Why I Was an English Major

If you know anything about me, you might know I’m not super enthusiastic about the state of higher education. I actually haven’t been a fan for about a decade or so, and yet, all of my whinging hasn’t made much of a difference. I’m not in a position to make those decisions, and make changes-and yet the arguments for what needs to change continues.

It was more than a decade ago that I left college. Which was much later than most of my peers, which had both to do with affordability and being a first generation (in my immediate family, a lot of people don’t know that).

But I finished, walked away with an English degree and honestly so much more than that (including lots of debt). These are some of the things my English degree afforded me.

  • Resentment toward the expensive liberal arts college that tried to gouge me financially.
  • A more than comprehensive knowledge of all American and English Literature pre-(and post)1950 (sigh).
  • Relationships with very interesting people who could do nothing for me networking-wise.
  • How to write creatively, critique, and teach writing.
  • Insider intel into how the collegiate system works and how it is very broken.
  • A stellar GPA that I built from the ground up. (we’re talking 2 whole points in 1 & 1/2 years)

If I look back on my college experience and had to paint you a picture, it would be arduous and difficult.

  • I would have to explain the dumpster fire that was my home and family life just as I started my first year.
  • I would have to explain why I went to 3 different colleges and attempted 3 different degrees
  • I would have to explain why I lived in 3 different states
  • I would have to explain why I was a Communications turned Liberal Arts turned Literature & Writing major with a Sociology minor turned English major who ended up teaching GWE & Women’s Studies and in an Improv Group (actually that part of the story is interesting and I will mostly like tell you more about that at some point).

But for the purposes of this post, I am going to explain why I was an English major.

I settled.

You read that right.

I did what I had to do with the options I was given.

Well, let’s back up. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the English major, but ask around and it would seem (depending on who you ask–this is important!) that it is the dumbest mistake a human being can make.

And at the time it seemed like the smartest. Financially that is. It was what I had to do to ensure I would finish in the shortest amount of time.

Because the reality of college in America is, it’s a lovely time, and you learn a ton (you do, honestly) but you can’t get a real job and go to school full time. And you can’t afford school at all if you don’t have a full time job. AND knowing that these “time management” issues exist for most people, (most) colleges don’t care.

  • They make you take classes certain times of the day and in an order that doesn’t make sense.
  • They punish you for wanting a well-rounded education, i.e. taking a variety of classes.
  • They make certain classes requirements for graduation, but then never make those classes available (?)
  • All the while, they keep taking your money.

I wrote about these issues a long time ago. I thought if enough people complained at the time, something would change. Look how that all turned out.

Anyhow, there was a point in time when I was actually enjoying myself. I was living in San Diego, California and I was going to California State University. I was getting a top notch education as far as state schools were concerned and I was paying practically nothing to go there.

Well, what seems like nothing now.

And the people there had one rule really, they said if you want to do something, just step up and do it. You want to TEACH HERE? There’s a classroom full of students, have at it. You want to help make decisions for the department as a whole, here join this group/ club. You want to read whatever you want and write whatever you want without boundaries? Hey, have at it.

You want to walk away from here with a well-rounded education including having studied basically every artform so you are more than just an English Major?

It was wonderful, but short-lived. If I could do it over, I would have stayed. But it wasn’t possible at the time for me to live so far away from everything I knew. And despite all the people I met and the things I learned, it wasn’t where I grew up and it was lonely.

Before I write you an entire memoir just about this phase of my life…I want to get to the point.

The point is, people put too much pressure on themselves to be a certain kind of person, or have certain credentials so they can do what they love. End of the day, I spent too much time waiting for someone to tell me I was allowed to do something that I was already doing.

I was doing it at 17 years old. If I could do it then, you can do it now.

So pretend you are going to Cal-State-Freewheelin’-U, and I am your professor and I say to you,

You want to be a writer?

Have at it.

2 thoughts on “Why I Was an English Major”

  1. When I went to university, they told me I had a knack for writing and should take literary courses, not sciences (I wanted to be a veterinarian). What can I do with that? I asked. Be a teacher, they said. Nope, not me. I said.
    I quit school and now many, many, many years later I am finally figuring it out.

  2. Brenda, thank you so much for your thoughts.
    I still often wonder how sharing this side of myself might make people think I wasn’t serious because my interests were varied. When I started out I wanted to be a journalist, which required writing skills, researching skills, radio/TV skills (I learned) marketing and PR skills, but all of that stuff I had to teach myself because “colleges” here don’t know how to teach those things, well they didn’t 20 years ago, at least.

    In primary school, learning how to write meant reading old books and taking quizzes to see if I remembered the details (?). I was terrible at that and thought that meant I would be terrible at writing. I am so grateful I had the chance to take a creative writing class in high school that changed me forever, I might have never learned of my potential.
    “Be a teacher”, yeah that’s basically what my next blog post is about. 🙂

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