Why study English Literature?

Old books in a library
whitestorm / 123RF Stock Photo

In high school I was adamant that I wouldn’t go to university, but in Sixth Form everything changed. All my friends were in a flurry applying to universities, and I felt like I was missing out. Fortunately, my college made everyone write a personal statement – you know, just in case. Once I started the application process, I quickly realised how badly I wanted to continue with my studies.

Sixth Form trains you in three or four subject areas, and mine were English Literature, English Language, and Religion, Ethics and Philosophy. To begin with, I thought of studying the latter. However, despite being passionate about religion, I felt I would get nowhere with a degree. I then thought about Language, before slowly realising I hated the subject. That left me with Literature. I thought to myself: Lauren, you love reading, and you love analysing texts, so why has it taken you so long to realise this?

It took me a while to realise because I wasn’t particularly good at Literature. Sixth Form expect you to write in a certain way, which limited my originality. I couldn’t expand or make new points without risking marks. I had to follow a structure. However, I realised I would have more freedom with writing at university. I ended up applying for Literature, I got offers from all of my choices, and I managed to pass.

Why did I choose to study at Liverpool John Moores University?

Stupidly, I picked my universities before visiting them. Initially, I only chose LJMU because I needed five options. I never seriously thought about going there. I wanted to study at the University of Chester, but ended up hating it after visiting. I ended up hating three of my other choices as well. I found myself in a very anxious place. My mum encouraged me to visit an LJMU open day. I sat in a lecture, given by one of my current teachers, and I fell in love. She was so passionate about the degree, and I found myself wanting to study there. After the lecture, we were given a tour of the city.

Liverpool is unlike anywhere else. It’s super friendly, has beautiful architecture, many museums, a handful of bookshops, and a lovely dockland. I felt like I belonged there.

I put LJMU as my first choice uni as soon as I got home. The fact LJMU wanted the lowest from me, in terms of grades, didn’t dissuade me. Lecturers are lecturers. They don’t ‘dumb down’ the course, nor do they expect less from you. I felt relieved and happy that LJMU was my first choice (and I’ve never regretted it).

What are the assignments like?

Assignments are assignments. My first year was made up of essays, presentations and exams. However, after that first year, I no longer had exams. Instead, I fluttered between essays and presentations. I tend to have four essays per semester (and there are two semesters per year), and presentations dotted throughout. My first semester essays tend to be 1,500 words long, whilst my second semester ones are 3,000 words.

I tend to start relatively early on my assignments. I have plans (complete with quotations from primary and secondary texts) written weeks in advance, sometimes even months. I get panicky working under pressure, especially when four 3,000-word essays are due in the same week. Despite this, I love writing them. I’m writing about books, so of course I love it. It’s stressful, and sometimes I hate the books, but I always come out with a new appreciation for the texts.

How do I balance university reading with my own reading?

Number one tip: start early. I always started reading my university books a month before starting. Not only did this make sure I kept on track, but it made sure I had read the book in time for class. Depending on how your course is structured, you could be expected to read three books for one week, then one for the next. By starting early, you don’t have to worry.

Because I started early, I found that I had time to read my own books as well. I followed a schedule that balanced everything out. I worked until 4pm, read 50 pages of my university book, then read whatever I wanted for the rest of the day. This worked really well for me, and it ensured I had everything done on time. If you’re finding it hard to juggle everything, try and find a routine that works with you.

What am I going to do after university?

There seems to be a common misconception with English students. Not everyone wants to be a teacher, myself especially. I was unsure of what I wanted to do in my first year, but I was given the opportunity to complete some work experience in my second year. I really found my footing then. I thought to myself: I love books, so why wouldn’t I want to work with them?

I started thinking about publishing. I completed 35 hours at a local Liverpool magazine, Switch on to Business, and in the summer of 2017 I was employed by the online student magazine Tyro. Although I don’t want to pursue a career in magazine editing, it awarded me with skills that are crucial to a job in publishing. Ideally, I would like to be a proof-reader or literary agent, writing and publishing my own novels on the side.

Before that happens, though, I’m thinking of doing a postgraduate degree. Not that long ago I received an email from the University of Liverpool offering me a place on their Victorian Literature course (as long as I get a high 2:1 in my degree). I’m trying to work really hard to make sure I get the grades, so if I do, that’s where I’ll be heading in September.

There you have it. Not only does this post detail my own personal experience of studying English Literature at university, but it might clear up some worries surrounding the degree: it’s all about finding the perfect balance, and being utterly passionate about the subject.

This post was first published on Lauren's blog Bookish Byron.

Do you love literature too? Read about studying English Literature at LJMU.


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