I majored in English (Literature, Creative Writing) and minored in Global Studies (Governance & Conflict, Cultures, Economics & Markets), and since college I’ve taken steps to transition from the humanities to business. Not that I entirely left the humanities– I still engage in reading books and profound existential questions as much as the token English major– but I wanted to use the skills I’ve gained in a more practical way.
Contrary to what most believe about English majors, we’re not just dreamers with our heads in the clouds, anachronistic for a bygone era when Shakespeare constructed lyrics and Dickens transformed the format of a story. If the curriculum were only about reading and writing, I could’ve as well took my tuition and fees and rented a cabin somewhere quiet and inspiring.
As English majors, we were required to write 10-page essays for every English class, twice, one for the midterm and the final (not to mention short assignments in between). This requires a substantial amount of planning, breaking down parts of each essay into manageable form: Week 1 is about reading passages and thinking about essay topics, Week 2 is about outlining and considering sources to consult, Week 3, Day 1 is for the introduction and developing a thesis, Week 3, Day 2 is about writing the first 3 pages, and so forth. Writing an essay is about project management. We would consider the resources we have (time, computer, books, library locations), the timeline of the project (4 weeks, 10 weeks), the teams we have (lectures, brainstorm sessions, TA classes). It is also about time-priority management, since we usually have other English classes and other non-English, major-related ones.
Critical thinking skills
The English major, especially in a research institution like UCLA, develops critical thinking skills through a variety of ways. In the classroom, professors guide discussions instead of merely giving out information, letting students discuss and debate a particular idea or course of action that a character took. Past discussing the setting, diction, character list, conclusion (those are the easier parts), we are trained to think about what isn’t written or evident. What was the motivation of the writer? What will it mean if the narrator can’t be trusted to tell the story? The context? The subtext? What conclusions can be drawn from the story components? This is particularly useful in designing an approach to a problem, synthesizing information and forming new conclusions. The business world involves dealing with data, drawing insights, then creating a presentable recommendation to convince an audience of a particular method of action.
Interest in society
The English major is an interdisciplinary major, and it involves reviewing historical events, portraits of people and their motives, and examining societal conventions and subcultures. It helps develop an interest in the human psyche, in the relationship of individuals and peoples, keen examination of society, as well as connecting with others in a humanistic way.
One thing that your major develops is not merely your knowledge of the subject content, but also your ability to structure your thoughts and come up with approaches. If argument A = B, and argument B = C, can it be said that argument A = C? Main points must support the thesis, and conclusions must answer the topic assignment itself. This type of skill helps in structuring an argument, creating a presentation, and simply, to express a point supported by facts that that makes logical sense.
As a supplement to the more rigid structure of, say, logic arguments and writing an essay, conceptual thinking is an important skills that English majors develop. While we have the ability to handle structure, we don’t require them. We are able to wade through uncertainty and connect even divergent concepts together. We are able to reason and provide strong, credible support for our points, because we’ve practiced doing so over and over– it’s ingrained in us.
Creative thinking is a skill that is hard to come by. It requires you to envision things that may not be evidently logical at first, but can serve as a reasonable idea to pursue when other paths are not possible. Thinking outside of the box requires creativity, and most of the time, this is the kind of approach that lends itself well to the business world– there is an ideal solution when there’s an abundance of time and resources, but that never really happens in reality, so in order to accomplish tasks, it requires exploring new ideas and alternative solutions.