What do you do with a BA in English?

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I’ve just come back from University, where I was invited to be part of the panel of speakers for a debate organised by Desa, entitled ‘What do you do with a BA in English?’ It was a great initiative, held as part of Desa’s ‘Creativity FTW’ campaign, which also included writing workshops and a book sale which ends tomorrow.

It’s really wonderful to see students in the English course are still so passionate about the degree and the opportunities it opens up, and who are so keen to become a part of the working world. They all have so much to offer and I sincerely wish them all the best.

It’s also good to be given the opportunity to reflect on my university experience and to look back on what I have achieved thanks to the course.

One of the most frustrating parts of my BA English was that when I used to tell people what I was studying, their answer, invariably, would be, ‘Oh, so you want to be a teacher.’

Which is great if you want to be a teacher but I knew from several unhappy summers spent teaching EFL that teaching was definitely not for me. This scared me while I was at uni: had I chosen the wrong course? Would I have been better off opting for something like medicine or law?

If you had asked me then, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, my answer would have been: ‘I don’t know’.

But that’s the beauty of an English degree – it allows you that answer. Not because it is useless, but because it is such a versatile degree that the opportunities open to you are plenty, and definitely varied. People who graduated in my year have gone on to do so many different things. Of course there are a few who did become teachers and who love that, but others went on to work in media, PR, publishing, recruitment, finance and a plethora of other fields.

Although a BA in English may not guarantee you a specific job in the way medicine does, for example, it does equip you with a highly valuable set of skills which are vital in the working world. As an English graduate you not only have a superior command of the language but you also have other qualities. You are committed to your projects, you can work in a team, you are motivated, you work well under pressure, you have a liberal mindset, you can communicate efficiently, you are able to empathise with people, you are creative, you can closely read a text and you have good research skills, among other things.

Increasingly, employers are looking for people who possess these skills. They are willing to take us on and train us as they know we are versatile and we are fast learners.

These skills also translate well when applied to entrepreneurship – if you are thinking of starting your own business, it is of utmost importance that you can communicate well and that you are disciplined.

These tools which you obtain from the English degree are things which nobody can take away from you and which you can build on once you find your niche, whether that is marketing, writing, sales, or anything else.

So what do you do with a BA in English? Anything, really – just as long as you are resourceful and hone these skills, then you are good to go. A BA in English doesn’t set a path in stone for you in the way vocational degrees do; with a BA in English you can make your own path and I don’t know about you, but that definitely sounds good to me.

4 Comments
  • Sharon Attard
    April 13, 2011

    Well said, Dav! I often have the same problem when I tell people that I’m studying Anthropology – they presume that all that it offers is a future in Education and academia. The truth is that the opportunities are endless, provided that you’re creative and resourceful :)

  • mau
    April 13, 2011

    I agree with you on all counts. My degree was even more ‘useless’ than yours. I had to drop English after two years to do my Honours in Classics and people still ask me what possessed me to choose those subjects. I don’t regret anything from my past, least of all having studied what I did. It’s a pity most people still believe law or medicine (or the dreaded teaching) are the only way to go.

  • Rachel
    April 13, 2011

    In my case, the answer to ‘what are you going to do with your degree?’ is ‘Hang it next to the other one and start a collection’.

  • Colette
    April 14, 2011

    I agree with what you said, people don’t need to stick with very direct university degrees to be successful. However I do have to admit that if you take a degree in marketing (as an example) as opposed to a BA in a language you might have a better grasp in Marketing than someone with a language degree. So in that case employers might opt for these people instead.

    I come from a BSC IT course which also didn’t direct us to one specific job. It was very open to what we will do later on in life and looking at many ex-course mates I see so many different career paths. What’s scary though is that many of them left Malta soon after they finished the course.

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