Those of you who are looking at going to university in September have probably decided what degree you want to do (or have at least narrowed it down to a couple of choices) and are now in the process of applying to various universities. It is therefore getting to the time to start thinking about which of those universities you want to go to (even though most of you haven’t actually been offered places yet…). I know from doing this almost 3 years ago just how difficult that process can be. It was hard enough narrowing down the hundred or so universities in the UK down to 5 universities to apply to right? And now you’ve got to decide on one?! Of course most universities will be holding UCAS visit days in the upcoming months (ours run from January to April with the dates depending on the degree you have applied for) which I really recommend you attend as seeing the universities in person really helps with decision making. But in the mean time I am going to try and help out those of you interested in studying Sociology by dedicating this blog, and several blogs in the near future as there is too much to fit into one, to outlining what my sociology degree at the University of Leicester has involved. I will be concentrating on the content of the degree by outlining which modules I have completed and the specific essay and exam topics I have studied and revised. But it is important to note that the modules available in future years may not be exact the ones outlined here and the forms of assessment may well change slightly. I’m going to start it off by telling you what modules I did way back in my very first semester here at Leicester (which seems so long ago!). All of the following were compulsory modules as we did not get the option to choose modules until second year:
1.Sociological Imagination. This module was a great starter module for a sociology degree. In the lectures you learn what sociology is and where it fits into history. You then learn about the work of the key sociologists from classic and contemporary sociology. For the 2,500 essay I answered a question about how sociology transformed during the period of Enlightenment. I found this to be very interesting, although it was quite difficult to write the essay because it involved reading a lot of older work, some of which is very confusing to understand! But you get used to it soon enough and I managed to achieve 65% in the essay. For the exam you study one classical sociologist and one contemporary sociologist from the lecture material and answer a question on each one. I chose to study Durkheim and Parsons. It wasn’t a case of studying every piece of their work (that would take far too long!), instead the reading list set out which parts of their theory you were to focus on. I have learnt to really like theory based questions because I find that it is relatively easy to create a clear structure for essays and exam answers. But many people find theory quite a dull subject and prefer learning about contemporary issues, which is completely understandable. But it is highly important to learn about theory because theory often guides research and if you’re to become a sociologist you need to know about past theories, even if it is only to critique them!
2. Social Change, Identity and Behaviour. In terms of numbers this was a huge module as we were mixed with students from criminology and psychology. We got a bit more choice in the modules as to what we wished learn. Of course all of the lectures were compulsory and in the exam (which was a massive 3 hours long!) you had to answer one question from each section (the sections being: 1. Processes of Change in Modern Society 2. The Individual and Society 3. Media, Culture and Social Change), but you got to choose which areas you focused on within these sections. I chose to answer questions on capitalism, the presentation of self and the information society. There was also a portfolio for this module which involved completing a presentation as part of a group and producing a write-up of the content of the presentation and how well you think you presented. This was the first of many presentations at university and as scary as it might sound they really aren’t too bad. They are so useful for building confidence and preparing you for the world of work and by working in a group you’re forced to make friends too! I absolutely loved this module as I learnt so much about so many different things and I even managed to get 73% in the exam!
3. Ethnicity and Society. This was the module I struggled with most in this semester because it was my least favourite of the three, therefore I did not put as much effort into the work. However that is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. The module covered very interesting subjects which were split into two sections. The first involved learning about the concepts of ethnicity and race from a theoretical viewpoint and the second explored empirical studies of ethnic relations in the UK, Europe, North America and South Africa. This involved discussion of racial discrimination, nationalism, racist and anti-racist social movements, racism in politics and racism in the media. For my 2,500 word essay I chose to answer a question about assimilation (assimilation being the process in which a racial or ethnic group acquires the characteristics and culture of a native population). It was centred around discussing the theory proposed by Parks and Burgess who state that immigrants must pass through several stages before becoming fully assimilated. I did actually really enjoy this essay and I somehow managed to scrape a first for it! I didn’t do quite so well in the exam though. I still managed to get a 2:1 but this dragged my grade down quite significantly. The exam was 2 hours long and you chose 2 questions out of 6 (I think it was 6 although I can’t remember). Although we weren’t told the exact questions which were to come up in the exam, we told which themes to revise over. The trick with this was to revise over 3 topics thoroughly so that I could answer at least 3 questions and then once I was in the exam I could choose which 2 I preferred. This is the approach I always take for my exams at uni and so far its worked well. For this one I revised over classic theories of ethnicity (so what Durkheim, Marx, Simmel etc. said about ethnicity), social movements and racial riots and I think, if I remember rightly, I answered the questions on the latter two.
One worry for many students (including myself) before starting uni is how on earth you actually go about writing an essay. But here at Leicester you don’t just get thrown into the deep end when it comes to essay writing. You’re told all about the best way to go about writing essays (particularly how to reference properly) and the lecturers (or even your personal tutor) are always willing to speak to you if you are worried. And even better, first year doesn’t actually count. Although you have to pass (that means getting over 40% overall), nothing you do in your first year contributes to your final grade. That doesn’t mean that you should just aim for the 40%, instead you can use it as a practice year to discover what you do well in your essays and what you need to improve.
In my next blog I will outline what I did in my second semester of first year so if you’re interested then keep an eye out!