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DD still can't decide what to study at uni. (Eng Lit or Philosophy?)
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ImagoLuna · 11/06/2018 10:53

I've posted here before about DD (in Yr 12) who can't decide whether to study English Literature or Philosophy at uni. Time is running out and her school is currently getting students to think about personal statements, continue to add to relevant extra reading/ attending lectures/seminars etc related to their uni subject and gear up towards uni applications.

We've had endless conversations at home about which subject she'd prefer. She's sure she doesn't want to do a combined honours degree but she really can't decide between these 2 subjects. On the one hand, she feels that Eng Lit would be easier and she consistently does well at English. On the other hand, she thinks that it's really difficult to get into a good Eng Lit course as it's so popular. Then again, she thinks that there are some aspects of Philosophy she'll find very hard - compulsory Logic/Epistemology components - yet there are aspects she'd really enjoy - especially when it relates to the 'real world' application of Philosophy.

So I'm back on here again to ask for anyone's personal experience of studying Philosophy or Eng Lit at unis and especially the ones she's currently considering - Oxbridge - maybe - but more likely Durham, UCL, Bristol and Exeter.

What's really good and what wasn't so good about the degree you chose - either Philosophy or Eng Lit?

More generally, how did you help your child to decide what to study at uni when they were faced with a similar dilemma? I've tried so many different ways of helping her make the choice and she's no further forward really. What more can I do to help her as she really needs to decide soon and then do things that will continue to improve her personal statement for her chosen degree?

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GRW · 11/06/2018 13:08

My DD at Sussex is studying Biology with a Philosophy pathway. She does some Philosophy modules but less that if it was a Combined honours degree. I am not sure if that's an option at the Universities your DD is considering.

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purplegreen99 · 11/06/2018 14:36

Why not apply for joint honours courses? I think many universities allow students to switch to single honours during the first year if she decides she really does prefer one, but Philosophy and English is a good combination.

From what you've said about 'real world' philosophy, I think she should be looking for philosophy departments which offer modules on practical ethics, applied ethics, political philosophy, and have lecturers with research interests in these area. Some may offer more specialist applied courses - environmental ethics, medical ethics, human rights, etc. Have a look at the modules Reading University offers to get an idea - I am a bit out of touch, but I think Reading is probably at the 'real world' end of the philosophy spectrum.

That said, I think all philsophy degrees will include some epistemology, metaphysics, etc as these teach the ideas that underpin all the practical stuff. It's a subject that can't be covered comprehensively in 3 years, so what is on offer will vary quite a lot between different universities depending on staff and research, so your dd really needs to look at each course in detail to see what the modules are.

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BubblesBuddy · 11/06/2018 15:52

We actually looked at what they were good at, rather then subjects they thought they lived, and future career options. Obviously English and Philosophy have few jobs that apply directly to them, apart from teaching, so what next?

None of DDs friends have particularly hit the heights of earnings after English at Cambridge, Manchester or anywhere else. However the one who had connections into a niche industry via her Mum is doing very well. She had no offers from any university despite being an academic scholar at school! Therefore try and work out what her career goals might be, look at what you might succeed at and, personally, I think all the universities you mention, op, are very elite and not the same as Reading. How much does subject content actually count when you want a job? Employers probably will never ask you about what poems you like or your practical philosophy modules. They are looking at a whole range of factors but not specific modules.

I too think a joint honours is a better start. It is obviously broader and that, in itself, is a good thing for arts subjects where grads in low level jobs are two a penny, sadly.

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SilverDoe · 11/06/2018 16:25

Has your DD thought about Classics?

History based but lots emphasis on both literature and philosophy too

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missmouse101 · 11/06/2018 16:28

My daughter is trying to choose between the same two and looking at the same universities! Exactly the same problem here so watching with interest!

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StaySafe · 11/06/2018 16:30

What about PPE? My DS1 did this at Oxford, you can specialise in 2 out of the 3 subjects after the first year, and Politics and Philosophy is a fascinating and relevant choice. he did well with job offers and joined the Civil Service, where he has prospered. They offer PPE at Warwick and York as well as Oxford, and possibly some other unis.

