What is it like to study English literature at Leeds?

English literature books

Why I chose to study English

Three years ago, when I was writing my personal statement and attending what felt like endless open days, I had no real idea what I was looking for in a university, or even what I wanted to study there. I was an A Level student of an unusual kind, with my favourite and best subjects being English and maths- an odd combination, I know. However, there is something about English literature that has always drawn me to it; I’ve loved reading since a very young age and was very excited about the idea of doing this full-time.

I knew that studying English literature at university would be hard but rewarding, and it has certainly turned out to be just that. Spending every day with tutors that are passionate about their subject is an incredibly inspirational thing and I know that, despite my regular complaints when I have three books to read in a week, I would never change my decision to study a subject I love so much.

Why I chose Leeds University English

Once I’d decided to study English, the next step was to choose a course from the dozens of universities that I had shortlisted. I knew that I wanted variety, and when I went to the Leeds University open day this was something that the students I spoke to kept mentioning. Three years later and I am working the open days myself, showing prospective students just how varied and personal a degree at Leeds can be.

In the first year of university, all students take compulsory ‘discovery modules’ in a subject outside of your degree. In my case I chose modules in philosophy and politics, whilst many choose to learn a new language or take something a little more alternative – I know that a module in beer-brewing is a popular one! For me, this was an amazing opportunity to pursue my other interests and not spend all my time reading classic novels.

The Leeds University English course is structured to allow students to specify their interests more and more as they progress through the university, allowing you to tailor your degree to what you love. In second and third year, I have been able to choose from around 40 modules. This is one of the biggest ranges of choice out of the universities I considered, and is something I really value now I am there. Not only do you get to study the subjects you are interested in, but you are tutored by subject-specialists and with other students that are eager to engage in interesting discussions that I never imagined participating in when I left school.

What is the workload like?

One big thing I worried about when deciding to study English at Leeds was the need for self-motivation thanks to the limited contact hours. In my first year, I had around 10 hours of university a week. This comprised of lectures (an hour-long presentation by a lecturer to your whole year group) and seminars (intimate student-led discussions with a tutor in a group of around 8-10 people). The number of contact hours has gone down to around 5 hours now I am in third year, which means that self-management and motivation are key – this is something that I’ve had to improve on over the years! Whilst this may not seem like a lot of contact time, and I am very used to the typical question of ‘Where does your £9000 a year go?’, there is so much support that is available on top of this. On top of the core contact hours, you also have personal meetings with tutors, free essay-writing workshops, talks from visiting poets, and many more opportunities to enrich your degree.

In terms of the workload, a usual semester for me is eleven weeks where I read two or three texts per week. The texts can vary in length a lot, ranging from a couple of short poems to a Dickens novel! I normally write an average of three essays throughout the term and sit two exams at the end. It is a lot of work, but it is certainly manageable once you learn to manage your time properly and avoid leaving essays until the day before! The fact that an English degree is so independent is both a blessing and a curse, but it’s important to make the most of that independence and see it as an opportunity to develop into not only a great student, but a well-rounded and driven graduate when you leave university.

What is the social life like?

Of course, it would be wrong to give the impression that I spend my whole life reading books and writing essays; choosing a university was as much about the lifestyle as the course for me, and Leeds certainly offers both. Not only is Leeds an amazing city to live in as a student, the English society itself offers many opportunities for socialising outside of lectures (something that is so important when you don’t have many contact hours). From pub quizzes, to free tea and cake every Monday, to big nights out and our annual trip abroad, there is something for everyone. It’s hard to find an event run by the society that doesn’t involve free wine and a good natter, perhaps other than our active football and netball teams for those that are interested in sport- whether that be just for fun or more seriously. Outside of the English society, many English students write for the student newspaper, The Gryphon, or the numerous other student publications.

It’s all good and well judging a university based on facts and figures of contact hours, league table results, etc, but this is nothing if it doesn’t feel like the place for you. When I first walked around the Leeds campus on the open day, my mum turned to me and said, ‘you’re going to end up here, I can tell’ and as usual, my mum was right. There is no substitute for that feeling I got when I spoke to current students and tutors and got infinitely more warmth and excitement than I gained from the same experience at the numerous other places I visited. For me, studying English at Leeds was what felt right, and there is no real other way of describing it. I knew the most important thing was to feel happy, comfortable, and inspired to become better, learn more, and develop as a person; now, as I move through my final year of my degree, I know that there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Written by - Rebecca D.

Studying English literature at Leeds University