University: things to note as an incoming English major

Sunday, December 20, 2020


If you love reading, you may want to consider an English major at university. There are so many careers that the skills you learn in this major can apply to--careers that deal with books and learning and careers that don't. Here are some things I've learned and dealt with as a senior with a major in journalism and a minor in English.

The major

Scatter your English classes

The worst feeling is finishing your first week of classes and learning that you have three short essays due a week, four 10-page final papers, and so much reading you have no time for your own. Rather than getting all of your general education classes out of the way as someone in another major might, take some of your major-specific courses every semester and some of your university-required courses every semester. 
 
Don't believe what people say about English majors

If you don't already have a plan in mind for after graduation, speak with your advisor about possible paths that interest you. This resource is so underused for English majors. There are so many different ways to use and English degree and your advisor can point you to credible resources. Also, consider a certificate program through your school early on to advance a specialization. I wish that I had looked into certifications earlier on so I could broaden my scope of careers--areas that interested me were education, library science, and dietary science.
 
Befriend your advisors

Not only will they help make sure you're on track for graduation, but they will also help you find classes you didn't know existed or help you get into classes that are full. Sometimes there's nothing you can do about a full class, but it doesn't hurt to try! And this tip isn't limited to academic advisors. I frequently email financial aid advisors, advisors for other colleges within the university, library advisors anytime I have a question no matter how small. It's better to ask an easy question and know the answer than not ask and wonder.

Beware of burnout

One thing I've recently struggled with is reading burn out. I've loved reading since I was twelve years old, and it's been hard to catch me without a book since then. Until my to-be-read list was bombarded by Mary Shelley, Charles, Dickens, George Elliot... I've loved all the books I've had to read for class if only because I was being graded to read books and share my opinions on them, but I just haven't had the same zeal for reading in a while because of them. I'm such a mood reader that when people tell me to read, I will find anything else I can do (i.e. my newfound passions for yoga and baking). It's hard to fit so much reading into an otherwise busy schedule, but try to find time for books that pique your interest between the required readings and I think that can help combat the burn out.
 

The readings 

You don't have to read every text

English classes have a lot of assigned reading, that's not a secret. But you don't have to read every single text that you're told to. You will be able to judge what you need to do and what you don't for the course, and often times just learning about a book and its history and listening to in-class discussions is a great supplement to reading the actual book. That's not to say don't read a required text because it doesn't interest you, always give it a try, but if you don't have time for it or you just can't bring yourself to do it, listen to yourself.
 
Read the supplemental material

There's often a lot of hidden themes and momentum in a work that isn't readily available in most course discussions. There is a wealth of background information found in the history of the work's time period. Learning about the time period, genre, or author's history often provides context that takes the book a level deeper and can lead to more complex paper theses.

Summarize your readings

Reading is likely already a passion of yours if you're an English major, but it's important for in-class discussion to comprehend every section of reading. Details and context mean a lot when discussing themes and characters. Try to highlight at least two or three things that caught your attention that you would like to mention in class.


The organization 

Write your own calendar

In a planner, bullet journal, desk or wall calendar write out what you have due each week and when you should have readings done by for the entire semester. Set time aside to add detail to it and personalize it, and find an attractive place to document it that makes you happy to look at it and use it. Use this to track your progress in each class all in one place so you know when you need to work ahead to alleviate work in busier weeks.

Have two checkpoints

In addition to a planner, I also keep a running to-do list for the week. I find that having these two checkpoints where I have written and scheduled each assignment, class, errand leaves little room for me to miss something. It also allows me be aware of what I have coming in the future or later in the week so I can account for how much time I'm going to have then--if I need to start on something earlier than I thought, I'm aware of that.

Look at criteria for large assignments early on

Thinking about midterm and final papers early on leads you to composing theses and ideas while still reading a text. If you're sure that is what you want to do the paper on and maybe you've talked about the idea with your professor, start it then while the text is still fresh in your mind.
 

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