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So you want to go to grad school?
Future grad students of the world unite!
What do you do with an... MA... in English? 
27th-May-2008 04:22 pm
I'm currently an undergraduate double major in Theatre and English, and I know neither of these avenues alone are exactly rolling in job opportunities. The most sensible thing to do would be to go to grad school for Education and teach and direct at a high school right?

Well, what if that doesn't strike my fancy as much as I thought it did at first?

What kind of job opportunities does an MA in English open up, or are there really any at all? Perhaps I'm being selfish and I only want to study what I like without sacrificing some for practicality, but does anyone here know what you can do with an MA in English besides teach or write a book about linguistics in 19th century English literature?

Also, regarding Ivy League admissions, does anyone know which schools care less about foreign language proficiency, or do they generally all want a reading knowledge of at least 1 foreign language? If you have a strong GPA, GRE, and writing sample can you skate by without it?
27th-May-2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
I have a BA in English...and I'm a receptionist in a law firm. I'm also currently in the interview process for a graduate research assistant position.

I'm working on an MA in Literature and am planning to go forward with a Ph.D. Beyond that, I have no idea what I will do in terms of career. I'll probably just end up working in the university, but I really don't know.

As far as I can tell, most schools want proficiency in at least one foreign language. My university (not Ivy League) checks this proficiency through either a test or proof of 12 undergrad credits in a particular language. I find it useful for research to have a proficiency in a couple different languages.
27th-May-2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
Well, you could be a librarian.

Seriously though, I know several people who have ended up with a bachelor's degree in something overdone or random, and gone on to positions outside of their expertise to do great things. I don't know that I'd recommend getting a Master's in English unless you want to teach with it. But you could get a master's in a related field. You could try Journalism (if you enjoy writing), Communications, Human Resources, Business, Management, and/or any combination.

You could also go into writing and editing for national organizations, corporations, or private and non-profit groups.
27th-May-2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
my ex-girlfriend got her ba in Lit, struggled with what to do and is now in grad school for library science. surprisingly, she really likes it.
27th-May-2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
My best friend got her PhD in Victorian Literature from an Ivy League school. She now edits medical texts for a publishing house.
27th-May-2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
True on journalism. My friend now works as an editor for a communication companies' many specialized magazines and newsletters. They were specifically looking for people with English degrees. She loves it, and just got promoted to a higher editor position.
27th-May-2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Regarding Ivy League admissions, I don't think any of them offer a MA in English aside from Columbia so that last question may be a moot point.

What do you hope to get out of graduate school? Honestly, other than opening up the possibility of teaching at a community college, I don't think you'll gain much from a MA in English.

It's tough but there are plenty of people who make it out there in theater. My advice is that you find an office job in a city with vibrant community theater then start volunteering there in the evenings. The office job will give you a taste of career possibilities and the volunteering will get you experience and contacts that can lead to paying theater gigs.
(Deleted comment)
28th-May-2008 12:04 am (UTC)
I definitely never consider those options for someone lacking a career plan.
28th-Oct-2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Actually, ALL ivy league schools offer an MA in English, comparative literature, or an MFA in Creative Writing. Check your facts before posting the first thing that comes to mind.
28th-Oct-2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
I think you're wrong about this but, since I'm busy, I'm only going to link you to one place where you are wrong.

From the Graduate Program Overview at Princeton University: "The graduate program in English is a five-year program leading to the Ph.D. Students may not enroll for the Master of Arts degree."

You're right though, I shouldn't make such broad generalizations. The OP could attend Dartmouth, which definitely offers MAs.
27th-May-2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Your options are pretty much open - a BA or MA in English doesn't train you for most specific jobs, but it makes you more employable all around. The rather intangible skills of critical analysis and research that you pick up as an English major are useful nearly everywhere. If there's a specific job you want, you might find out if there's a specialized training you should get.

Some other thoughts for you are grant writing, publishing, law school, anything corporate, government jobs, corporate training (might need a PhD), program analysis (might need a PhD), research positions, and so forth.
28th-May-2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
I agree with this 100%. My current job doesn't require an MA, but the candidates who come forth with one are instantly more desirable (of course, we evaluate them first! But someone with a higher degree over just a BA is likely to be more qualified). In the two years I've spent between MA and PhD, I've found this to be true in many positions throughout the working world. So while you may not find yourself in the ideal, absolutely perfect omg-job when you graduate, you will find that you're much more employable--a huge advantage, especially these days!
27th-May-2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
I have a BA in English & American literature and I am a developmental editor at a textbook publishing company, which also paid for my MA in history.

