamed when someone asks you that. But make sure you don’t answer with “That’s a good question” or deflect it. Simply say, “I’m not going to do anything with it” and walk away. Mic drop.