What is English Literature?
English Literature is one of the most popular university degrees, with tens of thousands of students graduating with one in the UK each year.
The skills gained from an arts degree are incredibly valuable and can open doors in various professional industries.
The advantages of studying English extend far beyond your years at university, which aren’t just centred around reading books and writing essays.
As well as literature, an English degree introduces students to a variety of subjects, such as history, sociology and politics, with a strong focus on developing critically and independently, both as a student and as a person.
Is an English Literature degree worth it?
University English courses teach a wide range of content, skills and knowledge that can benefit their students both in their education and after they graduate.
Unfortunately, arts and humanities degrees are sometimes dismissed as ‘useless’ or ‘not valuable’; however, this isn’t true.
If you are passionate about literature and want to develop a strong skillset that future employers will take note of, an English degree is perfect for you.
You’ll be able to nurture your interests and discover new ones as you embrace different areas of English Literature.
Due to the high volume of applicants every year, securing a place to study English Literature at a high-ranking university is quite competitive.
But once you’ve got your place, you’ll be able to sink your teeth into plenty of complex topics, gain hands-on teaching and secure excellent opportunities.
Why study English Literature?
The versatility, breadth and complexity of an English course gives you a lot to work with, and it prepares you for a variety of careers.
On the whole, the advantages of studying English Literature are endless and there are plenty of opportunities that an English degree can offer you.
Diversity of content
One thing that English Literature courses have in abundance is content.
There are so many different topics, literature and eras to be studied, and students have major control over the direction that their studies take.
A diversity of content guarantees open-minded critical thinking and complex debates.
In recent years, UK universities have taken note of how exclusive some aspects of the education system are and have subsequently focussed their efforts on amending the issues with various degree courses.
For English Literature, this has included broadening the canon of literature that is studied to include literature beyond the ‘accepted’ classics and represent more work by minority writers.
So, when studying English Literature at university, you can learn the classics, but also appreciate newer literature.
You can focus purely on books, or you can also study poetry, plays, non-fiction and even digital media.
There are plenty of critical texts to be discussed too, so you’ll be able to consult pre-existing literary theories and debates to figure out where you want to position yourself as a budding academic.
The versatility of English degrees is often overlooked, but they are rich in transferable skills that will benefit graduates as they make the transition from university to the world of full-time work.
Transferable skills are those which can be adapted to a range of different jobs, so it benefits you greatly to gather a strong skillset during your studies.
These skills include:
- Drafting, editing and proofreading.
- Independent critical thinking.
- Time management.
- Analytical skills.
- Planning and research.
- Written and oral communication.
- Articulation of knowledge.
- Presentation skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
Wide range of career paths
Having a wide and diverse range of skills also means that English graduates have the potential to progress into many different industries.
The ability to work independently, critically and creatively opens up several viable avenues for English graduates, with all their experiences of research and writing providing a solid basis for professional work.
Potential career paths include:
- PR & Communications.
- Business Development.
- Art Administration.
- Museum Curating.
- Social Media Management.
Chance to capitalise on your interests
Although academic and professional ambitions are important to consider when deciding on a degree, you likely won’t excel at a course that you don’t enjoy.
Almost every university student has one or more subjects that they thoroughly enjoyed at school.
More often than not, these are the subjects that they chose to pursue in higher education.
If English Literature is your passion, studying an English degree will allow you to capitalise on the things that you love most about the subject.
You can personalise a degree in ways that you cannot with your school education.
This allows you to choose the topics that you would most enjoy studying across your course and then complete a dissertation at the culmination of your studies on whatever you like.
If you are really interested in a specific genre or literature from a certain time period, you’ll be free to explore them in more detail.
English students appreciate the flexibility of their course content and, consequently, have highly focussed academic paths to follow.
Enjoying what you study is just as important as the potential careers that you could secure with your degree, and an English Literature degree affords the opportunity to do both.
Potential for future study
Your ventures into higher education don’t have to end after you’ve achieved your BA in English Literature!
A strong graduating mark gives you the foundation to apply to postgraduate courses and pursue your academic interests further.
Some postgraduate courses are simply titled ‘English’ or ‘English Literature’, but others allow you to take a more nuanced pathway.
For example, the University of Oxford has several English postgraduate courses, including ‘English (1550-1700)’, ‘English (1700-1830)’, ‘English and American Studies’ and ‘English Studies (Medieval Period)’.
These pathways allow you to focus on the areas of study that you most enjoyed during your undergraduate degree.
Successful completion of a postgraduate English Literature course then gives you the qualification that you need to pursue a doctorate degree in English.
Securing the funding and a place at a respected institution opens endless doors in the academic world.
You could become an English professor, venture into academic writing, or enter into another highly skilled profession.
Strong focus on independent thinking
In English, there is nothing so simple as a ‘right or wrong’ answer.
A huge part of successful academic writing is being able to cultivate your own thoughts, opinions and observations in response to pre-existing literature, ideas and theories.
Independent critical thinking is a skill that future employers will relish, so develop it as much as possible during your studies.
The seminar work, lectures and assessments of an English degree are designed to be intellectually stimulating, while also giving the student freedom to focus on the topics that most interest them.
Having lots of independent work means that you are encouraged to think independently, and your tutors will enjoy hearing new and unique opinions in your seminars.
Is an English degree hard?
English degrees are challenging and come with a big workload, so it’s essential that you manage your time effectively and stay on top of all the reading, seminar work and assessments that you have.
A typical week of studying English Literature includes reading various texts, making notes, consulting secondary sources, completing any set work for upcoming seminars and attending multiple lectures and seminars.
A lot of the work is independent, especially when deadline season begins.
English assessments require you to think critically and in depth about particular texts, theories or ideas, so it can often be quite hard to nail down exactly what you want to write.
However, an English course helps students to develop efficient drafting and editing skills, which makes the assessment process feel a lot less overwhelming.
But if you are feeling overwhelmed with the workload, all universities have policies in place to help.
If you feel that your degree is suddenly becoming difficult or too much to manage, it’s important to reach out and see what can be done.
Is studying English Literature worth it?
It involves lots of work, both independently and in lectures and seminars, but you’ll have the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the aspects of English that you most enjoy.
All of this offers you a world of opportunities once you graduate.
Having an English Literature degree will help you to open professional doors and carve a career out of a subject that you love.