Confusedboutlife
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Please could some English students at both universities respond to this thread to help me decide between the two?

The Cambridge course - right now- seems better. It allows interdisciplenary study, comparisons across periods and seems to be heavily focused on the words themselves and approaching texts from a theoretical perspective, and looking at things through modern eyes as well as considering their contemporary reception.

The oxford course seems a lot more restrictive and also is more like a history of literature. Are most of your essays more based on publication dates, contemporary philosophies and the biography of authors? I'm interested in these things - but for me the heart of literature is the words on the page, so these things would have to be secondary. Do you think I shouldn't think of the two as direct opposites? Would you as Oxford students still look at texts with functionalist approaches?
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QHF
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(Original post by Confusedboutlife)
Please could some English students at both universities respond to this thread to help me decide between the two?

The Cambridge course - right now- seems better. It allows interdisciplenary study, comparisons across periods and seems to be heavily focused on the words themselves and approaching texts from a theoretical perspective, and looking at things through modern eyes as well as considering their contemporary reception.

The oxford course seems a lot more restrictive and also is more like a history of literature. Are most of your essays more based on publication dates, contemporary philosophies and the biography of authors? I'm interested in these things - but for me the heart of literature is the words on the page, so these things would have to be secondary. Do you think I shouldn't think of the two as direct opposites? Would you as Oxford students still look at texts with functionalist approaches?
First of all, I think it’s worth saying that the English degrees at Oxford and Cambridge are much more similar to each other than they are to any other English degrees. Both use a regime of week-to-week essay writing and extremely small group feedback within a college system for formative assessment, with an emphasis on exams over coursework in summative assessment. Both degrees are very demanding, and both let you range very widely in what you choose to study and write about. Both universities emphasise close reading/practical criticism (note how they both use the ELAT in admissions). Both have unusually large and unusually well-resourced English Faculties (although Oxford’s is larger) and incredible library systems (although, again, Oxford’s is larger). Both would probably be regarded by many of their peer institutions as somewhat old-fashioned (although Cambridge might be more annoyed by this). A degree from either can be a powerful asset. Some of these qualities are shared with English degrees at other institutions, but only Oxford and Cambridge have this particular combination. So in some important ways it probably is unwise to think of them as being opposites.

That said, there is some—only some—truth in the popular understanding that Cambridge’s English degree emphasises theory more while the Oxford degree emphasises history more. Also, Cambridge probably does emphasise practical criticism more than Oxford, carving out explicitly designated time for it in the degree structure. But I’d add that, from my experience at Oxford, at Cambridge and elsewhere, it seems to me that Oxford also emphasises practical criticism (or close reading as it’s usually called there) more than many other institutions—just less than Cambridge: it’s a significant feature of students’ work at Oxford, and usually plays a big part in undergraduate admissions. Essays at Oxford are perhaps more often engaged with historical context, but they certainly aren’t usually dry arguments from publication dates and authors’ biographies. In fact, I’d note that at Cambridge Old English is not normally part of the English degree (though I think students can choose to do a bit?) de-emphasising medieval English literature compared to Oxford; and medieval literature features many more authors who are anonymous, which certainly saves you from having to engage with biographical criticism…

I suggest you avoid trying to work out which degree is better, and instead think carefully about which degree suits your particular interests. Oxford’s course will let you experience and write about every period of English literature. Cambridge’s course won’t do that, but will probably expose you to a wider range of theoretical influences, other disciplines and other art forms. So both degrees offer variety, but different kinds of variety. From your post it sounds like you might be more inclined to Cambridge’s kind of variety.

(And if you don’t like assessment by exams, don’t go to either one!)
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by QHF)
First of all, I think it’s worth saying that the English degrees at Oxford and Cambridge are much more similar to each other than they are to any other English degrees. Both use a regime of week-two-week essay writing and extremely small group feedback within a college system for formative assessment, with an emphasis on exams over coursework in summative assessment. Both degrees are very demanding, and both let you range very widely in what you choose to study and write about. Both universities emphasise close reading/practical criticism (note how they both use the ELAT in admissions). Both have unusually large and unusually well-resourced English Faculties (although Oxford’s is larger) and incredible library systems (although, again, Oxford’s is larger). Both would probably be regarded by many of their peer institutions as somewhat old-fashioned (although Cambridge might be more annoyed by this). A degree from either can be a powerful asset. Some of these qualities are shared with English degrees at other institutions, but only Oxford and Cambridge have this particular combination. So in some important ways it probably is unwise to think of them as being opposites.

