What Do You Do With an MA in English?

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If you caught that reference, hello new best friend! If not, go check out the song that’s been stuck in my head (with slightly altered lyrics – see below) ever since I decided to get my Master of Arts in English.

What do you do with a BA MA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four Eight years of college, and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can’t pay the bills yet, ’cause I have no skills yet.
The world is a big scary place.
But somehow I can’t shake
The feeling I might make a difference to the human race.

– What Do You Do With a BA in English? from Avenue Q

A sentiment I’m sure most college grads today can identify with. Right?

But seriously, what do you do with an MA in English? That question has been plaguing me more and more as my graduation from grad school looms closer. Because the truth is, I still have no idea what I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned a lot in grad school thus far. And I actually only have about 1.75 classes left which actually involve learning things (the final two courses are all about my thesis, and we’re not going to talk about that right now because it’s terrifying). But I still feel like I don’t know very much. I still haven’t written a novel or read Vanity Fair. Which is not a good feeling when you’re being thrust into the real world.

Part of the problem is I don’t feel qualified to do any of the things I am actually qualified to do. In nine weeks, I will technically be qualified to teach high school and lower-level college courses. And no matter how many times I read Pride and Prejudice or Beowulf, or how high my grad school GPA is, I seriously doubt I will ever feel ready to do that. I also don’t really want to be a teacher, so I’m kind of looking at that career path as a backup.

I want to be an editor, but also feel like I don’t know enough to actually do it. That said, I probably feel most confident about this option. I’m good at spotting writing talent, and I think I could do well as an editor. But I’m not exactly a big-city person (I lived in Boston for two years, and that was enough for me), and most of the editing jobs in the US are based in New York. I think I’d be miserable living there, even if I liked my job. So that’s out. I’ve been looking at smaller presses elsewhere, but there isn’t much. And practically nothing is in California, which means I’d have to relocate, and I don’t currently have the funds to do that. So I’m stuck.

I want to write, and I know I am capable of being a writer, but for many reasons – most of which I have yet to figure out – I haven’t done it yet (though I have high hopes for the project I’m currently working on). I also know that becoming a successful author is going to take a lot of time/might not ever happen. Which means I need a day job. And while I love my current nanny job, I know it’s not going to last forever, and I need to start a real career soon.

So what do I do with an MA in English?

I ask myself this question almost daily. Do I regret getting my masters? Not one bit. I have learned so much, and I really think it’s given me the tools to be the writer I want to be. I’m also glad I actually got my masters degree, because that’s something that I always said I would do, but that I didn’t feel confident enough to actually do. Accomplishing it is a big deal for me, because my education has always been a significant part of who I am, and (justified or not) I feel like I really proved that.

This week, I applied for my first (part-time) copywriting job. Which, honestly, scares the crap out of me. But it’s a foot in the door. After all, Neil Gaiman started out as a journalist. I can start out writing property descriptions. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for an interview. If anything, I’m hoping it will ease my fear of professional writing assignments.

Let me know in the comments what you’d do with an MA in English (and creative writing)? Would you write? Edit? Teach? Or do something completely different?

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3 thoughts on “What Do You Do With an MA in English?

  1. I’m in a similar position, I graduated at the end of 2015 with a MA in Early modern literature from the same university that I did my BA at – which meant I spent 4 years in a wonderful place with wonderful people on the course. It seems England likes to rush its university students through what they call an MA programme! The year taught me a lot about myself, but also dashed any vague hopes I might have had about continuing in academia onto a PhD. It’s just not financially or personally viable for me because I still lack self-confidence in my own researching skills, to the point that I struggle to come up with a research proposal. So I regrettably had to leave my dreams of becoming a university lecturer behind, since I won’t be doing a PhD in the foreseeable future. For such an academic-minded person as myself, coming to that realisation in the past few months has been hard. I miss it, I miss lectures and seminars, I miss spending hours in the library wrangling with an essay idea.

    Right now I’m working on a reception desk in a university (so I’ve not quite left the environment yet haha) covering someone’s maternity leave, it’s a part-time temporary position but I’m basically trying to earn/save as much money as possible so I would be actually able to travel to/stay in London to do unpaid internships. Publishing is what I think I want to do (but I’m sure every English student says that!) but much like you, all of the UK-based opportunities are located in London and, coming from a small town in the North East of England, it’s costly for me to pursue work experience in publishing houses in the hopes of getting a foot in the door, so to speak.

    I think that uncertainty is what hits most when you graduate – the fact that you could do unpaid internships (wasting any savings you might have to do so) and nothing could come of them. Sure, something might, but you also might head back to your home town at the end of them with nothing more than a pleasant experience. If you even manage to get offered some work experience… I don’t know, I feel like I’m complaining but I’m trying not to. It’s a completely different experience to people who graduate with different degrees, such as those in the medical fields. It’s not a clear-cut, regimented path from study to training to work – and that’s what makes it more than a little scary, at least to me anyway!

    Anyways, that’s what I’m doing with an MA in English Literature (nice Avenue Q reference by the way!), just flailing around with a vague plan and a hope to do… something in publishing at the end of it all. My very geeky dream was to combine my love for Shakespeare with publishing and somehow managed to get involved in a project that combined both, but that just seems a little too perfect of a dream. We’ll see what happens…

    I have my fingers crossed on the copy-writing position, every little bit of editing and writing experience helps – or so they say! 🙂 Chin up, keep going, and have faith you will get to where you want to be in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks you! Glad to hear I’m not the only one – though I’m sorry you’re stuck in this position, too. I’ve always just kind of fallen into the jobs I’ve had, so it’s definitely a challenge to go out and get one. It always reminds me of the “I picked a major I like and now I’m going to live in a box” meme. I completely agree that it’s scary because it’s not a clear cut path.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Honestly, I can relate to this post almost 100%. I did my Master’s in Publishing and Communications kind of hoping I could join the publishing industry, be an editor or something like that, but somewhere along the way that dream kind of fell away because of various things.

    I went to NYC as well last year for a short publishing course with my uni, and also kind of just to see whether it’d be worth uprooting my life in Australia and be in the Big Apple. It turns out I didn’t really like the city, though, and I LOVE my life here.

    Anyway — I used to do part-time copywriting when I was in uni and decided that I didn’t like being told what topics to write, so I moved on from that and am now doing communications instead. Incidentally, it pays much better and is just a LOT easier an industry to get into. How I feel about writing, however, is exactly like what you said: I want to write, but I haven’t done it yet (except for me, it’s out of fear of failure — so I guess you’re doing better than me there!).

    Sorry for this really tangential comment! I just could relate to your post a LOT, and it made me think a little bit and reflect on what I have (and haven’t) done yet… and perhaps where I want to be and what I can do to get there. Thanks for sharing this. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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