This will just focus on the academic side of an English degree, not university as a whole. I was (still am) five years older than most of the other people on my course. I had wanted to do an English degree for some time, but various things got in the way of it. Before I started my degree I remember thinking that graduates seemed to have more ordered thoughts than people who had never been to university. A three year degree will enable you to express yourself more clearly and, for me, more confidently. I wasn’t very confident expressing more academic thoughts because I didn’t want to bore people! I am over that now.
I think most people do English degrees because they like reading. And like with, for example: publishing, libraries and bookselling, people soon realise that you don’t get to spend all day reading books you enjoy. Sometimes you just don’t want to see another book. When you’ve got one more essay to write about complex gender theories in three novels that you’ve actually quite enjoyed you would be forgiven for wanting to never read another novel again. At the start of each year I was quite diligent, reading the set texts, but sometime after Christmas you can smell the freedom from essays and exams. The books become chores, even if you’re quite enjoying them.
I have got a lot out of it, but towards the end I couldn’t wait for freedom. I have discovered new favourite authors I may never have got around to reading, some of them being: Pat Barker, Bernardine Evaristo, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Jackie Kay and even Salman Rushdie. I don’t think I would have been able to read Midnight’s Children unprompted but I’m glad I did (I prefer shorter books generally). I am glad that I chose a course with lecturers who were interested in contemporary fiction. I personally couldn’t have survived three years of Victorian literature. So it’s always best to look at various modules you can do first; different universities have different specialisations, obviously. I’m glad I hadn’t heard of a lot of the reading list when I first saw it.
I think that my English degree changed my reading habits. It made me a better reader because I can now see good and bad parts in most books. I don’t believe in perfect books or best books. I think it made me more open-minded about what I could read, what I could enjoy. Just because a newspaper says it’s good doesn’t mean it is! I see things more critically now, and am perhaps more kind about books I dislike. That said, when we came out of our last exam on a beautiful and warm spring day it felt so good to have our lives back. But, for me, it had definitely been worth it.