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Feb. 28th, 2009 @ 07:43 pm Help?
I'm a Year 12 student, studying English Language and Literature (Combined course), French, Maths and Computing up in Lancashire. I'm thinking of applying to Balliol or possibly Magdalen College to study English; I was wondering if anyone studying the course could give me some information on it. I've looked at the course outline several times, but still feel none the wiser about whether the course is any good for me. I'm not the biggest fan of analysing texts, especially poetry and I really don't want to study another anthology of poems; also, I love creative writing (I've taken part in National Novel Writing Month, for the past two years) and was wondering if there any space at all to explore this side of English.

So, yes, any help would be much appreciated. Thanks again.
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nemoorange:
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From:nemoorange
Date:February 28th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
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I have tried looking at the other English courses, in particular the Classics & English course. However, as I'm not doing a course in Latin or Greek at the moment, I'd have to do an extra course, adding up to four years there. On top of that, I'd like to do my PGCE to become a teacher, therefore that's five years at university...Not really how I wanted to spend the next five years. But I look into it, thanks =)
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From:j4
Date:February 28th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid there's no creative writing component to the Oxford English course; and if you don't like analysing texts, it's almost certainly not for you -- you'd be doing pretty much nothing else for 3 years! As for the poetry... well, there aren't strictly speaking any compulsory set texts (the areas of study are divided up into historical periods, and you have a fair amount of choice as to which authors you concentrate on for each period), but there are authors it's difficult to avoid (e.g. there's an entire paper devoted to Shakespeare), and it'd be fairly difficult to avoid poetry altogether.

I'd be happy to tell you more about it (I'm not a student now -- graduated in 2000 -- but the course hasn't changed that much) but it does sound like it's not the sort of thing you're looking for!
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From:nemoorange
Date:February 28th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
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I can analyse texts, it's just that I also love the writing aspect of English. I mean, without writing it, there's nothing to analyse, surely?

I don't mind Shakespeare, I love the older periods of history, which is part of the reason why I want to stay in a really old college. I think it's more the modern poems that annoy me, (and doing about nothing but poems for a full term. Especially depressing poems like 'Dying' by Emily Bronte.)

I'd really appreciate anything else that you could tell me about the course, I'd like to get another point of view.
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From:j4
Date:February 28th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
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I mean, without writing it, there's nothing to analyse, surely?

Well, true, somebody has to write it. :-) But creative writing really isn't what the Oxford English degree is about: it's about critical analysis of literature and language. Of course nobody's going to stop you writing novels in your spare time!

I think it's more the modern poems that annoy me, (and doing about nothing but poems for a full term. Especially depressing poems like 'Dying' by Emily Bronte.)

Well, 20th century literature is only one bit of the first year, so that's only half of one term, and you could certainly avoid 20th century poetry if you really don't like it...

But whatever you're studying, you need to be able to analyse it, to approach it with critical detachment whether or not your immediate emotional reaction is that it's "depressing" or "annoying". The Oxford English course covers literature from 600AD to the present day -- sorry for the prospectus-speak, but it's really not an exaggeration! -- and when you're covering such a wide range of literature you inevitably end up studying some things that you wouldn't actually read for fun (I've never yet met anybody who really enjoyed Piers Plowman...). But it's nothing like GCSE or A-Level, where you spend 2 years on the same small number of books; there's no danger of spending an entire term on a single poem you hate. Each week you have two tutorials on different authors/topics, and you generally have to write an essay (2500 words or so) for each of those tutorials.

I'm sure you're already doing this, but do try to look at plenty of different universities/courses before making your choices -- there's so much variety out there (including lots of places that do include a creative writing component in their English courses). And good luck whatever you decide. :-)
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From:chainsaw_poet97
Date:February 28th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
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Hi, I'm a third year English student at Exeter College and hopefully will try to help you out. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by 'not the biggest fan of anaylsing texts', because that's really what an English degree is about - do you mean close textual analysis, as in writing commentaries on poems/short passages? If so, there is not that much of that in the Oxford course - it's required part of for one first year exam and part of one final exam. Poetry, however, you cannot really avoid - almost no one was writing novels until the eighteenth century, and two of the four core period papers fall before that, so for the vast majority of those papers you will be reading quite a lot of poetry and verse drama. You won't, however, have an anthology (those things seem to be mostly awful), but you'd do the poems of Milton, or Spenser, or Browning, or T.S. Eliot.

