WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO UNIVERSITY FOR ENGLISH LITERATURE

I finished university about 3 years ago and there were many things I would have loved to hear or read about pertaining to the overall experience that I had to figure out the hard way. I loved university and every day I wish I could go back despite the overwhelming stress I felt at times with exams and essays. This post is going to be specific to anyone entering post secondary education as an English literature student in Canada, as that is what I’ve had most experience with. It may seem romantic to be walking down the Hogwarts-esque hallways, but many of your mental breakdowns will happen on mahogany staircases or amidst eerie old paintings. 

RESEARCH IS VITAL

This tip doesn’t only apply to your classes, but the overall school year in general. The main thing you should be doing the summer before you begin university is looking up everything you need to know about the year ahead—where your Student’s Union is, how and when to apply for classes, when to drop a class if you don’t like it before you lose that credit, where all your classes are located and how long it will take to get to each of them. I did none of the above and assumed that it would be as easy as high school; you just show up and they tell you where to go. My first year was kind of a nightmare when it came to these basic tips and tricks. The most important thing to research is what courses you need to complete your minor/major/specialist program. The last thing you want is to think you’ve finished all the classes for your degree and have to come back for an extra year to complete one more before you can graduate (not that this happened to me *ahem*). 

NOT ALL THE READING IS NECESSARY

I’m sure many of my fellow English literature students can attest to the fact that not all your reading has to be done. A professor will assign roughly a book a week as part of the syllabus, but that does not mean that all those books will be important when it comes to your essays or exams. For many of the classes I had, you would be given the option to chose a book/story to discuss for your midterm essay. In this instance, you would be able to choose one you really enjoyed and actually form persuasive discourse from it because of its impact on you. This also pertains to the exam questions. You may be asked a few one-word questions about all the books (in which case you will need to know basic information about them), but when it comes to the long answer questions most of the time we were given the option to choose 2 or 3 writings from the entire syllabus to discuss. Of course, being exposed to as much literature as you can is incredibly beneficial, but you will quickly learn that your time is precious and you need to use it wisely. The important thing is to pick a few books or stories and memorize all their nuances so that you are able to provide concise analysis when the time comes.

FORGET WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT LITERATURE

Everything you think you know about literature from high school—yeah, you should probably toss that out ASAP. Going into university I would have considered myself well-versed in the world of literature. I had just discovered Chuck Palahniuk after all. I was edgy and Nihilistic. What else would university teach me that I hadn’t already taught myself in the mean hallways of public school? Oh, what a rude awakening it was to enter the pristine buildings of scholars and PHD students with the childish notions of what right and wrong writing was. You will quickly learn as I did in my Narrative 110Y class that there is no such thing as “good” and “bad” when it comes to the way a story is written. Language becomes malleable and bends to the will of the author to convey their message.

Now, I know there are many novels out there that would be considered “bad”. Maybe the plot is clichéd or the writing is not evocative, provocative, or intellectual in any way. Those arguments are fair and easy to agree with. I have read some awful YA books in my day. However, just because an author decides to use grammatically incorrect sentence structure to illustrate the raw inner dialogue of a character does not mean they are a bad writer. A lot of thought and skill is put into that craft and university really helped me acknowledge and appreciate it the longer I was there. 

TIME MANAGEMENT is an ACQUIRED SKILL

I briefly mentioned this above, but once you enter the fast-paced environment of university you really learn how to stay organized and on top of your assignments. I remember it being such a shock to me that professors didn’t micromanage your life and workload as teachers would in high school. There was no attendance at the beginning of every class—either you were there or you weren’t. They gave you the syllabus on the first day and never really drilled due dates into you. You were responsible of being prepared for any tests or midterms and the essays had to be in class on the due date or there would be a penalty. As much as it shocked me at first, I quickly realized that they were treating us like adults, because that is what we were. Once you understand that no one is going to help you with your homework it is like a necessary kick in the butt to actually create a schedule that works for you.

Before I started university (and a little bit into my first year) I was a huge procrastinator, leaving all my homework to Sunday night. But in uni, there is no ‘Sunday night’ because classes didn’t occur daily. Sometimes you’d have three, three hour classes in one day and wouldn’t have any time to get work done for other classes. It’s a scary realization, but the sooner you absorb it, the better your experience and GPA will be. I remember having an essay on one of shakespeare’s plays due and I had to write it a month in advance just to stay on top of my workload. Luckily, I have carried on those organization skills after graduation. 

There are many more tips and tricks I could discuss, but this post has already become longer than I expected. I might do a part two, but I think I covered the major tips that really left an impression on me.

Let me know how your university experience is going or what it was like before your graduated!