A guide to studying English Literature at university - including what to expect, reasons to consider the subject area, application tips and a careers overview.
Why consider studying English at university
Studying for an English degree will develop learning, creating and thinking skills, to fulfil potential both in preparation for a career and as a human being. These skills include:
- Research skills and the ability to work independently
- High level written and verbal skills
- The ability to pay attention to detail, alongside a view of the bigger picture
- Creativity skills and the ability to think creatively
- The ability to build persuasive arguments with supporting information.
In addition to these core skills an English degree also enables students to:
- Think critically about the world and our place in it and to appreciate the experiences of humanity in different places and times through a variety of stories
- Develop the ability to identify and transform cultural biases and assumptions we have, and broaden perspective on contemporary global issues
-Understand the past better, which helps to navigate the present. Undergraduate English degrees usually place importance on historical context as works of art are created in the societies that people live in. Watch this section on the video from 00:54 to 04:13
What should you expect if you study English at university?
English degree courses in the UK are usually three years duration, but can be four years if a work placement or year abroad is undertaken. An English degree involves a good deal of independent study and a wide range of reading. Students may be offered a selection of elective modules which could include areas of specialist interest or fields adjacent to English, for example creative writing, journalism or publishing.
English students will study the classics and a variety of literature written outside of the British Isles. Students will engage with literary theory and current debates in literary scholarship. They will write essays, give presentations and produce creative work, showing what has been learned in a variety of ways that suits a diverse range of skill sets.
English generally provides for a ‘holistic’ type of degree, that attunes well with extracurricular university activities, such as clubs, societies and events which can emphasise, elevate and add to an English degree while enhancing student cultural life. Watch this section on the video from 04:13 to 07:32
What careers does studying English at university lead to?
As English is not a vocational degree and does not form part of a particular career path, there are many options open to English graduates. The critical thinking, creativity, socio-cultural awareness and other transferable skills such as editing, writing, content creation, proof reading, argumentation and creative and persuasive communication are valuable for many professions. The creativity skills developed by an English degree are extremely desirable, not only for creative jobs in the arts but also any workplace looking for problem solving and original ideas. The diversity and scope of English literature enables English graduates to confidently apply for many fields of employment.
Careers that English graduates progress to include copy editor, digital content strategist, publisher, journalist, paralegal, communications manager, public relations manager, business consultant, policy analyst, broadcaster, freelance writer, teacher and academia. Watch this section on the video from 07:33 to 10:25
Application tips for English courses at university
University admissions staff will be looking for prospective students who have begun to develop creative and critical thinking skills, some ability to reflect on and analyse text, evidence of wide reading and strong written and verbal skills.
Applicant’s personal statements should discuss what they have read, both during formal study and for pleasure and what has been learned from this reading. Applicants should discuss any skills they have already have, for example any independent research undertaken and time management skills as well as what they are interested in and any particular areas of literature that they are looking forward to exploring. Writing skills will be developed greatly through an English course, but ideally personal statements should show a ‘flair’ for writing. Watch this section on the video from 10:27 to 12:53
With thanks to the event speaker:
Dr Sarah Jilani, Lecturer in English at City, University of London
Jon Cheek, Founder and Director, UniTasterDays.com