Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification.
Entrance and applications
English is one of the largest and most successful subjects at St Hugh’s. We take around 10 students a year, including candidates in the joint schools with Modern Languages, Modern History and Classics, and we actively encourage applicants from all backgrounds and schools. If you are drawn to the many challenging questions literature raises, and to the historical breadth that the Oxford course offers, then don’t hesitate to apply. We are looking for candidates with a range of interests in different periods and a willingness to explore the unknown, with intellectual energy and an eagerness to ask searching questions about the culture they inhabit and the books they read. We welcome applications from candidates taking English Literature, or Language, or both at A-level. Though you may find it helpful to offer History or a modern or ancient language at A or AS level together with English, there is no required combination of subjects. We also welcome applicants taking Highers, IB or other exams, and those applying post-qualification.
As part of their application, candidates are asked to submit one recent example of writing. This should be a marked essay produced in the normal course of your school or college work and should not have been rewritten after marking. Preferably it should be an analytical discussion of a topic or topics in the field of English literature though an English language topic is permissible. It should not be a short timed essay, critical commentary on particular passages of text (practical criticism exercises), or piece of creative writing. Overseas candidates without suitable material should consult the Admissions office. In addition, all candidates are required to take a written test, normally at their own schools/colleges. Further information about the test (including specimen papers) is available from the Admissions Testing Service website.
Candidates are then selected for interview on the basis of their submitted essay, their test result and the information on their UCAS forms. Those accepted will have to satisfy the College’s conditional offers (which will certainly include an A in English). Most successful candidates gain three A’s or equivalent. We normally have about 40 applicants for entrance in English, and about six further candidates for the joint schools with History, Classics, and Modern Languages.
The English course
The Oxford English course enables students to tackle the whole range of English writing, from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present, in Britain and across the world. Within the framework of the Oxford English Course, undergraduates at St Hugh’s are given considerable freedom of choice as to which authors they choose to read. Students attend lectures and classes at the English Faculty, and have tutorials (in singles, pairs or threes) and classes (groups of six to twelve) at St Hugh’s, which also has its own excellent library and access to a huge network of online resources. Where appropriate, undergraduates go to tutors from other Colleges, or to faculty seminars, for special topics.
In a typical week of term, students here might have a paired tutorial (for which they will have researched a topic and written an essay); a class, for example on literary criticism and theory (for which they may have prepared a presentation); and be attending a number of lecture courses related to the papers that they are studying during the year. Significant amounts of reading and preparation are expected during the vacations too, so that students can make the most of our eight-week terms.
English students at St Hugh’s
We are proud of the lively, unpretentiously serious way our students approach their studies and the enthusiasm they show for everything that St Hugh’s and the English course have to offer. Our graduates choose widely different careers: while many go on to pursue further studies in English, or other subjects, others have made successful careers in law, journalism, publishing, teaching, and international development.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, a degree in English at St. Hugh’s provided me with a very strong foundation for a career in the City. The core skills I learnt – an ability to absorb complexity, develop a point of view and, later, to justify it under pressure – are ones I use daily.
The English tutorial system, in particular, is an ideal model for learning how to advocate your position in a challenging environment. The capacities you acquire by doing this weekly have application way beyond the tutorial itself, and will become embedded in the way you order your thoughts and present yourself in meetings, public forums and interviews throughout your professional life.
English taught me to react both spontaneously and thoughtfully to new ideas. There is often no definitive answer to a question, and everything is open to interpretation, so the study of English demands creativity and intellectual rigour. If you can parse The Waste Land or Paradise Lost, for example, you will find most of what you encounter in your working life prosaic by comparison.
After some reflection, I have realised that, above all, English taught me how to engage confidently with the world beyond College, well equipped for the careers in Law and Banking I have had since. There are many well-worn phrases that describe the intellectual flexibility employers prize, but it is clear to me that the study of English greatly helps develop it and, after three years engaging with the subject, you will be able to adapt yourself, your skills and your creativity to a multitude of opportunities.
James Morris, (English, 1996)