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English Lit. at Exeter/UCL/Edinburgh/York/Warwick/Durham?

(36 Posts)
Coleoptera Sun 09-Sep-18 16:56:42

DT1 is trying to pick 4 from these 6 universities.

Has anyone got a DC who is currently doing English Literature at any of these places and could give us some feedback about how they're finding it overall?

I'm looking for a sense of the 'feel' of a place, rather than the information available online and any strong opinions for or against any of these? DT1 won't visit anywhere until offers come in.

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weegiemum Sun 09-Sep-18 16:57:55

I went to Edinburgh (but did geography) and found it a fabulous place to study.

IrmaFayLear Sun 09-Sep-18 17:02:31

Interested too. Not in party atmosphere etc, but the course content and how challenging it is. Grinning students in the brochure don't tell you much!

I have a young friend at Southampton whose English Literature degree sounds both deep and interesting. Dn's at Birmingham sounds ultra light.

goodbyestranger Sun 09-Sep-18 17:06:42

Coleoptera you've posted your DTs' grades elsewhere so perhaps try to find out the unofficial minimum GCSE grades required from a good indie for an offer, since they may well be on the cusp for some of the unis mentioned for English - or even the wrong side of it. The school itself should give you a steer, based on recent leavers. It's Durham I'm thinking of, and to a lesser extent UCL.

Coleoptera Sun 09-Sep-18 17:25:36

Goodbyestranger, thanks for that timely advice.

Do these universities not take much account of predicted A level grades and just focus on achieved GCSE grades?

I know it's tricky these days without AS levels anymore. DT1 hoped their predicted A level grades (A*A*A*) and good references from their school for their subject might make up for weak GCSEs (4A*s 3As 3Bs), especially as the B grades were not in subjects related to their degree choice. Is that not the case?

OP’s posts: |
goodbyestranger Sun 09-Sep-18 17:48:49

Coleoptera it was the case at least until recently that Durham, for History and English - both of which are very, very strong departments - looked for a whole long raft of A* at GCSE. In fact on its web page History put seven A* as its minimum until a few years ago when it decide that that flew in the face of widening access, so toned it down (at least in print). But your DT are at a good indie (or have I got that wrong - if so sorry - I sometimes muddle posters and I'm too lazy to trawl back!), so they can't expect any leeway. I'd maybe scoot through TSR Durham/ English because it's an absolute waste to get a swift rejection. As I say, UCL had a reputation for being a bit brutal too, so could be worth checking out to get up to date info on that too.

I reckon that achieved GCSEs will be more important than predicted A2s, given the dubiousness with which some unis regard predictions. And long strings of GCSEs are a good indicator of achievement two years on, and even beyond that too, hence the long standing reliance on them at top unis (Cambridge apart, until now).

Best of luck to the DTs.

BubblesBuddy Sun 09-Sep-18 18:19:03

Most of that list is highly aspirational. Which one would be a step down? English is very competitive and there should be one that is slightly less lofty. Also, why not visit? How can she really know which one would suit without visiting? At least visit a couple.

Coleoptera Mon 10-Sep-18 14:57:55

Thanks again goodbyestranger. Other people we know from fee paying schools have in the past been offered places at Durham with similar GCSE results, so we thought DTs would be in with a chance. However, their subject choices were different and their schools were, in a couple of cases, slightly less academically selective. So that may make all the difference.

Bubbles, DTs thought Edinburgh/York might be the less aspirational ones compared with Durham and UCL, although of course still high up the league tables for universities. Maybe they need to think again - and rapidly, as their school's internal deadline (for Oxbridge applicants, which they are), is coming up within a week or so and all choices as far as I know have to be made by then.

There won't be time for Open Days and DTs are clear that they'll visit universities that make them offers - if at this rate, any of them do - but not before, in case they get too attached to a place they'll never attend.

Despite all this, I'm still interested to hear about anyone who's DCs have been to - or currently attend - any of those universities for English, especially Exeter which is a strong favourite with DT1.

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LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 10-Sep-18 16:24:20

York topped the REF for English Lit last time. This is only one measure of one thing the university does, but I'd be cautious of assuming it's less aspirational than other universities on the list.

I teach English Lit, and have taught at one of the universities on that list. I know you asked about the feel of the course and not about what's online, but IME quite a lot of applicants don't realise how much the content of one English Lit degree might differ from the content of another.

