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The University of Southampton
EnglishPart of Humanities

English Student Specification

Here are some observations from our Admissions Tutors on the skills and qualities that our degree offers, and that are also important areas we consider when looking at applications for BA English.

Intellectual flexibility
Whether you're a single or combined honours student, our degree enables you to study the whole history of English Literature from the Middle Ages to the present. You'll be introduced to new theoretical approaches to literature, and actively encouraged to study literature in its broader historical and cultural context. You'll also be looking at works in other media, such as film and the visual arts, and sometimes at works which would not usually be classified as 'literary'. This means that you'll need to be open to new ideas, willing to work across disciplines, and prepared to modify your expectations of what the study of literature might involve.

Intellectual independence
Admissions selectors will be looking particularly for evidence that you are capable of thinking for yourself, rather than simply repeating the opinions of others. This quality will help you to keep your bearings among the different and often conflicting approaches to literature that you'll encounter during the course, and equip you for further study beyond undergraduate level.

At university level, this means not just enjoyment of literary works, but an active willingness to extend your knowledge of texts and their context, and to acquire the theoretical and practical skills necessary to work with them effectively. If you're studying full time, you'll be expected during the term to spend about four hours in independent study for every hour in class (that is, roughly the equivalent of a full working week); you'll need to make sure that your other activities and commitments don't clash with this.

Study skills

At university, the emphasis on a combination of lectures, seminars and your own independent study and library work means that you will need to develop the ability to organise your own working day, the self-discipline to keep to your own timetable, the ability to prioritise what may seem a challengingly long list of reading commitments, and the planning capacity to meet a continuous series of deadlines. Admissions tutors will be looking for evidence of organisation and self-motivation in your UCAS form. However, Southampton University also provides lots of support to help new students develop advanced study skills once they arrive.

Writing ability
At the most basic level, this means a good standard of written English, allowing you to express your ideas clearly and effectively. We also look for a feeling for style, the ability to use the right words for a particular context. A history of creative writing can also be an asset; although we don't require it of our applicants, it can give you more insight into the process of literary production. Selectors will look particularly at your personal statement on the UCAS form for evidence of writing ability. Once here, we help you improve your writing in a number of dynamic ways. Your seminar tutors will give you regular feedback on the style of your essays, while your Academic Advisor will help you with strategies to improve your assessed work. We also have two Royal Literary Fund Fellows seconded to Southampton and based in English. These published writers offer one-to-one guidance on writing. English at Southampton has a strong national and international reputation in Creative Writing, and aims to offer students a Creative Writing option at some point in their course.

Independent reading
We look for evidence of independent reading in our applicants, since it indicates self-motivation and a genuine interest in literature. It doesn't have to be confined to the classics; but admissions tutors will be looking particularly for evidence that you have read around the syllabus you are following, or have been trying to extend your acquaintance with writers or genres that interest you.

Wide reading

We're aware that not all applicants have had the opportunity to read widely (this applies particularly to mature applicants, who may have been introduced to literary studies only at a very recent stage in their career), and make allowances accordingly; but since no university undergraduate course can do more than introduce you to the full range of literary studies, you're strongly urged to add further depth and breadth to your knowledge by reading as widely as possible.

Relevant cultural interests
Interests in disciplines other than English (e.g. history, philosophy, social or cultural studies, politics) and in media other than the written word (e.g. live theatre, television, film, the visual arts) may well be relevant to this increasingly interdisciplinary subject. If you have such interests and these aren't evident from your choice of A level, you should mention them in your UCAS Personal Statement. The Faculty of Humanities' system of 'alternative subjects' (modules from other Humanities  courses which may be substituted for modules on your main course) may make it possible for you to follow these interests further at Southampton, even if you aren't thinking about a Combined Honours or Major/Minor degree.

Oral skills
In most occupations, whether within or beyond academic life, the ability to communicate successfully with others is a valuable asset. We particularly welcome applicants who can make an effective contribution to class discussion; and we are increasingly encouraging our students to develop professional presentation skills by incorporating student oral presentations into our seminar teaching.

IT skills
We don't assume that all our applicants have information technology skills (this applies particularly to mature applicants, who may not have had the opportunity to acquire them). However, we think it's important that all students should be computer-literate, and we support and encourage them to develop their skills with the help of the networked computers and self-paced training facilities provided by the University. For your work in English, you'll be expected to have at least some basic IT skills (word-processing, email, confidence in using the internet, and preferably PowerPoint). The Library offers facilities for online bibliographical searches and the use of large literary databases and you'll have the opportunity to develop your skills in other areas through self-teaching packages.

Language skills

Language skills will make it much easier for you to work with the earlier stages of English, and will give you access to a much wider range of relevant primary and secondary literature (desirable at undergraduate level, essential at postgraduate level). If you haven't gone beyond GCSE level in languages, or don't have a language at all, you should seriously consider the possibility of developing your language skills while at University. The University's Centre for Language Study offers not only state-of-the-art self-teaching facilities but courses in many modern languages and Latin at various levels, which may be taken for one or more years as substitutes for optional modules in your main course.

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