That said, there is some—only some—truth in the popular understanding that Cambridge’s English degree emphasises theory more while the Oxford degree emphasises history more. Also, Cambridge probably does emphasise practical criticism more than Oxford, carving out explicitly designated time for it in the degree structure. But I’d add that, from my experience at Oxford, at Cambridge and elsewhere, it seems to me that Oxford also emphasises practical criticism (or close reading as it’s usually called there) more than many other institutions—just less than Cambridge: it’s a significant feature of students’ work at Oxford, and usually plays a big part in undergraduate admissions. Essays at Oxford are perhaps more often engaged with historical context, but they certainly aren’t usually dry arguments from publication dates and authors’ biographies. In fact, I’d note that at Cambridge Old English is not normally part of the English degree (though I think students can choose to do a bit?) de-emphasising medieval English literature compared to Oxford; and medieval literature features many more authors who are anonymous, which certainly saves you from having to engage with biographical criticism…

I suggest you avoid trying to work out which degree is better, and instead think carefully about which degree suits your particular interests. Oxford’s course will let you experience and write about every period of English literature. Cambridge’s course won’t do that, but will probably expose you to a wider range of theoretical influences, other disciplines and other art forms. So both degrees offer variety, but different kinds of variety. From your post it sounds like you might be more inclined to Cambridge’s kind of variety.

(And if you don’t like assessment by exams, don’t go to either one!)
Hi. Is there no choice to make a dissertation at Oxford more interdisciplinary?
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by QHF)
First of all, I think it’s worth saying that the English degrees at Oxford and Cambridge are much more similar to each other than they are to any other English degrees. Both use a regime of week-two-week essay writing and extremely small group feedback within a college system for formative assessment, with an emphasis on exams over coursework in summative assessment. Both degrees are very demanding, and both let you range very widely in what you choose to study and write about. Both universities emphasise close reading/practical criticism (note how they both use the ELAT in admissions). Both have unusually large and unusually well-resourced English Faculties (although Oxford’s is larger) and incredible library systems (although, again, Oxford’s is larger). Both would probably be regarded by many of their peer institutions as somewhat old-fashioned (although Cambridge might be more annoyed by this). A degree from either can be a powerful asset. Some of these qualities are shared with English degrees at other institutions, but only Oxford and Cambridge have this particular combination. So in some important ways it probably is unwise to think of them as being opposites.

That said, there is some—only some—truth in the popular understanding that Cambridge’s English degree emphasises theory more while the Oxford degree emphasises history more. Also, Cambridge probably does emphasise practical criticism more than Oxford, carving out explicitly designated time for it in the degree structure. But I’d add that, from my experience at Oxford, at Cambridge and elsewhere, it seems to me that Oxford also emphasises practical criticism (or close reading as it’s usually called there) more than many other institutions—just less than Cambridge: it’s a significant feature of students’ work at Oxford, and usually plays a big part in undergraduate admissions. Essays at Oxford are perhaps more often engaged with historical context, but they certainly aren’t usually dry arguments from publication dates and authors’ biographies. In fact, I’d note that at Cambridge Old English is not normally part of the English degree (though I think students can choose to do a bit?) de-emphasising medieval English literature compared to Oxford; and medieval literature features many more authors who are anonymous, which certainly saves you from having to engage with biographical criticism…

I suggest you avoid trying to work out which degree is better, and instead think carefully about which degree suits your particular interests. Oxford’s course will let you experience and write about every period of English literature. Cambridge’s course won’t do that, but will probably expose you to a wider range of theoretical influences, other disciplines and other art forms. So both degrees offer variety, but different kinds of variety. From your post it sounds like you might be more inclined to Cambridge’s kind of variety.

(And if you don’t like assessment by exams, don’t go to either one!)
Would reading some Middle English be by any chance useful for my application? How would I even go about that sort of thing though?...
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QHF
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(Original post by Confusedboutlife)
Hi. Is there no choice to make a dissertation at Oxford more interdisciplinary?
If you're doing single honours English then you could use some elements from another discipline in your dissertation: a particular exercise in historical method, or a way of handling bibliographical evidence borrowed from archaeology, or the thought of a particular philosopher, say—any of those might in the right circumstances be an appropriate tool to turn to. When I was an undergraduate about a quarter of my dissertation was a mixture of historical underpinning and some art-historical readings of a set of sculptures (about half was a literary-critical argument from close readings, and the other quarter was the introduction and conclusion). You'd probably need to justify your choices, at least briefly, in your introduction, and possibly you'd want to explain some of the workings of whatever tool you were using so that your markers could be comfortable with it. The dissertation would also still need to be recognisably work in the discipline of English, though if you think about what people who work in English departments publish that's a pretty wide range.

As I understand it if you do a joint honours degree course (e.g. Classics and English or History and English &c) you've more room to do a fully interdisciplinary dissertation.

(Original post by Confusedboutlife)
Would reading some Middle English be by any chance useful for my application? How would I even go about that sort of thing though?...
Reading widely, and well beyond the scope of your A level (or equivalent qualification) is definitely an advantage, and reading some Middle English is one good way to do that. In secondary education most of the texts students encounter can often be within a few narrow categories: often, short poems from the Romantics or from more recent poets, nineteenth-century novels, modern drama, Shakespeare and possibly one or two playwrights contemporary with him. So try to read at least some things that aren't those! Challenge yourself to travel widely across times and genres.

