What is the structure of the ASNC course?

In their first two years (Part I), students choose six out of the ten papers which the ASNC Tripos offers, as well as from papers which can be borrowed from other Triposes, such as Middle English, Medieval French, the archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, or Scandinavian archaeology. In the second year there is also the option to write a dissertation. The third year (Part II) offers the chance to be more specialised, since students take just four papers out of a wide selection, which represent a progression from the Part I papers in various ways. They also write a compulsory dissertation, an excellent opportunity to write a longer piece of work exploring in depth a topic which has caught your interest during Part I.

What GCE A level subjects should I take?

All of the languages in ASNC - Old English, Old Norse, Medieval Welsh, Medieval Irish and Insular Latin - are taught from scratch, so that no previous knowledge is required. If you do intend to choose any of the language papers, it is, however, preferable to have taken a foreign language at A level, so that you will have had a chance to test your linguistic ability. Since most of the subjects in the Tripos are not normally taught at school, prospective applicants often ask what combination of GCE A levels is appropriate. We are looking for signs of general ability in, and enthusiasm for, the kind of things we do in the Tripos: learning new languages, studying literature, analysing historical documents. Many applicants will have GCE A levels in English, or History, or French, German, and other languages, or Latin, all of which are perfectly suitable.

What can I expect at the admissions interview?

We interview almost all applicants who apply to read ASNC and the interviews are usually held in the first or second week of December. You will have two 30 minute interviews, a general interview and then a subject interview, which is usually conducted by the Director of Studies and one other member of the teaching staff of the ASNC Department. We do not expect prospective applicants already to have detailed knowledge of the subject matter of the Tripos, we will hope to see evidence of some understanding of what the course involves, a lively general interest in medieval matters, intellectual curiosity and flexibility of mind, and in the case of those who are especially interested in the language papers of the Tripos, some sign of linguistic ability.

Does it matter that I might be the only ASNC in my year at Robinson?

ASNC is a relatively small Department, with between 25 and 30 undergraduates in a year across all the Colleges, which obviously means often only one or two students in each year at any given College. The Department is lively and has a strong sense of corporate identity. Since the students of ASNC (Asnacs, as they like to call themselves) are fairly small in number compared with other subjects in the University, they tend to form a close-knit group, organising weekly lunches and other social activities. They also run an ASNC Society which arranges speaker meetings and excursions, as well as producing its own (usually very entertaining) newsletter. All this means that even if you find yourself the only Asnac in your year at Robinson College, you can be assured that you will never feel alone.

Do you recommend a "year out" between school and university?

If you have a clear plan for your “gap year” then it can broaden your outlook, and for many people it proves to be a valuable chance to mature and gain confidence. It can carry the risk of losing touch with the academic way of life, and some people find that when they finally get to university that they are restless and have lost the habit of focused study. Although a gap year directly connected with the course in some way – work in a museum, travel in Scandinavian countries, or the like – could prove inspiring, there’s no expectation that you should be doing something of that sort and in reality the time is yours to spend as you choose.

How much time does the course take up?

In the first two years, the numbers of classes and lectures you will have each week will vary according to your subject choices – for each history course there is one lecture a week, and then the language/literature courses tend to have between two and four hours of teaching per week, so that you might end up with about ten hours in total. In addition you will be very likely to need to spend further hours preparing for language and literature classes (learning grammar, reading ahead in the set-texts), and ideally, for the history courses, reading around the subject. In addition there are College supervisions, usually one hour a week, and the preparation for them. In the third year, you will have slightly fewer University lectures and seminars, but will be expected to spend more time in independent reading and research.

What jobs do ASNCs go on to do?

Although ASNC might seem so specialised that it will leave you with a degree that does not suggest any particular career, it does in fact provide a diverse, broad education, which will sharpen your analytical powers, teach you how to construct an effective argument, and refine your appreciation of literature. Former ASNC students have gone on to a wide variety of jobs in teaching, the civil service, law, journalism, business, publishing, the police, museum and library work, as well as to an academic career. Some ASNaCs report that interviewers’ curiosity is pricked at seeing 'Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic' in a CV, regarding it as an interesting talking-point and the sign of an enquiring and original mind.

Updated June 2013