English is the study of English language, composition and literature, and its cultural and historical significance. The undergraduate English degree at Johns Hopkins provides a strong foundation in the humanities, including historical surveys of English and American literature, introductory courses in critical method and advanced seminars in specific periods, authors, genres and literary issues. Students are also required to study other courses in the humanities, such as history, philosophy, political science or history of science. The English department is known for its small class sizes beyond the introductory level, and for providing students the opportunity to arrange independent research or reading studies with the consent of a faculty member.
Graduates are extremely marketable to employers due to their mastery of grammar and mechanics of the English language, their ability to speak and write with clarity, precision and style for almost any audience, experience initiating and completing complex projects, and ability intelligently discuss multifaceted ideas. Their analytical and problem-solving abilities are assets in every profession, as well as in graduate study, law or business school.
Additionally, pre-med students often choose English as a secondary major or minor in order to improve their communication, writing and problem-solving skills.
An English degree is applicable to a wide variety of industries, and enables graduates to pursue careers in the field of their choosing. A few of these industries include:
- Media and Publishing
- Advertising, Marketing and Sales
- Corporate Communications
For more information on these industries, visit the Career Center’s industry profile section. Below are a few of the positions held by English graduates within these fields:
- Copy editor – liaison between author, editor and proofreader that reviews manuscripts for grammar and style usage.
- Grant writer – writes and develops grant proposals, including needs assessments and matching product needs with funding.
- Writer/author – develops original written materials for books, magazines, trade journals, online publications, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, motion pictures, and advertisements.
- Editor – conceptualizes, reviews, rewrites and edits the work of writers, in addition to planning and producing written content.
- Advertising, Marketing and Sales
- Copywriter – writes articles, bulletins, sales letters, speeches and marketing and promotional material to promote sales of goods and services.
- Corporate Communications
- Public relations specialist – writes articles for internal publications, writes and distributes press releases and press kits, arranges speaking engagements and pitches client-related material to members of the media.
- Technical writer – writes technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices and operating and maintenance instructions.
- Human resources specialist – creates and executes human resource programs and policies including staffing, compensation, benefits, immigration, employee relations, training and health and safety programs.
- Teacher/professor – teach students in public or private schools, colleges and universities.
- College admissions officer – evaluates freshman and transfer applicants; counsel and advises general public on admission-related issues; assists in production of college and university promotional materials.
- Legal assistant – assists lawyers by researching legal precedent, investigating facts or preparing legal documents.
- Legislative Analyst – performs quantitative and qualitative analysis of information needed by legislators and other government officials.
- Legislative Assistant – meets with lobbyists and constitutions, arranges committee and subcommittee hearings, assists in developing legislation and amendments, and responds to requests for information.
- Lobbyist – distributes information about a particular issue or organization, solicits funds, organizes and recruits volunteers.
- Political party staffer – works to advance the agenda of an elected official or political party by recruiting candidates and volunteers, preparing for conventions and planning fundraisers and publicity events.
- Foreign service officer – analyzes and reports on political and economic developments of foreign countries.
- Intelligence officer – specializes in the gathering, fusion and analysis of information and intelligence.
These positions are just a sampling of the broad range of positions in which English graduates work.
It is important to not that recent graduates who pursue writing as a profession often work on a freelance basis, meaning that rather than being employed as a staff writer by a publication, they independently market their writing to various publications on an independent basis. Most beginning writers start their careers as freelancers before moving on to staff positions at publications.
The versatile and dynamic nature of an English degree qualifies graduates for innumerable types of jobs, but at the same time requires that they explore various industries and career paths as undergrads in order to accumulate specialized experience before graduating. While the skills developed by studying English are invaluable and attractive to employers, it is crucial that students take these skills out of the academic context and use them in a real-world setting through internships and extra curricular activities. Interning or volunteering their skills to an organization within their area of interest allows graduates to enter the job market with both professional experience and writing samples.
