Five Bad Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English

I have a feeling some people are not going to like this post. Think of it as tough love. Let me start by saying it’s not my objective to discourage everyone from going to graduate school or from pursuing a dream of earning a master’s degree in English. Not at all. All I want to do is share my experience in an effort to convince you to think before you apply. On that note, here are:

Snow Storm

Five Bad Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English

1. You Love Books and Reading

The number one reason not to get a master’s degree in English is sadly the most popular reason people choose to do it. Look, I love books and reading, too. In fact, that is one of the primary reasons I went to graduate school, which is exactly why I’m qualified to discourage you from it. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a good reason to spend years of your life broke and mentally exhausted. You do not have to pay for the privilege of studying literature. Start a book club, join Goodreads, dive into the major criticism databases like MLA and JSTOR. These are all things you can do to cultivate your love of reading. Right now. For free.

“But I won’t get to study with knowledgeable professors who can mentor me.” True. I don’t deny that, but my point is that this alone is not a good enough reason to pursue a master’s degree in English. Besides, it’s possible to engage with experts outside of academia. Many experts maintain blogs and Twitter accounts. If you are truly passionate and you possess a voracious appetite for knowledge, you can get people’s attention. Besides, a true student of literature will only get out what he or she puts in anyway, whether a physical classroom is involved or not.

2. You Want to Be a Professor

If you’ve done any research about the prospect of professor jobs, this one should be pretty obvious. If you haven’t done any research, stop reading right now and do some. You might start with the Adjunct Project, where you will find thousands of reasons why your hopes of getting a job as a college professor are grim. In my last post, I mentioned that my plan was to take my master’s degree in English and teach at a community college. Ten years ago, that might have been an option. Now, it is not.

The job market is such that community college teaching positions are now getting hundreds of applicants who hold PhD’s. A master’s degree in English will put you towards the bottom of the stack. Your best hope is an adjunct teaching position where you will have no job security from semester to semester, have no health insurance, and you will probably make somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 a year teaching full-time.

3. You Want to Be a Writer/Editor

I’ll admit this one is not so cut and dry. Will you become a better writer in an English graduate program? Absolutely. No doubt about it. The question, though, is will you become a Writer in an English graduate program? The answer is probably not. Anyone can write—especially someone with a master’s degree in English. But not many can get paid to write. That’s the distinction. The prospect of becoming a successful writer is even less likely than the prospect of becoming a college professor. Millions of people want it; only a few thousand will get it.

As for editing . . .what would you say is the most common fallback career aspiration for hopeful writers (besides teaching)? If you answered editing, pat yourself on the back. Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of editing positions out there, but they generally go to people who have trained to be editors. They’ve done internships and they know people. It’s not likely that you’ll land an editing job just because you have a master’s degree in English. If this is truly your dream job, make sure you network a lot and find a grad school that offers internship opportunities.

The best way to become a writer is to become a writer. Practice. Start a blog and hone your skills; find your voice. Here again, you can be a writer (even a successful one) without an MA.

4. The Job Market is Bad, So You Are Going To Wait It Out

News Flash: The job market for humanities degrees has never been great and probably never will be. Two or three more years isn’t going to change that. On the other end of your master’s, you will just have two less years of actual work experience, which is what actually gets you the job. You have to start somewhere, somehow. If you don’t have a clear objective in your graduate studies, you’re really just biding your time.

5. You Just Finished a Bachelor’s Degree And You Aren’t Sure What Else To Do

Really? Is this a joke? It’s amazing how many people in my master’s program gave this as a response for why they were there. Graduate school is not the best place to screw around and figure it out. Go live in another country, teach abroad, stay at home and work on a novel, whatever. But don’t spend years in a program without any direction, blowing your money and squandering your creativity just because you “don’t know what else to do.”

I’m convinced these are some of the major reasons the job market is flooded with humanities degrees right now, which has created the climate out of which rampant adjunct exploitation has grown. Too many people continued down a path because no one shook them and said: What are you thinking? What do you want? What’s your plan? Check out Karen Kelsky’s blog The Professor Is In for more on this topic.

Just to be clear, I am not one of those people who always thinks you need to have a plan. In fact, I generally hate those people. All I’m saying is a master’s degree in English (or in any humanities field) is not something you should do without a very good reason. You will probably end up two years later in the exact same boat, only this time with a bunch of debt and two less years of real work experience. In my next post, I’ll explore some of the good reasons to get a master’s degree in English (there actually are a couple). Check back soon or subscribe to my blog to make sure you don’t miss it.