If you want a course with a creative writing element, Oxford is probably not the one for you. There is plenty of creative writing going on in the University - poetry workshops, creative writing magazines, writer's groups - but there is currently no space to be examined on this as part of your degree. But if you are happy to keep your creative writing as an extra element, then Oxford has lots of opportunities. If you want a degree with a creative writing element, East Anglia is really good, and York (I seem to remember from my own applications) also encourages creative writing. Hope that helps.
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From:nemoorange
Date:February 28th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
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My comment does pretty well match what you said, it's the commentaries on poems that annoy me because I find it harder to try and decipher what a poet meant in, say, 12 lines than to find their purpose in a full novel. I think choosing what poets to study would make me feel better, having that little bit more control over what type of poems would make me feel as though I could try and understand the poets better over their entire collection of poems, rather than a random selection of poems and poets from across the ages.

I wouldn't mind not being examined on it, it's just the idea of not being able to write it at all. Being constricted to only thinking one way and that way being through analysis only. I've looked at York and am thinking of applying there as well as applying at Oxford; I don't want to pin my hopes solely on this course so York is definately on my list (although that would be a Language & Linguistics course, as opposed to a Lit & Lang course). Thanks for mentioning it.
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From:anagrammatical
Date:March 1st, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
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Surely no matter where you went, you would be able to do creative writing outside your course? So if you don't mind being examined on it, surely that doesn't even enter into your analysis?

I'm not an english student, but I am at magdalen and my impression is strongly that textural analysis is basically the heart and soul of the oxford english course - it has basically no creative writing element at all. And while you have some control over which poet you want to study, a good deal of it will be dictated by your course, so I wouldn't count on having that much control, at least not until finals.

also, 'being constricuted to only thinking one way and that way being through analysis only' - english literature courses across the country generally do focus on analysis...it's about studying literature over history, not creating your own. You can join a night class for that, you don't have to go to university at all! And as others have said, there is plenty of scope in Oxford for doing that via student societies, but then there will be that scope in any university.

From what you've said, I don't think Oxford is the best course for you. I don't want to put you off, but if you genuinely dislike the bulk of analysis, choosing to go on a course which has basically nothing of what you love - creative writing - seems ill-advised. If it's just Oxford's 'history' that attracts you, I would advise you not to go for it. You're going to spend 3 years studying this course, and if you realise you hate it, no amount of pretty architecture will make up for it.
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From:smellingbottle
Date:March 1st, 2009 09:25 am (UTC)
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I'd agree with others that Oxford may not be the best place for you. Quite apart from anything else, the fact that your real interests seem to be outside the study of English literature as such is likely to come across in an interview and damage your chances of a place at very competitive colleges - I'm afraid wanting to be at a college which is 'old' (which includes the majority of them, by the way) isn't going to help you there. Although I confess to not understanding precisely why you would consider studying English, when you don't seem massively enthusiastic about it (not trying to be offensive here, but you sound as though you have all kinds of reservations, and would rather be doing something else!) - I'd also suggest you do a lot more research into other universities at which you could do a joint degree in English and Creative Writing.

But if you want to be a novelist, there's nothing stopping you just doing it, alongside whatever you do end up studying/doing for a living. I know quite a few, and not a single one is the product of a creative writing programme.
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From:dothestrand
Date:March 1st, 2009 10:47 am (UTC)
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I'm in Year 13 and have an offer to read English at Oxford next year, so my advice obviously isn't as helpful as advice coming from a current English student, but I'd agree with the others who've suggested that Oxford might not be the best place for you.

