Why Emmanuel English?

Emmanuel currently admits between 6 and 9 undergraduates each year to read English. Our students arrive here from throughout the United Kingdom and beyond, and from a diverse range of educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are four permanent teaching Fellows in English at the College – Dr Corinna Russell, Dr Ross Wilson, Professor Robert Macfarlane, and Professor Clare Pettitt – who will between them also direct your studies in College throughout your degree. The ethos of English at Emma is relaxed but rigorous, and in terms of teaching and pastoral care is very much hands-on. We work closely with each of our students, and we greatly enjoy coming to know them well during their time here. It is important to us that many of our students achieve outstanding results in their university examinations; it is more important to us that all of our students feel happy and intellectually stimulated during their undergraduate career at Emma.

We know that the transition from the timetabled variety of A-level/IB, to the self-organised study of a single discipline, can be quite a jump. When you arrive at Emmanuel, an orientation week will help you find your way around the College, the city – and your subject. You will meet your Director of Studies, who will talk you through what you can expect from the term, and will thereafter be in close contact with you via email or in person. You will also be assigned ‘parents’ from amongst undergraduates already studying English at the college, who will ensure you know your way to the Faculty Library and where to turn up for your first lectures.

What Qualities Does An English Student Need?

Well, above all a keen appetite for thinking, reading and writing, a spirit of intellectual enquiry and adventure, and an excitement at the powers and varieties of literature. Independent study skills and self-motivation are essential. The weekly essay is at the centre of your growth as a critic and a communicator; as the etymology of ‘essay’ suggests, it is a repeated ‘attempt’ or trial at saying what you think, which enables you to collaborate with a supervisor in bringing out the individual grain of your mind. Written style is a lifetime in the making, and your time at Emmanuel will prioritise this kind of development. But there will also be plenty of conversational work, in paired or small-group supervisions, and in classes and seminars. So you must be willing to share ideas with your peers, be flexible and reactive in your responses, and ready to learn from your friends as well as from your supervisors. Finally, it’s helpful to be alive to the contributions of other forms of thought and art to literary study: an interest in music, visual arts, cultures other than English, philosophical or theological debate and historical or scientific enquiry can enrich your understanding of literary texts.

How Will My Work Be Organised?

The structure of the Cambridge English degree is designed to guide you through the history of literary writing and study, affording increasing opportunities to develop your strengths and specialisms as you progress. The first two years (Part I of the English ‘Tripos’, or degree) help you map the chronology of literature in English: week by week, term by term, you will chart a course through the periods of literary history from 1300 (earlier if you choose) to the present day. Accompanying your enquiries into, for example, Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Romantic or modern poetry and prose will be intensive teaching in the core skills of close reading, and a continual dialogue concerning diverse critical approaches to literature. Throughout this process, your Director of Studies will remain a constant presence, but will also ensure that the best available specialist teaching from across the university is provided in the relevant field of study – this can be particularly important for dissertations and other coursework. Assessment at this stage (at the end of each year) revises and consolidates the work you've covered so far.

Once you reach your final year (Part II of the English Tripos), you are rewarded for the groundwork you’ve laid down: both the compulsory and optional elements of this third year open you to deeper and more challenging questions, and the chance to branch out or return to special areas of academic endeavour. Autonomous research continues, in a dissertation or extended essay of up to 7500 words; big ideas and detailed critical skills are deployed in the ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Practical Criticism and Critical Practice’ papers taken by all undergraduates at this stage. In addition you will be able to select two papers from a wide range and rich mixture, specialising in one author, period or form, exploring visual culture, manuscripts or stage conventions, or the history of literary theory.

What Might A Typical Day Be Like?

Small-group teaching is a mainstay and distinctive experience of any Cambridge degree, and one well supported and highly valued by Emmanuel English. As you move through your degree you can expect to be taught more frequently in single supervisions, in which you and your supervisor will engage in uninterrupted dialogue on your reading, thinking, and writing. A typical day may feature such a supervision, perhaps after lunch, following on from morning lectures open to English students from across the University. A significant portion of your working time will be yours to organize as you see fit. Emma English students like to work in a variety of places: in their rooms, in the well-stocked and recently extended College Library, or – in the summer term – under a tree on the grass of the ‘Paddock’, or by the College’s open-air swimming pool. The University Library and the English Faculty are only fifteen minutes’ walk or five minutes’ bike-ride from the College. Creative writing and drama both flourish at the College.

Where Will My Degree Lead?

English at Emmanuel is a degree which leads in many exciting directions. Recent Emma English graduates have become journalists, publishers, editors, teachers, authors, actors, academics, lawyers, radio producers, directors, diplomats, and politicians. Many go straight on from Emmanuel to take postgraduate degrees at universities all over the world. English is not conventionally referred to as a ‘vocational course’ (like Law or Medicine); it is better thought of, perhaps, as a ‘multi-vocational course’ – for the study of English literature brings with it such a rich, valuable and varied understanding of language, history, politics and culture.

If all of this helps you decide that English is the right subject for you, and Emmanuel the right College, then we strongly encourage you to apply!

Admissions Information

Standard Offer: A-level - A*AA; IB - 776 at Higher Level, 42 points overall; Advanced Highers: A1A2A2; other exam systems.
Course Requirements: A-level (or equivalent) English Literature or the combined A-level (or equivalent) English Language and Literature is essential. The course page on the university website gives details of what subjects English students have studied.
Course Outline: Further details are available on the Department's website.
Applying: For information on how to apply: University application process and Emmanuel application timeline.
Submitted Work:

Applicants will be asked – following receipt of their application – to submit two pieces of written work. These should be in essay format with a word limit of up to 2,000 words per sample. The work can be extracted from coursework or an EPQ. All work must be original and not re-written or corrected for Cambridge. The deadline for submission will be early November. Applicants will also be asked to submit a short questionnaire about their recent reading. The deadline for submission for both the written work and the questionnaire will be early November.

Admissions Assessment: All applicants, who are shortlisted for interview, will take a written assessment. A sample test is available online. The College's Admissions Officer will register applicants for the assessment. Date of assessment: to be confirmed.
Interviews: Candidates should normally expect two interviews. The interviews will take place during the period Monday 9 - Wednesday 18 December 2024. Specific subject dates will be emailed to applicants in November.

Applicants will be given an unseen reading passage to study 20-30 minutes before one of the interviews. A discussion of the reading will form part of the interview.
Course Enquiries: Emmanuel Admissions Office