Communication and analytical skills are your mail-in rebate from the Princeton English Department in exchange for four years of your life (and tuition!). The lectures, precept discussions, and assignments challenge us to communicate our ideas effectively while thoroughly dissecting any information with which we are presented. Both professors and peers give us different interpretations of the works, and listening to them broadens our way of thinking about how authors communicate. The papers we write allow us to discover our writing style and technique as we explore those of the authors we quote, contest, or admire. Articulating our own opinions and synthesizing those with the techniques and theories we study in class prepares us to succeed in any area we go on to after graduation.
Each book or text you will read as an English major is different and thus has limitless opportunities for you to develop intellectually and as a person. Both in close-reading and in looking more broadly at the text as a whole, you will learn that every novel, poem, or essay harbors the potential to change your world, whether through Shakespeare's metaphysical challenge in A Midsummer Night's Dream or Dr. Seuss's linguistic poise in Green Eggs and Ham, both of which can be found among the department's courses.
What is it like being an English major?
Being an English major is nothing less than pure joy. Our classes are among the best on campus, our professors are delightful and completely approachable, and the requirements are challenging but realistic. While there are 11 requirements ("departmentals"), the department is incredibly flexible and eager to accommodate all sorts of different interests. Two JPs of about 20 pages are required and often viewed as opportunities to explore potential thesis territory — feeling out just where you want to spend most of your senior year researching. For the aspiring poets, playwrights, dancers, and novelists out there, there is the option of completing a creative thesis, which is an incredible opportunity to complete a project of your choice, such as writing a novel or play.
Some people think of English as a large or impersonal department, but it's neither. The ratio of faculty members to students in the department is very high and it's very easy to cultivate relationships with our amazing (and very friendly!) professors in seminars (especially our required "junior seminars" taken during the fall of junior year), during office hours and at departmental events. The department is also very committed to helping each student explore their own unique set of interests in the major. So although it may look like there are a lot of distribution areas and requirements, the undergraduate departmental representative is generally very flexible.
Many undergraduates assume that if one is interested in studying literature in another language, one has to major in comparative literature and not English. But you can do just that in the English Department! The key difference is that within the English Department, if you would like to "specialize" in comparative literature, you may do so with just one other language if you wish. In the Comp Lit Department, however, one needs to be proficient in not one but TWO languages other than English. Choose whichever suits your interests and time best.
Overall, the English Department is robust yet intimate enough to accommodate every major's individual needs and interests.
What are common misconceptions about English majors?
Firstly, we're not all as ridiculously good-looking as the media would have you believe. Some of us are only well above average! Future English majors, use your mind-shatteringly beautiful appearances to sway the hearts and minds of your acquaintances against this terrible stereotype.
Other than that, the most common misconception is that all English majors are walking lexicons and grammar books. We really don't receive any additional training in grammar, but everyone expects us to be experts. It's kind of like when you do something stupid and all your home friends say "Duh-hoi, and you go to PRINCETON!" You just have to end ONE sentence with a preposition and everyone will be all up in your grill. (As Winston Churchill once wrote to a meddling editor who awkwardly rearranged a sentence to move the preposition to the middle, "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.")
Also, everyone will expect that you have read James Joyce's Ulysses. Very few people have actually read Ulysses, but everyone expects everyone else to have read it. You can use this fact to your advantage by making a nonsensical joke about one of the text's more obscure characters (like Kitty Ricketts!) if the book comes up in conversation. The amount people understand your joke will be indirectly proportional to their newfound respect for your English expertise.
What kind of internships and international experiences have majors had?
English majors may take advantage of the incredible programs at either Oxford or the University College of London. One can choose to study abroad for a semester or for the entire year, and both options are potentially life-changing experiences. Credits are easily transferred towards one's departmentals, and the department is happy and eager for English majors to spend time studying literature abroad. Beyond England, of course, Princeton English majors have traveled the world—and there are many opportunities to travel and conduct research in one's own area of literary expertise. English majors can also apply for funding from the department (through the A. Scott Berg fellowship) to travel during the summer, either to start their senior theses or simply to explore their interests in a different setting.
In terms of internships, it is safe to say that just about anything—really, anything—is open to the English major. From publishing houses to newspapers, from the New Yorker to the Wall Street Journal, from business to marketing to politics to teaching, the English major can pursue internships in just about any field. There are some English majors who have graduated and gone on to graduate school, law school, business school, consulting firms, the Hill, Teach For America, and even Hollywood.
How will English majors save the world?
Why would anyone want to date an English major?
Perhaps this question should instead read, "Why wouldn't anyone want to date an English major?" Not only are English majors equipped to be able to converse intelligently on everything from Chaucer to Morrison, from totalitarianism (1984) to flatulence ("The Miller's Tale" of The Canterbury Tales), they, unlike many other majors who only emerge from Firestone, Icahn, or the E-Quad to shower and scarf down some Frist fries, make it their life's work to inhabit the real world. English majors look at the works of the dead and the living, studying both the past and the present and applying the lessons learned from those lives they encounter in text to their lives outside the classroom.