The English major is comprised of a very broad course load, making it a broad subject in the Humanities and Fine Arts field. During my time as an English major, I have obtained an array of distinct skill sets ranging from writing to reading skills. The variety of my skill sets, for better or worse, offers several different career paths, making choosing one difficult. However, because I set goals for myself upon declaring the major, my confidence has grown each time I reached one of those bench marks. Now that I have reached the end of my tenure as a University of Massachusetts English major, I think it is important to look back and reflect on the strengths I have obtained from the major, weaknesses I still need to work on, and what worked well when achieving the goals I had set for myself at the very beginning.
Like with any task that lies ahead, it is often beneficial to set small, reachable goals to gage progress. When I arrived here as a freshmen, I entered college as a declared journalism major. My main goals were to develop better writing skills and engage with audiences through the work I produced. The only issue was that being nosy is in a journalists nature, and I just didn’t have the drive to dig for dirt. I wanted to create my own stories rather than meddle in other peoples’ business and try to relay stories that already existed. So, after one semester, I switched to English.
I entered the English major with slightly different goals in mind. Rather than focus on one single medium of writing like the content one might find in news articles, I wanted to spend my time increasing both reading and writing skills across several different mediums. I felt that English as a major would give me the knowledge to properly read materials, break them down, and write analytical papers in response. I also wanted to obtain a creative writing certificate because of my natural ability to think outside of the box. Obtaining the certificate was my main goal as an English major because the pathway it put me on asked me to think outside of the box to create works of poetry and prose. English 355 gave me the opportunity to draft ideas, develop characters and plot, and cohesively organize those things into a complete short story. I wanted to then parlay these creative skills into the exciting world of blogging, which eventually led me to begin writing satire for the online magazine, The Blacksheep. Lastly, I wanted to reach new levels of empathy for the human condition through reading realistic fiction stories like Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. The goals I set and the successes derived from those goals granted me a valuable skill set that I will have for the rest of my professional career.
During my time as an English major and, in particular, a creative writing student, I gained several strengths that separate me from non-English major job candidates. The concentration, which consisted of 5 courses rooted in either prose writing or poetry, enabled me to explore new ideas in a very welcoming and engaging environment. These classes were most often comprised of a small group of other English majors looking to acquire similar skills. Because the classes were workshop based, students would critique each other’s work by engaging in a group discussion meant to point out highlights, criticisms, and suggestions from peers for subsequent revisions. While these courses allowed me to hone my writing ability in an open setting, the atmosphere of these courses provided me with an impeccable listening ability as well. It was my job as a critic to provide my own insight based on the responses I heard from my peers and the content I read.
In addition to gaining creative thinking skills and skills involving group interaction, I have learned valuable techniques to assist me with the close reading of articles, documents, and prose. English courses will often require several books be read during a semester, and each one of them is studied carefully to ensure students understand both its content and its context. Close-reading is one of those skills. I learned that it can be valuable to take a short passage from a book or a play and break it down line by line. Shakespeare’s work taught me this lesson more than anything else. As a whole, his plays can sometimes be easy to get lost in. Paragraph by paragraph, it is easier to see what direction the plot is going and who is speaking to whom. Dissecting paragraphs line by line can be a great tool when reading difficult works, which we often did within the major. I think close reading is a valuable asset for any career, because it allows one to think before acting on presumptions.
While close reading turned out to be one of my strengths, it was originally one of my weaknesses. English 200 with Professor Gallo was made up of solely close reading papers. The papers were expected to be short, concise and to the point. But I couldn’t do it. I received Ds and Cs on three papers in a row, which were letters I had never seen before on any assignment, ever. Rather than receive a failing grade in a required course, I decided it would be best to meet with the teacher. Following an abysmal first month of a semester, I started writing my weekly papers and bringing them into Professor Gallo’s office for help. He worked with me the entire semester to shorten by syntax and close read the way English majors were expected to. If it weren’t for him and his constant help, I may have switched majors again and failed at being a close reader.
In addition to close reading and writing, we almost always finished books that were assigned in their entirety. The literature we read often included some elements of the human experience. Reading from the perspective of someone under colonial oppression in a Post-Colonial Studies course, just to name an example, opened my eyes to the struggles and plight people from all over the world are forced to deal with. I can confidently say that the compassion I gained during my time in the major has turned me into a much more well-rounded individual who cares about the circumstances of his peers and strangers alike.
While my major choice has allowed me to improve my writing, listening, and communication skills, it has also forced me to neglect some skills as well. Every major is a specific focus on a certain set of skills used to reach success within the given field so, naturally, other skills not necessary or taught within the field often get left by the wayside and forgotten. For instance, as previously mentioned English has given me very valuable communication skills that STEM majors might not get in their course loads. However, their circumstances may have allowed them to focus on other skill sets that I don’t have, such as office computer skills. Granted, that is the nature of both majors and I am aware that I bring other things to the table.
My journey within the English major has been an up and down journey filled with triumphs and failures, strengths and weaknesses, and learning and growing. I feel that the work I have done within the course load has helped mold me into a serviceable job candidate with exceptional oral and written communication skills. The major has provided me a new perspective on the human experience as well; not everybody has it so good. If taking the time to reflect on my experience as an English student has taught me anything, it is that switching out of a major that I hated into something I loved was the best decision I could have made for myself.