For example, does your child really like/dislike a particular genre or form or time period? If they don't want to study medieval literature, or they're passionate about literature in translation, or they really enjoy drama, they really need to be sure the course does what they'd like. Every year, every one of my colleagues at universities across the UK gets at least some students who are really upset because they didn't expect an English course to contain what it does. Some of them simply made the wrong call and don't actually like English Lit the way it's taught at university, but others would have been really happy at a different university, and where they went wrong was assuming all courses teach more or less the same stuff.

goodbyestranger Mon 10-Sep-18 16:32:33

Coleoptera subject choice makes a mammoth difference.

goodbyestranger Mon 10-Sep-18 16:34:55

Exeter's admissions policy for English has been yo-yoing in recent cycles so difficult for anyone to know what stunt if any they'll pull this year.

NameChangedAgain18 Tue 11-Sep-18 07:15:09

York topped the REF for English Lit last time

Actually, Warwick came top for English in the REF.

RedHelenB Tue 11-Sep-18 08:12:22

They don't need to put choices other than Oxbridge down straight away. Dd2 hasn't even started her PS for Cambridge yet, they only went back to college yesterday!

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 11-Sep-18 08:29:07

Sorry, name, I had York in my mind but I expect you are right! I didn't check my memory. It's good, though.

thejeangenie36 Tue 11-Sep-18 11:29:01

I have some knowledge of the English programmes at both Durham and York. Both are well-regarded and students seem to enjoy both (e.g. good student satisfaction in the NSS). York was in Clearing for English this year (in a limited way), but that is probably to do with the fact that the University has struggled to plan for the 'demographic dip' (< number of 18 year olds) rather than an indicator of status.

The list is of quite different universities in quite different places. Durham and York, for instance, have residential colleges for the 1st year, and both are in or on the edge of small historic towns (contrast to Warwick - canny marketing as it's actually on the edge of Coventry). Warwick and York are both campus-based universities, with Warwick being pretty big. So things like accommodation, student support, nightlife, costs are all different.

As LRB says above, I think your DD will need to look at the structure (content) of the courses. York and Durham both offer modules on English in different periods of history (e.g. you can study poetry in the original Anglo-Saxon), and I know York has modules on non-British literature.

Coleoptera Tue 11-Sep-18 15:59:24

Many thanks. LRD, DT1 is drawn to the Exeter and Cambridge courses - and possibly also Edinburgh - as they seemed to offer options for more modern lit., not just medieval lit. DT1 also loves all poetry, symbolism and modernism, I think and so has been looking for a good match to these options and believes that Cambridge allows for independent choice to a degree in the second and third years. They like York as a general university/town and like UCL largely because it's so respected and has a tutorial system, which DT1 would like to experience.

Goodbyestranger, what did you mean about a the admissions policy for English at Exeter 'yo-yo cycling' in recent years?

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goodbyestranger Tue 11-Sep-18 16:42:15

Exeter has been veering all over the place with its 'standard offer' for English. Mad offers of two A* and an A and then going right the other way/ reverting back to less dizzy heights. Not sure what it did last year. The only rational explanation was that it didn't want to be an insurance for any other top uni incl Durham, UCL etc. But it put a lot of people off (as in: who do they think they are? etc)

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 11-Sep-18 17:01:53

Not quite.

Cambridge has a two-year Part I, which means for the first two years of the degree, you follow a set course, and broadly, you study chronological periods from Medieval to Contemporary.

You have choices for a couple of papers where you write coursework (and the details of these have just changed so I haven't got my mind around them yet), but even there, you don't have completely free choice.

In your third year, there is much more choice - you have two compulsory elements (tragedy and practical criticism), and three free choices, one of which must be an exam paper taken from a (long) list of options, and two of which could be pretty much anything.

That said, because Cambridge teaching is done in small groups, even if you don't get to choose what time period you're working on for the first two years, you've lots of choices within that time period and you'll often be able to pursue your own interests.

I do think Cambridge is a good place for someone who likes poetry, as there's lots of it and liking poetry can be quite useful for practical criticism, which is compulsory (it's close-reading essays).

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 11-Sep-18 17:03:22

(Btw, I really can't think of any university English degree that has a huge component of medieval lit, and I'm not sure Cambridge has masses less than other places. Can't comment in comparison to Exeter and Edinburgh, but I think Cambridge has slightly more mandatory medieval than York.)

Nettleskeins Tue 11-Sep-18 21:23:52

just want to add my anecdotal pennysworth in, in the sense that I know someone whose daughter was "bitten" after applying to Exeter, and not getting 2A*sA, merely A*AA, and came from an academic feepaying indie. She then went to Newcastle to do Eng Lit where she was extremely happy!
I know someone else from an academic indie who was rejected by Durham despite being predicted A*AA to do English. He went to UCL. [actually hated it and left but that is by the by] Now at a different RG.
York offered someone I knew a place in Clearing last year, with ABB for Eng Lit. She went to Manchester, and wasn't impressed by the Eng course there, as it was all over the place, chronology wise. AAB needed to do English though. She had dropped down to ABB so she did joint honours with another subject as English was too oversubscribed.

