Aspiring Writer Questions Value Of English Degree

Heather Lefebvre: The Aspiring Writer
Heather Lefebvre: The Aspiring Writer Monica Brady-Myerov for NPR

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.

Students graduating from college this spring are entering perhaps the toughest, most uncertain job market in generations. In this series, we meet recent grads, who share the frustrations and fears they face as they set out in search of work.

Heather Lefebvre just graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., summa cum laude, with a double major in English and creative writing. Her thesis earned the highest honors, and one of her short stories won a writing award.

Her thesis 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," she says.

English ranks sixth in the top 10 college degrees -- right behind education and biology -- according to the Princeton Review.

Dreams Of Becoming An Actress

Lefebvre 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, Lefebvre says her goal in life is to write stories for people to enjoy.

Lefebvre is unsure of how to reach her goal, so she turned to what she considers a practical solution.

"I'm trying to get a job in publishing," Lefebvre says. "I've also signed up for a temp agency ... because right now I need money."

A Mountain Of Student Debt

With $85,000 in student loans she has to start paying off now, she is questioning whether an English degree was such a great choice.

"For a lot of senior year, I would worry about not only do I have a degree that stereotypically doesn't help anyone, but also the economy is in shambles," Lefebvre says. "But then I think with that major does the economy make that much of a difference?"

She's not sure, but she says her English studies have helped her to be analytical. And her writing, she says, is her trump card.

"I'm a good writer, not necessarily just fiction, but essays and memos. And not that I 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 what I end up doing."

For now, Lefebvre has moved back home with her parents in Derry, N.H. She hopes to earn her first post-graduation paycheck from the very job she had in high school -- working as a cashier.

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