Major Smackdown: English vs. Physical Therapy!

by Judge Josh on July 2, 2010

It’s a short one today — doing a favor to all you millennial types who have been writing in and saying, in one way or another, “WRITE SHORTER POSTS.” Today, you get your wish! Phoenicia writes today:

Hi Judge Josh!

Right now, I am a bit at a loss with what I wish to major in. I have been going to a 2-year community college for 3 years so far, and all I have to show for it is a Certificate for Therapeutic Massage. Thankfully, there is no debt or student loans in the picture.

This looks a lot like my old physical therapist's office, except there's no fat guy on the ground shrieking in agony. (That was me).

Great! Nothing wrong with that certificate, and no debt is even better.

In addition to the certificate, I am currently working on my Associates in Science/General Studies. This way, if I decide to continue on with a massage career, I will have that degree.

Excellent. I assume the certificate mentioned above isn’t enough to get you licensed or whatever you need to start massaging. Gotcha.

The thing is, I want to keep going to school! I am just in between two majors that are on opposite ends of the spectrum: English and Health Science.

If I go with an English degree, I would like to teach at a college or university. So, in addition to a few years of experience, I may try for a Doctorate’s to make my chances a lot better. Yet, I am scared because it may be hard finding a job to even gain experience.

Let me stop you there to point out that, if you want to teach in college, you need at least a master’s degree in English. In most cases, that’ll take a four-year bachelor’s degree plus two more years to get a master’s degree. And that’s just for community-college teaching or basic, very low-level positions in the teaching hierarchy at four-year schools.

If you want to be a full-fledged, tenured professor at a four-year university, you need a doctorate, which could take you as a few as three additional years beyond the master’s (if you’re putting the pedal to the metal and doing nothing other than going to school), or as long as six or seven if you’re going about it more slowly.


If that sounds like I’m trying to be discouraging, I’m not — just letting you know the realities of what you’ll need to teach college English. So if you do, you’ll get your wish about going for more schooling — you’ve got somewhere between four and 10 years of English study left, depending where you want to teach!

If I go with Health Science, I would enjoy doing physical therapy. It would not be that hard for me, since it is similar to the program I went through for Therapeutic Massage. Not to mention, it is an in-demand field, so there would be little trouble finding a job, even as an assistant.

Yep, I agree on all counts. You can be in the job market a lot faster that way, and there will be a lot more openings than there will be for English professors (there should be no shortage of people with aches, pains and injuries in the future). Understand, though, that a master’s degree and a professional license are required pretty much everywhere for physical therapists as well. So, you’ve got a lot of schooling left either way, but at least your job prospects should be much, much better as a physical therapist.

I would love to have your opinion. You have helped a lot of others, maybe you could help me?

Thanks,
Phoenicia

Yeah, I’ll keep it simple today — go with physical therapy. Strange coincidence, actually, but I used to want a doctorate in English so that I could be an English professor (my bachelor’s degree is in English). Luckily, I saw the light early and jumped ship — intensively studying and analyzing old books simply was not something I could live with for the rest of my life. And I mean no offense to you English grad students out there — if it makes you happy, then wonderful, but it wasn’t for me.

I’m guessing you’ll be happier in physical therapy. You’ll help more people and you’ll help them directly, right in front of your face. It’s tough, but satisfying work. Go for it.

That’s it for me, everyone (see, I kept it right around 700 words today!). Any comments? Let us know below.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam Kelley July 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Aw, I like your long posts!

I agree with Josh – going for English would require more time and money, and in the end, your chances of getting a job are not as good.

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Lola July 2, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Go with PT. I just graduated from undergrad as a pre-PT and athletic training and its an awesome field full of oppurtunies. I got to travel with sports teams all expenses paid multiple times and this was as a student. I was accepted to PT school for next year. I cant wait to do this as a career. let me warn u, It is no walk in the park. there are science prerequisites that include all the classes pre-med majors have to take minus organic chem. I think you think the field is easier to break into than it really is. PT school is very competitive. the are usually 30-50 spots for a class and 500 students usually apply. if u do decide to go for PT, commit 100% and get ready to work your ass off for the next 7 years. (4 year undergrad & 3 years for your doctorate, which is now the standard) there is a strong emphasis on anatomy and physiology. good luck

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Zabrina July 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I love English, and I’m an English major. That said, I’m making a living from freelance writing already and paying for the major with my earnings from writing, so it works out well for me.

Also, I know perfectly well that I don’t have to take English in school to love it. The wonderful thing about our field is that you can study books by yourself, discuss them online or in voice chats with others if you aren’t in a book club or something like that, and so on. It’s an awesome passion to have on the side and very fulfilling, so if you love PT too, I’d make that the job and English the hobby unless you’re sure you want all that extra school/debt for the chance of being a teacher.

(And by the way, English profs tend to be unhappy. Read a few of your classmates’ papers and you’ll understand why I chose to steer straight away from that profession when I was considering it.)

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pam g July 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm

PT is in great demand right now and pays more than nursing.

Gotta have a master’s degree in PT, though.

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Jenny July 2, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Go with PT. I just completed the 2 year PT assistant program, and I had a job lined up since February. I live in Texas, and here, PTAs make very good money. I think $68,000 for a 2 year degree is very good. I have friends with bachelors degrees that aren’t making that much. It is a very fulfilling career. So yeah, I’m a little biased, but we are not getting any younger…and will all need PT at some point in our lives! And hey, if you really want to teach, get your PTA degree, and work while you get your masters!

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krystal December 3, 2010 at 2:07 am

Hey im interested in study PT is my passion I am a senior on high school and I will thank you if you please give me advice of what should I do, or things that can help to start. PLEASE I NEED HELP!