If you get invited to an interview at Oxford in the first place (I think about 70% of applicants get interviewed), the tutors will want to know about how widely you read, and why you enjoy studying literature. Reading your post, it doesn't sound like you do enjoy studying literature, in which case I'm not sure why you want to study English at university in the first place. I understand your enthusiasm for creative writing, as I write a lot in my spare time, too, and at one point I briefly considered studying English with Creative Writing, which obviously isn't an option at Oxford.

As others have already pointed out, nothing's stopping you from writing in your spare time. If, however, creative writing means so much to you that you want it to be part of the course, then there are plenty of English courses at other universities that involve more creative writing. I think Goldmsmiths might be good for that, although I'm not entirely sure. You might even be able to study Creative Writing as a degree in itself? Again, I'd have to check up on that...

Analysing texts will be an important part of the course at all universities, not just Oxford, so once again, it might be worth considering if you really want to study English. But whatever you decide, good luck. I know the whole university application process can feel incredibly confusing!
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From:dothestrand
Date:March 1st, 2009 12:05 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and one more thing - as you're not finding the Oxford website helpful, you might find this interesting:

http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/English_at_Oxford

It's very detailed, and I found it useful when I was applying.
From:leyo
Date:March 2nd, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
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I'm another non-English student, but I did used to go out with an English student and so heard quite a lot about the course. :) In fact my advice is probably quite general; basically (as with most Oxford courses) English is an awful lot of hard work, and if it's something you're not fully committed to it will become a serious burden.

I don't know whether this varies by college, but at mine (St Johns) the English course is one of the most challenging courses in terms of quantity of reading and essay writing required. It might be a peculiarity of the tutors here but the English students seem to work ridiculously hard, so I definitely recommend making sure it is the right course for you -- if it is it will be incredibly rewarding, but if it isn't it could make you very unhappy.
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From:queenarmadillo
Date:March 6th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
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I think other people have probably answered most of your questions now about what the English course is like, and I have almost no idea.
However, I am one of those people who settled for an Oxford course I found academically less interesting/useful than those offered at other places in exchange for the chance to study at a university I fell in love with. I do not regret it at all. I wanted to study amongst universally very intelligent people, in a beautiful place where intelectual curiosity was not frowned upon, which was precisely what I gained from Oxford and I still (some years after graduation now) am not convinced I could have got from anywhere else. It think the name of the university and what having successfully studied there adds to perceptios me as a person has contributed greatly to my ability to change to unrelated careers post graduation.

However, there are 3 reasons why "settling" for the Oxford course structure would not work for everyone:
1) If you genuinely love an aspect of your subject which is covered elsewhere and not on the Oxford course, you are missing out on the oportunity to have focused tuition on this aspect which may never arise again in your life; my indecisiveness and broad area of interest made this much less of an issue for me;
2) The Oxford courses generally are harder than those at other universities. It is VERY difficult to motivate yourself to put in the extra work for the Oxford degree if you feel you would have learnt more about your interests elsewhere; once you have chosen your university you are pretty much in it for the long haul and if you have serious niggles, knowing you are doing twice as much work as your friends elsewhere to maintain similar grades, and potentially giving up your chance of a first can make you really resent Oxford, which ruins the whole experience you traded in for in the first place. I know; I've seen it happen more than once.
3)If you know that what you want to do is a creative writing course, then it is very hard to be genuinely relevant and enthusiastic about the course actually offered when you are being interviewed. In the 3 years I spent at Oxford it is fair to say that I didnt meet anyone else who even nearly shared my lack of interest in their own course. There were people who didnt like bits of it, and people who pursued outside interests perhaps more strongly than their degree, but very few who genuinely wanted to be learning something else. If you cant figure out what it is about the Oxford degree as a course of accademic study which appeals to you over studies elsewhere, then the chances of you getting past the interview are incredibly slim.

Sorry for the essay, which doesn't really advise you either way, but your ambiguity about the course reminded me strongly of my own, so I thought my experience might help.