As someone with not one, but two English degrees, I’ve come to dread the ever popular question: “So, do you want to teach?”
I dislike this question not because teaching is undesirable, but because the question itself is so limiting. Scholars of the humanities have the capacity to succeed in a broad range of fields, not least of which is the nonprofit sector. As an English major who works for a nonprofit, here’s why I feel particularly suited to a career in the social services:
1. English majors are deeply interested in people.
English programs emphasize the study of human nature, culture, and relationships. They attract students fascinated by people’s struggles, and students who want deeply to make the world a better place.
2. English majors know how to communicate.
I know, I know, you’ve heard this before. However, the importance of communication cannot be overstated, especially in a field largely dependent on the quality of grant proposals. Asking for money demands a thorough understanding of both persuasive writing and one’s audience.
3. Project design, management, and evaluation call for creative thinking.
English majors are not afraid to ask, “Why?” We live to question our assumptions, and we are not satisfied with carrying on without change simply because “this is how it has always been done.”
4. Program management requires thoughtful research and analysis.
English majors understand the importance of thorough research, reliable sources, and exhaustive analysis. Just as surface readings of literature overlook a text’s meaning, a program can’t be evaluated without a thorough understanding of its goals, methods, and outcomes.
5. Social services need to produce qualitative, as well as quantitative, results.
Nonprofit work is about far more than serving x number of people in y months. The best projects involve follow-up services, evaluations based on clients’ feedback, and difficult-to-count benefits like improvements in quality of life. English majors understand the importance of looking beyond the numbers.