Among the degrees that folks can earn in college, English isn’t generally regarded as an instant ticket to gainful employment as are, say, nursing or electrical engineering degrees.
The Daily Beast ranked English No. 7
in its April 2012 list of the 13 “most useless” college majors, just above philosophy and one rung below journalism. Job opportunities for English majors are expected to grow by 6 percent this decade, according to the site’s findings, but unemployment for recent graduates is at nearly 10 percent.
It all seems pretty grim, but there are some signs of hope out there. This week, Business Insider
offered 16 examples of English majors who not only were great successes, but who changed the very face of the arenas in which they work or worked.
Here’s the crazy part: None of them are authors by profession. Quite a few have written books, but they made their names in other ways. They’re journalists, public officials, business executives, physicians, and entertainers.
picked a few particularly surprising examples from the list:
Yes, the GOP’s 2012 nominee for president, former Massachusetts governor and private equity multimillionaire got his bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University, though he earned law and business degrees from Harvard University later.
The iconic TV journalist got her start in the news business as a publicity assistant to a TV station director, eventually parlaying her writing into on-air reporting. She got her English degree at Sarah Lawrence College.
The late-night talk show host double majored in English literature and history at Harvard.
Bob Woodward. The Washington Post
mainstay who broke open the Watergate scandal with colleague Carl Bernstein didn’t major in journalism. Like O’Brien, Woodward got his bachelor’s degree in English literature and history, though Woodward got his from Yale.
Spielberg was an English major at California State University Long Beach before leaving after three years to become an intern at Universal Studios and start on his path toward film immortality. He actually may not be the best example for this list. When he returned to college in the 1990s, he graduated with a degree in film and electronic arts, not English.
Varmus is the director of the National Cancer Institute and formerly headed the National Institute of Health. He won the 1989 Nobel Prize in medicine, along with J. Michael Bishop, for discovering the cellular origins of cancer-causing genes. He went to medical school at Columbia University, but before that he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at Amherst College and Harvard, respectively.
The former chairwoman and CEO of MTV—who oversaw MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central to great success from 2004 to 2011—got an English degree at Cedar Crest College. She got her start at MTV as a copywriter in 1981.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.