At university, I am student manager for the English department, which involves organisation of the visit days for prospective students who have received offers to come here. Again and again, even more so now as I’m coming towards the end of my degree, parents ask me what I feel I have gained from studying English Literature at university. So here goes, I’m going to try and write a blog post about it!
Me at the beginning of second year, ready to work at an open day
Organisation – Many may say my obsessive organisational skills didn’t really need working on, but studying English can test even the most diligent to-do-list-writers. As the contact hours are few, the spare time can seem daunting, even though, realistically, we need all of that time to actually do the work in. Without a timetable telling you that you must be present in a certain room from 9am until 5pm, it can be hard at first knowing how to schedule your time.
Speed-reading – We read. A LOT. I have always been a fast reader, thank goodness, but the degree really tests your ability to read to a deadline. Being able to read a large quantity of material in a relatively short time period, and then pulling from that the relevant points, is a skill that can be transferred to many workplaces.
Communication – A two hour seminar is a long time to have the type of intense discussion expected from a group of English students. So you need to be prepared. You will come across people from different backgrounds, with different views, and different opinions on everything you discuss, and amongst that you need to be able to get your own opinions heard.
Wider knowledge – I like to think that reading so widely, across such diverse time periods and on such different topics, has broadened my general knowledge. I have learnt to empathise with views I never understood, and developed awareness of countries and cultures I was fairly ignorant of. Modules have explored geographical spaces, marketing devices, political theory, philosophy and history, amongst many other things. My eyes have been opened to books I would never have picked up from a library shelf, and (sometimes) I have loved them.
Critical thinking – The ability to think about topics and issues before developing a careful response is a valuable life skill on so many levels. This is, surely, one of the main skills developed in an English degree.
Essay-writing – It’s hard. At university, you have to un-learn every essay technique you learnt at school, and start from scratch. Hopefully, by the end of our degree, we have managed to develop our own voices.
Some Anglo-Saxon books... because I'm doing an English degree...
A few misconceptions about English students:
We stay in bed all day – some do, but they certainly don’t get the work done
We have hours of spare time – if you saw our reading lists, you’d realise why we need those hours
We’ve all read everything – I’ve been in seminars where I have never felt so intimidated. There are people on our course who are so intelligent it scares me. And before this degree, I had definitely not read Ulysses, Lord of the Rings, Vanity Fair, or Oliver Twist (I assumed the musical would be enough)
We all want to be novelists and teachers– Plenty do, but there are wannabe lawyers, marketing professionals, directors, journalists… As we’ve been told many times, an English degree isn’t a vocational one, but there are a lot of doors that it leaves wide open
So, there you go. I think I’ve convinced myself that it’s been three years well spent! I know an arts degree wouldn’t be everyone’s choice – I’ve had many a debate with an ex-flatmate who studied computer science. But it has definitely been right for me. The weeks are now ticking by, and my dissertation is due in a matter of months. I know the date and time of my graduation ceremony. But I will hopefully be entering the big wide world ready to use the knowledge and skills gained from my degree.