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English Language and Literature, General


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What to Expect

So what good is an English degree? It helps you develop better reading, writing and critical thinking skills.

English students study literature and culture. They learn how language expresses the identity of a group of people. Besides text analysis of narrative, theme, characters and language style, English students learn about the social, cultural and political contexts of the text being studied.

"Studying English literature is basically studying human nature under specific circumstances," says Megan Polley. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree with an English major, after which she plans to complete a master's degree and obtain a Ph.D. She wants to become an English literature professor.

"While this is a field-specific path I've chosen for myself, there are plenty of career options that English majors can pursue, because they are fundamentally trained in different forms of communication and to be creative," says Polley.

Lindsay Millett agrees that an English degree prepares students for the future. Her major is in English and creative writing at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. She plans to teach English, but she says that, "What you learn as an English major is applicable just about anywhere, not just in a classroom."

"In order to be successful English majors, new students must be prepared for the amount of reading that is required of them," says Polley. She has recognized the importance of in-class participation. It's the best time and place to get direct help from your professors.

You should be prepared to step out of your reading and writing comfort zone, according to Millett. "You won't be well-rounded if you don't know what else is going on in the writing world," says Millett.

Regardless of the track of your English degree, there are opportunities to write freely and creatively, says Millett. She says that you can get involved on campus with literary journals and poetry readings. At your school's writing center you may be able to get paid to help other students improve their papers.

"As an English major and a full-time student, I spend three to five hours a day studying," says Polley. Her homework includes reading, making notes, participating in online discussions and regular assignments. Millett says that the amount she studies really depends on the class.

To save money, Millett suggests living off campus and working hard to get good grades and scholarships. She says to shop online for school books to save money.

Polley agrees that buying the literature is the biggest add-on expense for English students. "When I can, I purchase used copies from friends, used bookstores and websites," she says.

How to Prepare

Read, read and read some more! Explore new sections in your school or local library. Read the works of different authors, in different styles and from different eras.

"Like my poetry professor told me, you won't understand poetry until you read poetry," says Millett.

In terms of coursework, besides English, "High school courses such as drama, philosophy, ancient civilizations and history deal with similar issues and characters that English literature does, and can provide a broader context to an individual text," says Polley.

Millett encourages future English majors to get involved in diverse activities. That's especially true for students interested in creative writing. In high school, join the newspaper, the yearbook staff, the drama club or volunteer as an English tutor.

"Just because you're an English major doesn't mean all you need to know is books. Join every club you can! What are you going to write about, grammar rules? Those are just the foundations of writing. You need something to write about!" says Millett.


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