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The Cambridge English Tripos

The English course at Corpus offers students the time and space to read widely across the whole range of British and English-language literatures from the medieval period to the present. It promises a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to absorb yourself in books – in writing of all kinds – and to devote three years to contemplating the issues with which the written word confronts us.

Three emphases are integral to this approach. We urge our students constantly to look closely at the words on the page, to analyse in detail the implications of individual turns of phrase, the effect of a poet’s choice of a certain metre or a particular verse form, the impact of a dramatist’s adoption of one word rather than another. But equally, you would also be pressed to consider the contexts of literature, to view works within their historical and broader intellectual, political, religious, philosophical or social settings. And thirdly, there will always be an emphasis on wider reading and exploration. Corpus is the college of Marlowe and Isherwood, but also of Fletcher and John Cowper Powys (who? Exactly), and this course is as much about studying once-popular but now remote and unknown authors as it is familiar ones. It’s also about studying works that might not, at first, seem engaging, or aren't immediately appealing, but which reward the reader in proportion to the attention that he or she accords them. The implication is that, when all is said and done, this is an academic ‘discipline’ like any other. It is partly an opportunity to indulge your own interests and preferences, but it is also a course that insists you give new texts and new kinds of literary experience a chance. It challenges you, and you need to be willing to be challenged in order to get the most out of it.

One last note about the English degree at Cambridge – specifically, about what it’s not. It doesn’t contain formal creative writing or elements of theatre studies. All of these things are encouraged as extracurricular activities: you can, for example, submit creative writing as part of an examination, if you choose; and of course drama thrives in Corpus, the college of Marlowe, with many English students relating their literary studies of the theatre to their own practical experiences on stage. But these aren’t the main concerns of the study of English, at least as it’s taught in Cambridge. Here, the primary emphasis will be on the close, contextual criticism of a wealth of different works.

A full description of the teaching style and structure of the English course can be found on the Faculty of English website.

Why study English at Corpus?

In recent years Corpus English students have been amongst the most successful in the University. At Corpus we aim to foster a vibrant, committed and serious-minded culture amongst our English undergraduates, and also to value good humour, friendliness and diversity. Particular effort is made to manage the balance between ‘classroom’ contact time and unstructured time extremely carefully, so as to ensure that students always have plenty of time to pursue their own reading. We also pride ourselves on providing a consistently attentive academic support structure, and make considerable efforts to ensure that the administrative side of the course is run with lightning efficiency. All Corpus English students receive a substantial number of one-to-one supervisions as well as two-to-one and group classes. About half of all teaching is provided in-house, and for other topics students are sent out to specialists elsewhere in the University.

We have two Fellows in English, who play an active role in providing small group supervision teaching, lecturing in the Faculty of English, and conducting research.

What do we look for in English applicants?

A good way to find out whether you’re the kind of person who would thrive at Corpus is to sit down for a few days, perhaps during the school holidays, and just read (for much of the day) – two or three novels from different centuries; a poetry anthology reaching back to the sixteenth century; some famous plays by Shakespeare that you haven’t studied before. If you find that you enjoy this, even though it may be a difficult exercise, and if you have the motivation, self-discipline and (above all) enthusiasm to pursue it, the chances are that you’ll be the kind of person who would enjoy reading for an English degree. Tenacity, passion and enthusiasm are certainly some of the qualities that we look for in our admissions interviews. A-Level English Literature or its equivalent is the most important qualification. Other typical subject qualifications include History, Philosophy, and modern languages, ancient Greek, or Latin. However, many applicants who offer mathematics, sciences, theatre studies, art and music are accepted too. Some applicants assume that a foreign language or classical literature A-Level is an absolute requirement to read English at Cambridge - this is not true. Once here, students have the opportunity to continue with French, Italian, German, ancient Greek or Latin if they have studied it at school, but applicants who have not studied a language to an advanced level will be at no disadvantage. All candidates for English at Corpus have two interviews, each of about half-an-hour: one with the Director of Studies in English, the other with at least one Fellow, Teaching Officer or Supervisor at the College.  Applicants are also required to submit two or more recent, marked school essays on English Literature, and these essays may form a basis for discussion in the interviews.  By assessing candidates in various ways, we hope to give each applicant the best possible chance of demonstrating his or her ability and potential.

The usual conditional offer made by Corpus is A*AA at A-Level (this includes English but excludes General Studies and Critical Thinking). Similar offers are also made on the basis of appropriate equivalent qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate or Scottish Advanced Highers. The College is always keen to receive applications for English from students of any and every background. Whilst assessing applicants we are just as interested in measuring future potential as past and recent achievements.

As with all Cambridge Colleges, applicants who are selected for interview are required to sit a college registered written assessment.

We very much hope that potential candidates who are considering English at Corpus will come to one of our Open Days, which provide the best means of finding out more about the College and the course.