See Also: 

Five Good Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English

Why Did I Get a Master’s Degree in English?

62 thoughts on “Five Bad Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English

  1. erinlizzie

    Hey Josh – First of all, I’m sorry I missed your message on Twitter the other day! How was DC?

    Second, I’m relieved to find that I don’t really fit into these categories, although I did declare English as a major in undergrad so that I could go to law school, and that has yet to happen.

    As an adjunct, I can add to reason number three by saying that in Virginia at least, you must hold a Master’s degree plus a minimum of 18 additional credits to even apply for a full time position at a community college (I teach at one). This of course leaves the rest of us running around the city from one school to another, spending most of our income on commuting and Starbucks. I have been fortunate enough to teach online occasionally – a nice option as I can work from home and eliminate the commute. Unfortunately, while there is a growing number of online options, as an adjunct, those classes are not guaranteed from one semester to the next either!


    1. Josh Boldt

      Ah, your law school plan is nice foreshadowing for my next post. 😉

      I’ve never heard the MA+18 requirement. That’s even more evidence that teaching with a master’s is not an option, unless one is planning to go on to a PhD.

      Regarding my trip, maybe I’ll catch you next time.

  2. Elisa Nuckle

    I was going to get a masters because of numbers 1, 2, and 5, haha. And reading this makes me realize how silly my attitude is. Fortunately, I’m still in undergrad school, so I’m trying to figure all this stuff out. Ideally, I’d like to be a writer and do well, but the odds of that are slim. I don’t know, jobs are confusing.

    1. Josh Boldt


      Just to reiterate my preface to this post, it’s definitely not my intention to discourage everyone from going to graduate school. There is no question that I am a better writer, researcher, thinker, and person as a result of my graduate studies. All I want to do is put the advice out there I wish I had gotten before I began. Namely, an MA in English does not automatically set you up for a job. I had it in my head that I would walk right into a CC teaching job after graduation. Part of that was naivete and part of it was just not having access to the resources I needed to make an informed decision.

      I think the important thing to keep in mind is if you decide to go for a master’s degree, make sure you know exactly why you are doing it, and while you’re working on it, be conscious of the decisions you make and how those decisions might prepare you to maximize your time and money. In other words, know your end goal and work towards it, rather than just kind of coasting through the MA and then getting surprised at the end when you realize you still can’t get a job. That’s pretty much what happened to me and I wanted to share it as a cautionary tale. Whatever you decide, feel free to keep in touch.


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  4. Crystal Brothers

    Where were you a few years ago when I started my master’s program??? Oh yeah, you were there too :). I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.

    I have to say that I wasn’t entirely in this category…I was also in the category 5 from the “good reasons” list, because I’m a stay-at-home mom, and that’s what I plan to be for a good long while.

    However, I could have avoided lots of debt had I avoided my unnecessary graduate school…but debt is a whole other topic.

    Live and learn, right?

    1. Josh Boldt

      Live and learn, indeed. I probably wouldn’t have listened either, but I think I might have been a little more active about planning my post-grad school strategy. I could have done more to maximize the value of my degree if I had been more proactive while I was working on it.

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  6. A.M.B.

    Great advice, especially #2. I see academia from the perspective of Title VII and Title IX suits. It’s a horrible place to be if you want to teach. Universities are large corporations run by business people, not academics. They do not care about exploiting professors and are happy to get rid of tenure and benefits.

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    I have one semester left until I obtain my Master’s Degree in English Lit.
    I have 4 years of work experience in addition to this degree (and my BA) that SHOULD be helpful . . .
    I am a graduate assistant, love the teaching and the students, but never planned on going on for my PhD (being forced to “critically” write and compete for tenure and become a cranky, disenchanted and negative grump about younger generations and life [gross generalization, but you know what I mean]-not for me).
    I would love something more stable than an adjunct position (didn’t do my research before going back to school and am very surprised about how different academia is only five little years since I was last a student!) and all of my publishing/literary agency queries aren’t going very well.
    I love reading and books [sigh at your reason #1].
    I am 28.
    I am freaking out.
    But thank you for this blog! It’s nice to know we’re not alone!
    Love the whole blog, actually, and I’m glad to have stumbled across it . . . even if reading this entry gave me a slight panic attack :)


    1. Josh Boldt Post author

      Thanks! Glad I could offer a brief respite from the freakout.
      I’m sure you’ll be fine–it sounds like you are putting a lot of thought into the search process, which is more than most people are willing to do. Good luck and let us know if you land a good job. I’m sure my other readers would be happy to hear a success story.

