An Open Letter: “So what are you going to do with your major?”


By |  Cheryl Marcelo, Associate Editor and TUPAC Member

Throughout my years as an undergraduate student, I was often asked the question: “So what are you going to do with your English major?” The question itself was never a problem; it was the often condescending tone of the query that always left me with feelings of bitterness and resentment. Of course, I’d always answer with as much composure as I could muster, but in my mind, I am responding to that question with an unamused tone and words filled with choice expletives.

Often times, English majors get pigeonholed into a monolithic image of the overly sensitive bookworm detached from or unaware of society’s realities. We were the theater geeks in high school who got excited at the thought of analyzing Shakespeare. The literature we read only serves the purpose of personal entertainment and has no substantial contribution to the progress of the world’s economy. We will forever be contained in the box that is English literature and whatever limited careers can be produced from it.

In reality, English majors, along with the other underestimated fields in Liberal Arts, are as diverse as the kinds of jobs available in today’s burgeoning industries. We are not all English professors or librarians, and even if we were, both professions deserve as much respect as those who go into science- and business-related occupations. We are chameleons who can work well in any environment–from educational institutions and government agencies to hospitals and Fortune 500 companies. Just ask former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Nobel Laureate and former Director of the National Health Institute Harold Varmus, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or any other successful previous English graduate.


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Temple University Philippine American Council (TUPAC)

In a modern world that heavily relies on the importance of number-crunching and data analysis to sustain the economy, it’s too easy to forget the importance of humanity and how humans have a symbiotic relationship with the world we live in. The movement of industrialization and economy came from the need to accommodate a growing human population, so does it not make sense to keep in mind humanity in each action we take, in whichever sector we operate in? English majors, along with other Liberal Arts majors, produce knowledge, critical reasoning and questions from texts of the past and present–words of philosophy, history, ethics, anthropology, sociology, etc.–to improve the conditions we live in, so that we can keep enjoying the freedoms and liberties we take part in now.

As Dr. Jose Rizal wrote, “To foretell the destiny of a nation, it is necessary to open the book that tells of her past.” Hot topics today, such as the passing of abortion clinics in Texas, and racial profiling in the Trayvon Martin case, that question the very idea of humanity and freedom would not have such impact without the trials and successes of revolutionaries of histories past. As protesters of the Travyon Martin case march the streets of the United States carrying pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., calling for racial justice in the court room, we are reminded of the significance of our history and the progress we have made. These important moments are imprinted not only in the souls of those fighting similar battles today, but also in the canonical texts that fill the intellectual library of Liberal Arts majors.

I hope this letter reaches both English and non-English majors. To those who are, be proud of your major and take comfort in the fact that you can and will be as successful as anyone who is motivated and takes action to succeed; to those who aren’t, take caution the next time you feel the urge to ask the question, “What are you going to do with your major?” You might just end up eating your own words.



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