There are a lot of things you can do with an English degree, and most of them don't require a grad degree. In fact, I would say that you should get some work experience first before going on, especially if you only want to do an MA in English, since you will still have to start at entry-level (for publishing, as an editorial assistant--it can be hard to break in at a higher level). If you are lucky, you'll find a company who will offer tuition reimbursement for further schooling.
27th-May-2008 11:18 pm (UTC)
I'm getting an MA in history, and I was surprised to find that a lot of people in my program entered it without the intention of eventually getting a PhD (I'm in Canada, where you have to do an MA first and apply for the PhD separately). Several others decided after the first year that they didn't like academia as much as they had thought and decided not to continue on.

I'm interested to see what everyone actually ends up doing, but here are some plans that people have, just for some ideas of what else you might do with a humanities masters:
* Law school - two students who are finishing their thesis now have been accepted to law school in September
* Library/archives (I want to work in a university library and knew I needed an MA as well as an MLS, plus I love history)
* Museum curator (maybe more suitable for history students)
* Government work - this is the big one, since there are apparently a lot of jobs in Ottawa where the main requirement is a graduate degree of some sort. I imagine it would be the same in the American civil service. Only a few people are actually interested in applying their knowledge of history to current politics, most are just interested in bureaucrats' job benefits. :)
* Journalism
* I know one person who wants to teach high school, but there can be problems with earning a master's before getting your teaching certification and job experience.

I should add that none of these can't be done without MAs, but they are not terribly expensive in Canada and my program funds almost everyone, so it's worthwhile for me at least. I don't think I would go $40,000 into debt for most of these jobs, to be honest.
28th-May-2008 03:17 am (UTC)
First of all, I want to say that I like your Avenue Q reference. :)

Second, I think you may be asking approaching this MA the wrong way. I think you should be saying, "I want to be ______, so I need an MA in English." If you don't know exactly what you want to do with an MA, I suggest you take time off from school to get some job experience before you continue your schooling. It'll give you time to decide what you want to do, figure out if an MA is necessary to reach that goal, and keep you from being overeducated but under-experienced when you start applying for jobs (a very common problem).

A BA in English makes you qualified for TONS of jobs, and not just secretarial jobs or teaching jobs. Less than a month after getting my BA in Literature, I was an editor at an entertainment magazine, getting paid to see Radiohead concerts and to say hi to Shaq. Decide what you want to be and then start looking for jobs in that field.
28th-May-2008 03:38 am (UTC)
wow, see, that's what i've secretly always wanted to do but i guess i always figured that journalism was the way to go for that. and theatre was always my first love so i settled on english for my double because it just seemed a better-suited pair. how did you land that editing job, and what magazine was it for?

also, to all: thanks for the comments and the advice. i still have two years of undergrad and i wasn't planning on starting grad school right away so i still have plenty of time to decide, so i figured putting a shot in the dark question out to an LJ community was a fairly safe and non-committal way to start looking for what i want to do after undergrad.
28th-May-2008 04:08 am (UTC)
To get a job like that, it's all about who you know. The summer after my second year of college, I landed an internship at a record label here in LA. I worked a lot with the publicist, who knew everyone worth knowing and more. She liked me a lot and helped me get an internship at a local magazine the following summer, then the editorial job later on.

Of course, I couldn't have gotten that job without experience in the field. During my undergrad years, I co-founded and edited a school newspaper, and I interviewed a few bands.

Here are two things that I learned from all of that journalism experience, though:
1) Do what you love. If theater is your passion, work in theater. If you try to do something that you don't enjoy simply because it's "practical," you will be unhappy doing it.
2) Don't overlook a job simply because it's not exactly what you wanted to do. If it gets your foot in the door, you can use the opportunity to make the connections you need to get that job you DO want.
28th-May-2008 11:30 am (UTC)
If you want to end up in journalism, your extracurriculars are far more important than your major. You are better off having a great portfolio of articles written for your school's paper or arts magazine than a journalism major without those things. The above poster is right, it's also about contacts. Good luck!
28th-May-2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
HA, it took me a minute to get the Avenue Q reference, but once you mentioned it I heard the song in my head :D :D
28th-May-2008 08:03 pm (UTC)
I got it as soon as I saw the subject line and it made me smile. My brother took me to see the musical last year for my birthday. We almost died laughing. :D
28th-May-2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
I wanted to see when it came to Atlanta, but alas! I missed it. I'll definitely catch it next time it's in New York :D
28th-May-2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
First, if you want to teach, I would suggest getting an MAT rather than a simple MA because then you will also earn your initial certification. Unless of course you are getting certified now.

