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Guest Blog: “Tips for Studying English at University” by Abigail Wing

Introducing moon child guest blogger: Abigail Wing!

11118992_10206338560198796_1824000551_nMy name is Abigail and I am a student at the University of Stirling studying for a degree in English. Ever since I was little I have had a profound love of books that has inspired me to pursue a career in publishing. My passion for reading also translates into a desire to write. Therefore, I regularly post over at my blog The University of Real Life which is an honest account of university life featuring advice, anecdotes and even recipes.

» You can follow Abigail on Twitter and Instagram and follow her work on her blog.

“Tips for Studying English at University” by Abigail Wing

How does Voltaire like his apples?*

Those who can hazard a guess at the punchline to this joke most likely harbour a keen interest in English Literature. Perhaps you are getting ready to begin studying for a degree in English this very month. If so, then what are the chances of you stumbling upon this teeny tiny article floating amongst the red giants of internet space? I don’t know. I am studying English, not maths or astronomy… but I like a metaphor when I see one. I am shameless like that.

I may not know much about numbers or space but I do know that studying English can be a really stressful process at times. I also know that it can be an interesting and fulfilling way to spend part of your life. If you have chosen to study English because you too believe that it is the only way to feed your hunger for higher education then read on. These are a few things to remember – or reminisce – about studying English Literature at university:

1.      Get used to the fact that everybody thinks you want to be a teacher

Spend some time thinking through a response to said assumers that won’t get you arrested for grievous bodily harm. Not only is this person’s banal guess at your future career extremely annoying, it also displays an alarming amount of ignorance concerning the prospects of an English Literature graduate. Rest assured that there are a variety of career possibilities open to you at the end of your degree (although they can very competitive) and that being teacher is just one of them.

2.      Remind yourself every day that your degree is not a waste of time

A huge percentage of the people I am friends with are studying for scientific or mathematic based degrees and I have massive respect for them. However, in this kind of environment, it is easy to feel like an English degree is worth a lot less. It is not. We might not be able to understand the complexities of the world without maths and science but we would not be able to understand them without English either. Neither is more important than the other. They are interdependent.

3.      Remember that six contact hours does not equal an easy degree subject

Our comparably small number of contact hours at university is one of the major reasons why our chosen subject is branded a ‘degree in useless’. What these people do not realise is that our reading lists can hit 312 collective items (like mine this year). People see us lounging around, reading a book. What they do not see is the level of history, philosophy, science and mathematics that we have to comprehend before we can even make sense of what we are reading.

Image courtesy of Brittany Stevens via Flickr.

4.      Kill the delusion that you are going to love every book on the reading list

When I envisioned studying English at university, I imagined myself in a bubble of euphoria, surrounded by my new favourite novels of all time. This did not happen. However, I did learn that it is possible to appreciate even the novels that I don’t like by placing them in contexts and understanding the author’s intent. I wasn’t thrilled when I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie but I understand why he won the Booker Prize for it. I have actually grown a paradoxical fondness for a few books that I dislike because of the way in which I can recognise their intellectual value.

5.      Bid farewell to your money and time by purchasing the books and doing the reading

It seems strange that people would do an English degree and not even read half the books or the secondary material but it is possible. However, this is the equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to placing novels in broader contexts. Your understanding of literature will improve immensely by reading all you can and subsequently, so will your essays. Besides, think about how impressive your bookshelf will look after uni, even if they are all second-hand from Amazon.

6.      Start as you mean to go on

This is one of the first pieces of advice given to me at university and I have remembered it ever since. First and second year often don’t require maximum effort levels but if you start slacking through them then you are setting yourself up for failure later on. Party your hardest during the night. Work your hardest during the day. Your grade on an assignment or essay is not just a reflection of that piece of work. It is a reflection of your overall work ethic, your attitude, your devotion, and your study methods. Learn from your grades and adapt accordingly. If you start with this mind-set then the only way is up.

Studying English at university can be a memorable and rewarding experience that can kick-start a career filled with the joys of the written word. I wish you all the best in your studies and hope that these tips have been helpful somehow. Please comment down below if you have any pieces of advice that you would like to share!

*And just for the record… the answer is candied. Voltaire likes his apples candied. But you knew that anyway.


A few words from the primary blogger – Aside from being a long-time fan of Abi’s work – particularly her evocative and inspired fiction – since I had the good fortune of sharing English classes with her in secondary school, I chose to feature a guest blog by Abi because I follow her blog religiously and her posts are witty, charming, insightful and genuinely helpful. I admire Abi’s talent and dedication, and as a fellow English Literature student, I can really relate to this piece. I can’t stress enough how exasperating it is when everyone assumes you want to be an English teacher – there are other a million and one other things we can do!

Featured image courtesy of Thomas Abbs via Flickr.

If you’d like to guest blog for ‘moon child’, visit the guest blogging page for more information.

Are you starting an English degree this year? What do you think of these tips? Let us know in the comment section below.


  1. My perspective is pretty ancient, I’m afraid, since I studied English nearly thirty years ago. My only real tips are rather obvious ones. If there is a choice of units, choose the ones you are genuinely interested in. Also really do read the books! It was amazing how many people hardly read anything and then were surprised that they hardly knew anything.


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