Sarah Lentz '13English Major Concentration: Literature
Current Position: Associate Director of National and International Fellowships at Elon University

I took a gap year after graduation and worked full-time as a nanny while I submitted applications for Fulbright and for college advisor positions. Throughout this process I stayed in touch with my research mentor who is the director of the National and International Fellowships Office, and when an interim associate director position became available she thought of me and encouraged me to apply for the position. This year I worked in the interim role while applying for both part- and full-time Master’s programs in English. I received the full associate director position this spring and was also accepted to the Bread Loaf School of English, a summer college at Middlebury. I will continue working in the fellowships office during the academic year and will work towards my M.A. in English at Bread Loaf campuses in Vermont and Oxford over the next few summers.

Did your degree in English with a concentration in literature prepare you for your professional career?

My English degree prepared me to analyze and interpret text, to write coherently, to draw relevance and meaning from multiple texts, and to navigate grey area comfortably — skills that I employ daily in my position. My job is divided fairly evenly between scouting applicants for fellowships and guiding and assisting students and alumni with their applications. This requires me to research various fellowships, interpret the qualities they seek in a competitive applicant, and communicate to potential applicants the benefits of applying and why they may or may not be a good fit for a particular fellowship. When I advise students on their applications, I give them feedback on their essays and help them draw relevance between their past experiences and future goals to write a compelling personal narrative. Some fellowships call for me to write evaluations or letters of endorsement for the applicants, in which case I combine and summarize input from a variety of sources to write a persuasive yet honest evaluation of an applicant. Because the nature of the application and selection process is so subjective, I am constantly navigating grey area. At times this can be a challenge, but thankfully my English major trained me to think critically and to approach rhetorical situations from multiple standpoints!

Is there value in an English degree?

All of the qualities I described above are valuable and applicable in a professional setting and in life. As English majors we recognize what makes a compelling story and can harness the power of narrative in both personal and professional spheres. Understanding rhetoric and narrative structure enables us to convey who we are and what we are passionate about in a compelling and persuasive way, which is attractive to potential employers, review committees, and really anyone with whom we come into contact  (if you use this talent to attract your significant other, please do so ethically.) The bottom line is that English majors are extremely thoughtful and capable humans who understand the importance of reflecting, writing, and revising — a process that prepares us to refine our skills and outlook and to constantly learn and grow and improve.

What was your best experience as an English major?

My best experience in the major was working on my undergraduate research thesis in literature. I had the opportunity to work closely with a fantastic mentor over the course of several years to design an independent research project that used a new historical approach to combine and draw relevance from 18th-century letter writing manuals, masculinity studies, and three of Jane Austen’s novels. Through the support of the Lumen Prize, I attended two professional conferences for the Jane Austen Society of North America, conducted research at the British Library, and designed and undertook a study tour of Jane Austen’s England. I presented my findings at multiple venues including the British Women Writers Conference and I published a chapter of my thesis in an undergraduate research journal at the University of North Georgia.

Any advice for English majors?

The skills you acquire in your English major are widely applicable and transferrable to many different professions. This is both a blessing and a curse: the possibilities are endless, but the flexibility can leave you dappling in this and that without constructing a fluid narrative. It is important to have a sense of direction, so pursue internships and other relevant experiences to hone your job search in your senior year so that you can demonstrate your abilities to a future employer through concrete experiences (professional, academic, volunteer, etc.) Learn all that you can about networking, personality and strength tests, interviews, resumes, etc. from the Student Professional Development Center and conduct informational interviews with professionals you admire. Spend your summers wisely working in the field that you hope to pursue after graduation. Finally, be good, kind, and gracious to your professors. You will need them to write you letters of recommendation and to share their personal and professional wisdom. Keep in touch with them. You never know…maybe one day they will call you up about a position opening at Elon!

“Declaring my English major at Elon was the best decision I made. In addition to the skills and knowledge that I developed, I built meaningful and lasting relationships with some of the finest students and faculty on Elon’s campus and had incredible experiences researching my favorite author at the British Library and following her life through a study tour of England. Being an English major prepared me to graduate and face the unknown with wisdom, empathy, and flexibility — and ultimately landed me back at Elon in a job that allows me to combine my passions for building meaningful relationships and helping others use writing and reflection to articulate who they are and where they are going after Elon.”

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