Aspiring Writer Questions Value Of English Degree Heather Lefebvre just graduated with top honors from Brandeis University with a degree in English and creative writing. She's leaving school with a diploma in her hand and a mountain of debt. And that has her worried about her academic choices.
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Aspiring Writer Questions Value Of English Degree

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Aspiring Writer Questions Value Of English Degree

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now for something a little less practical, it would seem. English. It ranks sixth on the list of most popular college degrees, according to the Princeton Review.

As part of our series on new college graduates looking for work, reporter Monica Brady-Myerov of member station WBUR in Boston met an English major who was asking herself how much her degree is worth.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Heather Lefebvre's devotion to writing began at an early age.

Ms. HEATHER LEFEBVRE: Even before I knew how to write, I would just play with action figures and make up stories that way. Not just simple ones, like really elaborate ones, like soap opera stories.

BRADY-MYEROV: Heather went to Brandeis University in Waltham, just outside Boston because she wanted to double major in English and creative writing. She graduated summa cum laude. Her thesis earned the highest honors, and a short story of hers won a writing award.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: It sounds silly and embarrassing. It was about a zombie. He just wants to make his way in the world like everyone else, but life is difficult for him because of who he is.

BRADY-MYEROV: Heather, while drawn to writing about zombies, is normal looking - tall with chin-length light brown hair. A few days before graduation, she gets together with a group of close friends.

Ms. RAY SMITH: She and I were roommates.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: Like we were roommates freshman year and sophomore year.

Ms. SMITH: And sophomore year.

BRADY-MYEROV: They are humanities majors and nervous about their futures, says Ray Smith.

Ms. SMITH: I would say nervous. That's it. Sorry, just nervous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY-MYEROV: They're having a movie marathon of their favorite childhood films, a sendoff to their youth. They crowd around a laptop on the floor of a messy dorm room because no one owns a TV.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Secret of Nimh")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) It is four years since our departure from Nimh and our world is changing.

BRADY-MYEROV: Those words from the 1982 movie "The Secret of Nimh" could also sum up where these students are at, facing an uncertain future. But they aren't together to worry about that right now. Their next movie will be Heather Lefebvre's choice.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: I use to love Jasmine.

BRADY-MYEROV: "Aladdin," a lighter movie. Heather says she used to want to be an actress, but her mother told her she needed a backup plan and suggested she become a writer. Now Heather says her goal in life is to write stories for people to enjoy. But she's unsure of how to reach that goal, so she's turned to what she considers a practical solution.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: I'm trying to get a job in publishing. Frankly, I'll take what I can get right now. I've also signed up for some temp agencies because right now I just, I need money.

BRADY-MYEROV: She needs money to start paying off $85,000 in student loans. And to do that quickly she has questioned whether an English major was such a great choice.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: For a lot of this year, for a lot of senior year, I would worry about like, not only do I have a degree that stereotypically doesn't help anyone, but also the economy is in shambles.

BRADY-MYEROV: Heather turns her head to the side as if considering the other options.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: But then I think, well, I mean, with that major, does the economy make that much of a difference?

BRADY-MYEROV: She's not sure yet, but she does know her studies in English helped her to be analytical. And she says, she has a trump card.

Ms. LEFEBVRE: Ultimately though, I can write. I'm a good writer, like not necessarily just fiction, but essays and memos. And not that I really need to write memos, but I'm good at getting across what I need to say in words - in writing - and that's a skill that will stay with me regardless of what I end up doing.

BRADY-MYEROV: For now, Heather Lefebvre has moved in with her parents in Derry, New Hampshire and is trying to get back her old high school job as a cashier.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.

INSKEEP: Our series continues tomorrow when we meet a graduate from Montana, who's working at a home improvement store while he figures out what to do with his degree in television production.

Unidentified Man: I'm only getting 30 hours a week and my boss has told me that's all he could give me right now 'cause things are tough and I'm lucky to have that. So what do I do now, you know? What do I do now? I just really don't know.

INSKEEP: That tomorrow on our series Setting Out, here on MORNING EDITION.

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