Ever since January, I’ve been the proud owner of a first class English degree. If you’d told me just a year ago that I’d be saying that, I’d laugh and tell you to pull the other one. It wasn’t quite the smooth sailing I’d imagined (more on that another day) but it was, in many ways, the best few years of my life so far. After studying a subject I absolutely hated for a year, I know how important it is to be doing something you love, and thankfully I adored my degree. In fact, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
There are a few things that would’ve been helpful to know before going in however, so I thought I’d use this post to impart a few words of wisdom to anyone considering studying English at university. Because if I’d been better informed about Law, maybe I would’ve realised it wasn’t my cup of tea before signing up for that juicy student loan.
1. It’s Not All Novel
It’s certainly a lot nicer to be reading novels than dense and dreary textbooks. I often sat in the library feeling like a bit of a fraud, because a lot of my reading doesn’t really feel like work at all. That being said, you won’t enjoy all of the novels you read. Some might be new favourites but others will be mind-numbingly dull. It’s also easy to forget that you won’t just be reading novels. You’ll also be reading a lot of theoretical texts on topics such as gender, marxism, postmodernism and psychoanalysis. Often these are super interesting but they tend to be more hard going than the actual fiction. Then there’s all of your secondary reading i.e. long, often dreary, essays by academics. Despite popular opinion, ‘loving reading’ doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll love an English degree!
2. You’re On Your Own Pal
The amount of contact time you get for an English degree is, frankly, ridiculous. I was taught for 8 hours a week, 4 of these being lectures and the other 4 seminars. In the final year, when I was writing a dissertation, this dropped down to a paltry 6 hours! You might want to ask yourself if you fancy spending £9,000 a year for the privilege of library access and having to trek to uni for just an hours worth of contact time. If you’re planning on embarking on an English degree, you’re going to need some serious self-discipline. Nobody is making you do the work. It’s all down to you to get in the library and get reading.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Independent study is kind of great in that it means you’re able to follow your own interests. In fact, this is encouraged. In this sense, an English degree can be really well tailored to suit your own passions, rather than those of a random lecturer whose name you won’t remember in 5 years time, and studying something you enjoy is a sure fire way to love your degree.
3. It’s Broad Baby!
One of my favourite things about my degree was how multi-disciplinary it is. Of course, I learnt a lot about books and authors, but I also got to dip my toes into all sorts of other things. I got to learn about historical events, distant cultures, politics, philosophy, mythology, race and gender theory – the list goes on! Not to mention all the random facts I learn along the way because they happen to be mentioned in the novels I read. If you’re looking to get a broader knowledge of the world and culture in general, an English degree is a great choice!
4. Transfer Those Skills
Oh the elusive ‘transferable skills’ – always mentioned at open days in a bid to convince you of the value of a humanities degree. Jokes aside, you really do gain valuable life tools from studying English. After three years of intense essay writing, for example, you’ll probably be pretty great at articulating yourself. Likewise, all that independent study means your time management skills will be on point and you’re likely to be a lot more pro-active than those who have taken courses where the information is spoon-fed. If you don’t really know what you want to do career-wise, English might not be such a bad bet!
5. It Ain’t That Deep
I had this idea that in getting a degree, I would become an expert in my subject. Turns out this was far from the case. At A-level I studied two or three texts for a whole year. Throughout my degree I studied two or three a week! The English degree gives you a broad overview of literature, rather than closely focused analysis of certain texts. This can be a little disconcerting and fairly overwhelming at first but it’s actually pretty great. If you enjoy a text, you can choose to write an essay on it and really get into the nitty gritty stuff. Maybe you’ll even choose to do a dissertation on it! Equally if you hate a text (I’m looking at you Medieval moral plays), you can forget about it in a week’s time and move on to the next thing.