  10. Jacob

    Josh that is exactly why I did not pursue my MA in English or any humanities. What I did was take a year off and struggle to find a job where I was happy and content and I did not find that at all. I hold two degrees English and Mexican American Studies. I evaluated my life goals what did I want to accomplish, where did my life goals lead? All of these questions I researched just like I would normally have done for a paper and it led me to discover that there was a great program graduate program for me. This program is a masters in public administration. It holds the same credibility of an MBA but it focuses in on a social good for the community and world rather than a capitalist agenda. I applied and got accepted and I am happy, no ecstatic in knowing that this is going to grow my career and give me the growth that I have been looking for. Great article.

  11. JamR

    I wish I had read this before I completed my English MA. It was wasted time that could have been spent getting some work experience or pursuing a useful vocational qualification. I’m 28 with very little work experience, competing for low income jobs with people who never graduated from High School. What now!?

    1. Josh Boldt Post author


      That’s exactly the same situation I was in, except I was 31. I’ve been applying to all kinds of different jobs for the past two years. Not much luck yet. Thankfully, I found a decent adjunct teaching job in Georgia, so I moved. Adjuncting is a short term fix though, of course.

      One thing I can say is, since writing this piece, I’ve come to terms more with my master’s degree. When I first graduated, I resented it and was angry with myself. I don’t feel that way as much anymore. But I still wish I had gotten involved in an internship of some kind earlier in life. As you pointed out, competing for entry-level positions in my mid-thirties is pretty disheartening.

      Two things I’ve learned that might be worth something. One is the strong connections you can make volunteering. Maybe look into that, even if it’s just a couple hours a week. And second, over these past two years I’ve been trying to write cover letters and design my r

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  13. Dc

    I’m finishing a BA in English right now, and I have to say I have not a clue what use it will be to me. People tell me a degree does not go to waste, and maybe it doesn’t, but I don’t know what direct influence it will have on my career path. For teaching and many other jobs it is useful, but I did it without knowing what I should do. It just seemed better than doing nothing. Silly, I know.

    1. Josh Boldt Post author


      For what it’s worth, I felt exactly as you do when I finished my BA and I even felt it again when I finished my MA. I can say though with complete certainty that you have gained more valuable life skills from your English degree than most of your peers in other majors.

      The trouble is learning how to translate those skills to the rest of the world. As English majors, we aren’t trained to “sell ourselves” to the working world (nor do we generally want to). We kind of get tossed out there and have to learn it ourselves.

      But your skills as a writer and communicator are extremely valuable as long as you recognize it, have confidence in yourself, and are willing to do a little self-promotion.

      We take a little longer to get around to it, but if/when we come into our own, English majors have the potential to be successful in almost any field.

  14. greg

    So an ma in literature is useless and worthless? That’s good to know I guess, except I really like that stuff. I like learning, maybe not so much trying to force a book through my head for every Thursday, but getting info about different cultures. Actually, if I think about it, the best classes I had were nothing to do with english: postmodernism, early greek and roman tragedy, one class where I got to read iliad, odyssey, aenid–which wasn’t an english class. Actually, most of my english major peers, as well as creative writing peers were a bunch of boners who didn’t care. Actually, now that I recall, I despised most literature professors and treasured my writing rhetoric profs, loved my film class, and outside of stuff like st augustine (book about the history of early england) and beowulf, was dead bored in a sea of desperation when it came to my regular english classes.
    I think if I could, id go to school all over again just to continue my education, learning about random stuff that interests me. I just worked for a year in a dead end job as a legal bitch, doing what was mostly glorified data entry. Perhaps I think the real world is depressing, and if there’s any way out, id welcome it. Perhaps I always figured myself a bit of a poet and that avenue was stalled where I went to college. Perhaps english is something I figure myself good enough at to continue, as if there were something there, some talent which I’m grasping at.
    But hey, I’m sure it’s just hours and hours of those horrible classes like literature for women, and a total waste of my money. Suppose I thought it would be cool to know more about keats and stuff, never had no class on no keats be’fo’.


    I was considering a masters in liberal studies but u make it all sound so worthless if it isn’t STEM studies.

