Every year, one of the first questions I pose to the newly enrolled students of English Studies at the University of Trier is “Why are you studying English?” I’m often surprised and pleased at the insightful responses I receive, and I’m glad that we have so many motivated and enthusiastic students. Nonetheless, there are usually a few answers which make me want to bop the freshers over the head with a big fat dictionary!
It seems that they are not always particularly well informed about what a degree in English or American Studies actually involves, and what they can (and cannot) do with it once they’ve graduated. And so, for all school-leavers contemplating whether/what subjects to study at university, and for all English Studies students wondering if they made the right choice…. here are my thoughts on what you should know about an degree in English or American Studies.
Why you should NOT study English
- You want to learn English. Most university degeres in English will require you to have achieved a certain level of competence in English before you start. Typically, this will be at least B2/C1 level on the CEF. If you want to learn English, i.e. to learn to be able to speak and write general English, the best route would be to choosen another degree subject and make use of a Language Centre or private langauge school to improve your general English competence. Also consider spending time in an English-speaking country. See here for internationally recognised qualifications in English: Cambridge English Exams and Qualifications, or Trinity College London English Language Qualifications
- You were good at English in school. You should be aware that a degree in English typically covers far more areas of expertise than you faced in your school English lessons, and will involve exploring these in significantly more detail. Most school pupils have no experience with English linguistics, for example, although this is generally an integral part of degrees in English Studies.
- You like watching (English-language) films. This may well help you motivate yourself for certain parts of your degree, but there is a lot more to English studies than lounging on the sofa with popcorn and beer!
- You don’t know what else to do. This is never a good reason to study any subject!!
If you want to study English Studies, you should…
- Already be able to communicate well in English
- Be a communicative person
- Like reading various types of literature
- Show interest in cultures of English-speaking countries
- Be interested in how the English language works
- Keep up-to-date with current events and issues in the target cultures
- Enjoy working with various primary and secondary sources
- Have good computer skills
- Be happy to spend time in an English-speaking country
- Hope to specialise in one area of English Studies
Why you should study “English Studies”
If you’ve read the short list above and are still considering studying English or American Studies, then you should know in the end it will probably be a good choice. There are hundreds of reasons I could list for why a degree in English Studies will be beneficial, but overall the key word is SKILLS.
Studying English Studies at university will endow you with a wide variety of skills which will be useful in almost any future profession. Not only might you have the opportunity to train these ‘transferable skills’ in specific courses, such as Presentation Skills, Academic Writing, Research Methods, Translation, Professional Communication, etc, but you will develop and further improve your abilities in areas such as working with sources, researching, logic, intercultural competence, critical thinking, application of theoretical knowledge, group projects, presentation of research findings, … and the list goes on.
I remember an open day I attended whilst trying to choose a university. The presenter told us;
it often doesn’t matter what specific subject you study, the point is that you can prove your intelligence and ability to deal with a certain field of study at a certain level, and that’s what employers are looking for.
In my experience, he was right. So instead of worrying about which job a degree English Studies directly qualifies you for, you should focus on studying something that interests you, doing well in your studies, and gaining as many skills and as much experience as you can. Then, as they say, the world is your oyster!
But just in case you are interested in the kinds of fields English Studies graduates go to work in….
Advertising / Marketing Assistant
Library Management / Assistant
Museum / Exhibition text production
Public Sector Manager
Radio Reporter / Presenter
Teacher / Teacher trainer
Translator / Interpreter
TV Reporter / Presenter
- > English Studies (christendiary.wordpress.com)
- Five Reasons Why English Degrees Actually ARE Useful (whatemilydidnext.com)
- The Reasons to Study English (espikipbojonegoro3c.wordpress.com)