Alumnus Cole Farrell On the English Degree and His Career in Marketing

*Photo provided by Cole Farrell

*Photo provided by Cole Farrell

I was one of those indecisive college students who dabbled in many different majors before figuring out what I really wanted to do. While I was in college, a typical phone call went something like this: Mom, I’m going to be an elementary education major.  Nevermind, I’m switching to musical theater. Do you think there’s value in a general studies degree? Dad, I’m going back to musical theater.

Fortunately I have parents who are incredibly patient and endlessly supportive. They would listen politely and remind me that they would stand behind me, no matter what. In fact, they loved me enough to never tell me that my singing voice is pretty unbearable.

One of those musical theater semesters, my advisor encouraged me to sign up for a creative writing course. I have always liked writing, but in that class, something clicked. I was given the opportunity to explore. I was empowered to make mistakes, and I learned about process and publication and the importance of discipline. I learned that first drafts are often pretty crummy, and that writing is mostly a process of revision. I learned that revision is sometimes difficult, unglamorous, and frustrating.

I was hooked. The next semester, I declared a major in English – Creative Writing, and I never looked back.

Now, I never spent any time in fields of study where people were guaranteed to become rich and famous, but I realized quickly that people love to give English majors a hard time. In the hierarchy of snarky comments, I’m now convinced that English majors often get the worst of it. The good news is that us English majors are good with words, and we can typically fight snark with snark. When we can’t, we can go bury our face in a book and escape to another world.

All jokes aside, my English degree transformed my life. The first semester after that creative writing class, I took three literature classes in one semester. Learning about literature taught me to ask smarter questions. Those classes taught me to dig deep, to invest myself in productive conversations about big issues. These classes helped me become a better reader, a more careful critic, and—at the risk of sounding hyperbolic—a better citizen of the world.

I’ve always been a passionate person, and the faculty in the Ball State University Department of English helped me funnel that passion into something meaningful. I was connected with a writing advisor who helped me understand the liberating power of nonfiction writing in telling my own story. I met a literature professor who pushed me and challenged me and held me to higher standards than I held myself. Nearly a decade after graduation, I am still endlessly grateful for what I learned in those classes.

Some of the best advice I got from my instructors was to seek out non-traditional employment opportunities when I graduated. I did, and my first job out of college was as the Director of Education at a children’s museum. That role wasn’t specifically seeking to hire an English major, but it perfectly used the skills I had acquired from all that reading and writing.

Several years after finishing my undergraduate degree, I came back to Ball State as a graduate student in the Department of English. While my undergraduate degree empowered me to try things, my graduate degree taught me the value of finishing—-it helped me overcome my fear of hitting “submit.” Graduate school was no joke. There was rarely a moment that wasn’t spent with reading, writing, or research. It was all those same undergraduate lessons on steroids.

I never quite fulfilled my dreams of being a Broadway star (I’m telling you, my voice is truly awful), but I now get to spend my days at a job I love. I am the staff writer and content manager at a marketing and branding firm called Miles Design in Indianapolis. I have had the opportunity to write ad copy for national campaigns, and every day, I write web copy that reaches a broad and diverse audience. I also get to write and publish my own non-fiction in my off hours, and I have been working towards a book-length work.

Whether it’s grammar trivia, MLA style, or developing the best possible argument for where we should walk for an office lunch, there isn’t a day that passes in which I don’t use skills from my English classes.

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