Literature courses are a staple in any liberal arts education. If you are planning to attend a four year college or university, it is important to do everything that you can in high school to prepare for these courses. Additionally, many other courses in any liberal arts curriculum will have significant amounts of reading and writing. The skills that you gain from your high school literature courses will carry over into these other courses as well. Here are some tips to get you on your way to being successful with any literature course in college.
Take English all four years of high school. Some high schools only require three years to graduate, but almost all four year colleges require four years of high school English. You don’t need to take honors English courses. Many high schools have a number of non-honors options available including electives such as Humanities and African American Literature.
Cover the basics. Make sure that the classes that you do take cover the basic aspects of literature that will be expected for college preparation. This includes Composition, English Literature, American Literature, and World Literature. Even if your high school’s courses do not have these titles, look at the course descriptions to determine if they will cover these skills. It is more than likely that there will be options that do cover them.
AP English vs. no AP English. If you are interested in taking AP English, go for it. If you’re not interested in it for any number of reasons (i.e. bad teacher, pursuing other AP courses, etc.), there are other options. Look for electives with strong literature components, such as the previously mentioned Humanities and African American Literature, or take Senior Honors English. Additionally, if you don’t take the AP English course, you can still take the test. You will not have anyone walking you through the process, but you can sign up for it on your own. If you have a strong literature background and solid writing skills, you will still be prepared for it.
Ensure a good selection of texts. If you choose strong literature courses in high school, you should get a good selection of texts through your courses. If you are missing a few essential texts, you can read them on your own. For example, you should read at least two Shakespeare plays: one comedy or tragedy and one historical. You should also have a background of classic authors such as Hemingway. No college program will expect you to have covered all classic authors, but make sure that you have a covered a broad base of them.
Research recommended literature. An offshoot from the last tip, another way to ensure that you have read the majority of the expected texts for college literature courses is to do a little research. Your college may provide a recommended list. If not, there are lists readily available online. Don’t be overwhelmed if you haven’t read them all. Rule out authors that you’ve already read and pick a few titles for summer reading before you start college.
Consider classic Greek and Roman literature. A few examples include The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid. These titles or other Greek and Roman classics may be included in your recommended list. If not and you haven’t covered one in a high school course, consider adding one to your summer list. Such titles provide good background knowledge for any liberal arts education.
Maximize your paper writing potential in high school. Strong writing skills are essential in college. Don’t sit down the night before a paper is due on a book that you haven’t read or have only read part of and put in half your effort just to get the assignment done. Do your best with the assignments that you are given. If possible, experiment with different voices, text comparisons, and expository and persuasive formats..
Get your work proofread. Have parents and/or friends proofreading and if necessary, editing your writing for you. It is always helpful to have another pair of eyes look over your work before you submit it. Even great writers will not catch all of their typos and grammatical mistakes. This is a practice that you should continue in college.
Outline your papers. If you don’t already do this, consider starting now. Sketching an outline will help you organize your thoughts and ideas before you sit down to do the actual paper writing. Don’t be afraid to make significant changes as you make the outline and even as you write the paper. Good writing requires more than a single draft.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification. A good professor will never be annoyed if you need help with any kind of assignment or simply need clarification on something. If you think of a question late at night or aren’t sure of a professor’s office hours, send him an e-mail. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification during class as well. If it more than likely that if you are confused, at least a couple other students in your class are, too.