If you're interested, there's a big library of free Middle English texts online here, with introductions and marginal glosses explaining unclear words. The texts vary in difficulty but many can be read fairly easily by modern English speakers (and the first thing to do if a sentence is giving you trouble is to say it out loud to yourself: this often clarifies it). You'll also find that you speed up quite quickly as you get used to it, if you persist. Here, to pick an example more or less at random, is one medieval version of the myth of Orpheus.

The various pages here contain some useful advice about preparing for applying to Oxford, and most of that advice would be useful in applying to Cambridge. And indeed a lot of the notes on preparation on this page will stand you in good stead studying English at any university. (This website is not my work!)
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by QHF)
If you're doing single honours English then you could use some elements from another discipline in your dissertation: a particular exercise in historical method, or a way of handling bibliographical evidence borrowed from archaeology, or the thought of a particular philosopher, say—any of those might in the right circumstances be an appropriate tool to turn to. When I was an undergraduate about a quarter of my dissertation was a mixture of historical underpinning and some art-historical readings of a set of sculptures (about half was a literary-critical argument from close readings, and the other quarter was the introduction and conclusion). You'd probably need to justify your choices, at least briefly, in your introduction, and possibly you'd want to explain some of the workings of whatever tool you were using so that your markers could be comfortable with it. The dissertation would also still need to be recognisably work in the discipline of English, though if you think about what people who work in English departments publish that's a pretty wide range.

As I understand it if you do a joint honours degree course (e.g. Classics and English or History and English &c) you've more room to do a fully interdisciplinary dissertation.



Reading widely, and well beyond the scope of your A level (or equivalent qualification) is definitely an advantage, and reading some Middle English is one good way to do that. In secondary education most of the texts students encounter can often be within a few narrow categories: often, short poems from the Romantics or from more recent poets, nineteenth-century novels, modern drama, Shakespeare and possibly one or two playwrights contemporary with him. So try to read at least some things that aren't those! Challenge yourself to travel widely across times and genres.

If you're interested, there's a big library of free Middle English texts online here, with introductions and marginal glosses explaining unclear words. The texts vary in difficulty but many can be read fairly easily by modern English speakers (and the first thing to do if a sentence is giving you trouble is to say it out loud to yourself: this often clarifies it). You'll also find that you speed up quite quickly as you get used to it, if you persist. Here, to pick an example more or less at random, is one medieval version of the myth of Orpheus.

The various pages here contain some useful advice about preparing for applying to Oxford, and most of that advice would be useful in applying to Cambridge. And indeed a lot of the notes on preparation on this page will stand you in good stead studying English at any university. (This website is not my work!)
What on earth are you you amazing creature! Thank you so much. I was having a look and some medieval things look really interesting, there's stuff where they taste god as blood dripping from the ceiling. Tracing the history of science would also be good, and the manuscripts are so beautiful!! I shall try and look outside of the parameters set by A Level. That said, I'm going to have to put down some Tennessee Williams.

I really like water in Literature, and ceremonies ( drowning, exorcism, baptism). Symbolic rituallly things that have really vibrant language. Any suggestions come to mind from that?
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QHF
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(Original post by Confusedboutlife)
I really like water in Literature, and ceremonies ( drowning, exorcism, baptism). Symbolic ritually things that have really vibrant language. Any suggestions come to mind from that?
Glad this looks useful. I don't have any brilliant ideas springing to mind, I'm afraid, no, though I imagine there's a lot of liquid ritual imagery to explore in medieval literature (and perhaps later, in certain contexts) around the blood of Christ.
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MaxReid
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As someone who applied to both on separate occasions I'd strongly recommend visiting Oxford and Cambridge and looking at how the courses differ. I'd also shortlist a few colleges at each and go to both sets of open days in September.

Source: applied to Cambridge in 2014 and Oxford in 2015
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by MaxReid)
As someone who applied to both on separate occasions I'd strongly recommend visiting Oxford and Cambridge and looking at how the courses differ. I'd also shortlist a few colleges at each and go to both sets of open days in September.

Source: applied to Cambridge in 2014 and Oxford in 2015
Thanks for the advice. I have always felt more drawn to oxford, but I couldn't find a single person for English with 6A*s :/ Trinity has a very cool bar
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Thanks for the advice. I have always felt more drawn to oxford, but I couldn't find a single person for English with 6A*s :/ Trinity has a very cool bar
Trinity is my college actually. Current studying History and Politics at Trinity.
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Confusedboutlife
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Trinity is my college actually. Current studying History and Politics at Trinity.
Awesome! It's a beautiful college. I'd say my favourites are Hertford, New, Balliol ( images do not capture Balliols beauty at all). I feel like Somerville has the nicest library though !

As I say, I'd love to applymto Oxford but my GCSEs are a little too low
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