I'm not sure about the MA in English opportunities (personally I've always wondered myself) but I know at my school (Columbia) they just require you to have proficiency in one language besides English by the end of your MA program, enough so that you can accurately translate a page of text (literary prose) in two hours with a dictionary.

It doesn't matter what language it is as long as it's relevant to your degree program -- they of course have French, German, and Spanish but also list Arabic, Hindi, Zulu, Welsh, and Irish. Depends on what you're studying, I guess.

(Why yes, I do spend my spare time reading about the other graduate programs at my new school :D)

Top English programs
29th-May-2008 03:42 am (UTC)
Is there a reason that you're going for an MA rather than a ph.d? Both degrees will open (as well as close) certain types of jobs. Do you have a job preference in mind? as a general rule, you'll need a ph.d to teach in a 4-year university, though the MA degree is usually sufficient for community college, and certain for high school (though you may need other teaching credentials). If you're hoping to continue down an academic path as a career, you will almost definitely need the ph.d. (That said, do keep in mind that placement rates are scary even at "top" programs--which might or might not be ivys for your field)

Secondly (please forgive the harshness here), but do think through your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school for English, regardless of whether you're going for an MA or a ph.d. I think the majority opinion (possibly even the consensus) among graduate-bound English students is that the job market is oversaturated, and quite frankly, rather terrifying. Getting a ph.d in English is a financially imprudent decision. It's incredibly hard to get in (English is arguably the most competitive program, and it's even worse on the other side, when you're looking for a job). If you absolutely love your field, and you would be willing to go through 7 years of poverty (NO ONE goes to grad school for the money) for a chance--and no more than a chance--at being able to study and to research your topic of choice, then graduate school might be a good reason. If you're undecided or ambivalent, or facing that "what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life" question that all of us deal with...English graduate school might not be for you.

As for Ivy League admissions: why an ivy? Are there specific professors that you are dying to study with in those programs, or are you considering them largely because of the name recognition? While the ivy's obviously offer good programs, they are not necessarily the best for your specific field. You're better off picking a program that is the best fit for you, than simply going by name.

You can't "skate by" anywhere. Students who with ivy league dipolmas, with sky-high GRE scores and GPA are often rejected from EVERY PROGRAM that they apply to. The writing sample (and the SoP) are what will get you in or keep you out...and the bar is indeed quite high.

Language proficiency is a nice plus, but most programs will not require it of their candidates (though most will absolutely require at least one language before letting you progress to your dissertation)...unless, of course, you're applying for comp lit programs as well.