    1. josh_boldt

      That’s actually not what I mean to say. In fact, I don’t think I even mentioned STEM in the post. I wonder if you might be projecting some anxiety on to my message? It would certainly be a natural response to the uncertainty about graduate studies, so I don’t blame you at all.

      What I’m attempting to argue is that you shouldn’t enter a graduate program without at least a loose plan. Know the job market for your intended degree. Know how much debt you will take on. Know how to maximize your time and money.

      Especially with a degree like liberal studies (very generalized) you should know exactly why the degree will be beneficial to you. If the benefit is simply that you’ll learn a lot and be engaged, that’s fine as long as you are prepared to deal with the consequences of that decision.

      Good luck in your process.

    1. josh_boldt

      Don’t give up hope, Rach. If you plan your English degree intentionally, it can be very rewarding.

  16. jda016

    Thank you for this blog. It has been very helpful to me in figuring out what path I should take.

    I plan to teach high school and I found out that a Masters in English will actually allow me to teach dual-credit classes. I was told by my neighbor (she is a principal) that this allows me to be paid as a teacher and as an adjunct professor. I hope this is true!

  17. Celia

    I pursued my Master’s degree in English right after graduating and it was the smartest thing I ever did. After interning at a high school and realizing how I was not passionate about teaching at that level (or the curriculum, for that matter), I decided I really wanted to teach community college. To do this they do not care if you have a teaching license. What they care about is if you have a Master’s in English and some higher level education experience. I was provided both of these things in graduate school, making it extremely easy to work as an adjunct for a few years until eventually I became a lecturer at a university with benefits and a much better salary. To say that it is not an option to work at a community college and then work your way up is false, there’s nothing more to it. I have done it, numerous friends of mine have done it, and if it is what you want to do don’t let anybody discourage you or get in your way. If you work hard enough, absolutely anything is possible.

      1. Celia

        Thank you. This article is so negative and disheartening. Even if my goal is to eventually become a professor by getting my PhD, a master’s serves as a gateway to do so (and makes it much easier to get into a PhD program). Getting a master’s in English is what you make of it. I had friends who got their master’s in English and were picked easily for different sorts of writing jobs and easily worked their way up at those jobs. From experience, having a master’s in English looks better than just having an undergrad degree in English pretty much across the board. This article makes a master’s in English sound like a waste of time and I disagree.

        1. josh_boldt

          I think you may have misinterpreted the message here. My point is only that you should not undertake a master’s degree in English without a good plan. It can be a great degree if you know why you’re doing it, but it can also be a huge waste of time and money if you don’t.

          Trust me. I’ve been through this process and so have many of my friends and colleagues. We’re all still making minimum wage and now we have loads of student debt. I’m trying now to retroactively cultivate the relationships and connections that I should have been working on during my degree so I can salvage those two years of my life and turn the degree into a success.

          I wish I had read an article like this one before pursuing the degree. That’s all I’m saying. But then, I’m sure I would feel just as you do now–thinking that it’s bad advice and that I’ll be one of the lucky ones. I do hope you are. Your chances will hopefully increase now that you understand the importance of proper planning. Good luck.

  18. Khalid Saeed

    What appears to me from your posts is that, one should only accept what he has. That is what i did understand from your honorable advice, bad and good reasons of getting MA. If one is a secondary school student, he has to finish it and never think to pursue his college study because his goals might be unknown. The bad reasons you have honorably stated goes in line with those good ones. If someone does not have plans for the future, he will not succeed. You hate plans, and people of plans, but frankly i am frustrated to the highest point one might encounter as a result of facing a plight, because i am a student who dreams of getting high studies. It is my first year in a college of arts and i want to persue my life with english literature and prepare MA. However, according to the bad and the good reasons i find it impossible to continue and get MA because where i live and the college where i study has no respect for good students who want to specialize in E.Lit , and i can not become an editor or an english writer as the word means also right now i do not have a job in which i want to improve myself for promotion or sort of that stuff. I am from Yemen my questions are:
    is it possible for me as a student who lives in a country that its educational plans and affairs especially towards english and its domains appears to be very weak?
    I want to specialize in E.LIT and get Ma certificate, therefore Is it difficult for me to achieve this dream as a student live in the previous explained conditions?
    Thank you very much to all of you.

