What makes the English course so special?

The Cambridge English Tripos offers you an exciting opportunity to study a broad chronological span of literature written primarily in English from the medieval period to the present day. Unlike courses in many other universities, you will study all these periods as part of your undergraduate degree, but there is also plenty of room for individual choice. 

The English Tripos is divided into two parts: a two-year Part I with Part II studied in your third year. In Part I, all students study a ‘period’ paper each term, ranging from early medieval to contemporary literature. In addition, you will be encouraged to study Practical Criticism and Critical Practice throughout Part I. Built on the pioneering work of I.A.  Richards, Practical Criticism is the foundation for what is sometimes called ‘Cambridge English’: it involves close-reading unseen extracts, upon which you comment in detail using the technical language that you will gradually acquire as a literary critic. As part of this course of study, you will also encounter literary and critical theories that may enrich your close readings of texts. 

Part I also gives you the possibility of studying a language option (such as French, German, or classical Latin and Greek), although this is not a compulsory element of the Tripos and spaces for these courses may be limited. Work for Part I is generally examined through a combination of desk exams at the end of your second year, a portfolio of essays and a dissertation on a topic of your choice. 

Part II of the Tripos comprises five elements. All students study Practical Criticism. There is also a compulsory Tragedy paper, which falls into three main sections: Ancient Greek and Shakespearean Tragedy, and an optional third area in which to think about theories and practices of tragedy in relation to texts of all periods and a variety of media. All third-year students must also submit a 7,500-word dissertation, which is a research project that allows you to study a specialist area of interest. The other two components of Part II are of your own choosing: either a second dissertation plus one optional paper, or two optional papers drawn from a wide-ranging list, including Old Norse, Chaucer, Material Renaissance, Lyric, Ethical Imagination, American Literature, Contemporaries, Postcolonial literature, Visual Culture. 

Cambridge has always encouraged interdisciplinary approaches; it is possible to combine the study of English with that of other languages and other subjects, such as Philosophy, History of Art or History, while remaining within the framework of the English Tripos. 

How will I be taught at Newnham?

The Cambridge English Tripos is delivered through a combination of Faculty and College teaching. This relationship may seem confusing: the English Faculty provides a wide range of lectures and seminars to support and enhance your study, some of which are compulsory, some of which are optional. Your College Director of Studies organises which papers (or courses) you take each term, who will be teaching you for them, and where: where possible, this takes place within College, drawing on the expertise of supervisors attached to Newnham. Sometimes an expert in the field belongs to another College, in which case you will have the opportunity of being supervised by them outside Newnham. 

Why choose Newnham for English?

Newnham has one of the best-stocked College libraries in Cambridge, with particularly extensive holdings in English. Further resources are available to students at the English Faculty and University libraries, which are just a few minutes’ walk from Newnham. 

Newnham is highly fortunate in the English supervisors who are directly affiliated to the College, and in the range of specialists whose connection with Newnham means that they are potential supervisors for its students. These include eminent academics within and beyond Cambridge. In addition, Newnham students can enjoy help with their creative writing thanks to the active connections the College maintains with leading authors, and which builds on a strong tradition of English within the College. Newnham English has had many writers and actors to its credit: over the years, our alumnae have included Sylvia Plath and A. S. Byatt, Miriam Margolyes and Emma Thompson. 

Newnham has an active Arts Society, which further builds on this historic tradition: it counts Virginia Woolf among its former speakers. Nowadays, the Arts Society invites writers, film-makers and artists to give talks at the College, and is involved with a College paper called N-Vie

Newnham English students also engage in a wide range of extracurricular activities, including acting, music, painting, photography and sports. Students have the opportunity of getting involved in politics and debates as members of the College JCR committee and the University Union. 

How many students do Newnham take for English each year?

The College normally admits between eight and ten students to the English degree each year. It is one of the largest arts subjects in the College. The ratio of applicants to places in recent years has been between three and four to one. Whilst you will meet other English students through Faculty teaching, you will mostly be taught with other members of your year-group at Newnham. 

What A-level subjects should I take to study English at Newnham?

Newnham’s English students come from very diverse educational backgrounds, having studied a wide range of subjects across the arts and humanities, maths and sciences. Whilst we embrace this diversity, it is important to have some grounding in the range of skills required to study English; we therefore strongly encourage you to have an A-level, or equivalent, in English Literature or combined English Language and Literature when you apply. 

Can I have a gap year?

Some students coming to Newnham to read English have a gap year, others do not: there is no requirement about this. However, we strongly recommend that, if you do have a year out before coming to Cambridge, you use it as an opportunity to expand upon your reading and to keep practising your study and writing skills, alongside whatever exciting plans you may have made. 

What jobs do Newnham English students go on to do?

Studying English provides you with excellent analytical, research and communication skills. 

Our students follow a great variety of career paths, including further study towards academia (MPhil and PhD) at high-ranking universities, from Cambridge to the States. Newnham English graduates also pursue careers in teaching, journalism, arts management, creative writing, acting, consultancy, general management, law and the civil service. The possibilities however, are endless – the skills and knowledge you gain from studying English at Newnham put you in an excellent position to meet the exciting challenges of competitive job markets in numerous fields. 

Can you tell me more about the English Senior Members at Newnham?

During your time at Cambridge you will meet a wide range of academics, within the English Faculty and at other Colleges. However, as an English student at Newnham you will principally come into contact with Directors of Studies and supervisors attached to the College.

For information on the current teaching staff and Fellows for English, please visit our teaching webpages.

How should I prepare for Interview at Newnham?

The admissions process consists of a College registered written assessment and two subject interviews. 

As part of your application, you will need to submit two pieces of written schoolwork.  We recommend that you keep copies of this work and re-read them along with your personal statement as they may be referred to at interview.  More information regarding written work requirements can be found at: https://newn.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduates/how-to-apply/ 

The interviews typically focus on a discussion of a text that will be given to you on the day of your interview. You might also be asked to talk about texts you have read: whether those described in your personal statement, or those you may have studied or are studying, or from your wider reading. The Cambridge English course is very intensive and requires you to cover a considerable amount of material throughout the three years, so it is important to demonstrate that you have an appetite for reading, and that you have read widely. The chronological span of the Tripos includes much that is written before 1800, in a range of genres, so you should also show that you have read across several periods and that you are prepared to explore even further within them. 

You are not expected to have previous knowledge of any of the texts you will be given over the course of the day, although you are encouraged to identify those that might be familiar to you. The exercises we set are not designed as a test of technical knowledge; rather, we want to get a sense of your ability to understand the words on the page, to think, reason, and develop clear lines of argument.  

For a quick training session in literary criticism, you might like to visit “Converse”, the literary website of the Cambridge English Faculty, which provides sample readings of poetry and useful tips on how to hone your close reading skills. “The Virtual Classroom”, also hosted by the English Faculty website, offers literary exercises and quizzes, as well as a sample class on medieval literature. “Converse” and “The Virtual Classroom” can be accessed via the web resources section of the English Faculty home page at www.english.cam.ac.uk/resources.htm 

Is there an Admissions Assessment for English?

All applicants for English are required to take a written assessment if shortlisted for interview. You will not need to register in advance for this assessment and the Colleges will provide details directly to you.

See the University Admission assessments for further details.

Where can I find out more?

An overview on applying to read English can be found on the University website at: http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses/english and further information on the Faculty website at: http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/ 

An overview on applying to read English can be found on the University website and further information on the Faculty website. 

The English Subject Overview on the ‘My HE+’ website also provides information and resources for exploring your subject. 

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