Anna Sykes is a British student who is currently in her First Year studying English Literature at the University of York. Here, she dispenses some invaluable advice on how to prepare for a degree in English.
An English Literature degree helps students to develop a range of essential skills, including analysis and writing skills, that can lead to a wide range of career options. If you're starting a degree in English Literature soon, these tips will help you to hit the ground running...
Why study English?
One of the main misconceptions about an English degree is that it only leads to teaching. While many English graduates do choose to go into teaching, it can lead to a very wide range of other careers such as journalism, publishing or more surprising options, such as careers in law or the public sector. An English degree is an excellent way to prove to employers that you have good writing, analysis and communication skills, which are all vital in many sectors.
Wider reading is perhaps the most important thing to do in preparing to study English as it gives you a broader and deeper view of the subject. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your wider reading:
Start with what you enjoy! If there are specific genres or time periods that particularly grab you, start by reading more texts from them and finding similarities and differences between them. If not, think about the texts you have enjoyed studying at school and try to find other texts by the same author or others within a similar genre. If you don't know where to start, head over to 'English' in the Subjects Library - you'll find three must-read pieces of fiction in the Geek Out section.
Try to create a wider reading chain of books by taking a book you have recently read and finding something closely linked to it, then try to find something that can be linked to that book, and so on (the reading lists you can create on GoodReads are perfect for this). For example, the use of intertextuality in Ian McEwan’s Atonement may lead you to read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and then move on to Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Reading critical essays or articles about texts is another great way to improve your knowledge. In your A-level course and at university you may be asked to reference critical works in your essays, so it’s vital to familiarise yourself with literary criticisms of texts.
As well as just reading, there are various other mediums to explore. Watching theatre or film adaptations of novels and plays can help to build your understanding of the text, as well as encourage you to think about and analyse the way it’s been presented. In addition, podcasts such as the New Yorker Fiction and Audio Book Club can expose you to new writers and critical discussions of texts.
At your school or college there are probably a wide variety of extracurricular activities related to English that you can get involved with. This is a great way to build your engagement with the subject, and make your Personal Statement really stand out to universities. Here are a few examples of extracurricular activities you could get involved with:
- Book clubs are a great way to meet other people who are passionate about English and experience regular analytical discussions about texts.
- Volunteering at your school library or a book club for younger students is a great way of showing your passion for English. As well as this, it helps to improve your leadership and communication skills, which will look great on your personal statement.
- MOOCs are a valuable tool for learning more about your subject, as well as opening you up to new topics within English that you may not have studied before. A wide range of MOOCs can be found here on Unifrog, as well as other websites such as FutureLearn and Coursera.
- Taking part in drama and theatre companies within your school or local community can also help to build your understanding and interest in literature. By doing drama, you are able to study a text from the perspective of an actor or a director as well as just a reader, helping you to develop a deeper understanding of the way characters and settings are presented.
How to make the most of university
At university there are many opportunities that you can take advantage of to build yourself as a person, as well as make yourself more employable for the future.
English societies wherever you go to university, there will be loads of English-related societies that you can get involved in. Societies are a great way of meeting like-minded people, as well as finding new interests and building current interests.
If you’re interested in working in media or journalism, getting involved in student magazines and radio stations is a great way of building your skills and getting experience in the field.
Another great way to get the most out of university is to get work experience and internships. This is a great way of understanding potential job sectors and career paths, as well as making yourself more employable in the future.