Deciding to strike while the iron’s hot off the positive response I’ve received to the creation of the blog, I thought I’d start with proper posts by giving you my thoughts on why English degrees are such great degrees to do (if you’re considering undertaking an English degree, you may want to read on!).
Growing up, I always loved reading and writing (which sounds like a cliché but it’s true!). I started writing my own stories at around six years of age, and read loads while growing up. By the time I was in around Year 5 or Year 6 at primary school (aged about 10 or 11), I had decided I wanted to be an author – though as I was introduced to article writing during secondary school, this turned into wanting to be a journalist, seeming to me like a more realistic career option. Still, I digress.
It became quite clear to me during my time at secondary school that I wanted to study for an English (Literature) degree. I couldn’t really imagine doing any other subject over English – though, admittedly, I did investigate the possibility of doing a Combined Honours degree in English and French, before deciding that I wouldn’t feel like I was studying enough English Literature. The only other course I would possibly have taken was a journalism course, but didn’t go down this route due to the fact that not many undergraduate journalism degrees are accredited (i.e. they don’t give you the actual qualification that newspapers etc. are looking for) and the courses didn’t fit with the kinds of universities I wanted to study my degree at.
I have absolutely no regrets about my decision. I have really enjoyed studying for my degree. A good English degree will give you an understanding of formative texts of the English literary canon, as well as an introduction to the main critical theories that academics use to make certain readings of texts (like Marxism, postcolonialism and gender studies). I had modules on both of these things in my first year, meaning I studied classic literary texts including a translation of Beowulf, Gulliver’s Travels and Frankenstein all before my first term at university was out, and got an understanding of lots of different fields of literary study early before the end of my first year. A literature degree also means you can have entire classes on periods or types of literature you’re really interested in. For example, I did an entire module on medieval literature in second year, which was heavy (and involved 8.30am seminars) but very interesting.
Studying English Literature at degree level really opens up your understanding of what constitutes literature too – rather than just the standard plays, novels and poems you read at GCSE level. The university I study at happens to have really good links between its Film and its English departments, with lots of Film modules available for English students to take. In my second year, I studied a module looking at adaptations of what would be considered classic forms of literature – like plays and novels – into films. It really felt like I was getting good value for money with that course, as I was studying some classic literary texts as well as some highly-acclaimed pieces of cinema.
Another thing I’ve really liked about my English degree, speaking from a third-year perspective now, is the type of dissertation you get to do. Whereas in other subjects, your dissertation might involve ploughing through some rather dry facts and figures, in English, you can choose texts you’ve really loved and then give your own readings of them. The work for the dissertation is still tough, but it can involve some really cool forms of research. I’ve recently just interviewed a well-known playwright about one of the plays I’m studying for my dissertation, which was so exciting – I was able to talk about a play I love, in depth, with the actual person who wrote it and achieved great mainstream success with this and other plays!
Another thing, more at university-level in this case, is that by doing this course at the university I happen to study at, I am able to take 30 of my 120 credits required to pass each year in a language – meaning I have been able to carry on studying French since A Level.
I would highly recommend an English course for anyone who loves books. It’s a classic, well-respected degree by employers (or at least, I hope, having not graduated yet) and you get a really broad overview of the field – as well as being able to tick some must-reads off your personal reading list!