10 things I learnt during the first year of my English degree

As of 11am on Monday, as my last exam drew to a close and I finished writing my final essay of rambling, anti-capitalist, feminist sentiment of the academic year, my first year of university is officially over. Reflecting on the last nine months of studying English Literature, here are ten things I would tell the shorter-haired and frankly-absolutely-bloody-terrified version of myself who moved to Exeter last September.

  1. You won’t know what’s going on for the majority of Term 1. This is okay. You won’t know what’s going on for most of Term 2, either. By Term 3 you will have made your peace with this and will resort to talking about Instagram for a whole paragraph in one of your exams.
  2. Other people will seem to know what’s going on and will have articulate and interesting thoughts about it. You most likely won’t. This is okay. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t clever enough. And, even if you were an administrative error, that means you’ve essentially outwitted a prestigious institution of higher education, so. You’re still pretty clever. Maybe. This is what you tell yourself, anyway.
  3. Reading for pleasure won’t happen. “Reading” and “pleasure” won’t exist in the same sentence. Not until the holidays roll around, at least. It will take you five months to finish The Goldfinch, which is, quite frankly, a bit of a shoddy effort. (Look, I know it’s long, but it’s not exactly War and Peace. Do it for Theodore Decker.)
  4. Every essay can be a feminist rant if you try hard enough.
  5. Your modules won’t involve anywhere near enough texts by female writers. Or writers who aren’t white. Give the canon the middle finger. Also, on a semi-related note, don’t even bother attempting to read The Rape of the Lock. Watch another episode of The Office (U.S.) instead.
  6. When it comes to assignments, your A-Levels won’t be useful. A-Level essays may have been soul destroying exercises in ticking boxes and regurgitating what the marker wants to read, but at least there were boxes. University essays don’t have boxes. They don’t have ticks. Do boxes even exist? Perhaps we’re just aspiring to Plato’s idea of the ideal box. Was it even Plato who said all that stuff about ideal things? Pretend it was.
  7. Seminar discussions will dissolve into collective existential crises on a weekly basis. Let it happen.
  8. You will never understand Derrida. Even Wikipedia in Simple English can’t save you. This is okay. Anyone who claims to understand Derrida is pretending. Probably. This is what you tell yourself, anyway.
  9. Your tutors will be an eclectic range of people. One of them will have the same shoes as you. You will both turn up to a seminar wearing identical shoes on multiple occasions, except yours will still be covered in glitter from a night out last week. You’re not sure if this makes things better or worse.
  10. Surprisingly, trying to finish multiple assignments at 4am the night before they’re both due with Jona Lewie’s Stop the Calvary on repeat and tears of despair in your eyes will not result in a 2:1.


    1. Emily says:

      thank you!


  1. aubreyleaman says:

    Hahaha this is great. Oh, Derrida… I took a class on literary theory and criticism last semester and absolutely loved it, but I definitely know what you’re talking about! Haha.


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