What To Expect From An English Degree

I don’t think I need to tell anyone that A Level results day was last week. I honestly remember my own results day like it was about three months ago, but no, apparently it was four years since I received a 7:30 text telling me I’d got in and the best three years I could possibly have asked for began.

It’s a really exciting time and posts with fresher tips are all over the internet right now, with good reason. I was very tempted to do my own, but given that I’m hopelessly old now anyway and probably totally out of touch, I thought I’d do something a bit different and focus my tips for uni on my subject. I figure the blogosphere is likely filled with people about to start, already midway through, or considering English degrees, but it’s a subject that can be difficult to describe (let alone justify), so here are my tips as to what you can expect if you’re on your way to your English BA!

(Disclaimer: I did my English BA at Exeter. All unis obviously have very different course set ups so this is just from my experience, but hopefully it’ll give you at least an idea of what you might experience!)

  • You will become very familiar with the following words: problematic, binary oppositions, legitimises, social construct, deconstruct…amongst others.
  • Some part of first year will be spent grappling with overly complicated literary theory that will actually prove so so useful by 3rd year (and that’s not even that complex once you get through the mile-long sentences and super long words!)
  • Your tutors will be (for the most part) lovely, laidback, socially awkward and technologically inept, in approximately equal parts
  • You’ll probably still get given cake and/or chocolate at the end of term because English staff know about priorities
  • It sounds unlikely but you actually can focus your degree on exactly what you want and what you’re interested in. I studied precisely one Shakespeare play during my entire 4 years and 2 degrees but some of my best friends did entire modules in him. Meanwhile, I was studying American Novels written since 2000 (the best module I ever took)
  • You’ll find yourself identifying sexism, colonialism, any other kind of ism, in every TV show you ever watch – including the adverts. You will also start identifying everything you ever come across as a “social construct.” I am not even joking.
  • Your non-English friends will think you never do any work and will bemoan your lack of exams until you feel guilty for doing English. Don’t feel guilty – own it. Not your fault you picked the best degree!
  • When you tell people outside of uni what you do, they WILL assume you’re going to be a teacher. Just smile.
  • You will become an expert in reading about 4 pages of a book in order to surmise its general premise
  • You will also become an expert in coming up with one useful comment to blurt out in a seminar, before sitting back, satisfied that your work is done, for the rest of the session.
  • You get to do what, for most people, is essentially a hobby (reading), for three years of your life. That’s it! That’s all you have to do! (And as an aside, you will probably wonder every day how exactly you’re getting away with this one…just go with it.)

Any fellow English students/grads have anything to offer? I think it’s fair to say I absolutely loved my English degree (MA…not so much, but that’s another story) and I am also very happy to report that doing English doesn’t seem to have hindered any of my friends in their job hunt. So if you’re thinking about it, don’t let the lack of obvious career choices put you off (and if you have any other questions, feel free to tweet/email me!)


2 thoughts on “What To Expect From An English Degree

  1. Yep, I agree with pretty much everything on here! I study English and French and would highly recommend a joint honours degree to anyone who isn’t sure whether they can handle/want to study straight English. I think you do have to be very careful of some things when studying English though. For example, it’s incredibly easy to take a laid back approach, read half the assigned texts, attend half the lectures and then seriously struggle when it comes to the exam.This is the case with most humanities subjects, but I feel like it’s so easy to put as minimal effort as possible in, and just enough in order to get by. At the end of second year I kind of realised that I actually really enjoyed the lectures I went to and listened in, and seriously regretted not going to more!

    I’m looking forward to my third year (technically fourth, but I have a year out in France) as I haven’t had much of a chance to pick specialised modules in previous years. I guess this is the massive disadvantage of Joint Honours! I feel like English is only fun when you get to decide what to study, and what you’re interested in!

    Imogen x

    1. Those are definitely very true points! I feel like English doesn’t have THAT many lectures so you might as well go to as many as possible – they’re not that bad! And yeah, one of my best friends did German & English and she was always jealous that single honours had so much more choice!


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