Top 5 things to know: Studying English and Related Literature at York

It’s coming to the end of my second year at the University of York, and looking back, there were a few things I wish I had known to give me a head start on my degree. So without further ado, here are my top five things to know about studying English and Related Literature at York.

1. Lots of reading

I suspect most of you will know that you have to read a lot of books in an English degree. However, even though I knew this before I came to University, I didn’t really understand how much of my time would go into reading the new texts every week. Typically, you have two pieces of ‘essential reading’ each week. Most of the time, you will also have secondary reading as well, which usually takes the form of essays and articles that analyse or critique the main text. This can be a bit overwhelming at first but if you just keep on top of your work it is definitely manageable. The tutors always release the reading lists for next term before the breaks, so you do have the opportunity to read all of the big books before term even starts. Whilst it may seem scary to have that much to read, you learn so much from it: reading so many different texts has really expanded my horizons. This degree is made for people who love to read and discuss books; you get to meet like-minded people who will not only encourage you to read new types of literature, but make you love reading even more!

I can’t even fit all my books on my shelves anymore!

2. Contact hours and ‘self study’

One of the things that distinguishes English from other degrees (especially in the sciences) is that we spend less time in lectures and seminars. On average, I spend about eight hours a week in ‘official’ lectures, seminars and workshops. This was vastly different to my usual six-hour days in school, so when I first saw my timetable, I thought I would have so much free time. However, the reason the subject has fewer contact hours is because we need a lot more time for ‘self-study’ than other degrees. For us to understand our lectures and contribute effectively in seminars, we need to have spent time reading the books and the theories around them. When we aren’t in ‘official’ lectures, we can also go and discuss texts or our own ideas with the members of staff. We are lucky enough to have staff who are constantly contributing to the field of literary study. It’s amazing to be able to go to the library, open a random book and see your lecturer’s name on the cover, and then be able to go to their office hours and discuss it with them in person. The contact hour load also means you can get involved in different societies, which the department strongly encourages. So, yes, English as a subject does have fewer contact hours than non-Arts and Humanities degrees, but we have just as much work to do!

3. Wide range of modules

The reason I picked York was because it had such a varied degree. If you say you are doing an English degree, most people think you would always be reading Shakespeare, the ‘classics’, and William Wordsworth (which is a part of it!). But at York, we study so much more. Over the past two years I have done modules on Old Norse mythology, Classical Hollywood in film, archival research, and read books and poetry from all over the world! The course caters for everyone’s interests and you have the opportunity to learn about so many different things that aren’t just the same books, poems and plays you’ve been reading all the way through school. It is English and Related Literature after all!

Using original 3D goggles from the 1900s in the National Railway Museum, for an archiving module

4. We have exams as well as essays

And now we are on to my favourite topic, exams! Fortunately, as an English student, we don’t have anywhere near as many exams as other degrees. However, I would be lying if I said I never get stressed about them, or the essays we do each term. I had one exam at the end of first year, and three at the end of this year, but they are not as bad as I thought they would be. Providing you do a decent amount of revision work and listen in lectures throughout the year, you have a good chance of doing really well, so please don’t worry! Also, members of staff are always ready to help if you really don’t understand something or just need some advice.

5. Looking to the future

This degree is designed to teach you the necessary skills that can lead to all manner of jobs. As well as being a good communicator, you learn how to work in a team, solve problems and come up with original ideas (not to mention becoming an incredibly fast typist). Every year, the department organises career talks and fairs, which can be about possible career options, learning how to write a CV, or helping you get experience in the world of work. Also, when you leave University, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get any more support from them. You are a member of the Careers Service for the rest of your life, so you can use their resources whenever you want to. An English degree is an incredibly valuable thing to have and your options after you leave are limitless.

So there you have it, my top 5 things to know about studying English at the University of York. I hope you found this list helpful and enjoy your university experience as much as I have.