  19. Asma

    I live in Amman – Jordan and the situation is the same!
    I’m stuck with my masters and I can’t find a good stable job. Phd is a must and yet I can’t afford it right now!

  20. Jas

    Well, I really enjoyed this post after trawling the web for answers to my question ‘Should I finish my english degree?’.

    I don’t find it disheartening at all! I think most students of humanities are aware of the broadness of the degree they’re studying. It’s not vocational unless you’re aiming specifically to teach at the end of it, which goes back to the idea of having a plan for where your expensive degree will lead you.

    I’m contemplating the law school thing or another vocational degree such as librarianship or nursing, versus completing my english degree with a lead-in to teaching. I went through a lot of cynicism about where a degree in literature would get me, and a feeling that it was a rather self indulgent and expensive way to feed my interest in writing. My sisters have two degrees each, accompanied by around $40000 each in student debt.

    I’m in Australia, went straight to uni after high school to major in literature …might mention I spent my twenties romancing the band scene as a singer so by the time I got back to my degree after putting a lot of effort into music I was in my late 20’s. I also became a manager of a bookshop and put my degree on hold a second time as I was sick of being a broke student/muso.
    Now, after almost 14 years in the book world I’m thinking I should protect myself for the future as the book industry is suffering and our store is for sale.

    One reason I used as validation for placing my degree on hold the first time was the fact that without a degree I was already employed in a position most english grads would love to have – managing an independent bookstore, fantastic! – and I knew that my love of literature and arts in itself is not enough to find and keep a job like mine. I also know that if you want to be a writer then university is a help but isn’t a necessary bedrock or launchpad for the profession. To be a writer you need to write! And everyday if possible. University is great for finding mentors and building your interest while putting yourself through the rigours of deadlines and competition for grades.

    So, do I finish the degree with the hope of doing honors then a phd and teach? Or do I start a new degree, with a vocational bent, accrue the debt and hope it pays off later??? Decisions decisions! Part of me wants to buy a bookshop and stay in the industry, start a little publishing house…I guess I’m just a romantic! And that’s the root of the problem for most people on this post I imagine :-)

    1. josh_boldt

      Sounds like you’ve lived an awesome life so far, Jas. I did some self-exploration for most of my twenties as well. Nothing wrong with that.

      I’m sure your life experience will lead you to the best decision for you. The only thing I might mention is that I personally wouldn’t borrow another penny for school. Any further education I get will be paid for one dollar at a time. I’m done with debt.

      The bookshop sounds sweet. Let me know when you get it up and running and I’ll buy a book.

    1. josh_boldt

      Much better prospects for teaching in a high school. If you have the personality to be a high school teacher, you should be good to go. You might want to try subbing for a while just to be sure that career is for you. Some people love it, some hate it.

      Also, check to see what credentials your state requires. Some states want a master’s in education, rather than a subject matter master’s.

      1. Pink Snail

        Oh I see, glad to hear it.

        I’ll definitely look into the state requirements more. Thanks so much for the help, Josh!

  21. Ben

    Does the assessment change depending on which school is attended? Would getting a master’s in English from a top ranked school make it significantly easier to get a job as a community college professor for example? Pedigree matters with these places, I’m not saying its right.

  22. Elle

    I’m in college right now, and I am just starting my second semester as a Freshman. I’m an English major because nothing else makes me happy. I despise Science and Math…even though I can pass the classes with A’s. Histories and anything about the government makes me fall asleep. I adore English, and I want to be an English teacher so I can be immersed in the subject for a long time. I love it all from reading to writing to grammar exercises. I adore grading papers, and I love a teaching environment. My plan *was* to get a Bachelor’s in English, then a Master’s, and finally a PhD so I could teach English, but now, after reading these posts, I’m really doubting my decisions…I don’t want to barely get by each passing month, but there is really nothing else I can imagine doing and being happy. I feel rather stuck.

    1. josh_boldt


      One thing you have going for you is the fact that you’ve already begun to research your future. That puts you way ahead of the game.

      I have to tell you, though, that the outlook for college professors is very bleak. The profession is dying quickly. As of now, about 70 percent of professors work as adjuncts, making barely above minimum wage. The job market is so flooded with people who want to teach that the vast majority of people who earn even the PhD will not get a job.

      Colleges are being rapidly defunded and students are going into more and more debt. It’s putting the entire American university system into a precarious position. Pursuing a career in college teaching is one of the riskiest professional moves someone can make right now.

