You love words, so you’ve decided to follow your heart and take on that liberal arts degree, but you’re having trouble deciding between a major in English and one in Creative Writing. You don’t really want to do both – a double major sounds like too much – and you’re still partly afraid that your friends are right when they joke about spending the rest of your life asking “Would you like cream and sugar in that?”
The question to really ask, more than what major to pursue, is what you want to get out of it, or do with it, in the long run. What skills are you looking to learn? What kind of reading gets you going?
If what you loved about your high school English classes was the opportunity to read the classics, then English is probably more your pace. The English major is designed to look critically at “Literature with a capital L,” as one of my professors describes it. Your classes will involve close reading, craft analysis, and a lot of critical thinking about works written by men who are probably long-dead.
But what about after college? In the professional world, Milton and Shakespeare might not seem particularly applicable, but the skills you learn from studying them will be. Aside from the more obvious benefits of being able to compose a coherent email, you will be able to effectively communicate thoughts and connect with people.
According to an article by Business Insider, Logitech CEO Bracken Darren likes hiring English majors because “these soft skills come from personal aptitudes and attitudes that are often attained after years of studying the liberal arts…. There’s a thoughtfulness about culture that isn’t emphasized in majors outside literature and the arts.”
If you find yourself more interested in constructing your own work, your home is probably in the Creative Writing department. Your classes will involve reading more recent work within a genre. Milton and Shakespeare are all well and good, and you’ll certainly take your fair share of Lit courses, but they won’t be enough to make you shine in today’s tough market if you’re actually trying to make it as a writer. What classical writers have “always done” and what defines Literature isn’t always what people are doing today.
Professionally speaking, your options will be more specific, and from some perspectives, limited. If you’re looking to write for a living, or are interested in the publishing business, then Creative Writing will look just as good on a résumé as English, but employers outside of the field might respect it less. How does being able to construct a solid narrative or stick to a rhyme scheme make you the right person for the job? This major will teach you critical thinking as well, but it will nurture your creative side even more, and urge you to explore new styles.
No matter which major you choose, it’s hardly an either-or decision. If you choose Creative Writing, most schools will require several English classes; in an English major, you can use your electives to explore Creative Writing and its possibilities.
by Sierra Offutt