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English

  • Number of students per year: seven to nine
  • Typical offer: A*AA or equivalent
  • Essential subjects: A Level English Literature/ IB Higher Level English Literature 
  • Useful subjects: Any other subjects at A-Level or equivalent are welcome.

Jesus College is an exceptional environment for studying English.

We take around eight or nine students per year. Our students tend to form close knit groups, and a lot of our most exciting and challenging teaching is designed to get them thinking and learning together.

Detailed close reading is an important part of the course; our students have weekly classes in 'practical criticism' throughout their time here. English is a subject that allows you to ask big questions, but also trains you to pay attention to the very smallest details of language. At Jesus, we value both of those things!

Our four Fellows in English have very diverse interests, and teach our students at different points in the course: 

  • Dr Christopher Burlinson researches 17th century poetry and also teaches Shakespeare and tragedy. 
  • Dr Fiona Green researches and teaches American literature, specialising in poetry.
  • Dr Rod Mengham researches and writes on 20th century English fiction, and also contemporary poetry. 
  • Professor Stephen Heath researches and writes on 19th and 20th century literature and criticism, and on the history of film.

There's no single type of English student at Jesus: we encourage all our students to develop their own literary, critical, and creative interests, and provide everyone with a supportive and challenging intellectual environment.

We value independence of thought, a desire to read attentively and thoughtfully, and above all an engagement and joy in reading, talking, and thinking about the literature, language, and culture of all periods—right up to the present day.

Our students have a particularly rich creative life. They have their own literary magazine, Eliot’s Face, regular poetry workshops and readings, and a number of literary and writing societies of their own.

They also organise and run an annual Arts Festival with performances, curated exhibitions, and readings, and Jesus College also has a permanent, unique sculpture collection and regular art exhibitions, which encourages all our students to explore the connections between literary and visual art.

Our students go on to a range of rewarding careers — in writing, journalism, teaching, the arts and media, law, charities, and the voluntary sector. Many others go on to do further study in English or other disciplines.

Find out more on the University webpage.

Requirements

Our typical conditional offer is an A* and two A grades at A-Level or equivalent. Qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Scottish Advanced Highers are welcomed.

An A-Level in English Literature is an essential requirement for reading English at Cambridge. Beyond that, we'll consider any combination of subjects at A-Level or the equivalent.

Preparation

If you're thinking of applying to study English, the most important preparation is to read more literature — and to read beyond your school syllabus. We don’t expect you to have read any specific books, and there is certainly no required reading, but we want to see that you are challenging yourself, and that you’re eager to discover new things.

Remember that most of the texts that our students read, for at least the first two years of their course, were written before the 20th century, so you may want to read some older texts as well as contemporary ones. A good way to begin doing this is by browsing anthologies of poetry, such as the Oxford Book of English Verse or Norton Anthology of Poetry, or online collections such as Poetry Foundation or Luminarium. Read more texts by the authors that you already know, and discover others for the first time.

If you have read some plays by Shakespeare at school, you might want to read one or two others. But remember, the most important thing is to find literature that excites and challenges you, and which you would enjoy thinking and talking critically about.

Written assessment

You'll need to take the English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) at an authorised local centre, most likely your school or college. This usually takes place in November. The ELAT will help us assess your skills in reading and writing about literary texts.

It isn’t a test of your knowledge, so you don’t need to worry about whether or not you know about any specific literature, but it helps us to see how you think, read, and respond to texts. You can find out more on the University undergraduate English pages.

Interviews

Almost everyone who applies is invited to interview. You'll have two interviews, usually around 25 minutes each, each with two lecturers from the subject. You might be asked to read a short poem or other piece of writing, and comment on it in detail, and there may also be some discussion of your wider reading, possibly based on your personal statement.

We aren’t looking for any specific knowledge, and we certainly don’t look for particular ‘right’ answers in our interviews: we just want to see that you read thoughtfully, independently, and carefully, and that you enjoy reading challenging literature.

Written work

You'll need to submit two essays (of any length) that you wrote as part of your English Literature course. One of the pieces of writing can be an extract of coursework instead of an essay.

Deferred and post A-Level entry

We're happy to consider applications for deferred entry in English, you would normally have already achieved A*AA at A-Level. Students choose this option quite frequently and spend their gap year acquiring valuable experience and reading widely.

Find out how to apply to study at Jesus.

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