English literature degree

(22 Posts)
Musicaldaughter2 Tue 29-Jan-19 07:54:07

My DD (16) has decided she wants to pursue an English Literature degree - does anyone have any advice eg. where to go, what stuff to do for PS, how to prepare for exams such as the ELAT in due course? She got all grade 9 and A* at GCSE so is aiming high, hopefully. Also - what is the workload like? She has one big hobby (music) and she wants to keep this up as much as possible at uni because it’s great socially and a good stress reliever. Thanks so much in advance!

OP’s posts: |
LooseAtTheSeams Tue 29-Jan-19 08:40:51

I can answer bits of your query as I've got students applying for English degrees!
The PS needs to focus mainly on reasons for studying English, particular areas of interest in the subject and evidence of wider reading than just the A level syllabus. If she can link music to literature that's a bonus!
An English degree has varying levels of contact time but usually more time is spent on independent research so I think there should be plenty of opportunities to continue with music. It will vary - some unis may offer more of a range of ensembles and be more open to non-music degree members joining them.
In terms of which uni - aim high! But check the course details for the breadth of the course, e.g. do you want to start with Old English? That may be a factor. Don't assume any option modules will always be available (they won't!) but look at the research interests of the faculty for a general sense of where its main interests lie.

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 08:42:47

There are lots of good places for English. She should look at the course content and method of teaching - these things differ quite a bit. So, for example, some courses are quite chronological, others are more theoretical. Some give you a lot of choice and others rather less. Some let you do a lot of coursework, others very little. And so on. Really worth thinking about. In some places you read a lot in translation; in others, you'll have to learn medieval English.

To prepare she should just read widely and think about what she's reading. She doesn't have to read 'the Classics' or any prescribed reading list in particular (though if she's stuck for ideas come back and loads of people on here could suggest things!).

Again, workloads vary from place to place, but I think in most universities you'll manage a hobby alongside a lit degree easily. In some places you may even be able to use the music to help with the English and write about texts that have a musical component. IME lots of English students do bits of music and/or drama, so she would probably be in good company.

BubblesBuddy Tue 29-Jan-19 09:40:38

Look at the top ten universities for this subject and see where is of interest. I know girls who have studied English at Cambridge and loved it. Look at course, city or campus and think about London too (UCL). Everywhere does English so the choice is huge. So is the competition for jobs afterwards so aim high!

ShanghaiDiva Tue 29-Jan-19 09:53:02

I studied English back in the 1980s and contact time was pretty minimal - about 9 hours per week - but reading set texts/translations does take time. My course was traditional: starting with Anglo Saxon poetry and finishing with 20th century literature.

BubblesBuddy Tue 29-Jan-19 11:32:09

9 hours a week would be generous now.

ZandathePanda Tue 29-Jan-19 12:01:25

When my Dd was looking at English Literature, there was a bit of press about the Cambridge course being all ‘old, dead white men’. Looking at the course it certainly didn’t seem as exciting as some others for her. However I heard they are changing it for 2020 start so I’d definately be looking at that. We got a good vibe off Leeds, York and Newcastle. She didn’t want to look at Durham but I think you could combine English and Music there as Liberal Arts. A lot of unis combine the two and give you the flexibility to study one more than the other. A city university with a good music scene may suit her more, depending on her type of music?


ShanghaiDiva Tue 29-Jan-19 13:00:22

no doubt!

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 13:32:04

Relating to what zanda said - I was teaching at Cambridge when that issue came into the press. They do make changes to the course, and I don't know what the latest ones would be because I'm not there any more (though I know there's interesting sexuality stuff).

It's a complicated issue. At Cambridge you have a lot of freedom to choose your own reading matter. Much more than at lots of other universities. So it would be quite possible to read a lot of BME literature and scholarship, and I supervised students who did this well before the issue came into the media. However, a couple of years ago, a large group of students wrote an open letter to the faculty asking for more inclusion of BME authors on reading lists, the issue being that while you could go off and choose to find BME authors and scholars, you'd need to do a bit of legwork and this wasn't right.

I agreed with them at the time and still do.

However, I think Cambridge got a bad rap in the press. I remember the term there were stories in the press, and literally the week the story came out, I'd been teaching and marking essays on race in medieval literature. I regularly ran a lecture series on race in medieval romance, too. Weirdly, I noticed that people who discussed those newspaper articles, who didn't study English or know much about it all, seemed to be in sympathy with the idea that we shouldn't teach too much race, because they thought 'white men wrote all the great English literature'
or 'there were no black people in England until very recently'.

That really made me furious, except my students bounced in equally irritated, because I'd taught them and now they knew that wasn't true!

ZandathePanda Tue 29-Jan-19 14:18:53

Sarah Cambridge would certainly looked more appealing if they had put a few more details like your lecture series on the website.
OP I would recommend going to a few open days in the summer of Yr12 as it can focus what she really wants before UCAS aplications.

