You probably thought majoring in STEM or business would keep you safe from taking a humanities class, and finding out that you needed an English course was an unwelcome surprise. Whether it's a literature class or English composition, it’s time to buckle up your literary seat belt and accept that this ride has to happen.
It’s not all bad! English will sharpen your critical thinking, abstract thinking, emotional intelligence, creativity and communication, which even if you're a STEM powerhouse will help you in the future. Getting out of your comfort zone is scary, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself. Here are six pieces of advice that will help make your English class exceed your expectations.
1. Choose the course you want
Depending on how you register for classes at your college, odds are you’ll have more than one option when you choose your general English requirement. Whether there are multiple professors teaching the same English 101, or you get to choose between American literary history and modern drama for your literature course, there are key factors you’ll want to consider.
Dr. Amy Wiley, an English lecturer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, highlights a few of these considerations. “First ask yourself which course pairs best with your academic and career goals,” she says. “If you’re going to be doing a lot of research and proposal writing, you’ll want to take a composition class geared towards argumentation. Look at the time of the class; try to take it in a gap where your brain will be functioning. Buy in to professor ratings since it is a low-stakes class and choose who will provide a fun learning experience. Most importantly go with a subject matter that calls to you, interests you and doesn’t make you scared of English. The point is to learn something, not suffer.”
Essentially, go with your gut feeling on this. If you’re still lost, your college’s academic advising center can answer more questions and help find you the best fit.
2. Psych yourself up for it
Semester goal: make English class as lit as possible. But really, if you come to class stoked on life and ready to take on the world, you’ll have a better experience. Maybe for you that means treating yourself and bringing a venti latte to lecture, or buying a new journal and highlighters to make notetaking vibrant instead of dull. Small joys keep your interests and motivation up.
Additionally, if you’re feeling comfortable in class, you might be more likely to participate. “I think speaking up in class, engaging in discussions and trying to relate the text to your own life helps,” says Iris Goldsztajn, a University of California Los Angeles alumna. She’s totally right!
Meaningfully contributing in class is one of the surest ways to make the experience more rewarding, and keep you excited to come back for more.
3. Grab an audiobook
If reading is your personal hell, trade in your paperback for an audio recording. From poems to full novels, there are audiobooks and YouTube videos for pretty much everything in the English canon. They’re low maintenance, and even better you can listen to your homework while you're at the gym, driving or making dinner. I'm an English major and there are some texts even I prefer to listen to rather than read. Let's be honest, nobody really wants to read Moby Dick or The Canterbury Tales. Bless audiobooks for taking our pain away.
4. Let yourself be a critic
If you don't like a text or totally disagree with an author, then be vocal about it! The point of your English class isn't to like everything you read, it's to respond to what an author is trying to say, form an opinion and add to the scholarly conversation. If you like it, great! But if you want to set your copy of The Great Gatsby on fire, that’s okay too because it means you’re engaging.
“When I teach, I find that students force themselves to like the material because they think that’s how they pass or how they make the class worthwhile,” says Dr. Wiley, about being critical in class. “That’s so wrong! I love when my students feel peppery about a text. It means they’ve done the reading, and are thinking critically about it in some way. Literature is unique because it doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. The only answer is how you react to it.” If that wasn’t enough English inspiration for you, I don’t know what is.
5. Try to learn something new every day
You don’t need to be the star pupil, or anxiously exhaust yourself trying to get an A. If you’re taking away one surprising bit of knowledge each day, you’re winning––and probably making your class feel more worthwhile too.
“I’m a marketing major and English was the bane of my existence,” says Caitie Donovan, a senior at Biola University. “To cope I tried to make a little game with myself of how many new facts/realizations I could learn that day, even if I didn’t think they helped me with marketing. By the end up the class I realized I had fun. I tricked myself into being interested, and ended up actually interested and proud of myself for every new thing I learned.”
We totally recommend following Caitie’s model. If nothing else, try to succeed for your own personal gratification, not the grade.
6. Do the reading
You’re probably exhausted from hearing this advice, but people keep saying it for a reason. Doing the reading is the number one tip for kicking butt in English class, both because you’ll understand the material better and your professor will literally love you. Even in a class that’s writing based, you’ll likely be reading journal examples and some creative work.
Dr. Wiley can’t emphasize the importance of doing your homework enough. “Get out of the mindset where reading is a daunting obligation, and look at it as the chance to learn on a deeper level,” she says. “Literature contains the record of humanity. In English and American literature, you learn history, culture, emotional insights and get to look at social behavior. Reading a book is art, just like going to a museum, or watching a play or movie. You’ll take away a lot more from a book than from your professor, I promise.”
If you’re not putting in the work to make English enjoyable for yourself, it won’t happen. Enjoying the course all depends on your attitude, and if you follow these simple tips you’re sure to succeed. Good luck, collegiettes!