Patrick, 2nd Year, English Literature
When it came to choosing my subject for degree level I was torn between Physics and English (My A level subjects were combined English Language and Literature, Maths, History and Physics). A science degree, which would be extremely attractive to potential employers further down the line, versus an arts course, which I would probably enjoy more but which may not be as useful when it comes to getting a job. (Although if you apply to Worcester (blatantly the best College) you could follow in the steps of one Russell T Davies and end up with a job writing Doctor Who and Torchwood!) Head, you might say, verses heart. Needless to say, my heart won out. The allure of being able to get a degree in reading stories proved to be too much for me and I am, thus far, very glad that it did.
So, having chosen my subject I necessarily had to face Oxford’s much talked about application process. So much is made of the supposed mysteries surrounding said process that it often puts people off applying but I found that the trick was to be informed of what you needed to do and then do it. A look at the English page on the Oxford University website will tell you all you need to know. To judge your application tutors use your personal statement and AS results, the submission of a written piece (nothing special. I sent in my A Level Coursework), the ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test), taken in November (again, just write how you normally would), and, of course, an interview, done in December. There’s a lot of advice telling prospective students to leave their comfort zone and try and do something special in the interview, however, my tip would be to know your personal statement, keep calm and act normally. I had two interviews of around 20 minutes in length; one on a poem I was given 10 minutes beforehand and one centred upon my personal statement. The interviewers are just people, admittedly extremely clever people, but people nevertheless and you shouldn’t be scared of them. As long as you listen to their questions and answer them in a thoughtful way you’ll do just fine. The situation is quite scary but it can also be extremely enjoyable!
English is perhaps like no other subject in its potential to offer students the chance to study the aspects of the course that they are most interested in. There is a great deal of choice in the work that you do during term time and this can be extremely rewarding. Oxford’s English course is great in that it takes you through the entire history of English Language and Literature starting with Old English (something not offered by Cambridge) all the way through to contemporary literature. In the first year you study four modules: Paper 1, an introduction to literary criticism, Victorian Literature (1832 to 1900), Modern Literature (1900 to present) and Old English Literature. A typical week would consist of one or two essays, a couple of classes/seminars (you and around 6 others), a single compulsory lecture (and lots of non-compulsory ones) and a tutorial (just you and one other person with a tutor discussing your essay). People often label English a ‘doss subject’ due to the lack of contact hours in comparison with other subjects; however this is not true (well, not entirely true) and you need to be clever with how you use your time. There is a lot of reading to fit in and time can easily slip by if you’re not organised and motivated to get it done. There is certainly a big step up from A level in terms of the intensity of the work but this will come naturally. English is an extremely enjoyable subject and well worth following your heart for.
1. From October 2012, the English syllabus is changing slightly (see the English Faculty website). The first year course will consist of an Introduction to English Language and Literature, Early Medieval Literature (650-1350), Victorian Literature (1830-1910), and Modern Literature (1910 – present).