Why Choose to Major in English

What we do in English

In all our English major courses at Bradley, students pursue a few basic tasks:  1) they read complex and challenging texts, 2) they critically analyze those texts, and 3) they negotiate their personal interpretations against those of their classmates, their professors, and the many critics who have written about those same texts over the centuries.

The skills you develop

As you progress through the major—debating alternative interpretations in class and writing out your thoughts—you will develop a set of skills that are critical to success in any business and in any area of government. One of the skills most important to employers is interpersonal communication, particularly the ability to write. At Bradley, you will work on your writing skills every day, not only from the one-on-one feedback you will receive on your papers from all your professors, but also from your reading and from your many hours of challenging discussion.  In the workplace, no employer has the time or the resources to teach writing; English majors bring that skill to the job.

No matter how skilled you become, however, at crafting your prose, your effectiveness as a writer will depend on your ability to relate to people different from you—your ability to put yourself into the shoes of your audience and match your message to their needs.  For that, you will need to develop an ever-growing empathy, another vitally important skill in the professional world. Thus we will ask you to read literature about all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, written by all kinds of people, and we will press you to discuss your ideas with classmates whose values and experiences may be very different.

We will also challenge you to develop a mind that is open to alternative points of view. This, too, is an important skill in all areas of work because creative ideas, innovative ideas, come from those people who are willing and able to look at a situation in new ways. Your work in the classroom is not simply to champion your own views over your classmates, but to listen to others and to weigh and evaluate interpretations critically. That openness to alternative views, the instinct to seek new ways of looking at things, is key to working successfully with others in any professional setting.

The human dimension

The English major has another, less tangible dimension, that is equally important to writing, and that is the matter of culture, of art. Literature is not simply a laboratory for learning how to think critically and how to write. The discipline also teaches us to appreciate what people care about most—concepts of beauty, of truth, of ethics, of religions. You will come away from your English education with a deeper knowledge of those things in human culture that drive writers to create powerful and instructive literature in the first place. There are elements of English that are their own reward.

The creative writing option

At Bradley, you will also have the opportunity to develop your own creative writing, if you have that desire to take a blank page and turn it into a work of art. Without such people, the discipline of English would simply look backwards. Creative writers take the discipline forward every day, and they provide us all with new windows into the human experience.

Our creative writing program has a number of special features. For one thing, the Illinois Poet Laureate is a member of our faculty and teaches poetry workshops every semester. You can also work on your fiction writing and creative non-fiction, and we also offer a course in screenwriting. Our screenwriting course is team-taught on the internet by two Bradley English alumni in Hollywood, one a screenwriter and one a literary agent.

All of our creative writing classes are taught in the “workshop” method, with a maximum class size of fifteen, and therefore as you progress you will come to know your classmates and professors in extraordinary ways; beyond that, you will learn to accept criticism about your own art, and you will learn how to offer sensitive, constructive criticism to others.

The importance of internships

Internships are critically important to moving on after graduation, especially for English majors. If as a senior you want to join the State Department, for instance, you will not be asked for copies of your term papers in Shakespeare or Early American Literature. Employers in business and government need to see that the skills you developed in your major are transferrable to the working world. Knowing this, we long ago developed an internship course in our major, “Practicum in English,” in which students take their research and writing skills into a professional setting and do some practical good.

Over the years, our students have written grants for health and social service agencies, they have worked in industrial global purchasing, they have organized programs for the United Way, and they have created public-service websites. No matter where they work, they keep a daily log of their labors, and they write a series of self-reflective essays on how their workplace draws upon their skills as English majors. They come away from that experience with professional references and a persuasive argument that they can apply the skills they developed as English majors.

Finishing up and moving on

In the fall of your last year, then, you will take our unique Senior Project class, in which you will use all your skills as an English major—research, analysis, writing, interpersonal interviewing—to determine what career path you want to pursue after college, and you will then do everything you can to move toward that goal. Roughly half our English majors go directly into the workforce, in an amazing variety of jobs: financial advising, real estate, the military, insurance, retail management, non-profit management, music promotions, to name only a few.

The rest of our seniors use their energies to research and apply for graduate degree programs. Recent graduates have gone on to programs as diverse as Social Work, Business Administration, Public Administration, Theatre Management, Educational Psychology, Publishing, and International Relations. Other recent graduates have gone on for law degrees at Northwestern, University of Iowa, DePaul, Kent, University of Wyoming, Pepperdine, Southern Illinois University, and University of Indianapolis. Still others have chosen to pursue advanced degrees in literature, creative writing, or composition at the University of Chicago, DePaul, Rutgers, Loyola, Clark, Northern Illinois, and Southern Illinois.