Wednesday, 8 February 2017

What I Wish I'd Known: English at St Andrews

About now is the time a lot of people thinking of going to university will be thinking about which subject they would like to study for the next 3/4 years. Open days are around the corner, and it can be a very exciting time. However, chances are most people won't know what they'd like to study, and it can therefore be a bit tricky to choose which unis to look at.

I really wanted to share my experience on how I chose what I applied for, but obviously I was only really looking at English which won't apply to everyone. I put out a call on twitter and Insatgram for other students interested in sharing their experience- and I was totally overwhelmed by the response! For the next couple of months they'll be a guest post each Wednesday from lots of people all over the world studying lot of different things. I hope it'll help you choose what you'd like to study if you're looking at uni's now, or at least will be interesting to read everyone's experiences!

Personally, I was lucky in the fact that I knew from the get go that English was the thing I wanted to commit to, but I was definitely in the minority. The university I chose and now go to, St Andrews, allows you to take two other modules alongside your main degree choice, and so I still had to make the decision of which other subjects I would like to study.

One of the things I kept hearing from friends and family was that studying a subject at university is wildly different to studying the same subject at school. This can further complicate the matter- how do you know you'll love studying your favourite school subject at university?

So, English..
The first thing I would say is that you have to really love reading. This may seen fairly obvious, but the amount of reading material surprised me a little. We have to read about one book a week, and then have a tutorial on it so it really helps to keep up. Although it is a lot of reading, it does mean that if you don't like one of the texts you only have to put up with it for a week, rather than committing for a whole school year.

I also really like how it forces you to read widely, I've read and loved so many things that I never would have come across if I'd never started English.

I wouldn't say English is an easy subject, but it's definitely more relaxed. Although it definitely helps to go to all the lectures, there are certain lecturers that I tend to avoid because I really don't get on with their lecturing style. Although I guess this stands for any other subject, as English is more subjective you can get away with not going to everything.

My essays are a little different from school- they tend to be more open ended which I really like. It lets you chose something that you're interested in to write about, and means you can really explore that interest under your own terms. As you tend to have fewer lectures compared to other subjects, I have 3 one hour lectures and an hours tutorial a week, it does mean that you have more time to read around the subject if you're so inclined (although I challenge you to find any first year English student who actually does this).

At the moment we're kind of looking at a more general spectrum of literature, covering the basics before we go on to specialise more in the years to come. I like this because it means we don't over analyse the texts, we don't spend hours and hours looking at each chapter and exhausting every possible theme the text may reflect. Of course, you can do this in spare time, but again you really don't have to for the first year at least!

Before I came to uni, I wish someone would've told me the importance of sticking to a normal routine. Especially being an arts student you do get a lot of spare time and are less likely to have the 9-5 lecture structure other students may have. I try and get up at about half 7 and go to bed at a reasonable time as I'm a creature of habit and tend to get so so stressed if i'm doing work late at night! If you're the same it's important to bear how you like to structure your day in mind- but definitely don't let it define your degree.

As St Andrews allows you to study 2 additional modules along with your degree module each term, I also study Comparative Literature and Persian. I won't spend too long on Comp Lit because it's very similar to English.
Rather than studying the broad variety of texts that there is in English, we have a more specific focus, such as 19th Century Novels of Adultery. Most of the books have been written in other languages and translated into English, such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary and there is a greater focus on comparison but apart from that the structure and pros and cons are essentially the same as English.

In Persian we're learning Farsi which is the form of Persian spoken mostly in Iran. I definitely wouldn't have chosen to study a language if St Andrews hadn't offered the option of taking additional modules, but I'm really glad I took the plunge and stared learning it. I have a one hour class every day, and usually get extra homework on top of that. It gives me the structure that English and Comp Lit lack. It is hard, but once you get the hang of the different alphabet the grammatical structure is actually fairly simple in comparison to languages like German. I find understanding which tense is which the hardest bit, but that's probably because I haven't learnt a language since I was 16, and I don't think my French GCSE really counts as a language to be honest.

So, I hope that helps a little bit! Feel free to send me an e-mail or tweet of you're interested in any of my subjects or studying in Scotland! If you'd like to contribute then feel free to get in touch: You can email me at or find me on twitter or Instagram!

Look out for the wonderful posts coming up, I hope you enjoy them!

E x


  1. This was such a wonderful post, babe! I'm halfway through writing mine! I think a lot of prospective students & are going to be helped!
    Bisous, Faz

    1. Thank you so much!! <3 I can't wait for everyone to read yours!
      Eleanor xx


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