14 Successful English Majors Who Proved That Their Liberal Arts Degrees Did Serve A Purpose, Mom

There are a number of things all English majors get tired of hearing. "Oh, so you're planning on becoming a teacher?" and "I should watch what I say to you — you might put it in your book!" are just a few prime examples. But then there are the stereotypes that are absolutely true, like being heavy readers (I'm always open to suggesting books for friends to check out), creative thinkers, and over-analyzers (which I think can be both positive and negative, but mostly positive).

The worst assumption about English majors is that we're all going to graduate without jobs and live unsuccessfully with our parents for the next five to ten years. This is where people are wrong. As Jordan Weissman highlights in The Atlantic, English majors aren't performing as poorly in the job market as the cultural dialogue leads us to believe. In fact, data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce reports 9.8 percent unemployment for fresh graduates with a degree in English, while economics and political science graduates came in at 10.4 and 11.1 percent. And computer science — the major that all of our concerned family members tell us to consider switching to — comes in nearby at 8.7 percent.

I could go on and on listing the results of studies that prove how reading fiction improves imagination and cognition and mental health and so many more things, but instead I'm going to show off a range of successful people (not including famous novelists) across businesses and fields who majored in English to prove that studying literature and writing can take you in an array of directions in life.

Barbara Walters


Barbara Walters started her career in journalism as the assistant to a publicity director of a television station. She honed her writing skills at various gigs with the TODAY show and correspondent for the ABC News’ 20/20 before co-executive producing and co-hosting The View. She started looking for work in New York City right after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English in 1951.

Andrea Jung

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The CEO of Avon from 1999 to 2011, Andrea Jung went on to become President and CEO of Grameen America, the leading provider of loans to individuals and small businesses. She studied English literature at Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude in 1979.

Gretchen Morgenson

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Renowned business and financial editor and columnist at the New York Times, Gretchen Morgenson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her coverage of Wall Street. She majored in English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and started her career at Vogue as an editorial assistant in August 1976.

Julia Alvarez


New York City-born and Dominican-raised Julia Alvarez started her writing career as an English Major at Connecticut College, where she was awarded the Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize. She continued on to get her Masters in Creative Writing from Syracuse University, and went on to publish How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, In The Time of The Butterflies, and more significant works.

Anne Mulcahy

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Anne Mulcahy started at Xerox as the company’s field sales representative in 1976, two years after earning a B.A. in English and journalism from Marymount College (which later merged with Fordham University) in Maryland. She went on to serve as CEO and Chairwoman from 2001 to 2009.

Judy McGrath

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McGrath, who studied English at Cedar Crest College, joined MTV as a copywriter in 1981 when it was launched. She became the chairwoman and CEO in 2004 and led the company through successful programming like Spongebob Squarepants and The Daily Show.

Joan Cusack

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Chicago-raised 1980s (and present-day) superstar actress Joan Cusack (Working Girl, Say Anything…, Broadcast News) studied English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Carol Browner


A lawyer, environmentalist, and businesswoman, Carol Browner received a B.A. in English and a law degree from the University of Florida years before she served as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration and the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011.

Jodie Foster


An esteemed child actress for her role in Taxi Driver, Jodie Foster continued on as a successful young adult actress. In the early 80s, she moved to the East Coast to get away from the film industry and to study English at Yale University.

Gwendolyn Brooks

The first African American author to win the Pulitzer Prize, Gwendolyn Brooks remains one of the most highly regarded poets of the 20th Century.

Sally Ride

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Sally Ride proves that English majors don’t always have to end up in the humanities. A renowned physicist and astronaut, Sally Ride started off her academic career studying English at before receiving her M.S. and Ph.D. in physics, all from Stanford University.

Diane Sawyer

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This former anchor of ABC World News, Good Morning America, and Primetime newsmagazine got her start as an English major at Wellesley College. Before she turned to broadcast journalism, Sawyer was a member of Richard Nixon’s White House staff. (No big.)

Amy Tan

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Amy Tan’s first book, The Joy Luck Club, has since been translated into 35 languages. She’s since written a number of other successful novels, such as The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. She started her writing career at Linfield College in Oregon (she was a recipient of an American Baptist Scholarship), and then went to San Jose City College and San Jose State University, where she earned her B.A. in English and Linguistics.

Lena Dunham

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Lena Dunham has said that her character, Hannah Horvath, isn’t totally autobiographical. But there are a lot of characteristics that they share — one of them being the fact that they studied English at Oberlin College.