should you study english literature at uni?

okay today I'm going to talk about English ditch two degrees I get asked about it a lot because I'm always moaning about how much I hated being at university and also I saw the other day Arielle Bisset I really hope that's helped pronounce your name she uploaded a Q&A video about her English degree and she said like she had a really positive experience which is really good and I'm very happy for her I had literally the worst time at university so what I would say going into this video please be aware that I did not have a good time doing my degree and therefore I'm a little bit biased so if you want like a more rounded idea of what it's like to do English maybe watch my video then go watch Ariel's video and you'll kind of get a more balanced idea of what it's like so okay so I start just by saying like why I chose to do English in the first place basically there are several reasons when I was in secondary school I was a really high achiever academically and so I thought myself and my teachers told me that I should be trying to do a subject that was academic which basically means any of like the big subject so English history maths science not any art subjects not any music subjects not things like Media Studies or business or anything specific they wanted me to do something it was academic very general so and I thought that was the right thing to do as well I was like right I get good grades I need to use my talents at academia and do something impressive like English literature big mistake second reason was I like books I like writing books I liked reading books I just enjoyed books so I was like why would I not enjoying the sure if I like books like does make any sense you will see soon we'll get to that later oh and also because I have no idea what job I wanted to do and with a big broad subject like English it can kind of lead you into pretty much most like jobs that don't require any specific technical skills so I I applied to do English a bunch of different you knees I did apply to go to Cambridge did not get in I got through to the interview stage but my interviews are so awful and I think the interviewers could tell but I just didn't care enough about English literature and I was like faking how I was so faking I couldn't even see how much I was faking enjoying English literature that's how bad it was I just had no idea I couldn't even see myself or feel how much I was faking enjoying this subject but I did get into Durham and at this point in my life where I thought academia was like the best thing about person that was like the highest point of a human being if you're not academic what is he from the point being alive I was like right got to get into the most prestigious university I can so got into Durham University which if you're not from the UK Durham is often considered like the one just below Oxford and Cambridge so I went there that's where I did my English degree so I'm just going to tell you for those who are not sure how English courses what they're like at University I'm just going to tell you a bit about mine an important thing to be aware of is probably that all English courses are different but depends what you need go to really depends kind of what they're like as a university shush my course um at Durham in the first year you chose six out of seven possible modules a six that I took were introduction to the novel introduction to poetry introduction to drama the age of chivalry the heroic age and classical biblical my favorite of those was introduction to drama because I really like plays so second year and third year you've got quite a bit more choice and what you could do in Sanji had to do four main exam modules and two specialist modules where you just did coursework so my exam modules were theory of literary criticism which you had to do you couldn't not do that one it was probably the worst module out of all the modules I did at uni and I nearly failed it because it was so boring and they just didn't teach you how to do it and the other exam modules I took were post-war fiction and poetry American fiction and Chaucer good old Chaucer my specialist modules were fictions of terrorism and the campus novel the campus novel was all like books set at universities those two modules were actually very interesting and and probably two others of my favorites apart from intro to drama then in my third year for exam modules I took Victorian literature Shakespeare and the modern period which is like modernist literature and my specialist module was Shakespeare on film which is another good one because it was all films didn't have to read much the other two modules in that year were taken up by my dissertation okay so hopefully that gave you some idea of what sort of modules you'd be doing in English sort of the structure of the course I think most universities do operate like that one key thing I would say if you want to study English literature find out details about the course doesn't matter what university you go to really doesn't matter what university you go to just find out about the course specifics what modules there are what's the structure of the course how much word jevs do have any exams you have to do because that's what you'll be doing every day every term and you want to know that that's right for you and it can vary so much so find out about that stuff I also wanted to talk a bit about the actual structure of like the day-to-day course like what you'd be doing every week so one thing that everyone jokes about the English literature is that English students don't do anything which is kind of true um I mean I didn't do anything generally you had about eight weeks of contact time at university which is time spent learning but a lot of that was optional for example all of your lectures are optional well they were at Durham I don't think they are all universities but Durham lectures are optional they don't take a register you don't have to go and the other thing about lectures is that not everything that they let you on will be useful to you in your modules you study a huge number of books obviously you can't read them all you have to kind of pick what ones you want to read um but you study loads and then they'll do lectures on like each author or each book so you don't need to go to all the lectures because you're not going to do your exam on every single book that you study I mean there are lots of Keane people who did enjoy learning and they went to every lecture with smiles on their faces bugs not one of those people then you have for each module you have tutorials some universities clubs seminars at Durham there was a difference between seminars and tutorials tutorials for with your exam modules which were done like in tutors offices between like 6 & 8 students were in there and it would just be an hour-long discussion of a text or a author I found these extremely uncomfortable because I'm very shy and I don't like speaking up in class so I found them so what can I use to dread them honestly it's my least favorite style of learning I've always been a person who prefers just sitting there listening taking notes so anything where you have to get involved in the discussion I not a fan and seminars were at Durham they were bigger they were for your specialist modules and there'd be like 20 people in the room and it was still like a discussion based class but you could kind of get away with not speaking a bit easier so that was a little bit more okay for me and but yeah tutorials seminars universities depending on you you need they'll call it different things but