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BubblesBuddy · 11/06/2018 16:34

Op. Is she studying Maths? This would open up PPE because Maths is highly desirable for the Economics element and getting on the course in the first place. Oxford now give info on what A levels are desirable for different courses. However, this will probably just add to her confusion!

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danTDM · 11/06/2018 16:36

I remember your post. I was the one that went to Southampton. Got into Exeter though, very, very good uni.

She is totally right IMO, not doing joint honours. I really stand by going for top uni (which she is going for) Phil hons.

I particularly loved the French existentialism and the Greek mythological thought. I think she'll love it. I have found far more respect for this degree than saying 'oh I did Eng lit'. It's a bit more 'out there' and interesting.

My friends doing Eng Lit were al studying Gawain and the Green Knight. I remember clearly how dull they found it.

I could have done either. HTH and good luck.

Agree with Classics as an option.

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Thesearepearls · 11/06/2018 16:45

You say your DD doesn't want to do joint honours - but have you explored with her why not? Because joint honours is the obvious solution.

You do have to factor in employability at the end of all this and Philospohy is a subject which is particularly noted for not being especially employable at the end of a 3-year degree.

I loved my degree in English and I think it has been a particularly useful degree. I can write well and organise my thoughts cogently on paper. My reports - in my report-writing salad days - were always highly praised. It has been no barrier in a career where English Literature is not obvious. My love of literature has been a life-long source of enjoyment.

Ultimately it is not your decision and I think you could do worse than suggest to your DD that she follow her instincts. It's often the right way to go. Please reassure her that actually although this looks like a momentous decision - it probably isn't.

Wishing your DD the best of luck //flowers

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Firstaidnovice · 11/06/2018 16:46

Reading used to make all arts students take three subjects for the first two terms, and then you could choose what you wanted to do after that. It might be worth looking into whether any of the universities your daughter is interested in are similarly flexible, and then apply for a joint honours, but she could drop one if she didn't enjoy it.

Fwiw, I did philosophy, and loved it. Similarly was more interested in the practical philosophy, but any decent undergraduate course will include a broad base which will include epistemology etc. And I loved logic! Once I got past the fact it looked like doing maths equations it was my highest marks by a long way.

It's making me feel very nostalgic for my philosophy undergraduate days now!

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EyeDrops · 11/06/2018 16:50

I agree Classics might be a good option to consider, with aspects of both?

A family member of mine took Philosophy at Cambridge and really, really struggled to get a graduate job following it. (Or any job at all as she was 'overqualified' for non-grad jobs!)

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Firstaidnovice · 11/06/2018 16:53

I would also very politely disagree with the previous poster about the employability prospects with English Vs philosophy. I would say it was much of a muchness, and you have to be just as good at organising your thoughts, if not better with philosophy, because that is basically what philosophy is. Ditto writing clearly.
I went on to do a masters in politics and policy, and found the philosophy useful for this. And in a future unrelated career, I did a lot of graduate recruitment, where the subject of someone's degree just didn't matter, as long as it was a good result, and a sensible course/university. It was vaguely marketing related field, and people with practical marketing or business degrees were not considered any more highly than someone who had studied German, or archaeology. So, unless she has a very niche idea of what she wants to do, going with what you really want to do is the most sensible option, imo

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Thesearepearls · 11/06/2018 17:13

Actually Firstaidnovice I think you might be right. Or actually both of us are right which is a good outcome, no?

In my day Philosophy was notorious for unemployability but it seems that times have changed.

Here's some data www.hecsu.ac.uk/assets/assets/documents/what_do_graduates_do_2017.pdf

You can see that although English graduates do have better rates of employment and lower rates of unemployment than Philosophy graduates but the difference is actually marginal rather than the massive differential that used to apply.

So you're right firstaidnovice they are much of a muchness!

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Firstaidnovice · 11/06/2018 17:15

Ah good thesearepearls, I didn't want an English Vs philosophy graduate smackdown on Mumsnet 😂.

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catinasplashofsunshine · 11/06/2018 17:17

At Lancaster you do 2 minors in your first year even of a single honours course, leaving you the option of dropping the minors entirely in year two or carry on with a joint honours, or potentially swap to one of the minors if your year 1 grades in it are good. Keeps options open and encourages breadth.

