If you have a passion for literature, we have a challenging course that will inspire you in your reading, and develop your critical and imaginative abilities.
English at Cambridge balances a strong grounding in the core of English literature with the chance to explore literature from around the world, other art forms, the English language, and related intellectual traditions.
The Cambridge English course is unique for combining full historical coverage with the chance to specialise and develop your own interests. In the first two years of your degree, you cover the full historical sweep of literature written in the English language from the medieval period to the present day. In your third year you have the freedom to pursue the interests you have developed, by choosing from a range of specialist topics and undertaking independent, guided research on topics of your own devising. The course embraces all literature written in the English language, which means that you can study American and post-colonial literatures alongside British literatures throughout; there are also options to specialise in either or both of these areas in your third year, and to study literature in other languages. The course also embraces all genres and periods, including writing by, for example, philosophers and essayists, as well as the more traditional genres of poetry, prose, and drama.
The course is divided into two parts. The first part gives you a strong foundational knowledge of literature across the centuries. The second allows you to explore your own interests in more depth. Manifold approaches flourish here – for example, in poetic and aesthetic theory, in postcolonial writing in English, in Renaissance texts as ‘material’ objects, in film and its links to literature - and we do not encourage any single method. Instead, we hope to instil in you the confidence to undertake self-directed study and develop unique and original approaches of your own. You will be encouraged to define your own questions, and to go about answering them using the analytical and intellectual resources you have developed.
There is a case that can be made for Magdalene as the home of modern English Studies. I. A. Richards, who is sometimes credited as the 'founding father' of modern literary criticism, began as an undergraduate at Magdalene in 1911. After 35 years teaching at Harvard, he returned to the College and lived here until his death in 1979. Much of his early work was done in collaboration with the polymath C. K. Ogden, who had joined Magdalene in 1908 and went on to invent 'Basic English', which still forms the standard vocabulary for much English language teaching across the world. One of Richards' early students at Magdalene was the poet and critic Sir William Empson.
Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, T. S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, and C. S. Lewis were all members of Magdalene; three of them were also recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Amongst the current Honorary Fellowship are the Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, and the distinguished American literary critic and Harvard University Professor, Helen Vendler.
Magdalene has a thriving community of English scholars, including the Director of Studies, Dr Jane Hughes, who specialises in medieval literature, and Dr Marcus Waithe, whose teaching areas include Victorian literature and contemporary poetry. Dr Michael Hrebeniak is a College Lecturer with specialisms in American literature, practical criticism, Modernism and the short story. There are usually about 16-18 undergraduates and a number of postgraduate students in English at Magdalene at any one time.
Candidates for admission are judged on six main areas:
- written work which is requested to be sent well in advance of an interview;
- on your performance in the ELAT, the pre-interview written assessment for English;
- the subject interview itself with Dr Hughes and a second subject specialist, which follows a short written 'quiz' based on passages of prose or verse which candidates are asked to write about and then discuss in the interview, and which also includes a discussion of texts and topics suggested by the candidate's writings and/or suggested by the candidate him or herself during the interview;
- a general/subject interview, normally with an English specialist and with a Fellow who does not teach your chosen subject;
- school references about the candidate's achievements and potential;
- and finally on actual or predicted A-Level (or equivalent) results.
It is not advisable to worry too much about the interviews (regard them as a chance for you to meet us as well as for us to meet you!) but it is a good idea to think very carefully about the portfolio of essays you will send in - get advice from a teacher.
If you send in a piece of practical criticism or a critical appreciation, don't forget to include a copy of the piece itself - we can sometimes guess what it is you are describing, but not always!
And don't forget to keep copies of all your essays so that you can reread them and have them fresh in your mind before the interview. Choose essays on books you would like to discuss with us at interview. We prefer recent essays if possible. If you write creatively, you are welcome to send a short sample, but this should be in addition to the academic essays. Please don’t bring additional material with you to the interview as we are not able to read it on the spot.
We expect applicants for English to be studying English Literature at A-level, IB Higher Level, or equivalent. English Literature and Language is acceptable if English Literature is not available at your school. Beyond that, there are no other specific subject requirements and a wide range of combinations will be acceptable, including a mixture of Arts and Science subjects.
Our typical offer for English is A*AA at A-level or 41-42 points in the IB with 7, 7, 6 at Higher Level. Sometimes we may ask for an A* (or 7 at IB Higher Level) in English Literature specifically. However, our offers are always tailor-made to the individual candidate and we try to set the offer at a realistic level.
Interviews, Written Work, and Assessments
Candidates for admission in English are asked to send two essays in to College in advance of their interviews. Candidates will usually have two interviews. One will be with the Director of Studies and another English Studies Fellow, the second with two other Fellows, either in English or a related subject. Candidates are asked to complete a short written 'quiz' in College before their interviews. This is not a test and is not graded, it is used instead to get you thinking about some of the issues that will come up in your interviews and to help get the conversation going.
Applicants will also need to take a written assessment. The assessment for English is a pre-interview assessment. This means that you will have to register to sit the assessment at an assessment centre near to you (for most applicants this will be your school or college). Registration for the pre-interview assessment is separate from your UCAS application and it is essential that you are registered by your centre before the deadline, which is 15 October 2018. The pre-interview assessments this year will take place on 2 November 2018. More information about registering for the assessment can be found here.
The admissions assessment for English is the English Literature Admission Test (ELAT), which lasts for 90 minutes. More details about the content of the ELAT can be found by following the link.