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Dear Dr. Doyle:

Should I major in English if I want to be a writer?

Signed,

Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

Only if you really want to.  And certainly not if what you’re looking for from your college degree is a ticket to a well-paying job outside of academia.   (“Well-paying job” and “inside academia” being two phrases that do not usually collocate, any more than “well-paying job” and “writer” usually do.)  Whenever magazines and web sites do one of their “Ten Least Useful College Degrees” articles, “English major” is usually number one on the list.

You’re not going to get the sort of respect that comes from doing something impractical but obviously difficult, either.  Majoring in English has for a long time been the traditional default field of study for people who want a bachelor’s degree but don’t want to work very hard for it.  And in fact, majoring in English (or another of the humanities) is kind of like writing haiku:  really easy, so long as you don’t mind doing a mediocre job of it; but really hard if you want to do it well.  Most people don’t bother trying to do it well.

That being said, I majored in English as an undergrad, and went back for another round in grad school, and over time, the degree has been good to me.  So I’d say — follow your heart, just don’t expect to get rich doing it.