English programs focus on literature, language, and writing, and an English major provides the opportunity to encounter a wide array of absorbing works of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction from around the world and throughout history. A few years of analyzing the works of the greatest minds and imaginations that human civilization has produced will almost assuredly sharpen your critical, emotional, creative, and moral faculties. With any luck, a little greatness may rub off on you as well. An English major accords the unique opportunity to engage with different societies, different eras, and, come to think of it, different societies from different eras. It enables you to share the experiences of others, to feel what was felt by people in earlier eras, distant lands, entirely other patterns of life, and to juxtapose those feelings with your own. The study of literature also beautifully and powerfully conveys the enduring questions about the human condition, and – occasionally, if you look especially hard – sheds light on the answers to those questions. With an English degree, you can certainly become a starving author. Or, you can become an affluent one. Just ask Toni Morrison or Amy Tan. You can also become a legendary football coach – like Joe Paterno; a Supreme Court justice – like Clarence Thomas; or a governor – like Mario Cuomo. These and many other people used a degree in English as a springboard to a successful career. A working knowledge of literature is an invaluable component of any liberal arts education. It is tremendous preparation for a future in law (or any professional training that requires interpreting written material), journalism, publishing, graduate studies, and just about anything else.
As you might have guessed, English involves a ton of reading, and then thinking and writing about what you have read. If you think you might major in English, take all the English and writing-intensive courses you can. Advanced Placement classes are especially good because you’ll concentrate more on reading in those classes, and (hopefully) less on things like spelling and grammar, which are more or less taken for granted by English professors in college. If your high school has a limited number of English courses available, don’t worry. Just head over to the library. Getting immersed in the stacks is probably the best possible preparation for an English major, anyway.