A stack of open books

Studying English and joint schools at Merton

The study of English Language and Literature at Oxford is exceptionally well-established and broad-ranging in content; you will have the opportunity to study writing in English from its origins in Anglo-Saxon England to contemporary literature periods. As well as British literature, you can study works written in English from across the globe.
Joint school courses

English & Modern Languages: The study of Modern Languages at Oxford emphasises a literature-focussed approach, as well as providing practical linguistic training. These two subjects therefore work extremely well together, and expand the range of study options across the field of Western literature and thought.

History & English: Since the History and English degree began Merton has been one of the most consistent colleges in admitting students for it. With three History tutors and three English tutors there is ample opportunity to study different periods both through their literature and through their history. Merton’s History and English graduates have gone on to careers in Art History and International Relations as well as in English and History.

Course structure

The first year of the course provides a foundation in core tools, approaches and topics. In years two and three there is a diverse selection of optional papers that allow students to pursue their own specialist interests.

The approach to literary studies at Merton is based on the close reading of literary texts, informed by an understanding of historical, aesthetic, and intellectual contexts, but there is ample opportunity for theoretical diversity. Considerable emphasis is placed upon the intellectual background to literature, and tutorials are regularly supplemented by seminars in this area.

Most students take the English Language and Literature Course I but applicants with an interest in Course II (Medieval Literature and Language) are also very welcome.

The teaching team

Teaching is organised by Merton’s tutorial fellows (Professor Richard McCabe and Dr Michael Whitworth) and the Fitzjames Research Fellow in Medieval English Literature (Dr Daniel Sawyer). Specialist options are catered for by experts from across the University’s English Faculty as a whole (meaning students are not constrained to their own college’s areas of expertise).

The Merton Professor of English Literature and the Merton Professor of English Language & Literature are Fellows of the College. JRR Tolkien held the latter of these chairs from 1945 to 1959.

Graduate mentors (current postgraduate students) are available to provide additional help and support with all aspects of the course.

The benefits of studying English at Merton
  • Merton’s libraries are well-stocked for English. Our special collections include one of the best collections of TS Eliot material in the world.
  • The English Faculty is around 10 minutes' walk from the main college site. Merton accommodation in Holywell Street is even closer (and our Manor Road houses are directly opposite).
  • Merton’s student-run English Society holds a variety of events, social activities and talks throughout the year, which are ever popular.
  • We also have a college Poetry Society, newspaper, speaker society (the Bodley Club), and politics/current affairs/debating society (the Neave Society).
  • Merton English alumni include the former Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, and Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Recent graduates have gone on to a wide variety of careers, including law, teaching, journalism, postgraduate study, and television script-writing.
Video: English Language and Literature at Oxford University
Course information
Key facts
Average intake at Merton:

Seven single honours, and two or three in Joint Schools.


Candidates must take the English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT).

Written work:

A marked essay of A2-Level or equivalent. Joint schools may require additional written work.

Specific subjects:

English Literature or English Language & Literature is essential. For joint schools, certain other subjects are essential and/or recommended.

Deferred entry:

Applications for deferred entry will be considered on their merits.