Pursuing a double major or minor in another department is also an excellent way to demonstrate specialized knowledge. English majors interested in politics, law or journalism might consider a double major or minor in political science, international relations or history.
Similarly, those interested in business should consider a double major or minor in business. Many English undergraduates attend graduate school to further their studies in English literature, gain Master’s Degrees in Public Policy, International Relations or Education, or enroll in law or business school.
Hopkins English alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2003 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in English
Josh Orenstein- Director of Financial & Business Products, Associated Press English, Class of 1990, M.B.A. Finance, 1995
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Always been passionate about media; at Hopkins & immediately after, I pursued the editorial side; then switched to business side.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - From writer to editor to editorial management to business school to content finance to business development/marketing
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Sports Information Intern at North Carolina State University; yes, a media role
- What advice do you have for current students? - Figure out what gets you excited and get as much experience as you can and meet as many people in that area as you can.
- What is your typical day like? - Reading, meeting, analyzing, writing, presenting
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: The flow of high quality, objective, reliable information to the public is essential to our way of life. Challenging: constant change
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - On the business side -- marketing assistant, finance assistant
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - More nimble, more digital, more personalized -- much more consumer-focused
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry/career field? - Familiarity w/ media, enthusiasm, determination
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Magazine Publishers of America, Direct Marketing Association, and PaidContent.org.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Consulting, research analyst
Amy Flood- Senior Director, Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins University School of Arts & Sciences,
English, Class of 1993
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins?- I pursued a job in advertising or public relations in a healthcare-related field, based on my interest in writing and communications, and in health and science. When I started at Hopkins I intended to go on to medical school, so my current career is quite different than what I intended it to be during my freshman year.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I started my career in a PR agency, worked for a number of years in an agency environment and then moved to a biopharmaceutical company.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job was as an entry level account executive for a PR firm specializing in healthcare. I've stayed in this field.
Just before I graduated I got a list of JHU alumni from the career center who were involved in the fields I was looking at, and just about every person I called took time to talk with me and refer me to other potential employers. That's ultimately how I found my first job. Talk to as many people as you can when you are searching for a job.
- What advice do you have for current students? - My advice is to be open to different opportunities and not focused singularly on one goal -- as you learn more and gain more experiences, different fields may interest you than those you thought would in high school.
I would also participate in as many activities and groups as you have time for -- those experiences will be valuable in whatever career you choose later on. If you have an opportunity to participate in something that involves giving your time and knowledge back to the community (outside of Hopkins), try to take advantage of that. It will be valued later on by potential employers.
Most importantly - have fun! I know too many people that feel like they "wasted" their college years. That's not to say studying and grades aren't important, because they are, but balance is equally important.
- What is your typical day like? - Every day is different. I work in public relations, so we deal with news, developments within our company and industry, and inquiries from the media - and every day is something new. My job is somewhat a 24-hour one. I'm not in the office all day, obviously, but I have to be available if something happens that requires public communication.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - The most rewarding part is that my company develops drugs for diseases like HIV/AIDS, and those medications are making a difference for patients. Communicating about developments that will benefit people suffering from life-threatening diseases is tremendously rewarding.
The most challenging is probably the pace and variety of work. My job doesn't involve one project at a time - it can be fairly chaotic and require a lot of focus and patience.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Entry-level positions in public relations are typically available at PR agencies rather than corporations. These entry-level positions involve project management, typically supporting several different client companies or organizations at one time. The position requires an ability to multi-task, excellent organizational skills and communications skills.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - I think the public relations field will continue to grow, particularly in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector, where communicating with the public is increasingly important. There also has been an increasing focus within communications on corporate social responsibility, and I think this will continue to grow as well.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Skills: strong writing, time and project management, ability to digest information about a wide variety of topics quickly, enjoyment working with people and within teams.
Experience: any position that involves communicating with other audiences, juggling multiple projects, budgets and deadlines at one time.
