What is it like to study a Humanities subject at Exeter University?

By Ferdia 2nd year English and Drama student at Exeter University

Hello! My name is Ferdia and I am in my second year studying English and Drama at Exeter. I am originally from Manchester but I love going to a university far away from home, as it has given me an increased sense of independence and responsibility. My favourite thing about studying at Exeter is the size of the university and the fact that it is campus based. I think that as a campus there is an increased sense of community and everyone is really friendly. Getting to know people and making new friends couldn’t be easier!

I am writing today about the difference between studying a Humanities subject at university, compared to studying Humanities at school. I would say that the first key difference is the sense of freedom you get at university. At school, you have to study the topics assigned by your teacher, meaning you may not necessarily enjoy all of them. Whereas at university level, although there are some compulsory modules, you get the freedom to choose what you want to do and are interested in. This makes it a lot more enjoyable. For example, in my first year I picked ‘Introduction to film studies’ as one of my English modules. I had never studied film or cinema before, but this freedom of choice led me to have a real love of Film Studies, and consequently I will be taking a Film & Television Studies module as part of my final year.

Another difference is the level of engagement with tutors. In school, you spend most of your time guided by a teacher, whereas at university most of your time is spent in independent study. In an average week, I might have 8-10 hours when I’m led by a tutor – broken down into lectures and seminars. I might have two 1-2 hour long lectures a week, which will be based on the reading for that week. You will be expected to have done the reading and be prepared. I might also have two 2 hour long seminars a week. These seminars are a guided discussion led by a tutor based on the reading for that week. These sessions are really helpful, as they make you think about things in a way you might not have thought about before, and you can engage with like-minded people. I love the independent aspect of studying a Humanities subject, you can learn more about what interests you and learn more about your writing style. If you are stuck you can always go and speak to one of your tutors and they are always more than happy to help.

A difference in essay writing between writing at school level and writing at university level, is the criteria you have to fulfil. When writing essays for humanities subjects at GCSE or A level, there are certain assessment objectives you have to fulfil and you are taught how to write an essay in a very specific way. However at university level, you are given more freedom in the way you can approach an essay question and can develop your own essay writing style. I found this really helpful, as at school I struggled with the way we were taught to write essays and consequently my marks suffered due to this restriction. However now I can approach an essay in a way I feel is most suitable, and I find that I can write essays with more passion and enthusiasm!

Although I have really enjoyed the increase in freedom in my studies during my time at university, there are also many other things that have made my time at Exeter a special one. I have been very active in societies, including my academic subject societies and also theatre societies, which have helped me to make friends and enjoy myself! I hope that this post helps with any questions you might have and I wish you the best of luck studying Humanities in the future!

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