Edited at 2008-05-29 03:46 am (UTC)
5th-Aug-2008 04:22 am (UTC) - MA in English
My boyfriend and I have a lot of acquaintances who are graduate English students. We joke that they just get their MA's in Literature so they can sit at coffee houses and/or poetry/fiction readings and just revel in having an MA in Literature. (It's seriously all they seem to do). Mind you, I'm an English major so I have nothing against English or MA's in English; we just know so many who have no desire to do anything other than have their MA in English. I'm planning to attend grad school too; part of me wants to do an MA in English (but not just to bum around; I am in a teaching certification program also), but mostly likely I'll do an MA in English Education. It's not pure literature; it's more about teaching English/reading/language arts. I think English literature classes are extremely interesting -- and would continue to be so at the grad school level -- but I've resigned myself to the very wonderful idea that I can read great books forever (on my own) -- and I do. For grad school, I want to take English in at least a slightly practical direction....
27th-Sep-2008 11:46 am (UTC) - for what it's worth...
I started out my undergraduate career in something that I loved. I pursued a certain career and got a degree; actually two degrees that matched up perfectly with that career. When I graduated with my shiny new degrees and entered the real world, I found that the jobs weren't readily available the way my Alma Mater had promised. I found myself in a sales position (I would rather do anything than sales) and I slipped into a serious depression. After a year or so of working for a terrible company, I couldn't take it anymore. So I joined the military. Now, I had several reasons for doing this but one of the reasons was getting job training in a new area so that I could do something else.
I had grown to resent my undergraduate education.
Anyhow, long story short, I did time in the service, learned a new job skill (logistics), got out and earned a few certificates that were logistics related, then went on to graduate school to get myself a shiny M.S. to wave around in my fancy new career. It worked. I got a couple of promotions, I made more money, I started getting several calls from headhunters (I still get those calls actually) and I found that I was absolutely miserable.
I was always an English/Lit person. I love writing and always felt that I had something of a talent for it. Not in the "I'll write the next great American novel" talent. But a talent to get my point across in a somewhat eloquent manner.
Anyhow, the point is I'm in a career that I hate and derive no satisfaction from. So in January 2009, I'm headed off to grad school once again. Except this time, I'm pursuing a MA in English.
I'm not doing it so that I can get a certain job. I don't even have a job in mind. I'll likely do some teaching in community college or maybe I'll try to finagle my way into a journalism job. I'm not sure and I'm not worried about it.
I've decided to trust in the old adage of, "do what you love and the money will follow."
I'm already shopping for the sports coat with the elbow patches... :-)
Good luck to you.
1st-Oct-2008 12:24 am (UTC) - Master' and broke
I am just about to finish my Master's degree in English, with a Professional Writing emphasis. I graduated with a B.A. in the same, and I am finding it extremely difficult to find the type of job I thought I wanted. Actually, I was never sure exactly what field I wanted to go into, but I loved writing and thought a B.A. in English would get me into something like journalism or communications. I did internships in both fields and discovered I did not like either one. I went on to get my Master's but not because I had a plan in mind for it, it was honestly pressure from others. People including family and family friends hounded me about a Master's being absolutely necessary in the job market, and saying I would be so glad I had it someday. Well, I am praying that day will come once I finish. I know that I need to find a field and get serious about it, and try to make this degree work. But I absolutely agree with the above comments - this is not something you want to do if you are undecided about a career or your plans for after graduation. It is also not something you want to be pressured into doing. Take some real time to evaluate where your life and career is headed. I only wish I had gone with my instincts and done the same two years ago.
4th-Nov-2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
Maybe teaching, copywriting, journalism, and libriary field are all great graduate opportunities for someone with an English degree.
4th-Nov-2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
Maybe teaching, copywriting, journalism, and libriary field are all great graduate opportunities for someone with an English degree.
8th-Feb-2010 01:43 am (UTC) - what to do woth an English degeree
God almighty. life is fun. We know what people are doing wrong. the girls are cheap but not free. If you are worried about finding a job as an author, you are in the wrong field. get used to it. writers don't make money. if that is what you want go somewhereelse.
17th-May-2010 10:34 pm (UTC) - Value of MA in English
First off, don't get into an MA Program right out of College. Work at least a year to gain some life experience. I've discovered that many of my classmates rush into an MA Program because THEY DON"T WANT TO WORK and it gives them another 2 to 3 years to goof off. You're on the path to becoming a Professional Student if you get all worried and paranoid about not being on a campus.

An MA in English is practically worthless IF you attend a school that let you in with less than a B average. They just want your $. You'll be lucky to get a single class to teach at a university once you get out, and that won't pay the rent. Still, if you have a trust/rich parents, this may be exactly what you desire.
6th-Jul-2010 01:17 pm (UTC) - what to do...that is the question
I'm currently finishing up my Bachelors in English,Literary Analysis. Taking a year off to move and gain residency someplace and work experience (outside of waitressing) I'm hoping to get my MA if not my PHD in English. To teach English lit. classes is my desired direction, but it is intimidating, yet so is everything worthwhile I suppose. Good luck to all of you, I've found your tips and advice helpful.
7th-Aug-2010 11:13 am (UTC) - I need help for M.A. English studies
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i want 2 do M.A. English and need some helping tips about the syllabus of Punjab University Lahore.
i also need a nice friend who can help me by S.M.S...
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16th-Sep-2010 03:43 am (UTC)
wow. i was excited about completing my m.a.in english language in dec of this year but now that i've read these comments i feel rather dumb. thanks guys. no money? no jobs for us? dang!
3rd-Dec-2010 09:07 am (UTC) - do some another course
Only MA in English is not enough to get good job opportunity, You should do some another course, so that it will be easier for you to try to get job.

English Speaking Course Mumbai
10th-Jan-2011 04:46 am (UTC) - Soon to be MA Lit Graduate
As a freshman, I swore I would never be an English major! So, how in the world I came to be a graduate student in English, only God knows! I have to say that I have really enjoyed my MA. I came into the program because I wanted to complete the master's requirement for my permanent teaching certificate. I've thought of it as doing something I enjoy, even if it doesn't land me the dream teaching job. I do know that the MA has more value than my BA in English, because it opens doors to a whole lot of other jobs out there. I do have an undergrad major in education as well, which I think helps add value to my skill set.
16th-Feb-2011 08:21 pm (UTC) - Re: Soon to be MA Lit Graduate
Supporting yourself may be a problem once you get out, especially if saddled with student loans. Still, I think you could get a full time job teaching high school or elementary school english, provided you get that cert. Don't expect to make more that 45K/year or so however, and that's if you're lucky.
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