Why Major in English?

The English department curriculum is seminar-based, from freshman to senior year, with an opportunity for students to work closely with a wide range of faculty in a sustained way over four years while at the same time coming to know fellow students with shared passions.

Our faculty are committed undergraduate teachers and offer personal advising at every stage of your studies. In addition to our courses, every year the department offers an array of public lectures, readings, and symposia.

As an English major, you will take courses that span the historical breadth of literature and culture in Britain, America, and beyond. In your senior year, you will have the opportunity to carve out a personal area of expertise in the form of the Senior Project, an extended research essay that serves as the culmination of your achievements in writing and scholarship at Yale.

And while faculty, graduate students, coursework and department-sponsored events are rich resources for English majors, so are your fellow majors. English majors contribute to and often take the lead in campus publications, readings, and events.  They will challenge and inspire you in the classroom and beyond it.

Here are some reasons our students have chosen to major in English…

To write intelligently, beautifully. Other departments at Yale offer WR courses; in English, training in writing is central and sustained. Whether you write song lyrics or business memos, novels or legal briefs, the writing skills you gain in the English department will take you anywhere you want to go.

To acquire tools that will never lose value. The skills you acquire in college are not just things you know about; they are skills for approaching the world. Many of those skills, like the ability to read analytically and write well, are more and more prized, as the support for reading education has declined while the need for it has increased. Unlike most technical knowledge, the English major’s tools will never be obsolete. More important, the English major’s training goes beyond such marketable skills; to read well is to reflect on values and ends, not just means. The English major’s skill-set is not tied to technology or markets or nations. Its value never depreciates, and lies beyond price. What will you do with yours?

To navigate a world of global English. English literature is produced and consumed around the world. 54% of the worldwide web is in English. No other language comes close (Russian, 6%). Non-Anglophone nations are now offering university classes conducted in English in response to the globalization of our language and the rise of new English-speaking populations around the world. The skills you acquire will put you in a position to thrive in this complex, multinational, transcultural world of English.

To understand the effects of changing media. Although some have claimed that “print is dead,” the book persists. Online, on tablets, smartphones, and e-readers, we read constantly. How is our society changing as a result? What does it mean to read on a screen instead of on a page? This is not the first media revolution in the history of writing; there was literature before there were books, and there were books before print. In courses on the history of the book, on new media, on literature and technology, you will find in our department new ways to understand the dynamism of a written world that has always been in flux. As we find ourselves inundated with media, your ability to read will become all the more essential.

For the serious pleasure of reading. We come to English courses to read with understanding and insight. To learn the satisfactions and surprises of the well-wrought sentence, the ingenious plot, the poetic effect. To range widely across a long history of human meaning-making, encountering the strange and reencountering the familiar. To bring complex perceptions into articulate language.

To explain your world. The challenges of the present lead many to place their faith in technology, science, and economics. Equally important is the ability to articulate values and alternatives, to persuade others to share a common vision. Major tech companies, including Google, actively pursue English majors and others from the humanities who can explain not just how technology works but what it means. Corporations, governments, and NGOs increasingly ask: how do we communicate better? As an English major, you’ll be the one to tell them.

To learn how language shapes the world. The social world consists of discourse. Politics, religion, and philosophy live in language, in the ear, on page and screen. In the forms and histories of writing, we observe the movement of ideas and technologies. Studying narrative, we learn about the experience of time and history. In the writing of the past, we discover both its intimacy and its distance from us. In the writing of the present, we encounter the experiences of others at their most articulate, and most various.

For a degree from a world-class program. For over a hundred years, Yale’s English Department has been at the center of literary study in America and the world. As an English major, you’ll join a community of writers and scholars, faculty, students, and alumni, who continue to shape the study of literature and culture. From Beowulf and Shakespeare to digital media, avant-garde theatre, and political journalism, the English department at Yale will help you understand the role that writing plays in our lives.

Because you want to! Your degree in English will make you valuable to employers and useful to the world. But these benefits are secondary. As with any liberal arts major, the main value of a degree in English is its value for you.