English and history students share why they loved their degrees

history student in library

What should you expect from these popular courses? Staff and students discuss their experiences

English and history are two popular courses for university applicants. But what’s it like to actually study these subjects at degree level? 

We spoke to staff and students at the University of Leicester to get some inside knowledge – along with tips for potential applicants.

“I loved the variety of my degree.”


Isobelle, English graduate, University of Leicester

“None of my friends or family members had been to university so I didn’t have [many expectations]; more that I really enjoyed English and wanted to carry on studying it," says Isobelle.

“I loved the variety of my degree. One of the reasons I chose to study at Leicester was the number of optional modules I got, which were in lots of different and interesting areas. I was fortunate to be taught by academics who were passionate about English and made contact hours exciting.

“With my degree, I’ve gained a number of transferable skills [such as] confidence and the ability to work independently and with initiative. 

“I have learned to manage my time and organise myself. Of the skills I gained from my degree, critical thinking and the ability to articulate knowledge and understanding are those that have served me best, both personally and professionally.

“I would recommend an English degree to anyone. My biggest piece of advice would be to look in detail at the course descriptions. English is such a huge subject, so there can be great variation in course content. That really surprised me when I was looking at different degrees. 

“I’d also recommend taking any opportunities that give insight into careers. I did a placement with a publishing company and it was one of my favourite parts of my degree.”

“I loved my experience as a student.”


Abqurah, English graduate, University of Leicester

“I hadn’t studied English literature at A-level, but I had studied English language and wanted to go deeper into the process of looking at language used in books and how this affects literature," says Abqurah.

“My degree helped me develop my critical thinking skills. Working through texts made me analyse deep into the elements and different circumstances and conditions that could be considered by just one word or tone. 

“I also developed my prioritisation skills because of the multiple deadlines we could have. I used to-do lists to help work through these.

“I loved my experience as a student, and all the different elements I learned or expanded upon. I thought the lecturers were fantastic and they were always available to chat.”

“I’ve gained more than I could have expected from my degree.”


Anna, history student, University of Leicester

“Before starting [my history degree], I felt the course would help develop my research and writing skills," says Anna. "Additionally, I was keen to find an opportunity to gain some archaeological experience and develop contacts and experience.

“I’ve gained more than I could have expected from my degree. I’ve been taught how to write in an academic style and have felt supported by my tutors at every stage. They have always been keen to help, even when the question I have falls outside their field. 

“I have learned how to research and have gained experience in a variety of areas including archaeology, conservation, curation and helping the general public in a historical setting.

“I’ve loved the opportunities I have had – for example going on an archaeological dig and studying in Denmark for a year. I have also enjoyed studying in an academic setting with friends who share my interests.

“I feel I have developed my research and writing skills, as well as my confidence and ability to present information.

“I’ve developed confidence and independence.”


Amirah, history student, University of Leicester

“I've always had a passion for history, so choosing my degree was easy," says Amirah. "Before picking this degree, I expected to learn a diverse range of historical subjects from different periods and places. 

“I wasn’t disappointed: I’ve been able to learn about histories I wouldn't have otherwise. 

“The lecturers are amazing. During office hours I can visit them and ask them questions about anything I am struggling with. All the lecturers I have met have been happy to help me with my studies and personal issues. The people I have met have been great and I have made some meaningful friendships here.

“Before I started my degree, I was very shy and introverted but after becoming a student ambassador for history, I've developed confidence and independence. The degree has given me research skills and initiative as I have freedom with my work and assessments. 

“If you love history, take a history degree. There is so much you can do with it and the skills you learn are so beneficial for your future.”

What are these courses like to take?

Many students choose an English degree because they’re avid readers. But Mary Ann Lund, professor of renaissance English literature at the University of Leicester, explains that this is just one area of focus on a course like this.

“Our English degree helps students develop a lifelong love of books and reading and gives them a broad and deep knowledge about literature in English,” she says.

“This includes books from the past as well as the present, and global writing across different cultures and times. They get to know books and perspectives they haven't encountered yet as well as ones they might know well.

“Our degree trains them in skills that will be useful to them in their careers, in particular in analysis, constructing clear, persuasive, and well-evidenced arguments, and written and oral communication.” 

Dr Zoe Groves, University of Leicester lecturer in modern global, colonial and postcolonial history, adds that a history degree helps students to have a better understanding of the world. 

“Our degree offers the chance to study many different kinds of history that students may not have encountered before at school or in their previous studies,” she says.

“Our students will develop knowledge of the past and a range of transferable skills – including critical thinking, analytical, research and communication skills – which will help them to pursue a variety of different career paths. 

“Students also have the opportunity to study abroad or take up work placements as part of their studies to further strengthen their CVs and gain real life experience outside of the classroom.” 

What qualities make someone well-suited to taking a history or English degree?

For anyone unsure whether they’d be a good fit for either course, Mary Ann and Zoe have some advice. 

Students who are well-suited to taking English “love books and reading, have an enquiring mind and want to explore the world and the connections between people as represented through the written word,” says Mary Ann. 

For history, the subject best suits “students who are open-minded, curious and have the potential to think critically and creatively,” says Zoe. 

“It's also helpful if they are passionate about history and enjoy reading. Studying history will teach you new ways of reading, thinking, questioning and analysing.” 

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