      If you do continue on this path, make sure to attend the best schools you can and also be careful to incur as little debt as possible (preferably none). And only consider graduate programs that offer you full funding during your study.

      You’re just starting out on your path, so things could change dramatically in the next four years as you finish your bachelor’s. Continue to pay attention and do your research, and you should come out okay, regardless of the career you settle on. Good luck!

  23. Kimberly Casey

    If I went through a master’s program and then on to a phd, and along the way I take all the available teaching opportunities and also proactively wrote articles for publication in journals starting as soon as possible, and on a regular basis, would that be enough to get into some kind of adjunct professorship that could eventually be worked up to full time? It’s not just that I want to teach or that I “like reading books” in a general way–I like literary analysis that is too intellectual and in-depth for any book club I’ve been able to find. My experience with book clubs is that they barely scratch the surface of anything, and when I try to engage in the kind of discussion that interests me, people just look at me with a look that is something between blank and frightened. I miss the kind of intellectual discussion that I think I am only likely to find in an academic environment. I have my BA in English, and I feel like I stopped just when it was getting interesting. Reading journals on my own is just not the same thing as having a community of scholars to discuss things with, and being an accepted part of that community.

    1. josh_boldt

      I sympathize with your situation, Kimberly. So I’m going to be honest with you.

      Here are a few things to consider:

      1. Getting an adjunct job isn’t all that difficult. However, you can’t make a living as an adjunct, so you’ll definitely want to have another career that will fund your passion. Adjuncts are notoriously underpaid workers. Have a look at the Adjunct Project for more information on that topic (http//

      2. Adjunct life is almost never a stepping stone to a full-time job. Colleges don’t hire from their adjunct pool. Sad, but true.

      2. Getting a journal article published is incredibly difficult and rare. If you could publish one a year, you would be rocking it.

      3. Teaching as an adjunct will likely not provide you with the intellectual stimulation you are looking for. You will probably be teaching the same low-level freshman courses every semester and you will not be included in the intellectual exchange of your full-time departmental colleagues.

      I could never, in good conscience, recommend that someone attempt to become a professor anymore. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s just not a good career path and it’s getting worse.

      You would get that intellectual discussion you seek in grad school. I loved that about my master’s program. Just be careful to use your time in grad school to prepare for a career (if that is your desired outcome), because a master’s in English doesn’t open any doors to a job in and of itself.

      It can still be a great degree, though, if you plan ahead and use your time wisely. Good luck.

  24. Tynisha

    Wish I saw this 2 years ago. I’m in sales now and desperate to get a job in the teaching atmosphere. I have tons of work experience and a masters in English and can’t even land an internship. Very disappointing.

  25. Anonymous

    Never go into a field you are not passionate about. I decided to change my major from Chemistry to English because everyone including the teachers said it would be good for me. I’ve never been so miserable thanks to it. My grades remained the same, but after college I have had no purpose. My childhood dream was to become a chemist. Now, there is no hope. I cannot even get a job for 15,000 per year working full time. If I had been a chemist, even if poor, I would have been happy. Go with your dreams. If English is it, I wish the best for you, If it is not, do not fall into the same mistake I did.

  26. Nathan the Paul

    After having read this post (as well as the ones before and after it, as well as some of the comments), and after the initial shock of #2 on this list, I think I see where you’re coming from and how this info can help me.

    I want to be a professor because (I imagine) that position would allow me to research, write on, and teach what I love, which is literature and literary criticism and theory (this job description is held in suspension of judgment until I find out from actual professors what it’s actually like).

    Celia’s comment below was especially heartening. Like you said in your reply, your main caution is against going into an MA program without a good plan, not against getting one at all. I’ve also gained some good questions to ask, such as: does this program offer a built-in assistanceships or professionally-oriented internships? How can I make a graduate school want me badly enough that they’ll subsidize my education with them?

    In short, your content and the comments on it have been good preparation, and thank you.

    (How I arrived at this blog: I’ve started bumbling about Bing results trying to find out “how much is a master’s degree in English,” and what should come to the top of the page but this blog post. Apparently you’ve been a very popular writer on this topic).

    1. Josh Boldt

      Thanks, Nathan. It’s hard to believe this post I wrote over two years ago is still getting so many readers. I’m happy to hear it has helped you a little. Sounds like you have a good plan and you’re doing the proper research.