Clearly there are lots of unknowns, but I think what Feminist said about the actual course content is really important. When I did English it was chronological, you started with Gawain and the Green Knight and ended up with Virginia Woolf three years later. Very different now.

I think if you do a joint honours it may be far easier to get into a more prestigious university to do English.
Another friend recommended the course at Leeds, and yet another the one at Glasgow. AAB but often ABC or ABB in practice. Edinburgh I think offered ABB as their offer for a third friend's daughter.

OhtheHillsareAlive Wed 12-Sep-18 20:54:58

I work in an aligned field, and I know at least half of those departments very well. Several very good friends work in them.

They're ALL great choices. An EngLit degree at any of those universities will be a wonderful educational & life experience. I'd also include KCL alongside UCL if you're looking at central London - a different department - more quirky & less traditional, but some amazing teachers & scholars there.

So, it will be two things:

a) the campus/location/university/town (why oh why is DT1 refusing to visit any of them??? Not wise)

b) the curriculum in each.

Obviously, the feel of each campus will only be obvious when they visit.

But to determine the second aspect: go into each department's website and look at what the CORE compulsory modules over the three years are. These won't change hugely over the next year or two, although the people teaching them might.

These core modules will give you a sense of the focus and specialisms, and methodological approaches, and assessment/examination methods of each department. Don't set your heart on a third year optional module: these often change, as staff like to mix it up to keep the teaching fresh, and aligned with research interests.

Look at what is required of students as the core curriculum.

Also look at the way that staff are teaching in ways aligned to their research. For a bright student, it can be very exciting for them to be working with a tutor who is writing a book about the very topic they're teaching, or has just published a book. There are often opportunities, in these elite departments (and they all are) to work alongside staff in their research, or do 'real world' literary work as student interns (I regularly involve UG students in my funded research projects).

In EngLit - in common with most humanities subjects - good researchers are good teachers, more often than not. If they're excited about their research, they will be wanting to get students excited as well - I know I do - and students appreciate that freshness, and an insight into the real world of scholarship.

And it's good to be taught b the people whose books & articles you're reading as part of your course.

OhtheHillsareAlive Wed 12-Sep-18 21:03:30

York has modules on non-British literature

Technically, York is a Department of English and Comparative Literature.

And it is a cracking research unit - whether or not it was "top" in the last REF, it's punched above its weight in the 2001 and 2008 RAEs - consistently in the top 10 for research.

Exeter is the largest (in terns of staff) English department in the country with a very good research & teaching reputation. THe "yo-yoing" to which a PP refers may simply be that they've been given high targets for incoming students numbers. English departments are often the milch cows of universities.

The thing is, with those choices, your DT1 will get an excellent education at any of them. So choice will be about what offers are made, and what curriculum she prefers, as well as the style of campus & town/city.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 12-Sep-18 21:28:29

It was second; it was top in terms of 4* research (and this is utterly meaningless, but explains why I had in mind it was top).

I should say - I don't think doing things in chronological order is necessary important. It's just it happened to be what they do at the university I described. What does matter is that you get a good sense of the course before you apply. If you want to do a nice historical overview, you'll bloody hate somewhere where you dot about. Or, if you just want to get stuck in to theory, you may not enjoy spending ages patiently studying each period in turn.

Miladymilord Wed 12-Sep-18 22:18:51

How utterly bizarre that you'd ask random people on the Internet rather than going to visit confused

Also if your dcs are predicted 3 a* they'll get in anywhere.

horsemadmom Thu 13-Sep-18 09:47:46

DD1 looked at most of the unis on your list for English. You really do need to visit. She's at Oxford and really enjoying it. One of her gripes when we visited were the courses that did not do Old/Middle English and only offered it in translation (exeter). Some courses seemed, to her, to have too much focus on a political agenda at the expense of great canonical works. It's important to read and understand literature in historical context in order to form a critical opinion. Some of the unis on Open Days seemed to bang on very loudly about '(fill in the blank) theory' without any enthusiasm for and seeming exclusion of the study of the classics and the complex language and difficult ideas they present. I'm sure that every one of those departments actually do have teaching expertise in all periods but the unis that try to sell their course on accessibility and modern relevance put her right off. On your list, UCL, Durham and Edinburgh did not present as 'dumbed down' . GO VISIT!

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