16 Wildly Successful People Who Majored in English

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WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Comedian Conan O'Brien delivers a comedy routine during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Guess what, contrary to popular belief, you're not entirely screwed out of having a successful career if you get an English degree.

English majors get a bad rap in today's college debate, and it seems they always have. It's argued that their education doesn't provide the necessary skills required in today's economy.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and many English majors go on to become highly successful people in business, government and technology.

We've included 16 people who prove that success is determined by your drive, not background.

1. Singer Sting was an English major at Northern Counties College of Education.

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He might be known for his musical career, but at one time, Sting was a school teacher until he decided to pursue his musical passions full-time.

He has since received additional honorary music degrees from Northumbria University and Berklee College of Music.

2. Mitt Romney, CEO of Bain Capital, was an English major at Brigham Young University.

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AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Mitt Romney acquired a multimillion-dollar fortune running private equity firm Bain Capital. His success in business was a popular selling point during his 2012 presidential campaign.

But he didn't get that background from an undergraduate degree. He actually graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.A. in English before going on to Harvard to get his MBA and J.D.

3. Grant Tinker, former CEO of NBC and television producer, studied English at Dartmouth College on the G.I. bill after WWII.

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At 18, Tinker had to delay his studies at Dartmouth College to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After three years, Tinker returned to Dartmouth to study English on the G.I. bill. At 23, he took a job as a management trainee at NBC.

In 1962, Tinker married actress Mary Tyler Moore and the two formed the television production company MTM Enterprises. In 1981, he became CEO of NBC and during his five-year employment with the station, NBC's profits soared from $48 million to $400 million.

4. Former Avon CEO Andrea Jung was an English literature major at Princeton University.

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AP Photo/Evan Agostini

In late 2011, Jung stepped down as CEO of the world’s biggest door-to-door cosmetics seller.

She studied English literature at Princeton University and graduated magna cum laude in 1979. After graduation, she joined an executive training program for Bloomingdale’s in New York through Cincinnati's Federated Department Store's Inc.

5. Television host Conan O'Brien was a double history and English major at Harvard University.

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Known for his self-deprecating humor, O'Brien's roots come from classic literature. His senior thesis at Harvard as a history and literature major involved the use of children as symbols in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.

O'Brien went on to become one of the most well-known late night television hosts.

6. Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus was an English major at Amherst College.

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Varmus is a Nobel Laureate in medicine and former Director of the National Institute of Health. He currently directs the National Cancer Institute.

Before going on to win the Nobel Prize, Varmus majored in English at Amherst College and went on to Harvard where he earned a masters in the same. After that he changed career paths and entered Columbia's medical school.

7. Legendary journalist Bob Woodward received his bachelor's degree in history and English from Yale University.

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Woodward received his B.A. degree in 1965 from Yale University studying history and English literature. After a five-year stint with the U.S. Navy, Woodward planned on attending law school, but got a reporting job with The Washington Post.

At The Post, Woodward teamed up with colleague Carl Bernstein and the two broke the news on the Watergate scandal.

8. Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York, was an English major at St. John's University.

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Cuomo served as the 52nd Governor of New York, and his son, Andrew Cuomo, is the current governor of the state.

Cuomo earned a B.A. in English from St. John's in 1953, took some time off to play minor league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates, then graduated first in his class from St. John's law school in 1956.

9. Barbara Walters was an English Major at Sarah Lawrence College.

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REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Walters started her first job in journalism as the assistant to a publicity director of a television station. She honed her writing skills at various gigs with the "Today" show and correspondent for the ABC News' "20/20."

In August 1997, she premiered a mid-morning talk show, "The View," for which she is co-executive producer and co-host.

In 2000, her reported $12 million yearly salary made her the highest-paid news host in history. Walters recently announced that she plans on retiring from television journalism in 2014, but will remain an executive producer on "The View."

10. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was an English major at Holy Cross College.

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Clarence Thomas was nominated and confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice during George Bush Senior's presidency, succeeding Thurgood Marshall.

Thomas studied at Holy Cross College, majoring in English and took an role in many social causes on campus, including protesting the Vietnam War and campaigning for Civil Rights. He went to Holy Cross after dropping out of a seminary in Missouri following the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

11. Award-winning film director Steven Spielberg was an English major at California State University, Long Beach.

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AP Photo/Francois Mori

In the mid-1960s, Spielberg was enrolled at California State University, Long Beach, but left after three years to pursue a film career and started as an unpaid intern at Universal Studios.

Three decades later, Spielberg returned to California State University, Long Beach and completed his bachelor's degree in Film and Electronic Arts.

12. Former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy was an English and journalism major at Marymount College.

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From 2001 to 2009, Mulcahy served as CEO and Chairwoman of Xerox, but started as the company's field sales representative in 1976 — two years after earning a B.A. in English and journalism from Marymount College in Maryland.

She gave the final commencement speech at her alma matter, a women's liberal arts college, before it merged with the larger Fordham University.

13. Angelo Bartlett Giamatti, former president of Yale University and seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball, received his English degree from Yale.

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After receiving a bachelor's in English and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale, Giamatti became an assistant professor of English at the university.

Twelve years later, he became the president of his alma mater. In 1986, Giamatti's love for baseball landed him the position of President of the National League in 1986 and later commissioner of baseball. He died during his stint as commissioner in 1989.

14. Former MTV CEO Judy McGrath received an English degree at Cedar Crest College.

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Judy McGrath (center) (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

McGrath was the chairwoman and CEO of MTV from 2004 to 2011 and oversaw a period of great success for the company's networks, which include Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, in part due to shows like "Jersey Shore," "Spongebob Squarepants," and "The Daily Show."

She started out as a copywriter at the network in 1981 when it was launched. McGrath got her B.A. in English from Cedar Crest College, near her home town of Scranton, PA in 1974. 

15. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was an English major at Dartmouth College.

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Hank Paulson was the CEO of Goldman Sachs before he left to become Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush in 2006.

He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1968 where he studied English, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an All East football player.

Later, he went on to earn an MBA from Harvard.

16. Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO was a double major in English and theatre at Denison University.

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AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Eisner was the CEO of the Walt Disney Company for over 20 years, from 1984 to 2005. He didn't take a single business course at school. He studied English literature and theatre as an undergrad and now urges his three sons to study English too.

He defended his liberal arts education in an article published by USA Today saying, "Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships," Eisner wrote. "It gives you an appreciation of what makes people tick."


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