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American Studies is an interdisciplinary major that explores the patterns of life and thought of the American peoples, past and present.

It is a study of culture, ranging from classic literary works and political documents to the popular music, pictures, and slogans surrounding us daily. The diversity of ethnic groups contributing to American culture is the special focus of some courses and a working assumption in all.

Flexibility and choice lie at the heart of this major. The student who wants a strong pre-law program could emphasize social sciences and history. Another student might be centrally interested in literature, arts, and media. Designing a small cluster of courses would allow the student to pursue an interest in politics, African American tradition, or women and the American experience. Adding a minor in Business, Law, English, Women’s Studies, International Studies, or Speech Communication broadens the major or adds a pre-professional dimension to it. Often students transferring from another field or university find that substantial coursework will count toward this major.

Majors are offered opportunities to apply their knowledge through internships, whether in a historical museum, political office, law office, or business setting. Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley offer rich opportunities for work-place experience, as well as for field observation and practice within other courses. American Studies both draws upon and returns to the worlds where we actually live.

Career Opportunities

The ability to think out of the box that American Studies fosters will translate directly into professional skills. Law schools look for students who can read an argument for its overall structure and its details. Teachers, writers, and editors need to integrate information and present it persuasively. Business and social service settings need workers who will respond with insight to the cultural diversity of customers and clients that they serve. While American Studies gives no specific vocational certification, it offers the foundation for developing one’s expertise throughout life.

Several fields deserve specific mention. Graduates might look for positions presenting the national heritage to the public, whether in museums and educational programs or at tourist sites. Some of our graduates have become secondary school teachers, adding certification after completing the B. A. The American Studies major provides excellent preparation for law school. Majors also find careers in the management, marketing, or public relations fields in business, or they work as journalists, political organizers, or writers.

Opportunities in all these fields are enhanced by forethought and development of practical skills. An internship in one’s field of interest provides not only a real taste of it but also a beginning credential. Adding computer skills would be an asset to any pre-professional student. The Business minor would enhance opportunities for a graduate looking for work not only in corporations, but also in any setting (for instance a museum or social program) with administrative and budgetary needs. Learning Spanish, even using it in the field prior to graduation, adds a powerful tool of communication in the United States today.

In addition, American Studies majors may go on directly to graduate programs on the Master’s or Ph.D. level to become college teachers or museum professionals. American Studies is itself a national movement and academic field, offered in graduate programs at many good universities.


For more information on the American Studies major, you may call Phyllis Cole at 610-892-1456 or email her at pbc2@psu.edu.