Before we start to dive into this list of tips for English majors, I’d first like to congratulate you for choosing to major in English. Normally, I would not breach the third wall and insert myself like this, but I just have to say it took a lot for me to finally choose to major in English. I was always discouraged into thinking the major would be a waste of my time and money, but I loved literature too much to stay away. My heart belongs with books, characters, plot, stories, and the magic of them all.
Some people know right away that their calling is the study of literature, but others might be stuck on the fence like I was. Always follow your heart and do what brings you joy. It’s your life to live, and no one else’s. From one English major to another, here are a few tips and tricks to make your journey a bit easier.
1. Prepare to Read… A lot.
This may seem a bit obvious, but let me tell you that you are most likely underestimating how much you will read. Not only will you typically read 5-7 novels per English class, but you will also have supplemental readings for class, as well as research notes and articles for your papers and assignments. Keep in mind that you will be expected to finish these novels within a week to two weeks max, on top of all of the work for your other classes.
None of this is to scare you away, but to truly prepare you for what is in store. Now, don’t feel hopeless if reading maybe isn’t your strong suit or you just can’t seem to focus long enough to get through the material. Learn what each class expects of you: participation, response papers, quizzes, tests, etc, and then focus your efforts into prioritizing what will get you the best grade possible. For example, if your professor grades highly on participation in each class, make sure you have a few key points or quotes to mention in class. Even if you didn’t complete the full reading, as long as you give some context with the material you present, it will seem like you read more than you did. Speed reading, spot reading, and pulling important quotes saved me many times throughout college.
2. Multiple English Classes at Once
As mentioned before, you will be reading a lot, especially when you take multiple English classes simultaneously. It can be easy to mix up stories and characters between different classes; try to get to each class early t0 look over your notes, the text you’re currently studying, and your homework to refresh yourself on the material. Focus on passing assignments in on time, and attempt to keep up with the readings. Prioritize which assignments will need more work, or the ones that are worth more of your grade, and start those projects as early as you can. It is quite easy to fall behind in English classes, and once that happens it’s hard to get back on track while you are juggling work for your other classes.
3. Hone in on Your Writing Skills
As an English major, you will write nearly as much as you will read. Papers get difficult and more advanced the farther you progress in college, so it is critical to understand how to properly write a paper. Work on perfecting thesis statements, as these are the heart of your papers and can set you up for success or failure. Clearly state what your paper will be about, and why what you are arguing or exploring is important.
Gathering strong quotes is crucial, but knowing how to set evidence up and explain it is just as important too. Avoid dropping quotes in the middle of a paragraph with no explanation. Always open each body paragraph with an argument for or against your thesis, then insert quotes or evidence with proper in-text citations, and continue on to explain why the quote and your argument are important in the overall exploration of your thesis.
Another key component to a quality paper is connecting each paragraph to one another. Your ideas should flow along a smooth path that guides the reader through your paper with ease. Use the ending of each body paragraph to set up your next paragraph, so the reader understands why you’re heading in that direction. Sometimes when we type out our arguments, our minds fill in gaps that our words might not. We understand where we are going and why, but the reader can’t read our minds, they only can read what is written down.
4. Utilize School Resources
Another one of my tips for English majors is that while you are paying a lot of money to go to school, make sure to utilize all of the resources that your school provides. There are writing centers that walk you through writing papers, and focus on whatever skills you ask them to help with. Ask questions during class, or visit your professor after class and during office hours for extra help if you are confused about materials or want to continue a class discussion. Use free student tutoring on campus from other English majors that can provide their own tips and tricks for getting through classes and assignments. There is an endless breadth of materials at your disposal, you just have to reach out and take advantage of them.
5. Have Fun With Electives
The great thing about electives is that you have full control over which ones you decide to take. Take a few that aren’t in your major so you do not get too overwhelmed with English and related materials; you will be taking plenty of English classes already. When it comes to English electives, take ones that are interesting to you. If you want to become a writer, look into Creative Writing classes. If Shakespeare is not your strong suit, attempt to take a Shakespeare elective to strengthen your understanding of his writing style.
Expose yourself to other cultures besides your own. Take an African American Women Writers class and be introduced to Zora Neal Hurston, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and so many other amazing talents. Take Short Stories electives if you prefer shorter works over novellas or novels. Study whatever topics grab your attention and keep you engaged so you truly feel like you learned something when you finish a semester.
6. Enjoy the Variety of Material
This might be the most important of my tips for English majors and that is to enjoy your studies. You are going to be exposed to such a wide variety of works that you might not have otherwise come across on your own volition. College is a learning experience in so many ways, and a lot of it is discovering what you enjoy to study and what topics ignite a fire inside you.
There is no shame in reading summaries and skim reading, especially if you work full time, have a family, or other commitments on top of being a student. However, do try your best to fully read as much of the material as you can. Get the absolute most from your time in college because it can be the most transformational period of time in your life.