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krystal December 3, 2010 at 2:14 am

Hey, I want to become a PT! But I don’t know what I have to do. I am a senior at high school. My counselor told me that UTSA could be one of the best choices. I am not sure what to do, at this time I am stress out. Can you please give me some advice on things I should do or anything that you think it can help me get started! THANK YOU, I REALLY NEED HELP!

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Kristen Annastasia July 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I agree! go with PT. That is THE #1 hottest job I see in my current job search. All of the “Rehabilitation Therapies” are super hot and in demand. I know a lot of English majors who have had to do something else.

But I also would not discourage a minor in English, or courses you feel you need to be a better writer. You can write to your heart’s content about the field of physical therapy, to clients and to other healthcare practitioners. You might do a Google or Amazon search to see if many writers are working in this niche area.

Writing about your field helps to get you noticed, and sets you apart as a trusted resource for your readers,if not expert. You may very well end up someday as a professor, but it will probably be easier to get in to an expanding field like physical rehabilitation.

What makes each of us unique is the combination of our interests. Don’t forget, there was a time when people thought putting a coffee stand INSIDE a bookstore would be nothing short of disaster! “They’ll spill on the books, and if they can read them for free, people won’t buy the books!” Can you say Barnes & Noble and Borders?

Best of Luck!
kristen annastasia

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Alyson July 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm

depending on what school she decides go to and the way they structure her program, she could do both in her undergrad. For example, if the school she selects offers a major program in English and one in physical therapy, she could take a double major in both areas. If they don’t offer that option, she could take some of her elective coures in English therefore, she is still getting the best of both worlds.

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Jennifer July 2, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Hi!
Ummm! I may be wrong here, but I think Josh got the length of study wrong for PT. I heard recently (last year or so) they changed it to needing a 8 years of college. It used to be a Master’s, but was changed to a PhD (at least here in MI). That was why I chose OT over it. Otherwise, right on with the advice.

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Terry July 2, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hooray for Lola for telling it like it is, no sugar coating. PT is very demanding, competitive and getting tougher to get accepted into a decent program. If your grades are good, I suggest you look into transferring to a 4 year college that offers guaranteed admission into their PT program after completing your Bachelors. Usually these are only offered to incoming freshmen, but there may be something available for transfer students.
Regarding teaching English, full time teachers at a midwest Tech College make roughly $6000 per class they teach and part timers make half that.

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Danielle July 2, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I’m a PTA currently and am currently in undergrad school to try to get into a PT program. There are some PT programs out there that are masters degrees – but more are going to doctorates. The reasons I see for this are – schools trying to get more $ out of you and two – more states are going to direct access – where patients can get evaluated for PT before seeing the doctor. It is a great field with a lot of options and opportunities – good luck in whatever you choose :-)

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kiwi July 2, 2010 at 11:18 pm

For sure, Physical Therapy.

English is beautiful, and writing and teaching are both fun – if it’s not something you HAVE to do. Teaching at the college level can be really harsh and difficult and frustrating for someone who (rightly) views language as the art form it can be. And there are a lot of English majors out there. PT and OT are hot – I don’t know about now, but I know as little as three years ago in my state (NC), PT candidates (hadn’t passed their licensing board yet) were being heavily recruited from their junior year on. These folks do not seek employment – employers seek THEM. That’s been consistently the case here for over a decade, and there’s no end in site.

You can always go back for the English major. Go for PT!

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Cori K July 6, 2010 at 2:01 am

I just finished the MA English, and I was in PT here on my campus for the entirety of my program. And I’ve gotta say it:

Go with PT.

Sound contrary to what you expected I’d say, but yes, the prospects are better. That, and the PT programs let you get hands-on experience a lot faster than English, I think. We always had undergrad interns coming in and out of PT every semester, and that gave them a great view on whether or not they actually liked the field. Also, if you are at a university with a fair amount of sports teams, your campus will likely have (like ours does) an in-house Physical Therapy/Sports Rehab facility. Talk to them. Pick their brains about what it took. I know all three of ours have the master’s degree plus certifications, but we’re in California, so it may differ for you.

If you still have gen ed stuff to do, declare the PT/kinesiology as your primary major and English as a minor or second major. That way, you have the option to work with both and can figure out in the end which you want to continue on with. You wouldn’t be the first person to do two totally unrelated majors, and you may find the combination exceedingly useful, whichever one you choose in the long run.

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Cori K July 6, 2010 at 2:02 am

(Just to clarify: I wasn’t doing the PT, it was being done unto me. 😛 I just had a lot of injuries in that time period, and it took the better part of three years to put me back together.)

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John Winn October 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Phoenicia,

I’m an English major (actually, I graduated three years ago) and while I can’t speak specifically to your situation, I just want to say…right on.

Just like you, I considered becoming an English teacher not long ago. Actually I was planning to go to my step-father’s alma mater for an M.A. But all the time cutting through red tape and recommendations didn’t work out for me. I’m taking business classes online at a prestigious online university (don’t laugh), but speaking from experience as a freelancer and writer *waves at Zabrina* I can tell you the market for writers is already tight. You practically need someone to vouch for you just to get in the parking lot, never mind a foot through the door.

I’m not going to knock the experiences I’ve had as a writer. I loved being able to interview up and coming musicians and writers and models (excuse the bad grammar). But I won’t lie and say everything’s peachy. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t major in Accounting or Supply Chain Management instead.

Then I remember I suck at math.

Anyway, on behalf of all struggling writers everywhere, I’m wishing you lots of luck. (don’t) break a leg!

Jack

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Susan October 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Gotta have a doctorate to be PT on the east coast. Four year undergraduate degree plus three more years for the doctorate.

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