English Literature – undergraduate degrees

Choosing English Literature

By Nicole Correia,

English Literature is definitely the degree for bookworms, avid literature lovers, potential critics, and those who aren’t daunted by the prospect of writing thousands of words of their own opinion, inspired by inspiration and (yet even more!) further reading.

Everyone up and down the country has studied English Literature up until GCSE level. For many students it is a love/hate subject, and some chose to drop it at A Level and take on a different humanities subject, or new subject altogether. For those that decide to continue English Literature at A Level they are encouraged to delve further into the literary world, covering many different time periods, styles, authors and genres. Evidently English Literature is a book-heavy subject, meaning that a student must enjoy and be willing to read lots to fully grasp the subject. Similarly a student must be prepared to write continuous essays to express observation and opinion upon reading a piece of literature. These skills are developed at A Levels but at university they become stronger, more refined, accurate and impressive. This is a well-respected degree and whilst it is not vocational, it does open new opportunities for graduates.

What types of English Literature degrees are available can you do?

Choose to expand on your literary knowledge by committing to a single honours degree in English Literature. You will no doubt be impressed and motivated by the passion of your tutors, and, like them, soon find your preferred era, genre or style, upon reading an abundance of literature. Read into the details of single honours in English Literature to determine whether or not it interests you - if part of it does, but you want more from a degree, further research is needed: consider a joint honours degree.

It may be that you would like to study another humanities subject, to compliment the English Literature studies. Or, that you would alternatively prefer to branch out by trying something new or expanding on a different subject area that interests you - for example an art such as drama or media studies. Decide which combination you prefer and research further into how the degree is split - is it 50% or perhaps 70% and 30%. It is really important to know this part as you must study topics you have an interest in, in order to do well at degree level.

Some universities offer bursaries for students who study particular combinations of degrees so it is worth finding out if your preferred course is one of them. This may work as further motivation to do well whilst at school. If you don’t enjoy writing essays and close analysis at A Level then you will not enjoy developing these skills further at degree level. Be prepared to take your time with your studies with an English Literature degree - it is better to study something you enjoy rather than study something “you have always studied” just because you know what it is like. University level teaching and studying is very different, very independent, and so it is paramount that you are self-motivated. You will also most likely have to write essays in exams, so get used to the sore hand that comes from writing for three hours straight!

Here is just a handful of the types of courses you could look to enrol on:

Bangor University

Philosophy and religion and English

Bath Spa University

English literature/media communications
English literature/publishing

The University of Birmingham

American and Canadian studies and English literature with year abroad
English literature and German studies (4 years)
English literature and music

Canterbury Christ Church University

Animal science and English literature
Applied criminology and English literature
Creative writing with English literature

Putting the hours in

It is a good idea to ask about lecture contact time on university open days as this will vary depending on the university and course combination. Each week you will have a lecture followed by a seminar; the lecture introduces and discusses ideas and the seminar teachings invite you to express and discuss these ideas alongside your own. In order for both lectures and seminars to be effective you MUST have read the text beforehand - otherwise it will be very difficult to understand and follow during a lecture or seminar. Keeping on top of your reading is important for this reason and by the second term of your first year you will no doubt have got into the rhythm of your own reading pace for the course.

Crunch time

Once again your assessments will differ depending on the course combination with English Literature and the university but the majority split assessments into exams and coursework. Most of the time you will find that the larger percentage relies on the exam. Research the course thoroughly to find out how exactly the course is divided, but try not to let this be a deciding factor as university level English Literature is all about expressing your own (new) ideas on a text that is likely to have been discussed for years and years. There is always plenty of reading and research material to prepare you for the best marks, whether your assessment is exam or coursework based.

Careers: read all about it

English Literature degrees are welcomed in many job sectors. You are not limited to jobs in editorial, journalism, publishing or teaching - although many graduates aspire to work in these sectors. With this particular degree it is almost as if the world is your oyster - work in PR, within the media, or for a renowned company - with a good level degree in English Literature you will be able to apply for a lot more than originally perceived. To ensure that you are considered above the other graduate competition it is essential to have done some work experience in order to impress employers further.

English Literature undergraduates should apply for work experience positions that interest them as they will be considered due to the broad skills needed in their degree - employers will direct these skills as necessary and it is important for an undergraduate too as they will seek direction for employment after an internship or work experience placement. Many English Literature departments also provide modules that encourage such, and help their students to apply their degree knowledge to the working world.