Tag Archives: essay

10 ways you know you’re a final year arts student

19 Dec

Freshers’ week lasts forever…right?

I’ve made it halfway through my final year as a BA English and History student, and there’ve been many painful moments of realisation over the last few months. Despite my best attempts to keep the work-play mix in checks and balances, as I slump to the library for another daily grind I find myself lamenting the slow and painful death of my social life. Perhaps the saving grace stopping me from going completely mad is the fact that my course-mates seem to be going through the same thing. So here are ten symptoms well known to those battling through the final year of their arts degree:

You know exactly what you want to do after you graduate…just kidding
You’re really glad you chose an arts degree, because they have the best possible reputation for post-graduate employment, and you don’t know which job offer to accept next September. See you in Costa Coffee, future baristas.



Your social life has become that of an ageing bohemian
I never thought I’d go to a cheese and wine night until I was in my 30s, but arts students hold them regularly as a happy medium between a night on the town and a night on the sofa. Good food, great alcohol, even better company and none of the annoyances of jostling about in a sweaty nightclub with a bunch of strangers. It’s pretty em-mental. Sorry.



Someone just recalled the one library book you need over the Christmas holidays, and it caused you to have had an existential meltdown

But that’s the one book…what do they need it for…I can’t write my essay now…may as well not do it…why did I choose this degree…life is pointless.



You’ve finally given in to using a backpack daily

Remember that canvas tote bag that you used to use all the time? No, you probably don’t, because you ditched it in September when it became heavy enough to use as a hammer throw. Now you’ve succumbed to using your Roxy rucksack to carry your books to the library. Mum always did say something about comfort over style…


You’ve been studying so hard you forget which words are real- and invent your own

Last week, at the end of an eight hour library stint, I used the word ‘premacy’ in my essay, to discover that it is not a word, other than being the name for a Mazda minivan. Primacy is a word, as is pre-eminence, but premacy is definitely not a real word.

The Mazda Premacy is delightful but not what I need right now

You’re buying lined paper at an abnormal speed

I swear I bought a new pukka pad last week and I’m already making notes on scrap paper. Where did it go?!



You worry about your argument in your daily life

Not arguments with real people, oh no. But the argument you’re meant to be having with all of the scholars you’re citing in your latest essay. Is my argument strong enough? Should I side with Winthrop or Koritansky? What is the meaning of all this?

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You get the best ideas when you aren’t studying and write them all in your phone
No matter how long you spend in the library, you’ll get the best ideas for your work when you spend some time away from it. Then a ray of brilliance shines down on your thought process, and you’re on the toilet, or out with friends. Who are you texting? Myself, actually…


Your sense of humour revolves around ironic socio-cultural references

This probably explains the cheese and wine nights. Where else will we fit in?

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You have dissertation complaint stand-offs with your course-mates

All discussions about final year projects have become a tirade of one-upmanship to vie for pity: I’ve only written 200 words. Yeah? I haven’t even decided on my title. Urgh.

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Despite starting to smell like a library, you wouldn’t have spent your degree any other way than exploring the wonderful, fascinating, inspiring and challenging world of the humanities. Let’s face it, maths was never an option.



Educational Differences Across the Atlantic: A Tale of Two Polarities

20 Sep

            ‘It’ll be much easier than what you’re used to’, they said. ‘But you’ll constantly have homework, and you’ll be graded on attendance and class participation.’

            These are the words of wisdom I received from the University of Leeds study abroad office before I departed for my year studying abroad in South Carolina.

            Since being here for six weeks, I’ve found most of the advice has been accurate. Studying at USC is a different story altogether, embracing a paternalistic style of education that is typical of American university life as a whole.

            Having studied at USC for some time now, it has become apparent that, in comparison to the way things are done back at home, the American education system assumes that students lack initiative. It assumes that we won’t contribute in class, (if we even turn up) that we can’t fathom borrowing books from the library, and that we can’t revise rough drafts by ourselves. So ‘lively, informed and consistent’ class participation is included as part of our overall grade, as is attendance. We have to buy or rent all of our books from the university’s bookstore, a total of which I’ve had to spend over $250 on. We are given staggered deadlines for essays, in which the ‘rough draft’ is due, and two weeks later, the final draft is due. In between these dates we have to co-edit drafts with two of our classmates. Along with the infamous US drinking laws, what seems inevitable here is that turning 18 and going to university in the USA doesn’t necessarily mean you become an adult. You may be of adult age, but moving out and going to university is as if you’re an ornament wrapped in bubble wrap, being transferred from one cardboard box to another. Rather than lowering the barriers to independence, the US education system keeps them firmly in place at university. From the perspective of a British exchange student, I can say with confidence that going to university in the US feels more like going back to school.

            Thinking back to when I started university in the UK, I remember feeling as though I’d been plunged in at the deep end. No longer did we have ‘classes’ like the US, but teaching is divided into huge lectures and small seminars which creates a zoom-in effect, looking at the broader picture then cultivating responses to it. If we fail to attend lectures and seminars we receive intimidating emails from department staff, but other than that, if you choose to stay in bed and be hungover all day, that’s your funeral. Final exams and coursework can count for up to 100% of our module marks, rather than small pieces of homework set throughout the semester. Only one or two set texts are mandatory, as all others can be found and rented in the libraries. The UK trusts that students have initiative and drive. The US assumes this drive for us.

           One of the differences I’ve found the most surprising is the USC English department’s guidelines for writing a thesis. At Leeds, our thesis is the same as our title at the top of the page. For example, a poetry essay at Leeds might be titled: ‘Examine the ways in which Edgar Allan Poe draws upon themes of mental and physical confinement.’ At USC however, our title must resemble a dramatic and innovative newspaper headline, like ‘Polarities Enchained’, or ‘Locked In The Brain’. The first paragraph is then a statement of intent, with the thesis statement acting as the last sentence. It took a good ten minutes after class for me to clarify that this really was what my tutor was after. It turns out that writing essays in the US allows for much more creativity and personal touches than in the UK.
            There are a number of other perks to this puzzling chasm between the UK and the US. In the US, students are allowed to create their own timetables: I made sure all my classes were on Mondays to Thursdays so I’d have long weekends available to travel (and blog, of course).  Getting free reign over assignment titles is also pretty cool, as it means we can write about what we’re passionate about rather than slogging out an essay under the guise of a pre-assigned thesis.

          I’m warming to the differences in educational styles pretty well so far. After all, being open to change is part of the study abroad experience. But I think I’ll always prefer the way things are done at home. The content and assessment styles may be harder, but at least when you succeed in the UK you know it’s the result of your own hard work and initiative, rather than the work of paternalistic discipline. 


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