they're basically the same thing it's just like a discussion class you'd have about three tutorials per term or two per term it's not a lot it's like so few classes I honestly don't think it's enough I think there should be more one of the things that you really need to know about English literature is that you need to be motivated you need to be the sort of person who will kind of get going with work like on your own study on your own read on your own if you can't even like sit and read for an hour you're really going to struggle with English as I did in my second of verjus and I could not read any books because I was having serious book issues how do you know that studying English literature is the right thing for you it's really difficult to know because I stress all the time that there's a big difference between reading and studying books and reading books you're kind of just pacing through you want to know what's going to happen in the story you love the characters you're behind the characters you want to see if you to the end you're just really involved in the story and but studying books is very very different you're particularly University you're not reading to enjoy the story you're reading to study and analyze the book a lot of studying books involves researching the context and understanding the social historical context of what's being written why it's being written who the author is why they wrote this book at this time there's not history in English literature so if you do like history and you like English you probably do quite well with English literature just be careful it's difficult to know but be careful that you are not confusing studying with just reading books because there is a big difference you've got to be really interested only in what books are and what happens in books but also why books are being written how they're being written how it's relevant to the time period in which it's being written and the style that's being written in lots of analysis and just general academia stuff so be warned that is English literature in a nutshell also another thing you need to be careful of is the very big difference between English at school and English at uni because the side of teaching is really different um in a level you would study like two or three texts maybe four over the course of a year and you'd spend like a whole term on one text but every lesson you'd be looking at from different angle kind of analyzing talking about it but university is very different at uni you're looking at different texts every single week every single tutorial will be onto a new text new author the old ones forgotten for each module you'll get a list of probably ten maybe twelve texts that you could read over the year they tell you to read them all but nobody reads them all and it's a lot like there is no depth this is what I had a real issue with uni is supposed to be about further learning and deeper learning and yet with English literature to me it seemed that it was more shallow because you're skipping between texts so quickly I don't know it's supposed to give you a kind of greater understanding of those texts within the context of when they were written and the bigger picture what novels there were at that time and in that style but for me it just meant less time spent on the texts less understanding of what the texts are they're about what you know context I just there was not even it just wasn't as deep for learning as I got in a level which is really disappointing another thing people often want to know is should you do English literature if you want to be a writer people ask this to me a lot because I am a writer and I did English literature and the short answer is no no you don't need to do English literature if you want to be a writer and also English literature doesn't necessarily make you a better writer in my opinion and I think why few writers would agree the main things that make you a better writer are reading and writing the one good thing you leaders do studying English at uni does is encourages you to read more widely you probably read things that you wouldn't have picked up otherwise which does help with writing that's giving you a more rounded experience of books in general but there's that's about it really some English courses do offer creative writing modules my course did but you might be interested to know that I did not opt to do creative writing I mean I read all about it because I was like should I do creative writing should I not do creative writing I mean I am literally an author it kind of is in my element what do I do you would kind of be set a creative writing assignment every seminar and then you'd have to go away and write from this up seems like a prompt or something I don't know and then you go back and then you'd have to share your creative writing with the group and then everyone would critique your writing and let's just set off alarm bells in my head I was like nope I'm not reading my writing up to anyone nobody is going to criticize me on my writing because I know how I write I like how I write don't think I need anyone to tell me how to do it better because I'm pretty confident that I can write quite well thanks very much I'm sure it's fun if you're if you just want to write for fun our bear is fun and but just know I just want you to know that you don't need to do it to be a writer you don't need training it might help it might not it might be fun you might not but you don't need it it's just up to you if you want to do it do it if you don't don't what else can we have now the last thing I want to say is just kind of talk about what sort of person you should be to study English because I was not the sort of person who studied English I had a really terrible time and English it didn't teach me the skills that everyone said that it was going to I went in knowing that I was there to learn skills I was there to learn like analysis discussion of creativity in a way looking at texts in different ways from different perspectives but what I got from my degree was it wasn't that they didn't teach you how to learn me skills they just thrust the information at you and expected you to kind of deal with it yourself and when I'm learning stuff I I could not see the point of it I couldn't see the point no one told me the point of doing any of this and for that reason I didn't get any enjoyment out of it and I think the key to studying English ultimately is that you have to enjoy it don't do what I did which was pick a subject that's academically prestigious because I was a high achiever and I did I thought that was the right to do I thought doing anything else would be a waste don't pick the university because it's prestigious which is what I thought was the right thing to do because all I cared about was being academically successful if you don't know what job you want to do and there's no course that is that has any technical skills specifically that you want to learn pick a course based on what you enjoy that I think is the key to having a good university experience and you're not going to enjoy writing the essays all the time I don't think anyone does and you're not going to enjoy all the books that you read at university but you need to have some kind of fundamental enjoyment of studying books and I didn't that's the moral of this story best of luck if you are applying to university or if you are at university and you're like what am i doing I hope everything is good with you and I wish you all the best and I hope you're not as miserable as I was at university for three years of my life goodbye

