Thumbnails of High Achieving
Graduates are available below
Employability & Enterprise
High achieving graduates
What use is an English degree? How does studying English improve my career prospects? Why should the public subsidise students so that they can enjoy subjects of no practical benefit to society? At a time when students, parents, funders and policy makers seem to be questioning the value of humanities subjects, the Subject Centre thought it timely to gather some examples of 'high achievers' who studied English. We've found that there are high achieving English graduates in many walks of life, not just the arts and creative sectors, demonstrating the broad relevance of the degree. English graduates can be found in the upper ranks of the diplomatic service, the banks and the police service and occupy senior positions in charities and public sector organisations. In December 2010, 28 MPs in the House of Commons had English or Creative Writing degrees.
We hope that the evidence presented here will useful in two contexts. Firstly, in pointing out to young people that studying English is as good a preparation as any for pursuing the broad range of careers that don't require a specific vocational qualification. Secondly, at a time when the humanities feel under threat and called upon to justify their relevance and impact, being able to point to a number of high-profile individuals who have built on the skills in creative and critical thinking developed by their studies demonstrates how the disciplines contribute to the strength and vitality of business, culture and society through their graduates.
In 2010 the Subject Centres for English, History and Philosophical & Religious Studies were interested in developing and appraising a current perspective of alumni in their respective disciplines. Whilst statistics on graduate destinations are available from sources such as the Prospects website, it was felt important to highlight some of the more unusual, and high profile paths that people have taken, revealing the diverse impact and opportunities that degrees in these humanities subjects can bring. The aim was not to concentrate on the famous, but to look at the scope of alumni in business, the public sector and enterprise .
By sharing the workload, the three Subject Centres were able to conduct thorough searches across disciplines of the following:
- University Alumni sites
- Dod’s Parliamentary Companion
- FTSE 100 companies
- Who’s Who
Database of High Achieving Graduates
The results are available in two Excel spreadsheets:
- one for English graduates,
- and one for graduates in all the humanities disciplines covered in the search (English, Creative Writing, History, Philosophical and Religious Studies).
When using the database, please note the following:
- Joint honours degrees were included (but specified).
- The subject of study noted for each individual relates to the higher level of study attained – undergraduate or postgraduate.
- 'Yes' in the ‘typical’ column relates to a graduate who may not be described as a 'high achiever' but for whom there is an interesting profile
- The dataset was compiled, and was accurate at the end of 2010.
One of the questions the Subject Centre is often asked, especially by school teachers and those running open days, is “Can you tell me the names of some famous people who studied English?” We offer a few examples from the dataset below.
England rugby international and columnist (Kent)
Writer of Horror Fiction (Liverpool)
Contestant in the BBC's The Apprentice 2009
Correspondent (Emmanuel, Cambridge)
Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner (Christ Church, Oxford)
Author and illustrator of children’s books (Downing, Cambridge)
publisher of the
BBC TV journalist
BBC radio newsreader
(King's College London)
Editor of Private
UNICEF Special Representative (Bristol)
Guitarist and singer with Dire Straits
inventor and entrepreneur (Birmingham City)
View profile >>
Party MP in the
and TV actor
Writer of children's fiction (King's College London)
ITN News anchorwoman (Royal Holloway)
Jennie Page (CBE)
former CEO of the Millenium Dome
Actor and screen writer
Writer of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
(St John’s College, Cambridge)
(Exeter College, Oxford)
Film director and screen writer
Russell Harty Television broadcaster, (Exeter College, Oxford) (he “was taught by Nevill Coghill, who noted of an early essay, ‘Sex in the Canterbury Tales’, ‘Energetic and zealous but very naïve’”.)
Film-maker Painter and campaigner for homosexual rights (King’s College, London)
Merchant banker and Liberal peer (Trinity College, Cambridge). He studied English literature “having tried law and economics but found them too dull”.
Fashion designer, (Royal Holloway )