olI’ll never forget one particular response when I announced that I was studying English
at university: “but you already speak English.” I bit my tongue and resisted the urge to roll my eyes,
smiled and said – it’s literature based, rather than language. “What, so like, books and stuff?”, they
retorted. If you’re thinking of studying English Literature at university, and ever find yourself in a
similar situation. Here why it’s more than just “books and stuff”, and why pursuing a degree in English
Literature was one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made:
1.English Literature has interesting overlaps with other subjects and fields
After my first week of lectures at Cambridge, one thing that especially struck and excited me, was that whenever I went into a lecture or seminar, I felt like I wasn’t just learning about literature, but I was simultaneously learning history, sociology, politics and psychology. Literature is a lens through which questions about humanity and society are often explored, and so what may appear to be a narrow subject at first glance, is actually one of the broadest. Not only is the content or themes of novels, essays, plays or poetry connected to wider concepts, but even the very style of writing, the form or structure, or the language used in a piece can be reflective of really fascinating ideas – past and present. This means that by the end of an English Literature degree, you will have noteworthy well-rounded knowledge and understanding, and the powerful ability to make connections across different fields.
2.Studying English Literature makes you an agile and original thinker
At university level, studying English Literature requires that you make compelling and convincing arguments about the texts you engage with. This means that you often have to think outside of the box, and endeavour to go beyond or to complicate existing interpretations. You essentially become a literary miner, searching for gems within texts that may not have been discovered or discussed in depth already. For degree level, essays are no longer just speculative (which is itself a skill as you explore new possibilities about texts) but they also take on a persuasive element, as you use evidence from texts to build a strong case for your reading and interpretation. When you study English Literature at university, you’re no longer just reading other literary critics, you yourself are being forged into one.
3.You develop significant attention to detail and analytical skills
The nature of English Literature means that close attention to detail becomes a constant way that you navigate studying: it makes you a conscientious learner and worker as you need to be attentive to nuances within words or phrases. The analytical nature of studying literature means that you’re not able to just passively absorb information, but must actively engage with it through analysis and evaluation. As a consequence, your communication skills grow exponentially too, as you learn to think and write in an in-depth, coherent manner.
No matter what field of work you eventually go into, studying English Literature is an excellent springboard. The ability to think and articulate yourself sophisticatedly, the ability to reason, analyse and critique convincingly, and the depth and breadth of knowledge it gives you will serve you well in any and every walk of life.