Advising students on choosing a university course: English
20th March 2014
English graduate Alex Kelly on what you should encourage your students to consider when deciding where to study English.
Is the course more ‘literature’ or more ‘language’?
‘English’ is a broad term as far as university courses are concerned. Some courses are literature focussed (students spend their time studying works of literature) and some are language focussed (students study speech and other ‘texts’ as much as literature, and look at how language has developed). Students should think about what they’ve most enjoyed in their A-level course.
Is the course taught chronologically?
Some courses start at the ‘beginning’ of English, and work their way forwards chronologically. This is a more old-fashioned approach, but it gives students a good feel for the story of how English language and literature has developed through the centuries, and how it has interacted with what else has been going on in world history. Other courses take snapshots of literature at key interesting points. This approach means that students can miss out the bits they aren’t interested in!
How much choice do students get?
Almost all English literature courses involve studying at least a chunk of the cannon – so they’ll get a grounding in Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare and friends. Normally the course is fairly similar for all students in the first and second years, with a lot more choice in the third year. However in their efforts to differentiate themselves, some courses offer students great freedom to focus on what they’re most interested in – so encourage students to take a look at how different courses are structured.
Is the course ‘author based’ or ‘theme based’?
This is quite a big ideological difference. Some courses encourage students to look at literature as the product of particular people – so they’ll focus on the authors themselves and will normally examine a range of their works – and some courses encourage students to look at literature as the product of its historical context – they’ll analyse literature in the context of particular events or ‘isms’ (eg Communism) current at the time the texts were written. The former is more similar to the approach at A-level, so students should talk to their English teachers about which method they are likely to most enjoy.
Can you study foreign authors?
Some courses will only let you study texts originally written in English. Some will only let you study texts written in the UK or by British authors. If you want the freedom to compare South American Magic Realism with the English equivalent, don’t apply for one of these courses!
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