Anna McCollough (above, with Elorm Atisu ’11) graduated from Whitworth in 2008 with degrees in English (writing emphasis) and Spanish. She earned her Master of Science in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Baylor University in 2011. As an Assistant Director of Admissions, Anna loves sharing Whitworth’s mind and heart mission with prospective students and families, traveling, and rediscovering Spokane. She recently sent this post to the Whitworth English Blog:
I am an Admissions Counselor at Whitworth, providing frequent interaction with prospective students and their families as they go through their college search. When they learn that I am an alumnus, the most frequent follow-up question is, “What was your major?” I enthusiastically say that I studied English. Occasionally, a more probing parent will continue in a skeptical tone, “So how have you used your English major?”
We live in a culture that is growing more critical of the value of both the humanities and the liberal arts education. It is a misperception that English majors only read novels and poetry, and therefore live in an alternate reality of pages and stanzas. While the probing parental question might come across as intimidating, I welcome the opportunity to dialogue about the inherent value of the humanities and my student experience at Whitworth.
The choice of the word “use” in the question implies that the value of a college degree lies in its practicality. To answer in that respect, I consistently use my English degree in practical ways. The critical thinking and reading skills I learned transferred to my graduate work. I learned to connect ideas across the texts and develop my own insights, not to mention expressing those thoughts through copious essays. In my current job, I read hundreds of application essays to gauge a sense of college readiness, as well as coordinate and evaluate the essay component of our scholarship competitions. So yes, I do use my English major. But education is not purely utilitarian.
I think another important question to ask is how studying English shaped me. Not all of the benefits of education can be quantified into a set of numbers and statistics. Through my experiences in the English department, I discovered the power of language and how the words we use shape our understanding of our selves and others. The conversations in and outside of the classroom caused me to reflect and analyze my beliefs and worldview. I learned to think critically about the messages I receive, both explicit and implied. My studies instilled the belief that learning does not stop when you step outside of the classroom, and they nurtured an ethos of life-long learning. To answer the question again, I not only use my education as an English major, but I live it.