45 thoughts on “should you study english literature at uni?

  1. Hello Alice I hope you doing fine. I just want to comment that I study just like you English literature here in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I really like this course, but I do not only study literature ::( I also study Linguistics and Translation from Arabic to English. And of course I study how to be a teacher all this in 4 years ::(. I want to enjoy English literature ::(, but is ok I try to enjoy all my uni years <3<3.

  2. You based some parts of Frances' life on what you went through

  3. Your video annoyed me, you annoy me, you are such a wanker sexless snowflake, why didn't you change your course? I bet you didn't even let a boy give you a good fucking, you are a tosser

  4. You should have studied a language, acquired in your uni years a marketable skill. I study Russian at Leeds , I'm on my second year abroad, in archangelsk in the far north of russia, I have to say I am really enjoying this course, we study Russian literature but without all the boring stuff you had to do

  5. I have finished my lit degree and I’m currently undertaking my honours dissertation. The thing that really gets to me about studying English Literature is the loneliness. You’re very alone when you study lit. Sure there are class tutorials and discussions, but when you’re researching, writing and formulating ideas, that’s all you. You end up in an in-depth discussion with yourself. Sometimes it’s really hard to articulate abstract concepts and it can be extremely difficult trying to write and present a coherent argument that contains unforeseen connections that you’ve made, but no one else has. Also, you find that ideas and even language itself doesn’t translate well into reality, so you start to question why studying and your own research and ideas really matter. It is a very lonely existence. This is a great video! I think a lot of people need to see past the romance of literary studies. It will give them a better perspective of the discipline and even the texts they study.


  7. This video actually makes me want to study English Lit, because I disagreed with all of the drawbacks you mentioned. Lol. Thanks for this.

  8. I know this is an old video now but I just don't know what to do! I applied for English Literature in October at Cambridge, Durham and Nottingham. Got offered an interview at Cambridge but was too scared to go lol. I've got offers from Durham and Nottingham and I can't decide which! I love the Nottingham course and campus etc (I think more than I do at Durham) but I was leaning toward Durham as it is more 'prestigious'… now I just don't know. I have like 2/3 more weeks to decide. After watching this I don't know if I even want to study English at all. I thought I loved it but if you said it really is that different to a-level… all I know is I want to be a published author. That's my dream. Ugh, this is so hard.

  9. « They just don’t teach you how to do it ? » very accurate description of university

  10. Im 20, Turkish and studying Eng. Lit. At a local University, IM at the edge of dropping out :/ i only choose it bc i thought it was my best option

  11. The way you spoke about your Cambridge experience literally screams Frances Janvier

  12. I absolutely hated my English degree. My hate for it is what caused me to fail at the end. I couldn't even push myself to pull through despite during relatively okay in the first year. It's scarily accurate how I'm able to relate to EVERY single thing you've just said. Despite seeing other people 'with smiles on their faces,' I too, was not one of them.

