What courses? Linguistics; language & linguistics; European languages; English language studies; language learning; sociolinguistics; teaching English as a foreign language.

What do you come out with? A BA, very occasionally a BSc if studied in certain combined honours programmes.

Why do it? "Linguistics is the study of language as a uniquely human ability and means of communication. You will learn about how speech sounds work, how linguistic strings are structured, how words relate to thoughts, how we acquire one or more languages, how we take turns in conversation, how we convey meanings in speech or writing, how language may reflect or reinforce identities, power relationships and ideologies, and so on. With a degree in linguistics you may pursue careers in education, the media, publishing, management and consulting, speech therapy, lexicography (dictionary-building), information technology and many other fields." - Professor Elena Semino, professor of linguistics and verbal art, University of Lancaster

What's it about? Words. In simple terms: the way they sound, the way we put them together and their meanings. Linguistics is essentially the scientific study of natural language. In degree form it is comprised of modules with cryptic names such as semantics, morphology, syntax and phonology. But you’ll also explore how language works in the human mind and society at large. With a mix of art, literature, science and philosophy chucked in. Oh and grammar too. The universities with good English literature departments are the most likely to have a linguistic arm. York has a large department with ten BA programmes and joint honours on offer. It covers the usual topics and also specialises in language variation and change and psycholinguistics. At Queen Mary’s school of language, linguistics and film, they focus on the grammatical, meaning-related and sound structures of language in general. Lancaster has a large linguistics department, covering all the linguistic bases but with a smattering of more unusual options such as discourse analysis and corporate communications.

Study options: Three years full-time, or four years if studied with a foreign language, allowing for a year abroad. Most places offer courses in combination with modern languages, literature or history. The course is usually assessed relatively equal between exams and coursework.

What will I need to do it? No specific subject is required, but many universities ask for an A-level in at least one of the following: English language, English lang & lit, and either a foreign or classical language because you’ll have a background understanding of how languages work and are structured. UCL would be pleased to see English, maths, or any science-related subjects too. At York and Essex you are only required to take a language A-level if your degree is combined with that language. As for A-level grades, they vary widely, but at Lancaster you will need AAB, AAB-BBB at Manchester, and BB (with an additional AS) at Essex.

What are my job prospects? Because language is relevant to nearly every aspect of our lives, the application of linguistic skills can be very broad. Many graduates will enter teaching – especially English as a first or foreign language – or speech therapy, the civil service, advertising and the media. Immediate prospects aren’t brilliant, however – according to The Times’ Good University Guide 2012, ten per cent of graduates are unemployed six months after leaving university. Despite this, around 30 per cent do land themselves graduate jobs straight away, earning an average salary of just over £18,000.

Where’s best to do it? Lancaster came top in the Complete University Guide 2012, followed by Oxford, Edinburgh and UCL. Students at Cambridge were most satisfied with their course, and Oxford, York St John and York all fared well in this area too.

Related degrees: English; classics; French; Spanish; Italian; German.

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