A few years ago, my friends and I bought tickets to see the musical comedy Avenue Q. While it’s a very funny show, and we were laughing throughout, the biggest laugh for me probably came when one of the characters lamented in his opening song, “What can you do with a BA in English? What is my life going to be?” This is a question I asked of myself many times during my four years at Ball State. I remember my parents, family, and friends all asking me this question after I informed them of my major. My answer to them was always, “My professors say I can do anything I want with my degree. I’m not limiting myself; I’m opening myself up to a world of possibilities!” And while I told them that and thought it seemed like a nice sentiment, I honestly had no idea what I was going to do with myself after my four years in Robert Bell were up.
Fortunately, during my sophomore year at Ball State I took a detour into the Rinker Center for International Programs in the student center and wound up spending a semester studying abroad in Staffordshire, England. If you have a chance, stop in and explore your study abroad options—it was definitely the best thing I did as an undergraduate. I had a great time exploring England and most of Western Europe, and there’s nothing like studying British literature in England. English is a really easy major to study abroad with, so there’s no excuse!
Once I returned from studying abroad and exploring Europe, I found myself broke and in need of a job. I wound up finding a great job as a student advisor in the Center for International Programs. In that position, I was able to learn more about the study abroad field, and I really enjoyed helping other students find ways to work studying abroad into their college careers. As my remaining two years in college drew to a close, I found myself thinking more and more about a career in the study abroad field. After asking around, I determined the best way to pursue such a career was to continue on to graduate school and get my master’s degree in the higher education and student affairs field. Professionals in this field can go on to work with college students in a variety of professional jobs at the university level. In the winter of my senior year, I put my English major skills to good use writing essays and personal statements and taking the GRE. I applied and was accepted into Indiana University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program.
I was very happy with my choice to attend IU. I enjoyed my classes and learning from my fellow classmates, who all came from diverse academic backgrounds. Higher education, like other fields such as law, doesn’t really have a preferred undergraduate prerequisite, so English is as good a background as any to enter into the field. In fact, I probably had it a bit easier than many students in my cohort as I was already very accustomed to researching and writing extensively in an academic setting. I was never intimidated by the amount of reading required for my courses and had an easy time switching from writing for an English program to writing for higher education. The basic principles of good writing are the same, no matter what you’re writing about!
One of the prerequisites of IU’s program is that all students must hold a graduate assistantship during their two years there, with the aim of gaining real-world experience in the field while they’re in school. My graduate assistantship (and others in the HESA program) covered 100% of tuition and paid a monthly stipend as well. I was able to get an assistantship at University College, a part of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Students in the HESA program are able to take courses at either IUPUI or IU Bloomington, and I was lucky to get an internship at IUPUI. The campus and atmosphere there are really different from both Ball State and IU Bloomington, and I enjoyed working with the students on an urban campus. My internship had me working with students in need of academic assistance, and I coordinated a tutoring program for undergraduate students. I learned from my two years at IUPUI that while study abroad was definitely my passion in the higher education field, I was really satisfied working in any part of higher education as long as I could work with and assist students.
After graduating from IU two and a half years ago, I took a job working with the Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University. IFSA-Butler, as it’s known in the study abroad field, is a third-party study abroad provider affiliated with Butler University. What we do is assist students from all over the United States (even the occasional Ball State student!) in studying abroad at universities in several different countries. As a program advisor there, my specific duties include helping students apply to and prepare to study abroad at universities in Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. I love having the chance to work with students from all over the country, and of course I love when my job calls for me to go visit my university partners overseas to check up on the students as well! Each year I usually make one international trip and several domestic trips to universities here in the U.S. recruiting students to study abroad.
Although I never would have foreseen myself taking this route when I declared my major, I’m now thankful for the strong background in reading and writing my English degree has provided me. Since my students and university contacts are spread all over the world, the main way I communicate with them is via personal emails and electronic newsletters. Also, my job constantly calls for me to edit print materials sent to our students, parents and university partners. My background in English has given me a great resource as I am able to effectively and professionally communicate with everyone. While this may seem like a simple thing, I’ve learned pretty quickly in the professional world that it’s not a skill everyone possesses, and it has made me very effective at my job. When I used to tell my parents that an English major opened me up to a world of possibilities, I was mostly trying to placate them. However, now that I travel the world routinely, I suppose I was inadvertently telling them the truth!