Although some people might think English literature is just about ‘reading stories’, there’s a heck of a lot more to it than that – although reading is obviously a big part of it, you’ll also find yourself discussing, analysing and exploring the texts you read, as well as linking them to related works and drawing a deeper meaning from them.
What A-Levels do you need?
Yep, you guessed it – if you’re hoping to study English literature at uni, you’ll most likely need an A-level in the very same (or in a similar subject like English language and literature combined). The University of Reading want AAB - A*BB (with at least a B in English Literature or a related subject) for their
English literature BA, while Russell Group unis like Glasgow and Newcastle want upwards of AAB. Aside from English, other arts and humanities subjects are likely to be looked favourably upon (although most universities aren’t too fussy about this).
What are your study options?
Most degrees will be the standard three years in length, although some unis may offer you the chance to study abroad for a year (it’s unlikely you’ll have the option of doing a year in industry, but you’ll probably be encouraged to go on work placements in the holidays in order to boost your career prospects).
Most universities will offer a limited choice of modules in your first year (you’ll probably cover core topics such as the progression of the novel, poetry, and medieval literature), but you’ll find you get more flexibility in your second and final years.
In terms of assessment, the vast majority of your course will be essay-based (you won’t have much in the way of exams), and you’ll probably finish your final year by handing in a dissertation (a longer essay in which you cover one topic in greater depth).
It’s also worth remembering that many unis will offer English literature as part of a joint/combined honours course (you could study it alongside creative writing or a language, for instance), which is an option worth considering if you have two subjects you’re equally keen to study.
Why study English Literature?
If you’ve always been something of a book-worm and you enjoy discussing and analysing novels after you’ve read them, English literature could be the ideal course for you. It will give you the chance to develop your writing and communication skills (as well as your debating skills), and get to know a range of like-minded people who share your passion for a good, old-fashioned paperback.
As the subject of literature is so all-encompassing, you’ll have plenty of different module options to choose from, meaning the course will cater for a variety of different interests (and even if they don’t offer a module in the topic you’re most keen on, chances are you’ll still be able to focus on it for your dissertation).
“English Literature is a core university subject enormously well respected as a degree by employers and society as a whole,” says Martin Coyle, Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University. “It combines literary knowledge with unique skills of close analysis and cultural and historical understanding. Open to new ideas, it is at once enjoyable and personally fulfilling. Few aspects of our cultural life are untouched by literature in its many shapes and forms.”
What kind of skills will you learn on the course?
“Students learn both functional skills – literary argument, close reading of texts, communication of ideas – that readily lend themselves to employment, and also professional skills of self-management and research. They’ll also pick up valuable people skills of team working, and the ability to articulate original views and values.” – Professor Martin Coyle, Cardiff University
What key modules can you expect to cover in your first year?
Students can expect to gain some sense of the larger literary field either through survey or period courses; to be introduced to new kinds of critical thinking; and to cover some new authors. Typical modules include: Introduction to the Novel; Shakespeare and the Renaissance; Reading and Identity; Beowulf; Romantic Poetry; Postcolonial texts and theory. – Professor Martin Coyle, Cardiff University
After your degree...
Although English literature won’t train you for any specific career, it is a very well-respected degree that will equip you with a range of useful skills (all employers value good communication and writing skills, for instance).
Plenty of English literature grads go into the likes of journalism, PR, teaching, and publishing, although there really aren’t that many limitations when it comes to your career possibilities – you might decide to go into events, or even politics, or you may want to apply for a graduate scheme with a top recruiter like Ernst & Young or PWC.
If you don’t want to give up your study of literature after your degree is over, you can also consider staying on at uni to do a Master’s course, which could set you up for a career in research and academia.