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Worried Your Kid Wants to be An English Major?

Of all the dreaded teen student revelations – belly piercings, failed classes, regrettable Instagram posts – hearing that your child wants to be an English major in college is pretty high up there in terms of parental dread. After all, between an anemic hiring market (outside of tech) and record-high levels of student loan debt, liberal arts degrees have come under fire. So if your kid doesn’t care about high school math since she wants to be an English major, what should you do?

First, take a deep breath

Even if you’re dead set against a liberal arts degree, and are worried your kid wants to be an English major, an immediate knee-jerk reaction won’t help anyone. Your reasons for wanting a more technical major may be based in logic, so you should be prepared to discuss your child’s field of study calmly and rationally. Be prepared to back up your assertions with numbers and sources.

A liberal arts degree is not automatic unemployment

Sure, STEM and pre-professional fields (education, healthcare, business) have better-than-average employment rates, but according to a 2014 Georgetown study, English majors have comparable employment rates with more “practical” majors like hospitality management, economics and political science. A senior thesis on James Joyce doesn’t necessarily send you straight to the unemployment line.

Moreover, studying the humanities doesn’t just hone your ability to compare Romantic literature and modern film. Your child is learning to quickly synthesize large amounts of information, think critically, recognize patterns, research and communicate effectively. And studying English is hard work – don’t assume that he’d be slacking off just because he isn’t pursuing a STEM degree.

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Talk about a path to employability

If your child is still set on a humanities degree and you’re still worried about it, discuss how you can make him as hirable as possible. No matter what he studies, some quantitative experience can help – Code.org provides free introductory programming classes, for example, and he can brush up on his math skills with a summer course. Computer skills are in high demand, and they don’t necessarily preclude a humanities degree. And if he wants to get into a good liberal arts program, he still needs to successfully complete his high school math requirements!

Finally, tell him to start thinking about his career now. Have him talk to other people in different careers, with various degrees, liberal arts or STEM. It may also be an opportunity to pursue careers he hasn’t previously considered, from education to law. Don’t forget to use your teen’s guidance counselor (if he has one) as a resource!

Focus on happiness, present and future

In the long run, your goal is the same as your child’s – her happiness. And truth be told, financial security plays a big part in that. Translate the typical salary levels for her college and major to quality of life: if she’s making the median amount, will she be able to make a decent living in her dream city? Pay for an apartment while still saving for retirement? Get her master’s without drowning in debt? Money can be a pretty abstract concept for teenage students, so lay it out in concrete terms.

You should also encourage her to talk to English majors who graduated recently. Your kid’s college counselor may be able to connect her to some so she can learn about their career paths and get their advice on their choice of major and its rewards as well as challenges. A true story will resonate more deeply than any statistic.

Do your own research on opportunities for English majors – just for your own peace of mind. Here’s one that shows even tech companies need English majors!

Last but not least, remember that nothing is set in stone: her choice of major may change ten times before graduation, or it may not; she may find a job offer straight out of college, or struggle for a bit; she may even switch careers ten years later. Many English majors have achieved financial success as well as fulfillment in their careers. With your support and his or her hard work, your child will be okay!

Are you an English major? Would you recommend youngsters to follow your path?

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