I’ve entered that part of the semester when everything comes crashing down or hits the fan, depending on the colloquialism you prefer. As this semester is my last at TCU, I’m finishing up a 120-page honors thesis that combines research and creative memoir narrative, and on top of that, I have a whole host of projects, papers, and assignments for my other courses. I’ve pretty much been treading water for the past couple weeks, and despite skimming through my PW Daily e-mails every morning, I haven’t really seen any articles or news that has piqued my interest enough to write an entire post on the topic. Plus, I’ve been avoiding the news to an extent lately, because I just can’t take anymore election coverage. My political views aside, I just can’t take anymore analysis of sound bites and nitpicking over semantics or yet another poll.
Instead, today I’m going to talk a little bit about careers with a BA of Writing or any liberal arts degree. I’ve heard over and over, “So what are you going to do with that?” when I mention that my major is Writing. There’s an underlying, snide tone, too, with the subtle hint of, “What an impractical major. Good luck finding a job once you get your degree.” When I started at TCU, I was an art history major. I planned on going to graduate school and eventually becoming a curator or opening my own gallery; I thought this path was practical. After my confusing, inexperienced professor’s confusing teaching led me to change my major to Writing, my then-boyfriend criticized my decision, claiming that I’d never go anywhere with writing, despite writing being my lifelong love and passion. His discouragement and negativity about my major was one of the reasons I left him not much later. And even though the general attitude about liberal arts majors is negative, I refuse to believe that majoring in the liberal arts dooms someone to a life of underemployment or unemployment.
Here’s the thing. I work as a writing associate at the second most selective university in Texas (I’m not bragging here, just pointing out that you have to have a fairly strong application to get in), and I read papers from undergraduate students across the curriculum, from nursing to business to communications to psychology to art history. After a couple semesters and input from my colleagues and professors, I can make a strong claim that a minority of students at TCU can actually write effectively, coherently, and persuasively. The skill of writing well is becoming rarer and rarer on college campuses. Although I do not have a strong theory as to why, the staff at the TCU writing center guesses that about twenty to forty percent of the students at TCU can write well. Let me be clear: I by no means intend to insult the students at TCU, who are on the whole bright, engaged, motivated students who excel in their chosen fields, just not in writing. I hear so often, “I’m so bad at writing; I just can’t do it,” when really the best way to get better at writing is to write. A lot. But how to improve your writing is besides the point.
This paucity of writing skill opens a lot of doors in the career world. Businesses need strong writers who can write technical documents such as white papers or press briefings or even instruction manuals, who can lay out and write a business or marketing plan, who can even write a simple business letter. People have trouble expressing themselves and articulating through the written word; those who have this skill are a commodity. Ada Limon, a poet who spoke at TCU, said she got her foot in the door when she was an assistant and her boss needed her to write a business letter because he couldn’t. Her performance on the letter helped her move up the ladder. So people who major in writing or English aren’t walking into the career world without any marketable skills; indeed, they possess an ability lacking in many college graduates–the ability to write and write well.
I have several career options open to me: trying to break into the publishing industry as a copyeditor or editorial assistant, copywriting or writing promotional materials, editing or writing for a business or firm, and so on. I know how to use language effectively and how to communicate via the written word. I’ve had practice in copyediting, workshopping creatively, tutoring students both online and in person, and managing acquisitions material. That’s a lot of different ways to evaluate writing and to generate content. I try to remain optimistic about my prospects despite the pessimistic reports about the growth of the economy. Somewhere out there is a place who needs my skills. I hope.
So far all you liberal arts majors out there, ignore the naysayers who claim your liberal arts degree is about as useful as a bent spoon. Being able to think critically, analyze and synthesis large amount of information, and write clearly are marketable skills that are absent in much of the business world. And anyway, unless you’re planning to go into academia or an advanced field, a graduate degree is pretty unnecessary, and a liberal arts degree is pretty much one size fits all when applying for a job. Market your writing skills, your thinking abilities, and your range of communication skills.
The value of a liberal arts degree is far more than knowing more than the average person about psychology, philosophy, or anthropology. Many CEOs were not business majors; they were liberal arts majors. Having a degree in business is great, but a liberal arts degree teaches you how to look at the world in a different way. This unique perspective gives a leg up on problem solving and looking at a situation in an original way. I’m currently working on a marketing project about a product we invent as a brand extension, and I’ve found that my training in writing has helped me to think creatively, write snappy and grabbing copy for advertising, and brainstorm. I would posit that problem-solving skills aren’t just in writing majors’ pockets; the whole liberal arts field provides opportunities to hone these abilities.
Hopefully next week I’ll be back with a post about publishing, but I wanted to make a case for the English and Writing majors out there who are looking at graduating within the next year and are planning to enter the job market. Having a liberal arts degree is not a one-way ticket to a life waiting tables, far from it. That degree is a weapon for penetrating the inscrutable, confusing career world with insight and acuity.