Confessions of a BA English Major

Forgive the less than original title – a side effect of writing to appease the university ‘man’ for the past three years. This week I will submit my last assignment for my undergraduate degree, and next year my little sister will begin hers. Whether or not she studies English literature or theatre, I want to impart the most valuable things I have learnt from doing an Arts degree.

  1. Related texts aren’t a thing

Scholarly readings are though. Yep! So forget scouring through your favourite movies and books to find anything related to the topic, it’s irrelevant, and not admissible for a university level assignment. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t stop finding meaning in EVERYTHING.


  1. The HSC does nothing to prepare you

Other than getting really good at handling your stress levels, the HSC in terms of content does nothing in terms of academic preparation.  University level essay writing is a whole other ball game, and like everything else in your life after high school, you’ll get thrown in the deep end. Start assignments early, and forget what your teachers told you. The English department at UNSW loathes the Board of Studies, and you should too.

  1. Neither does high school

I never knew the difference between a top-loader and a front-loader before I moved to Sydney. I didn’t know that broccoli actually lasts a really long time in the fridge before it goes bad. Money is what keeps you alive, and internet, stationary, and textbooks don’t come cheap. High school does nada to prepare you for adult life, so start watching your mum cook before dinner – you’re gonna need it later.


  1. ‘I’ comes before ‘e’, unless you have evidence to suggest otherwise

The English literature student is always right. There are no wrong answers. Sound easy? It’s not. If you can prove the sky is green with scholarly articles about the human perception of colour, and eye sensitivity to the sun, your tutor will indulge you. If you want to argue that babies are hatched in pods, go for it – but you’re gonna need some damn good evidence.

  1. Law, medicine, and engineering are for cool kids

Remember when you were cool because you played the guitar and everyone picked on the kids who were good at science and maths? Throw that old Chesnutt in reverse and you’ve got university. Want a faculty night with a $10,000 bar tab? Too bad, Arts students don’t have special events. We are the scruffy rug rats and day dreamers of the academic community and to a lot of people, what we study is a waste of time. You’ll hear jokes about flipping burgers in your imminent future (much like death) more times than you’ll care to count. Just make sure you watch The Dead Poets Society a few times a year.


  1. You can start an essay the night before and it (probably) won’t matter

No matter what teachers, tutors, and lecturers tell you – some of the best work you’ll do will be under the crunch of a 12-hour deadline. Inspiration is hard to come by, but when it strikes, you’ll write until your head hits the desk, and you’ll get a sterling 60%, which is great considering you wrote it the night before!


  1. Care about what you write or no one else will

One thing I’ve noticed is how little I engaged with my degree in the second year. I wrote mindless essays about things I can’t remember even reading about. But somehow it all ended up on the page. Your essays will be 100 x better when you write what you know, and what interests you. If you’re scared to read your essay back, that’s nothing on the fear that will engulf you when you have to read your mark.

  1. The Simpsons is smarter than your parents

Go back and watch The Simpsons, and you’ll hear every literary joke and reference in a new light. Even though my parents never let us watch the show, I’ve decided I’ll let my kids watch it. It has more pop-culture references than any other children’s program (if you can call it that), and you only appreciate it more after an arts degree.


  1. No one cares about your ATAR, and uni doesn’t care about you

Oh you got 86.7? I got an 81.5 and we’re in the same degree. You’ll learn pretty quickly that your stellar ATAR will be pried away from your trembling hands like Sophie’s daughter. No one cares, and neither does the university. You got in, congratulations; now work your ass off, because even if you don’t, you’re just a number in the system now. No one will punish you for not doing your homework, and at first that feels worse than actually being punished. In the real world it’s not called ‘detention’, that’s just unemployment.


  1. Arts degrees are hard, but worth it

Don’t ever let someone convince you that your Arts degree isn’t worthwhile. Sure, it’s not crunching numbers or saving lives, but people who study and practice the Arts are better off for it. You’ll write until your fingers hurt, you’ll philosophize until your head aches, and you’ll read until you can’t keep your eyes open – but you’ll be able to hold your own in intellectual conversations, prove your worth of diverse knowledge in history, fine art, modern and classic literature, criminology, psychology, and languages of the world. Don’t sell yourself short, because everyone else will try to, and if you get on the Arts-bashing-band-wagon you won’t finish your degree, and that would be a tragedy.

If I can take anything away from this degree, it would be this: I am a lot smarter than I give myself credit for. And if you just take an Arts degree because you like to read literature, learn languages, or springboard yourself into future degrees, one thing can be certain – no other faculty embraces the person that you are like an Arts degree, and you’ll thank yourself for it when you’re old.


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