Why an English Literature degree?
Have you ever asked an English (Literature) student, “What made you choose English for your Bachelor’s Degree?”
Chances are their response lies somewhere between “It’s always been my passion.” and “I didn’t really know what I wanted to pursue.” Luckily for me, English and language are things I have always been passionate about.
Since an early age, I have always found comfort in books and am that kid that treats the library as my second home. There is something fascinating about words and their ability to transport us to fictional worlds within the pages of a book. Over time, I developed a curiosity and passion for the literary field and languages.
However, as I grew and faced societal pressure, I caved in to fear of unemployability and studied Banking and Finance in Nanyang Polytechnic. Turns out they weren’t the happiest years of my life and I decided to be bold. Why not pursue my passion as a degree, right? Spontaneously I applied for the Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and I got in! This also aligned with my newfound passion for entering the publishing industry and having a writing or editorial career.
What is it like studying Literature in University?
Before I matriculated, I went to Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) English Page and checked out the syllabus and the requirements needed to graduate. I was genuinely surprised by the vast expanse of literature modules students can take up during their studies. Everything about literature is taught. from introductory courses to advance studies or specialisations in a certain field of literature that students are more passionate about. These are some of the modules I’ve taken thus far:
- 19th century Victorian Literature – Students learn about the influence of class and culture onto the country’s economy and social development.
- Singapore Literature (Singlit) – Dive into Singapore’s narratives demonstrating how literature was utilized to shape key historical events in the country.
- Introduction to Children’s Literature – Students have the opportunity to reminisce their childhood fairy tales and analyse the relationship between a text and the implied child reader
I went into my course with the preconceived assumption that we will be reading books and writing essays that review them. However, I was blown away by the depth and intricacy of what students are taught. I struggled initially, having begun with zero literature background, and had to spend extra time to understand the basic literary devices and techniques used in texts. The curriculum consists of intensive lectures held by professors to tutorial classes held at The Hive (seen in the picture below) to hone students’ understanding of the syllabus. There are colossal amounts of secondary readings that you have to read before classes (you can choose not to read them and cram it all before finals like I did. Definitely don’t recommend it.)
Every Literature student would tell you their worst nightmare is the essays. We are required to write essays that provide critical and deeper analysis, with our own opinions on what we can learn from the text(s). Being an alien to the literary world, it initially took a toll on my confidence to write academically good essays. I can definitely say that it is much more complex than a simple book review.
English Literature offers more than you know
Contrary to popular belief, English Literature is actually a course that prepares one with tons of soft skills imperative in any career even outside humanities-related fields. For example, I realised my creativity has peaked since studying Literature, from close-reading parts of a text and questioning its underlying meaning. Furthermore, I developed critical thinking skills when it comes to thinking on the spot and being able to draft up short thesis statements to articulate my ideas clearly. I believe these are all transferable skills applicable to any profession.
Effective communication is imperative in a social and professional setting and with the tedious amount of essay assignments, I had the opportunity to improve my writing skills. My writing gained more clarity over the semesters, and I was able to deliver my arguments clearly, concisely and efficiently. It is definitely an eye-opening experience stepping into the playing field of Literature and being a participant of active discourses regarding subjects that are not commonly brought about in today’s society. I am so glad that I got to debunk so many of the myths and assumptions surrounding the academia of an English student.
How to decide if I should pursue my passion?
To pursue my passion was no easy decision. I had to weigh the outcomes of my action and if a literary education will be able to provide me a stable career in the future. One thing that alleviated my anxiety and instilled confidence to pursue Literature was researching on career prospects in and beyond the humanities field. One key aspect of my decision was my confidence in myself to turn my passion into a career and also constantly researching how literature is utilised and imparted in various careers in Singapore.
Below is a list of the potential careers Literature students would be suitable for:
- Freelance Writers
- Editorial Assistant
- Social Media Manager
- Public relations Manager
- Human Resource Manager
If you are currently a student unsure about your university education, I strongly suggest researching career prospects and view its alignment to your personal goals. I welcome any questions about studying English Literature, so please feel free to drop a comment below!