generally regarded as an instant ticket to gainful employment as are,
say, nursing or electrical engineering degrees.
The Daily Beast ranked English No. 7
in its April 2012 list of the 13 “most useless” college majors, just
above philosophy and one rung below journalism. Job opportunities for
English majors are expected to grow by 6 percent this decade, according
to the site’s findings, but unemployment for recent graduates is at
nearly 10 percent.
It all seems pretty grim, but there are some signs of hope out there. This week, Business Insider
offered 16 examples of English majors who not only were great
successes, but who changed the very face of the arenas in which they
work or worked.
Here’s the crazy part: None of them are authors by profession. Quite a
few have written books, but they made their names in other ways. They’re
journalists, public officials, business executives, physicians, and
Ragan.com picked a few particularly surprising examples from the list:
Mitt Romney. Yes, the GOP’s 2012 nominee for president, former
Massachusetts governor and private equity multimillionaire got his
bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University, though he
earned law and business degrees from Harvard University later.
Barbara Walters. The iconic TV journalist got her start in the
news business as a publicity assistant to a TV station director,
eventually parlaying her writing into on-air reporting. She got her
English degree at Sarah Lawrence College.
Conan O’Brien. The late-night talk show host double majored in English literature and history at Harvard.
Bob Woodward. The Washington Post mainstay who broke open
the Watergate scandal with colleague Carl Bernstein didn’t major in
journalism. Like O’Brien, Woodward got his bachelor’s degree in English
literature and history, though Woodward got his from Yale.
Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was an English major at California
State University Long Beach before leaving after three years to become
an intern at Universal Studios and start on his path toward film
immortality. He actually may not be the best example for this list. When
he returned to college in the 1990s, he graduated with a degree in film
and electronic arts, not English.
Harold Varmus. Varmus is the director of the National Cancer
Institute and formerly headed the National Institute of Health. He won
the 1989 Nobel Prize in medicine, along with J. Michael Bishop, for
discovering the cellular origins of cancer-causing genes. He went to
medical school at Columbia University, but before that he earned
bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at Amherst College and
Judy McGrath. The former chairwoman and CEO of MTV—who oversaw
MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central to great success from 2004 to
2011—got an English degree at Cedar Crest College. She got her start at
MTV as a copywriter in 1981.
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