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Comparative Literature

Overview

A major for the multilingual, multitalented, and just plain tenacious.

Description

Comparative literature, also known as "comp lit," is a classically self-selecting major. We mean it's the kind of major that at first seems like it's only for the nerdiest. What self-respecting college student except the nerdiest is willing to be identified as the nerdiest?

Despite being one for the geeks, it's also kind of, well, chic...seeing as comp lit departments pride themselves on shaping sophisticated students that are fluent in several languages. People are pretty impressed when you hang up with your Spanish-speaking mother to order your Chinese food in perfect Cantonese, before turning back to them and continuing a conversation in English. That's just shy of comic-book level sorcery.

Although, there can be no denying that you've got to be willing to spend lots (and lots) of time doing grammar drills if you want to make it in this major.

But think of the silver lining of all those conjugation flashcards: a semester or even a year in Spain, Brazil, France, or some other dream destination. Comp lit programs almost universally encourage their students to spend time abroad, and this translates into some serious worldliness. You'll return to campus sporting a new look and spicing up your English with untranslatable terms from whatever language you've just mastered.

So what can you actually do once you're back in your home country? Well, even if it might not seem like the most practical major, comp lit will teach you to approach all kinds of problems critically and creatively. It'll also refine your communication skills through writing—something you'll have lots and lots of practice with. Take it from us: clear, concise, and compelling writing is something that employers of all stripes value. You'll have lots of flexibility when you start job-hunting.

If you love long books and long words, as well as foreign languages, comp lit may be just the major for you. Or, you know, if you just love showing off your superior intellect at social gatherings. Either way.

Famous People who majored in Comparative Literature

  • James Franco. Word on the street says he is currently completing a PhD in comparative literature at Yale.
      
  • Tina Fey. We don't think she majored in comp lit, but she does wear "comp-lit glasses."
      
  • Lena Dunham. Her character Hannah on Girls might have majored in comp lit…if she hadn't studied creative writing.

Percentage of US students who major in Comparative Literature:

0.11% (includes linguistics)

Stats obtained from this source.