As college degrees become more common and the cost of these degrees increases, so does the debate about the worthwhileness and value of a college education, and of specific college degrees. One side of the debate uses statistical data about starting salaries and unemployment rates to claim that degrees within the humanities and liberal arts do not provide a good return on investment while the other side claims that a liberal arts education fosters the broad so-called "soft skills” that employers value most. However, both sides of the debate have neglected the perspectives of the graduates themselves, particularly as they transition from the university environment to the workforce. In this exploratory mixed-methods study I sought to understand this transition and English graduates' perceptions of their degree, first through semi-structured interviews with 8 participants who graduated between 2010 and 2019, and then through the responses of 338 graduates from the same time frame who participated in a validation survey used to determine the pervasiveness of the themes identified in the interviews. I learned that, while the initial transition from degree to employment is challenging for many English graduates, most eventually found work that they are satisfied with. Perceptions of the English degree vary over time, but most participants recognized the skills they gained in the English major and appreciate the professional value of these skills, especially later on in their careers. Participants identified some factors, such as networking, prior internship and work experience, and completing a minor that made for a more positive transition to employment. They also pointed to ways that the English department could better prepare students for and support them during this transition including encouraging more applied experiences, helping students recognize their English skills, and better identify and talk about potential career paths open to English majors.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





liberal arts, college graduates, employment, humanities, English departments



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Education Commons