What it’s like to study English at York

I’m now halfway through my time in York as an English student, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it. Here’s some things I wish I’d known about the course before starting uni:

  1. You learn that there is a whole wide world of literatures (Yes, with the plural ‘s’!)

One brilliant thing about the York English Lit structure is that it exposes students to English Literature across time periods and across continents, and allows you to discover writers you’ve never heard of before. In your first year, you’ll start off with a module that includes texts from the 15th century all the way to the modern day. In readings, lectures and seminars, discussion of these texts also necessarily involves discussions of the major historical events of that period, how life was like in that era, and of course, important philosophical and cultural readings of the text (something which I’ve grown to really enjoy reading).

In another module, York’s English programme exposes us to global literatures, centred around themes such as post-colonialism (the Literature of countries who were ex-British colonies, for example). Personally, I found that to be an extremely enriching experience that broadened my worldview and prompted me to think about the relationship between Literature and Politics, and to question the purpose of a literary text.

This might sound a little daunting, but it really isn’t so! You definitely can expect to find studying English at uni to be vastly different from the way we did it at A Levels, and while I did feel quite stressed in the first few weeks of term, I eventually found my footing and grew to love the volume and pace of work we have at uni. Also, it gives you a huge sense of accomplishment when you look back at the end of the term at all the poems, plays and novels you’ve gone through in just 10 weeks!

The wide exposure to many different periods of literature makes you discover interests in topics you never engaged with before. For me, postcolonialism was my newfound love.

  1. Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility!

One thing I didn’t expect was how much flexibility the English department gives us. Studying English at York is thrilling because the course gives you a lot of independence to direct your studies. The English course has relatively few contact hours (a.k.a. time spent in lectures and seminars) as compared to other subjects. This means that a lot of time spent at university is devoted to independent studying and taking the initiative to find tutors in their office hours to engage them in discussions about a text/idea that you’re really passionate about. The coolest thing about the English course would be that you get to decide what you want to write you essay on—there are no set questions (save for the written exams in summer term)! This means that from each module, you get to pick the texts that you were most interested in to write your essay on, and you get to decide what critical readings you want to read for your essay, and how you want to structure your essay.

Having more flexibility with your timetable also means that you can use the time to join more societies or even take up a term-time internship, which was exactly what I did! Through the York Careers Portal, I applied for a term-time internship lasting for 12 weeks in Communications, and spent roughly 12 hours a week at the internship, which equates to about three days a week. This helped me gain work experience and employability skills, and also some extra income on the side.

  1. We have film screenings.

We watch film adaptations of some of the texts in our reading lists (side note: I love how these sessions show up on our timetable as legit compulsory lectures to attend)! Who’d have thought that studying English at uni also includes sitting in a dark lecture theatre and watching a movie projected on to the huge screen? Think of it as a Netflix movie date… but with a whole bunch of people.

In my first year, I remember watching A Midsummer’s Night Dream and loving how the movie represented the characters of the play so much that I wrote one of my essays on the play! And just last term, watching Samuel Beckett’s Endgame during a film screening made me see the play in a whole different light, prompting me to borrow three different books from the library about Beckett and his works.

  1. They’re not going to let you be confused and stressed all by yourself.

We’re assigned a personal supervisor at the start of university, and this supervisor will be an academic from your department – in our case, English—and you’d meet him/her regularly throughout your three years of study to just chat about how you’re finding the course and how you’re feeling, if you’re coping well or if you’re having a dilemma about module choices, etc.