Having just completed a three-year undergraduate course at Exeter University, here is the advice Emily Kemp wishes she had been given as a prospective English student.
- Absorb knowledge in whatever form it comes in. At university expect a far broader definition of what constitutes ‘good’ literature than in GCSE or A Level. Your inspiration can come from music and television as much as books and poetry; everything is valid and worthy of discussion. So beyond the syllabus read, watch and listen to anything that genuinely piques a creative interest; I have read essays on British grime culture that are as eloquent and intelligent as those on Dante and Shakespeare.
- Do not hold onto what you were taught at A-level. You will find that the exact formulas for writing A-A* essays at A-level will not be of much use when producing work to a university standard. I found that whilst I had a natural writing ability, it was not until the second year that I truly developed the discipline and structure vital in writing good academic essays. Starting off with low 2:1’s and some 2:2’s, I was delighted to be awarded a 1st by the end of my degree – the most important element of my results was that they demonstrated an upward trajectory. I would suggest that everyone approaches first year as a chance to develop your skills and explore your creativity in more exciting and original ways than secondary school allowed; don’t get preoccupied by grades immediately.
- Be brave with your module choices. In my first year I picked a module on Shakespeare adaptations over a module on film 1950’s – present, because I thought I should study Shakespeare and that modern film somehow wasn’t ‘highbrow’ enough. It’s a choice I regretted and tried to correct with my choice of topics in the second and third year. I have a passion for literature that is produced by and for modern cultures, and my final year was spent completely consumed by my reading of 20th and 21st century literature from ex-British colonies. This was work often written by minority groups that would not have featured on any academic syllabus a few decades ago. I would urge no one to waste this opportunity, and to go wherever your interests take you.
More general advice for prospective students:
- Visit the university you plan to attend. It sounds obvious, but no photograph or website can completely convey the campus environment. I would strongly recommend a visit to your choice of university whilst term is still in session; pay attention not only to the facilities but to the current students – is the overall atmosphere a positive one, and one you can see yourself fitting into?
- Have patience with yourself and your new surroundings – it will take time to feel at home. There is immense pressure to immediately enjoy university – after constantly being promised it would be ‘the best years of your life’, I overlooked the fact that the first few months at university can be really hard. Living away from home for the first time, making new friends, getting used to your course; it is a huge learning curve and one that takes time to adapt to.
- Join societies that interest you. On the whole you will find that university is a really accepting and inclusive space – however normal or unique your interests are, there will be groups and teams to cater to them. In the first few weeks there will be lots of society socials and recruiting events; don’t be scared to go to these by yourself, as they are designed to introduce like-minded people to one another and are a fantastic place to make new friends outside of your course and halls. I have definitely had a more rounded and enjoyable experience – from debating events to nights out and trips abroad – by being a member of university societies.