How an English Degree is Helping to Make Sense of the World

Written by: Jillian Yuill

I was an avid reader as a child. I would sneak books under my pillow before bed, using the sliver of light peeping through my bedroom from the hallway as a makeshift flashlight. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a great story. But for all my love of stories, English was not one of my stronger subjects in school. My highest grades were in math and computer classes, and as a result I was often encouraged by counselors and teachers to pursue a more “practical” post-secondary education, such as business administration. I didn’t even take English as a first year elective in university.

Fast-forward 17 years: I am now in university for the second time as a part-time mature student, majoring in English Literature. I am also a mom and I run a successful sales-centric business with my husband. Part of my decision to return to university was passion-based; moving to the suburbs had me craving mental and cultural stimulation. There is something about being in the classroom with other people who love to read and analyze narratives that leaves me feeling inspired and engaged. But the surprising benefit of obtaining my English degree is how practical and portable the skills I am developing are
to my business.

For example, I have always been comfortable when it comes to analyzing numbers, but analyzing the written word is not something I really paid close attention to in the business world. However, as I become more adept at analyzing literature, I am simultaneously becoming more mindful of written documents in my daily business life; from sales contracts to advertisements. I am more aware of who is authoring the information presented, and for what purpose. I often find myself questioning: What am I being convinced of? What is this document trying to achieve? What information is
being left out?

I’ve also noticed I’ve been more effective in helping clients through their decision making process. If there is one thing I have learned working in sales, it’s that it doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how great your product and service is. If you lack the ability to communicate your value, nobody will ever know. Studying English has obviously improved my writing and grammar, but more importantly I am developing my ability to organize and deliver a convincing argument, which is essential to success when competing for new business.

Full disclaimer: While writing this post I wrote two emails, played tap games on my tablet, watched a romance-based (read: trashy) reality television show, and put away the home-décor magazines my son had strewn across the floor. Sometimes I believe it’s in these common, unassuming moments that my English education has the most profound impact. If I hadn’t pursued English, would I care why I think the dialogue in the game is funny, but my husband doesn’t? Would I have noticed who is included in the narrative of the reality show, and who isn’t? Would I question what the magazine is telling me about what my house “should” look like? As much as pursuing my English degree has enhanced my career, it’s more importantly broadening my understanding of the world around me, and to me that is the greatest benefit of all.

Not sure how to create an effective study schedule? Want to join a study group? Trent University Durham’s Academic Mentoring Program offers a variety of ways to engage with your studies in a fun and meaningful way.

·       Sign-up for study groups

·       Meet with an upper year student for one-on-one mentoring

·       Discover campus resources that with assist you with your studies.

To learn more, visit the Academic Mentoring Program webpage, or contact Jillian at

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