To thrive in this field you need to be someone who is energetic, a true "people person", a good communicator and smart.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - On the PR agency side of the business, advancement is fairly quick. Within two to five years, someone can expect to be a senior account executive or in a role that requires more hands-on client management. Within 10 years, someone can expect to be a fairly senior member of an agency team, with responsibility for management of other employees. Alternatively, if someone moves to the corporate side of the business, he or she can expect a manager- or director-level role within the communications function of that company.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - The Public Relations Society of America is a good place to start, and it also has a student division. I also recommend that students network. Talk to as many people as you can. Just before I graduated I got a list of JHU alumni from the career center who were involved in the fields I was looking at, and just about every person I called took time to talk with me and refer me to other potential employers. That's ultimately how I found my first job.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Advertising and journalism are worth exploring. Public relations is fairly broad, so if someone is interested in PR for healthcare, for example, any hands on experience in the healthcare arena is helpful (ie, working at a hospital, knowledge of scientific research, fundraising for a non-profit involved in healthcare issues).
Tain P. Tompkins- Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Department of State (Retired), English, 1964, Creative Writing, Class of 1970
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - No. I redirected from writing to international relations, thence to SAIS and Bologna and into the Foreign Service.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I began as an economic officer and worked up through the ranks, mainly overseas, all within the State Dept. structure.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - First job was writing/editing Army Area Handbooks for a contractor. Good, relevant training but not like the Foreign Service.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - A broad, liberal arts education is a vital advantage in almost any field. Facts are not in short supply, they are in oversupply! In everything you read, search for the wisdom in it, the lesson for life. Wisdom about facts is the key to reaching correct judgments.
- What is your typical day like? - As a junior officer, your day is spent collecting facts and impressions from local and government contacts, compiling these into analytical commentaries which judge local trends and probabilities so that Washington accurately appreciates the foreign situation/society/government.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: In the Foreign Service, it is the ability in every country and situation to interact with the best & brightest people in a foreign society. In my day, an American embassy person could always get access to the culturally and intellectually richest strata available.
Challenging: The analysis of foreign situations, societies and policies. The Iraq conflagration would never have occurred, for example, had the hundred most knowledgeable US observers of Arab society been consulted about tribal history and the probabilities of various outcomes.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Consular duty for two years is the typical entry assignment, and it is excellent experience since the job is to discern truth from lies all day. Personal balance and the persistence of courtesy is tested.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Diplomacy cannot but remain forever, but it becomes more technical and less "human-interactive" as Americans are walled up in fortress-like embassies. Farther down this path, diplomacy eventually fails in its function, since a successful diplomacy allows Americans to walk unarmed and unprotected, and in general respected, when abroad.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - A broad liberal arts education emphasizing history, language and international economics. Excellent command of English is needed, and experience overseas is a great help. Sociability and tolerance are vital, as is public speaking ability and "salesmanship."
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Two years: junior officer consular work. Five years, mid-grade officer working in the chosen specialty. Ten years: experienced officer bucking for head-of-section work (running an embassy section overseas or a country desk in the Department).
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - The Peace Corps is perhaps the best experience possible for the Foreign Service. Second would be international banking.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with an English Major go to What can I do with a major in English.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Journalism, Publishing, Public Relations, and Teaching.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.
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The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.
For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.
The international English honor society is Sigma Tau Delta, but it does not maintain a chapter at Johns Hopkins.
However, many professional organizations, unions and guilds exist for writers in the professional world.
The Writer’s Guild of America is perhaps the best-known professional association for writers. Writer’s Guild members are writers of all types, including screenplays and television shows, newspapers and magazines. The guild estimates that 66% of its members work on a freelance basis, while only 33% work under staff contracts. In order to join, professional writers must produce a certain number of paid-writing assignments to qualify. The Guild then works to negotiate and enforce the contracts of its members, and ensure that their creative and legal rights are protected.
Similarly, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is the nation’s leading organization of independent non-fiction writers, comprised of about 1,100 members. The society requires a minimum of six full-length, bylined articles written on a freelance basis from major publications.
Most established writers work with agents who negotiate with publishers on their behalf.