How an English Degree Can Amplify Black Voices and Identities

Studying English can lead to exciting occupations that rely on your use of the written and spoken word. Whether you’re contemplating a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or even a Ph.D., you’ll have many different options to pursue after graduation.

The study of “English” is most accurately the study of diverse disciplines rooted in this language. At its core, an English degree typically focuses on analyzing British, American, and other world literatures, both historic and contemporary. You’ll learn about the conventions of poetry, prose, playwriting, and possibly more experimental genres, along with basic forms of literary criticism. 

Some programs will teach you about rhetoric and linguistics as well; some will offer training in research skills. Sometimes, you can also study film, television, culture, or pop culture as part of an English program. 

English programs involve a good deal of writing, which may encompass anything from the general principles of composition to literary essays to career-centered writing. Career-centered material might include, for example, elements of technical writing (such as product instructions) or business writing (such as résumés and cover letters).

An English degree can prepare you to enter a classroom to teach literature and composition. It can also prepare you to become a journalist covering important current events around the world. Or, you could find yourself writing the next hit movie, TV show, or novel. Beyond that, it can also pave the way for a career in marketing, public relations, communications, and more.

The Importance of Studying and Celebrating Writers of Color

Black authors like James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison have made important contributions to literature, tradition, and history, helping shape American culture, politics, and awareness. Recently, Black representation in film and television has also grown, with influential individuals like Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris, Ava Duvernay, Barry Jenkins, Issa Rae, Donald Glover, Lena Waithe, Jordan Peele, and Tyler Perry, to name only a few of the most popular. 

Studying the work of Black writers and creators is important for exploring Black identities and for understanding the ways in which this work has paved the way for more Black creators to have their voices heard in various media. The more that voices of color are heard, the stronger efforts at improving social equity in America will become.

Smiling African student or pupil girl is reading a book in library at school.

The Need for More Black Americans With English Degrees

Earning a degree in English offers a multitude of benefits for Black American students, both academically and professionally. 

For example, although these programs have historically focused on the identities and work of male Eurocentric figures, studying English at an equity-driven college or university can offer important insights into multi-gendered African American language and culture. Some organizations are calling for greater Black linguistic justice, advocating for the recognition of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). This linguistic diversity enriches the academic landscape and provides a platform for understanding and appreciating cultural nuances. 

An English degree also equips students to use effective rhetoric, which is invaluable in individual and cultural self-expression as well as in advocating for social justice causes. Research indicates that English majors develop a heightened awareness of the power of language, including advanced critical thinking abilities and the ability to write complex, original work. In other words, studying English gives you the power to promote, subvert, and control important messaging in everything from fiction to advertising.

Additionally, English degrees open doors to various career paths that can be lucrative and empowering for Black Americans, especially those that offer platforms to influence public awareness and worldviews. There are other ways to make a positive difference in the world as well. English majors commonly find employment in education, legal services, and nonprofit sectors.

HBCUs Can Help You Start a Career in English Language-Based Fields

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, more Black students are likely to turn to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for their education. In response, these institutions will do everything they can to meet increased student demand. HBCUs help more students earn college degrees, compete successfully for well-paying jobs in competitive career fields, improve workforce diversity, and increase upward economic mobility.

People of all ages, races, and life paths can help to improve diversity in English literature- and language-related disciplines by supporting scholarships and other forms of funding for HBCUs with related programs. You can make a difference in the lives of students of English in one easy step by making a donation today.

Careers for English Majors

Because of the wide range of areas that are covered within English studies, seeking an English degree can be the path to an array of exciting and challenging careers, such as:

  • Editors
  • Reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts
  • Technical writers
  • Writers and authors, including screenwriters
  • Marketing
  • Content creation
  • Teachers and professors
  • Interpreters and translators
  • Public relations specialists


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Coursework for English Majors 

English majors will gain exposure to literature, film, poetry, plays, and more. Some schools also include majors that select a track or concentration, such as British poetry, African American writers, gender, sexuality, or another theme, genre, or historical period. Writing majors might focus on creative writing by taking courses on literary forms like novels, graphic novels, poetry, and scriptwriting. Other schools offer more specific writing tracks in literary prose, poetry, and nonfiction writing.

Some key parts of all of these courses are the analysis and discussion of the specific works that are studied. This involves forming opinions on the work, analyzing the choices of the creator, examining the effects of those choices on the work, the larger cultural significance or message of a piece, and then explaining your views either verbally or through written papers to your fellow classmates and your professors.

Tougaloo Chapel

Tougaloo Chapel

UNCF Schools to Consider

There are over 25 UNCF-member HBCUs that offer degrees in English, including:

Programs and Professional Organizations

There are a number of professional organizations that may be appropriate for those with an English degree, depending on their specific industry. These include:

douglass winner with donor and Uncf reps

2020 Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship recipient with donor (left) and UNCF representatives

Scholarships Available

There’s no better way to start on your path toward a successful career in English or writing than with a solid financial foundation. Fortunately, many scholarships are available through UNCF, including some specifically for English majors. Keep an eye on the UNCF website for current scholarship opportunities and announcements. 

Search for specific scholarships and view those that are currently accepting applications here! Students should also check with each college or university to see if there are additional scholarships available to study English or writing.

As you explore your options, be sure to use our guide to applying for scholarships and grants. You can also receive guidance by submitting a major interest form if you are interested in a career in English or writing. Submit the form on our website to get started. And follow us on UNCF social media channels to receive notifications about our scholarships and member HBCUs. Reach out today!

You can also show your support for students pursuing careers and furthering equity in literature by contributing to UNCF member schools. Education is the greatest tool we have in creating a just and equitable society where economic mobility is available to all. Help us achieve this future by donating today!