I didn’t come to university knowing that it was a degree in English Lit that I would end up with. In fact, my life plan couldn’t have been any more different. When I arrived at my university I was on track to complete a degree in Psychology – I was going to finish my undergrad, do a master, then a PhD and finally become an amazing therapist (with a lovely office complete with cushy chairs and a big ass fish tank).
Yeah, that is honestly what I expected to happen. Safe to say it was a little unrealistic. Not only was I unable to even begin to comprehend the biology and maths side to psychology (I really should have known better), I ended up simply hating it. Time to figure out a different career path I guess! Two years into a four-year degree and life plan that I had set my heart on… Perfect timing.
Queue the entrance of English Lit. I had taken it as a minor in first and second year and had always loved English in school, so it seemed like the perfect next step. Or, at least a viable option and really, I didn’t have much choice. ‘What the heck’, I thought, ‘can’t be worse than psychology’. Oh boy, was I in for a shock.
Spoilers: All degrees are hard.
To be clear, I do love English Lit. What really screwed me was making it my focus far later than the majority of those around me since I changed my degree halfway through uni. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t challenges that I shared with my peers within the subject.
I’ve never hated reading more.
I believe that if you’re pushing yourself into working hard at your degree then at some basic fundamental level, you do really love it. Why, oh why, put yourself through four years of something you aren’t passionate about?
However, just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t still experience high’s and low’s. This was one of the biggest and most confusing low’s. You must be thinking, surely you can’t love English Lit if it made you hate reading? Isn’t that the whole point of the degree? But when you’re forced to do something you love, which is then tainted and warped by the tastes and requirements of your tutors, you tend to fall out of love with it. I love crime fiction, I love fantastical fantasy fiction, I love feminist literature. What I don’t love, is over 70% of the required reading that I’ve been made to do in order to complete my degree in English Literature. My love of reading has spiked and dipped drastically over the course of my four years at university, and there have been times when I’ve seriously hated doing it, but those times when I’ve loved every second do make up for the misery. Ultimately, it’s an issue that I never knew I’d have. Beware prospective English Lit students, beware.
You don’t have as many job opportunities as they might tell you.
If you’re an English Lit student you will have definitely been told that ‘you’re doing such a well-rounded degree’, and that ‘you can basically go and do any job you want’. It’s a lie. I’m head, shoulders, knees, and toes into the job hunt right now and let me tell you, you cannot do any job you want. This is just not an accurate statement. Yes, this degree does prep you with skills that almost all employers are looking for, but that does not mean that you will be automatically hired. Here’s something I didn’t realize until recently – even the jobs looking specifically for English Lit graduates want you to have a wealth of experience in many other areas too. Looking for a job in editing? Great! You need to have two years experience in a similar role. Researching careers in publishing? Fantastic! Do you have at least a years experience in an office environment? It’s seriously competitive out there, and you can get all the unpaid internships in the world and still not be picked up by potential employers. All the advice I can give is to really think about your job prospects early and get a jump start on gaining as much experience as you can. And don’t be disappointed. It might take longer than you anticipated, but at least you’re clued in and thinking realistically.
People will think you do fuck all (even some of your friends).
If you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t do a degree in English lit, and who doesn’t totally hate reading, they will never believe you when you say your degree is difficult. Okay, not everyone’s this shit. But there’s the odd student you’ll come across who won’t give you the time of day when you complain about your workload because ‘all you have to do is read’. It’s frustrating, and I’ve never won an argument with someone who has this view, but they can shove their ignorant opinions up their asses. Every degree is difficult in its own way – university isn’t a picnic. I may not have the class hours that a science student does, but I’m reading thousands of pages a week and busting my butt in order to keep up with my workload. Please respect that.