  27. Tara

    I wish I had read something like this 8 years ago. Fellow Master’s of English degree holder here, getting paid $20k/year teaching as an adjunct at two colleges. Yes, you read that number right. I was a naive undergrad, funded by wealthy parents, assuming that if I followed my passion all would be okay. Oh how I regret not pursuing something….ANYTHING else. Three years post graduation, I am unable to survive independently and the outlook for professors gets bleaker. In fact, in my short three years teaching, I’ve seen the ONLY two full-time English faculty profs laid off. All adjunct nows. This is my sob story. I hope it deters some youngsters out there who are thinking of choosing this path blindly. Run, don’t walk.

    1. Josh Boldt

      I know the feeling, Tara. I finally decided last May that I was no longer going to keep adjuncting and participating in that exploitative system. I’m definitely worried about how I will keep paying my bills, but I’m forcing myself to figure something else out because I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.

        1. Josh Boldt

          Well, I left the adjunct job last May. I haven’t had any luck finding another job yet, so I’ve been treading water by piecing together a freelance lifestyle. On any given day I might be writing, editing, building websites, or dealing in vintage furniture that I find on Craigslist or in antique malls.

          I also recently started getting involved with mobile app design. Just launched my first app which uses GPS to display the location of food trucks. We have several trucks in Lexington, KY. The app is doing pretty well so far, and the hope is to spread it to other cities soon. Here it is, if you’re curious:


          But to answer your question, my new path is yet to be determined. Trying several different things and hoping one catches on.

  28. Arnold

    This must be one of the most depressing and negative articles I’ve read about this kind of thing. I’m not sure why I keep doing it to myself. All the points you raise are of course relevant, but I just think its a damming indictment of the view of education that people must have for this kind of article to be written. Studying literature, with like minded people and within an environment that nurtures academic and personal development is an excellent thing to do, irrespective of whether, after you have completed the allotted period of time, some kind soul grants you entry to some fabled promise land.

  29. Isabel Van

    I’m a first year student in British Columbia, Canada, who is thinking of pursuing BA in English. I have not declared my major yet.
    I am so cautious against declaring major in any Humanities-related study field, since I am very afraid that this will lead me to becoming jobless. My school as co-op, so people say that your chance in getting a job will increase with it, but I cannot help doubting them. Would the money be worth it?
    English is my passion, but I cannot choose this because of the shaky future that come with it. Any advice that you can give me?

    1. Josh Boldt

      The thing about an English degree is it doesn’t really prepare you specifically for any career track. That’s why a lot of us graduate and then wonder what to do next. If you spend your time wisely while earning the degree, it can work out pretty well. Be sure to get an internship or work part-time jobs in the field while you’re studying.

      Working for a non-profit is a good place to do that–even if you’re just volunteering once a week to maintain their website or to help write a newsletter. That builds your resume and it’s also how you make the connections that will turn into jobs later. Do not underestimate the importance of making connections. Very important. More important than the degree you earn even.

      Another option might be to double major, so you can get the best of both worlds.

  30. Sarah

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this article when I did. I’m a senior English major wondering what to do with my life upon graduation. I naively thought that if I pursued my passion for literature then everything else would fall into place, and with my parents funding my entire college education, I had no reason to question this logic. Now that graduation is on the horizon, I’m beginning to wish I majored in something that would give me more job opportunities, and I have even considered getting a MA because I can’t figure out what else to do. While looking up Masters programs for English, I stumbled upon this. Although I believe a MA can be beneficial to those who pursue it, I’m beginning to think that it isn’t the option for me. Thank you so much for not sugar-coating the reality of a Master’s of English and for giving me a truthful perspective on the subject.

    1. Josh Boldt

      I’m glad the article helped, Sarah. Wish I had read one like it when I was an undergrad. An MA in English is not a good idea for people who don’t have a plan–unless you have a disposable income and lots of free time. Four years later and I still haven’t found a job that makes use of my degree and pays a living wage.

  31. Kay

    I know I’m a little late but I really wanted to chime in for the longest. A B.A. in English is not comparable to a Master of Arts. The introductory courses you take in your undergraduate career do not allow you to hone your skills as a writer, compared to the M.A.
    I’m not sure if many also know that one of the routes to teacher certification is a Masters.
    As for adjunct teaching, some people choose it as a flexible option aside from their professional careers or personal lives.
    As an undergraduate whose major is English, I still feel ill-equipped to write in a business setting and a Master’s in English would allow me to be more prepared.

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