  13. I dread speaking up in class too..I seem to be the only one in my class…I don't know how I will survive all that -_-

  14. Long story short. If you don't like literature, don't study literature.

  15. Damn. I didn't have to do a single exam after my first year in my English Degree.

  16. its so funny because im seeing all of the parallels in your writing after just finishing radio silence:)) such a well put together video and very enlightening from another book lover's perspective.

  17. Here in France for our A level we study 4 texts in depth over 7 sequences which is 28 texts. Then we have 4 other texts that we vaguely study wich in total is 56 texts to learn by heart for the final exam. And to complicate things, over the 56 texts we must know we will be testing over only 1 text and we don't know which one the examiner will be choosing. Then, do you think I can handle texts studies in England ^^?

  18. I'm good at literature natively. What about ohio state univ graduate school at late ages? I'm bad old student with a little computer knowledge basics. I'm foreigner. So what do u think about me? United states is my old neighbor.

  19. Wow! You really hated it 😂 my experience studying literature is definitely different from yours. Everyone at my University goes to the majority of lectures even if they aren’t writing on that particular text just because they enjoy it and they want to be here studying a subject they love. Definitely think this was not the right subject for you.

  20. I like history and I like English but I'm afraid. I applied to uni some months ago and got accepted. This is my second go at this, i took journalism a year ago (flunked out!) And i hated it because i found myself missing aspects from my high school english classes. But now I'm worried that I chose english as a default. I've concidered business for the sake of practicality but I just don't know where to go. 😭 I just want a degree.

  21. 8:31 ‘A author’
    I wonder how you even got into Durham to study an ENGLISH degree. English is my second language and I know better…

  22. I like your accent and your pronunciation carry on, compared with the others they speak fast and they got an annoying voice.

  23. i’m not particularly the biggest fan of reading (i’m fine with reading set books but don’t do it for enjoyment), but i really love analysing things and essays, do you think i shouldn’t choose it at a level?

  24. The channel is expectation and great .. I liked realizing,history and others things .The video is good I inspired .. Thanks for this good video .If you need writers then visit here :

  25. How about… being a typically Asian-raised Asian aspiring to study English Literature? Would that be weird haha but anyhow, I guess I'm going for it

  26. Wow. My experience was so different! But I went to a college in the United States and to a weird school at that. I was really close to my professors and we had courses either every day or several times a week. A lot of presentations, essays, and discussions (which I love). My favorite course was literary criticism–but we actually practiced different kinds. I'm sorry your experience was so unpleasant. :-/ It's too bad that people get pushed into things they don't want to do. And most people don't know when they're young! I barely know now…

  27. Thank you so much Alice for this video. I am a prospective PhD student who is looking to study English literature. While I do teach English currently, it is rather daunting at times having to study/analyze so many unwanted texts. I truly appreciate your video!

  28. I knew a girl, who like this woman, did literature at university because she "liked books" and didn't know what job she wanted to do…lol…lol…lol… after she graduated and got sick of living on social benefits and not being able to afford anything she became a prostitute…that was years ago when she was attractive…now she's back on social benefits.

  29. Wow..this is exactly how i feel about my English degree :O still confused about what I want, what I enjoy, how I should continue..worst feeling ever

  30. I just got recommended this video, I’ve checked out some of your videos… and now I love your channel so much!

  31. so relatable! just withdrew from my English courses, now I'll be applying for a different major. wish me luck!

  32. Such a great video. You're really good at expressing your thoughts.

  33. Such a strange coincidence that I’ve stumbled across your video, because I am also currently studying English Literature at Durham. And I’m seriously not having much fun.
    I can relate to a lot of what you said about the course being too shallow, and the TUTORIALS where I spend half of my time almost rehearsing what I’m going to say before I have to speak, instead of listening and writing notes as I should be! I’m just not LEARNING.
    How did you stick it out? Having got the grades to be here, it feels rather silly to drop out; and I wish I could press a button and fast forward the next three years, except I can’t. What did you do to keep going?

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