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Myths & Misconceptions About English Literature Degrees

By Guest Writer

Updated February 20, 2021 Updated February 20, 2021

Guest post: A Worried Student

The first thing people think when I tell them that I am studying English is that I must be mad. Either that or I want to be a teacher – in which case, they still think I am mad. The problem with studying English literature at university is that you will initially have to constantly explain your decision to those around you. If your family members do not have a history of studying an arts or humanities subject, then you will have to battle your way through their misconceptions – but once you reach university, it is pure bliss. As you walk along the brightly tiled hallways, no longer are you asked about why you want to study a subject that involves a lot of reading, or repeatedly told that you should definitely write your own novel and make millions.

Here are some of the common myths and misconceptions about English literature degrees I’ve encountered…

1.  English literature degrees are “just for fun”.

One of the main misconceptions about English literature degrees is that students do it purely for fun, and not because it is part of their career plan. People often think that there is no future in an English degree, as the only occupations you can get into are teaching or journalism. Of course, they are utterly wrong. An English degree can take you many places, such as marketing, management, publishing, PR, editing – and yes, you can become a writer, librarian or teacher if you so wish. My personal choice is journalism, but everyone is different.

 2.  Studying English is an easy option.

Another misconception is that studying English literature is an easy way out. Again, wrong. What people get confused by is the amount of contact hours English literature students normally have per week. In my case, we have four modules per semester, which means a lecture and seminar for each; so we get eight hours of teaching weekly. Think this means it’s easy? Think again.

Remember those times when you were studying English at school and your teachers told you they couldn’t keep spoon-feeding you the answers? There was a good reason for that, because most of the work English students do is independent. You are required to do a lot of independent reading, independent research and independent writing. Just because there are not as many compulsory lessons as in other degrees, does not mean that the work is less difficult. You get more freedom with your time, but that comes hand in hand with managing it responsibly. The first year can feel quite relaxed as the only time serious effort is required is when it is time to hand in your coursework or sit your exam; but this apparent lull can feel quite unsettling after the intensity of A-levels.

3.  Studying English literature is boring.

To the outside world, English literature is normally viewed as boring, and the first year can feel like that as you may be required to take modules which deal with topics you are not interested in. However, if you enjoy old, medieval or early modern literature, then it should not be a problem! The course gets more exciting in the second and third years, as you are allowed to choose most of your own modules and you get the chance to explore topics that you can really engage with.

 4.  English literature degrees are all about Shakespeare.

Studying English literature definitely isn’t all Shakespeare. In fact, I have done very little of it so far, which was perhaps why I was slightly baffled recently when an old man began to quote Shakespeare to me after I revealed to him that I was studying English. One of the best things about studying English is the fact that you are introduced to a plethora of writers and works which you would never have come across otherwise. Even if you are a prolific reader, you tend to fall into a certain pattern –  whether it is reading novels of the same genre or author – so it is refreshing to discover new texts which surprise you by turning out to be a great read.

For me, my first year of studying English literature is nearly over and it has literally whizzed past. Personally, I would have liked it to be just a little more intense, but I am told I will be begging for mercy in my second and third years when I am faced with writing four thousand word essays every six weeks or so. That of course, is part of the challenge and onwards we go towards it!

A Worried Student (aka Siraj) is currently studying English Literature at King’s College London. He maintains a popular blog, aptly titled A Worried Student. Born and brought up in Hackney, Worried Student’s concerns focus on fighting against the terrible tuition fees, promoting social equality and challenging negative stereotypes, as well as providing a bit of entertainment along the way. Whether this is through cool blog posts, poetry, fiction or just amazing art, visit his blog to experience it all!

This article was originally published in March 2015 . It was last updated in February 2021

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