It’s nearly time to start uni, you’re all prepared for the start of term and you’ve read every article going on what university life’s like, right? Now a postgraduate, I almost can’t remember how nervous I’d been to start. As an aspiring English literature student, I was terrified that I wouldn’t have done enough reading, that I’d not got through every classic going and that I just wasn’t going to be prepared enough. I didn’t have a clue how to write or format essays, hadn’t even heard of some of the authors and literary movements on my reading lists, and I thought that no way was the amount of work I’d done at college going to be enough.
And guess what? As you’ve probably guessed – it didn’t matter. Reading, of course for a literature degree, is kind of important. But it’s okay to not have read the books on your reading list within the first week. Making sure they’re read for a class is a given, but the relief in rushing into class for your neighbour to turn and whisper ‘please tell me you’ve only read as far as the introduction too?’ is sometimes acceptable too. But only sometimes, of course.
Something I found out very early on is that you’re not supposed to enjoy every book going. My English Renaissance module revealed this to me very quickly. As did my reactions to some completely sworn by, apparently life changing classics. But you also find out very quickly what you do enjoy. And it’s always a good thing to keep in mind, even when your third year dissertation seems a ridiculously long way off. Immerse yourself in the books and genres you find interesting – the recommended reading set by your lecturers is actually pretty useful, even if it only adds to your work load – and you’ll often be surprised to enjoy works you never would have chosen to read outside of university. I never thought I’d find myself writing a second year essay on an obscure American jazz age poem with little to no criticism, but there we go. Finding out what you do like is always reassuring when some modules can often seem difficult and overwhelming.
This leads to another tip – never be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling. From personal experience, I know the importance of this. It’s easy to stay in bed in the morning than go to a 9am office hour; to assure yourself that you’ll figure out a problem yourself; that an essay question will get easier if you read it another few times. But again, as you’ve probably already guessed, it’s going to be a lot easier if you just ask for help. The transition from college to university can be a lot to take in, and sometimes it can be frustrating to see your lecturer for just an hour once a week, but the out of hours help they also offer can and should be made the most of.
But of course, university isn’t all about the work! Societies are a great place to meet people on your course, to gain support and to just do something outside of university work. They often organise trips and socials, and it’s also worth looking at other societies outside of English that can compliment your degree and just your interests in general.
It’s a lot to take in, and it’s challenging at times, but a course in English Literature is worthwhile and enjoyable, and it can open doors into a wide variation of exciting and interesting careers. That’s if you can manage to get past the introductions of your books for class, of course.