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LIZS · 11/06/2018 17:18

An English lit degree is not easier, the sheer volume of reading and essay writing is pretty relentless.

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brizzledrizzle · 11/06/2018 17:18

At Bristol (and maybe other places too?) they can do an open unit alongside their main course so you could (say) study English and then do a philosophy open unit alongside.

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letstryagainaaahhhh · 11/06/2018 17:20

I struggled with this dilemma and ended up doing a joint honours at Warwick. I found there was a great crossover between ancient philosophy and English literature (eg. Aristotle, Zeno, Heraclitus etc) and really enjoyed those modules. Intro to philosophy was also great (Descartes, Hume etc), as was philosophy of art (e.g Francis bacon) Has your daughter read any of these books? It might help! Obviously each uni course is different but philosophy of science was compulsory for me, and I found this challenging and pretty dull. There is also a lot of crossover with political thinking, so your daughter needs to think about whether this would be of interest. In my experience joint honours was probably more work but did balance out my degree a bit, and helped broaden my thinking. But in all honesty unless she wants to go into a career in either field, she should go for the one she thinks she'll enjoy the most and probably perform the best in academically.

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Thesearepearls · 11/06/2018 17:26

TBH I do think that an English Lit degree is pretty easy-going

I mean all you have to do is go to a tutorial every week, a seminar every week, and at most half a dozen lectures (which most of us were too lazy too overworked to attend. The rest of your time is spent reading books you mostly want to read anyway and tossing off the odd essay.

If I compare this with DS's prospective life doing natural sciences, where he is going to be in lectures/labs all day every day and working hard in his spare time ...

It;s tangential to the thread, but clearly some subjects are more costly than others. It could not be costing DD's university (she's doing English) more than about £2k MAX to teach her. Whereas DS's prospective university education must be costing much much more while his employment prospects are so much better. It seems irrational in terms of economics.

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danTDM · 11/06/2018 17:33

I would also very politely disagree with the previous poster about the employability prospects with English Vs philosophy. I would say it was much of a muchness, and you have to be just as good at organising your thoughts, if not better with philosophy, because that is basically what philosophy is. Ditto writing clearly.


Absolutely.

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weebarra · 11/06/2018 17:49

I did philosophy as part of a joint degree at Edinburgh. There you can take three subjects in first year - I did philosophy, my other joint subject and classical literature. It would have been possible to carry all three on and do a General Arts MA.
While you don't find many professional philosophers, it does seem to be a worthwhile degree in terms of constructing a coherent argument etc.

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BubblesBuddy · 11/06/2018 17:55

Arts undergrads subsidise science undergrads. That’s the way it works!

For those who have a bit of time, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has just produced a mammoth report on universities, subjects and incomes 5 years down the line. I cannot remember the relative positions of these subjects exactly, but I was surprised how low English was ranked. This might be because so many universities offer it and overall English grads are down the pecking order for well paid jobs but of course that’s not necessarily grads from the best universities.

Nursing, for example, is fairly high up the earnings table, yet all we hear is about poorly paid nurses. Doctors are at the top! Ditto. So either subject won’t make much difference to eventual employability and you probably won’t earn what a nurse does!

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harrietm87 · 11/06/2018 18:02

Career prospects and transferable skills will be pretty similar. As with most arts subjects, the important thing for her future career will be doing the course at a good university and getting a good degree.

She should therefore do whichever she is likely to enjoy the most and perform best in (probably linked).

FWIW I did English at Cambridge and loved every minute. I'm a lawyer now.

My friends who studied philosophy at Cambridge were all very much maths/logic people - one actually swapped from a maths degree, and one is doing a philosophy PhD having done computer science undergrad. I imagine courses vary widely between unis, but if your daughter is a words rather than numbers person then some elements of a philosophy degree might not suit her, so have a think about that too.

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Thesearepearls · 11/06/2018 18:02

I realise that's how it works but it isn't rational

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Baubletrouble43 · 11/06/2018 19:34

I'm pretty sure my brother studied English lit and philosophy as joint honours . Mind you this was back in 1990!

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