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Three Cheat Codes for the English Major

April 11, 2019

Jason Hewitt ’20

To all my prospective English majors out there, this article is for YOU!

Even if you are not interested in majoring in English, a lot of the advice I’m giving in this post is going to be about writing. If I can tell you one thing about Oberlin, it’s the fact that the students here have to write all the time. At some point in your time at Oberlin, you will have to take a writing intensive course. So, trust me on this! I’ll try to provide you with enough cheat codes to get ahead (the right way, though... we follow the Honor Code here!).

Here’s my first and MOST IMPORTANT cheat code for English majors:  Don’t create a habit out of writing papers on a last-minute basis. 

Yes, I know. I may sound like your parents or teachers when I say procrastination is the enemy, but it’s so true! I understand that it’s college. Your classes will provide you with work from seemingly every corner imaginable.

Let’s assume that you have a couple of short response essays due. “Short” essays are usually around 1-3 pages. 

I have been in enough English classes to understand that the short response essays will add up if you don’t finish those as early as possible. This is what could happen if you procrastinate on the short papers: You may miss an important detail on the assignment or you simply won’t have enough time to communicate your ideas in the way your professor wants you to. Another possible situation is that you have other tasks you have to do along with the papers. Your assignments add up a lot more when you wait until the last minute. I know, I know. You might be rolling your eyes as you’re reading this, but trust me. Getting the short stuff done ASAP will save you in the long run.

Let’s talk about another scenario. You may have... let’s say... an eight-page paper due in three weeks.

Start on it ASAP! Start on whatever research you have to do for the paper on the same day as you receive the prompt. I have had enough negative experiences with longer papers to know that procrastinating isn’t the move at ALL. Get all the information you need as soon as possible so that you are able to master the concepts you are writing about. Sure, this may take a while to develop. There’s good news, though! As soon as you get into that groove of working nonstop on your paper, you are going to get so much done. Getting work done at Oberlin can be challenging at times because of the content, but I have to remind myself that I chose this school because it would challenge and enhance the way I think and complete tasks. Every once in a while, procrastination may strike because of how busy we are with everything else going on in our lives.

You’re going to have a very long night if you write the paper on the night before it is due. 

It can be unbelievably stressful to write a paper on a last-minute basis, especially if the paper is a long one. Nobody wants to deal with a boring EIGHT-PAGED paper in the middle of the night. I have been there, and it is absolutely terrible. I was in zombie mode for the entire day. (I usually sleep  like a baby the following night, though!) Don’t be like the younger, less experienced version of myself. That guy waited until the last minute on everything, and it was ridiculously stressful. Be better than that guy. Getting the paper done on time is the most important thing, but the quality of work won’t be as good. Give yourself some time and start on it earlier. I promise, it will be well worth the effort and extra time.

Cheat code #2: Office hours will save your life. Take the extra time to talk to your professors!

Office hours are one of the most underrated aspects of college in general. I feel as though people don’t utilize that resource enough here. You could receive so much information in one thirty-minute session with your professor. Not only that, but you could also develop a relationship with the professor. Also, think about this: If you visit your professor on many occasions, your professor may have a better sense of your perspective when they grade your work. This may encourage the professors to be more lenient in how they grade, especially when it comes to papers. Professors in general also really appreciate when students show up for office hours. It is a really good gesture that displays that the student really cares about the class. Also, it is usually a very enjoyable experience. Sometimes, the professors may even have some treats for you. Of course, the experiences may vary with the professors you have. The odds of having a great professor at Oberlin are definitely in your favor, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. If you are worried, you could always go to ratemyprofessors.com. There are plenty of reliable reviews that would help you determine if a professor is a good fit for you. I know it has helped me a lot over the years. Hopefully, it will do the same for you. 

Cheat Code #3: Understand that you may struggle at times as a writer. That’s just part of the development.  

I call this a “cheat code,” because so many people don’t understand that becoming a great writer isn’t going to happen overnight. Because of this, many people tend to give up on improving their writing skills. The sense of satisfaction is the enemy of almost anything you set your mind to. It’s okay to be proud of your work, but being satisfied with where you are as a writer may limit how well you will perform on papers and any other forms of writing you engage in. There are resources on campus that could help you improve your writing skills. One of those resources is the writing center, which has been extremely beneficial to many students. There are people who are willing to work with you for any type of writing assignments you have to finish. Another reliable resource is, once again, office hours. This was so essential to my development as a writer, and it taught me that I still have much to improve on. Many of the professors you will work with have more years of experience than we’ve been alive for. They are also willing to work with you and help you develop more as a writer. In fact, they may offer better advice than anybody else on campus. That’s just my take, though. I’m pretty sure that there are more resources that I’m unaware of, but those are the two that will be beneficial to you. 

I hope these “cheat codes” help you thrive here at Oberlin College. These tips are what helped me as an English major here, and I’m sure that they will help many others. I’m open to discussing more tips and tricks for English majors, so if you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to me. My email is jhewitt@oberlin.edu. Keep on writing, everybody!  :-)

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