When I began studying for my English degree, I was surprised about how different it was to studying A-Levels at Sixth Form. I studied A-Level English Language, Literature and Media because I enjoy analysing language and ideas in books, plays, songs and TV scripts.
While A-Levels provided essay construction and analytical skills, University enabled me to develop a writing style and tone in my work. I struggled at A-Level because of the strict rubric that, I believe, prevented me from expressing ideas and opinions but University allowed me to explore and voice these.
At first, I found it difficult adapting to the academic expectation that degree essays must be supported with various secondary sources and critics, but over three years I found it insightful and enjoyable to challenge and support my ideas with other work. Lecturers encourage us to even challenge their research and urge us to develop independent interpretations. A lot of our work relies on independent research and planning which was challenging, but rewarding also. It is helpful and most of the time refreshing to read a variety of different views which was extremely beneficial for developing my own opinion.
Seminars at university were far more interactive and collaborative than A-Level classes were because both students and their lecturer work together to discuss ideas. There were roughly fifteen people in each class which, together with one-on-one tutorials, allows for more of a personalised and intimate atmosphere. A-Level lessons, I found, were systematic and ordered with a clear proviso that what the teacher taught, was the be-all and end-all.
Lecturers at university, instead, place a book within historical context and encourage the seminar group to take control of exploring our own thoughts and opinions. I found it refreshing to even go so far as to admit when I didn’t enjoy a text and the lecturers, rather than scorn me, would be interested in what I found difficult or problematic about it. While there is a hierarchy in classes to an extent, I feel like lecturers and students work and interact cooperatively in a professional friendship.
The student body on my course was strong. We would often meet outside of seminars to revise, socialise and write essays together, offering help and advice if we could. There was much more of a collective interest and passion at University compared to A-Level study. We could pick and choose modules in second and third year to suit our strengths and interests. Of course, the final major project was challenging, but also enjoyable because I could choose any topic to write ten thousand words on. I chose the poetry of Robert Browning and the representation of his male characters. I first came across his work during GCSE classes, so thought it would be fitting to end my academic career with poems I love and ones that instigated my love for literature.
I did expect University to simply expand and build on skills learnt at A-Level, but it was far more insightful and it strengthened my confidence and love for the subject, as well as developing my maturity and emotional growth as a person.