American Studies


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The Independent Online


What courses? American studies, and a range of joint honours.

What do you come out with? A BA, or a BSc if combined with a science subject.

Why do it? "The United States continues to impinge upon all aspects of our daily lives, from decisions its leaders take over how to handle crises in a succession of Middle Eastern countries or the global economy, to the popular culture that we devour, whether we are reading highbrow literature or menus in drive-thru fast food chains. How best to understand this nation and the actions taken by its citizens? Through an American Studies degree that immerses you in the in-depth, multi-disciplinary study of its particular and peculiar politics, history, literature, geography, film and visual culture." - Dr George Lewis, director of the Centre for American Studies and reader in American history, University of Leicester

What's it about? Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, Wall Street, eggs sunny-side-up, F Scott Fitzgerald and Friends. But aside from all those things, it’s about using different disciplines to learn about the world’s most dominant country. What you study will depend on the university, but expect to look at history, politics, literature and culture as a whole. The first year of most degrees is comprised of foundation modules giving an overview of the major events of American history, culture and canonical literature, before allowing students to choose more specific areas to study in depth later on. Generally, most courses focus on the US and Canada, but Warwick has its own School of Comparative America Studies, from which it runs its history, literature and cultures of the Americas BA, which gives equal attention to the north and south continents.

Study options: The real selling point of American studies is that there’s the opportunity at most universities to complete a year studying across the pond (and we’ve all seen the movies and know how those college kids like to party – keg stand anyone?), so a lot of courses last four years. That said, there is still the option to get everything over and done with in three years if you want to sacrifice the year abroad. As a multi-disciplinary subject, teaching and assessment methods vary, but as an arts and humanities course, coursework usually takes precedent over exams, and teaching is done via lectures, seminars and smaller group work. A dissertation is the decider in most cases, in which students get to put their all into a topic of their choice.

What will I need to do it? Requirements are generally pretty flexible in terms of A-level subjects, but some will ask for history and English. A background in arts and humanities is likely to put you in good stead, but it usually appeals to such students anyway. Warwick asks for AAB, UEA asks for ABB and for Leicester it’s BBB, or ABB if you want to go abroad. Those planning to study joint honours, you’re best to check specific requirements for your second subject.

What are my job prospects? When it comes to jobs, you're similar to any arts students really – you do your degree for the love of the subject and to enrich your knowledge, not because you have a specific career in mind. Students go into all sorts of things, often with an international spin, including law, the diplomatic service, work with NGOs, television, accountancy, marketing, advertising, business and teaching. Don't expect to be raking in the dollars straight away though, as American studies came 58th out of 62 subjects graded by average graduate salaries in The Times' Good University Guide 2012, with the average salary of those in a graduate-level positions being just over £17,500 per year.

Where’s best to do it? Warwick came top overall in the Complete University Guide 2012, followed by Leicester and Sussex. Birmingham, Nottingham and East Anglia also fared well. For research, Manchester came top, and students at Leicester said they were most satisfied with their course.

Related degrees: Politics and international studies; history; anthropology; English.