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Student profile: Tom Wigley, studying English Language and Literature at the University of Manchester
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The Independent Online
Twenty-year-old Tom Wigley from Leamington Spa says he chose English as a degree because he felt it would `open doors' to a range of different careers.

Tom, a former pupil of Rugby School, says, "If you take a course like medicine it seems to close doors - after all, it only equips you to become a doctor or something related to medicine. With English, I felt that it would open doors, and as yet I have no idea what career I want to go for."

Tom has just completed his first year studying English Language and Literature at the University of Manchester. He took his A-levels in English, French and Geography, getting an A in Geography and Bs in the other two subjects.

"Newcastle was actually my first choice, but they wanted me to get an A in English, so I went for my second choice, Manchester," he says. In between A-levels and university, Tom took a gap year, helping on a conservation project in Western Australia.

"I'm really glad I did," he says. "When I first arrived at Manchester you could really tell those who'd taking a gap year - all the students who'd come straight from school were jumping around like this was the best thing that had ever happened to them. We were much more cool, and said things like, `This can't compare to China', and stuff. But that wears off, and I'm really glad I chose Manchester now."

"When I got there I'd come straight from Australia, and I thought it was a really grey and depressing city. Now I think it's an excellent place, and the social life is second to none, because you're so near the city itself, and Manchester is really buzzing," he says.

Tom says he chose the course purely because he'd enjoyed studying English at A-level, and wanted to take something he would also enjoy at university. He says he hasn't found the course particularily difficult as yet, although learning Middle English has been trickier than he thought!

"It's all declensions and grammar, so that can be quite hard. But the stories themselves are really interesting, and I've particularily enjoyed Chaucer," he says.

The course is divided up into three modules in each of the two semesters in the first year. Students are expected to attend four hours of lectures and four hours of tutorials each week, which does make it rather less physically taxing than say, medicine.

"English does have a reputation for being quite a `light' course in terms of workload, and I think that's true - although I do expect it to get harder over the next two years!" says Tom.

In the first year, most of the coursework is predetermined, with students studying Middle English, Renaissance drama and poetry. Tom so far has managed to avoid doing English Language, a subject in which he says he doesn't have much interest.

"Although the course is called both, the language side is a module you don't have to take in the first year. It's mostly phonetics and the origin of the language, and I'd much rather study literature," he says.

In the second year, compulsory courses include the Augustans, the Romantics and the Victorians, and students can then choose a further three modules. In the third year, there is even more choice, including contemporary literature.

"The course is really good in that you don't have to spend a lot of time studying work you're not really interested in," says Tom. "For example if you find Johnson a real turn-off then you can get by with just doing the bare minimum on him, and concentrating on someone else."

Students on the course are expected to turn in between six and nine essays per term, usually written to between three and five thousand words.

"There is expected to be quite a lot of background reading and research in the essays," says Tom. "In the first year we have been spoon-fed quite a lot of information, but I know it will get harder over the next two years," he says.

Yet by comparison he's now studying at least a play a week - whereas at A-level he spent a whole year studying Hamlet. "You don't get to know as many quotes, but you are expected to know the play in detail," he says.

Due to the not-exactly-onerous nature of the coursework, Tom has taken up rowing. "I know that if I was studying another course like Law or something I wouldn't have the time, but that was one of the attractions for me in taking English, in that it allows you time to do other things.

"There can be a strong temptation just to sit around and do nothing, but I really wanted to take up a sport, and rowing is great.

"It means you meet a whole crowd of people you wouldn't otherwise meet. I've been in halls this last year, and if you're not careful you just end up socialising with the other people who live near to you. By taking up rowing, I've met a whole crowd of people I wouldn't otherwise have met."