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 14:25:49

They wouldn't normally put a lecture series on because they can change, unfortunately. That's the same everywhere, so far as I know.

But yes, I think perhaps some of the issue is that the Cambridge course can look like a very simple plod through a chronological overview of literature, and that rather hides the fact that all the people who teach will bring in different ideas and actually, it can be really exciting and fun.

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 14:27:05

(And, that's very kind of you to say, too, thank you.)

Crockof Tue 29-Jan-19 14:27:30

Does she know what she wants to do? Literature is one of the poorest returns in regards to getting a decent job

BubblesBuddy Tue 29-Jan-19 15:33:25

Well, that’s why aiming high is important because there are thousands of literature grads who all think their favourite literature is going to be of great interest to others! On the jobs market, university and quality of the soft skills count. Sadly no English grad we know is high flying and many have struggled to find a niche and that includes family members. Although I absolutely realise that’s not a scientific study!

I think the fact that Sarah has moved on highlights some of the problems too. You can only receive teaching in topics the lecturers actually offer. If they are writing a book, teaching abroad, on maternity leave or are simply teaching elsewhere, then that research and knowledge isn’t available to undergrads. Many top employers will be more impressed with Cambridge and other high ranking universities because they won’t really care if you have studied Bede or Enid Blyton! They will care that you have high grade A levels and have a rigourous degree of quality that they can rely on.

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 15:48:48

I don't think job prospects for English Lit grads are particularly low. I do think (as with anything) you need to choose the course and the university with care, and you need to think about how you'd use that degree to get a job, in a realistic way.

bubbles ... I'm a very junior academic who was on a temp contract. We do move on! But my point was more that there were lots of people teaching interesting courses, and I gave my own example because it was (obviously) the one that sprang to my mind.

I would also say: the number of English Lit academics in research-intensive universities who wouldn't be teaching because they were writing a book is vanishingly small. Yes, you might get a term or two of research leave, but we're all writing books all the time, and it's what underpins English Lit teaching. So don't worry about that! But, equally, yes, you shouldn't apply to a university based on the stellar reputation/individual appeal of a single faculty member.

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 15:49:40

Gah. You'd think (one would think) that as an academic in English Lit, I could have written that post without so many ambiguous uses of 'you'. Sorry! blush

ShalomJackie Tue 29-Jan-19 17:59:21

I know of a few English Lit candidates who have then done their GDL/LPC AND qualified as solicitors.

Ontopofthesunset Tue 29-Jan-19 18:07:12

I know English literature graduates who are lawyers, accountants, small business owners, advertising professionals, PR consultants, broadcasters, writers, charity workers and teachers.

I know I'm slightly idealistic about this, but we all have our own definition of a 'decent job' and what might be a brilliant job for you might be awful for me. There isn't much point studying a subject you don't like to be more qualified for a job you won't enjoy at the end of it. The skills taught in an English literature degree are extremely transferable, as most jobs require comprehension, analysis and decision making.

BubblesBuddy Tue 29-Jan-19 20:09:43

Well, I think “decent” has to meet individual aspirations. It totally depends what you want. I’ll rephrase my comment: the jobs the grads ended up with didn’t meet initial expectations. That might be due to unrealistic aspiration of course! However many English degrees don’t have great employment stats. I think in a recent survey of earnings after 5 years, the degree was relatively lowly ranked. This may be an indicator of the careers chosen by English grads overall. However if the job meets expectations, then everyone is happy!

ShalomJackie Tue 29-Jan-19 20:14:43

I also know some who teach and are journalists both of which are not well paid and bring those average salaries down but would be considered decent enough careers by most (well maybe not - depends.on type of jornalism)

SarahAndQuack Tue 29-Jan-19 20:36:52

Plus, all of us who are academics in English Lit won't be earning much after 5 years (most of us will still be in education, and those who are newbie postdocs might be earning very little. On any English Lit course, some of the teaching will be done by people earning postdoc salaries, which might be in the region of 18-30k, but could also be a lot lower if the postdoc has a 'prestigious' fellowship).

(Axe to grind? Me? Never!)

Serin Wed 30-Jan-19 18:50:48

DD did English Lit and although she loved the work she did feel that it was a "lonely" degree in some aspects. Contact time was fairly low, many hours are spent reading quietly and a lot of students seemed pretty introverted.
I dont think it would suit everyone and I'm glad that DD joined external clubs and societies. Re personal statements,
Has your DD done an EPQ? That's a good way to showcase her interests. DD did hers in Arthurian Literature and applied to unis that offered modules in this.
We also went to a few arty plays at the Old Vic and Harold Pinter Theatres so that she could show evidence of general related interests in the Arts. She wanted to show how literature came alive for her so she also visited a few geographical areas (Shakespeares houses, Grasmere, River Camlan in Wales, Glastonbury etc).
I dont think graduate prospects are fabulous but DD is very happy with her life (currently in Italy teaching English).

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