My Experience as an English major at CU Boulder
My experience as an English major at CU Boulder has undoubtedly been a mixed bag. Every week my opinion varies when it comes to college. Some days I rejoice in my existence as a university student, other days I feel as though I am
counting down the days until I am finally released from the bonds of school. My journey to attending CU Boulder has been quite the process, as I bounced around between a couple of schools before finally settling upon CU. When I first entered college, I was a psychology major in Kansas City at UMKC (the University of Missouri at Kansas City). I quickly became dissatisfied with the psychology major as well as the school and moved back to my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. It was there that I attended the small liberal arts college of Drury University, and finally changed my topic of study to English. After staying at Drury for only one semester, I transferred to CU Boulder. For many, CU Boulder would appear to be a significant upgrade from Drury. Indeed, in many ways, this is true. Yet, this may not always be the case. My father, a professor at CU Boulder, once told me that I would never get better schooling than at small liberal arts colleges like Drury. As I work my way through my junior year at CU Boulder as an English major, I have been reflecting on my experience and if what my father told me is true.
CU Boulder deeply prides itself on having an innovative English program which they claim prepares students for their future in the workplace. When it comes to the English major at CU Boulder, there are two separate tracks a student can choose between. One is the literature track, of which I must admit, I have no experience. The other is the Creative
Writing track, which I have found myself locked into. What does it mean, though, to learn creative writing at CU Boulder? I’m still not sure I know. Currently, CU Boulder does not technically require any formal grammar classes, though typically advanced grammatical training will arise from taking other courses in the major. This, to me, is somewhat confusing. Even though understanding grammar would appear to be a critical, and perhaps even obvious, requirement for being a writer, many of my peers have not taken a course in grammar since high school, or maybe even middle school. When I read the work of my peers, the technical issues are typically the main issue. There is a distinct confusion about the rules of writing and of English, which is deeply troubling. While the post-modernist in me always encourages breaking the rules of writing, I cannot deny that it is essential to understand the rules before defying them.
Another significant portion of being an English major is “workshopping,” which, indeed, is not unique for CU Boulder. I took my first workshop class back when I was in Kansas City. Workshop classes, for those who might not know, is a process of sharing one’s work with the rest of one’s class and then listening to their critiques of said work in a kind of roundtable situation. When I first started taking workshop classes, they were the bane of my existence. However, as I
have become more confident in my writing, I have found that these classes can offer valuable insight, though some workshop classes function better than others. Despite all of my classmate’s critiques though, the one thing that workshop classes have taught me is that it is impossible to please everyone. In my initial workshop courses, every negative comment was incredibly discouraging, as I felt that I would never make anything good enough to put out into the world. I have come to understand that a writer must learn how to be pleased with their work. My advice for any writers out there would be to keep practicing your prose and style until you think your writing is as good as it can be and learn how to be content.
The rest of the English program, in my experience, is somewhat muddled. By far the most organized trait of this major are the workshops. Other than this, the classes are so varied that they do not always make sense. For example, to satisfy a requirement for the major, I have found myself in an Old English class. When, I wonder, will this ever come in handy for someone like myself? Many of the courses we take in this major are not terribly practical. In my opinion, this is an issue. The English major, especially the Creative Writing track, is scoffed at by many as being inapplicable to the “real world,” whatever the “real world” means. If a student does not work to take command over their future career, I genuinely believe they will be left confused about where they can practically apply their major. The English major does offer internships, but regarding classes, there does appear to be a disconnect about what it means to be a writer in a university setting as opposed to being a writer in the workplace.
My option about this may change as I continue with the major. Though, what I have come to understand about going to college is that it is not about the classes you take. Much to the dismay of my Old English professor, I doubt I will remember the distinctions between the different cases of weak verbs. Instead, college is about the experiences that one has. If I tried to recall what even one of my peers specifically told me in critiques during a workshop class, I imagine I would have a difficult time. However, through these workshop classes, I have learned how to accept my writing and take constructive criticism. Some days I enjoy being an English major at CU Boulder, other days I feel disillusioned and burnt-out, but college is a learning experience. I will not pretend that I have not learned a great deal while being an English major at CU Boulder, though it may not be what the university wanted me to learn.