Hello! I was summoned by @AWFrasier because she thought I might be of help and this actually does happen to be a field of expertise for me since I am a professional playwright with a writing related degree but also I was massively big on academic and pastoral care for a few years, including being pretty high up in my student union, coaching people through their UCAS applications and mentoring people with theatre degrees into writing (though usually plays, not film/TV).
So, cracks knuckles, let’s get into this. Because this is an incredibly multi-faceted, twisty, no good system.
Now, first some context of the world that you’re joining. With the system as we have it in Britain nearly a third of people your age will be going to University and that is a huge difference to the percentage of our parents’ generation. This means that, unfortunately, you pretty much do need a degree in something to have a hope of getting any job after graduating and the job market for young people across the UK is dire right now. In regards to the film industry in Britain, it certainly is a growth market (arts and culture has grown 10% in the last year woooo) but you will almost definitely not be able to make it as a screenwriter, or even in the film industry, right off the bat. So your degree needs to pull double duty in teaching you everything you need to know to develop your craft and land you a job that will pay the council tax after you graduate.
So the main things to consider will be:
a) What will you learn to help you achieve your goals?
b) Will you enjoy yourself
c) Will your degree be respected in the job market?
a) Cost of living around your Uni
b) Can you actually stnd to live in that place?
c) What are the local industry ties and oportunities?
d) Will your Uni be respected?
a) Can you get into the Uni or onto the course?
b) Are you excited about the Uni or the course?
The things that you’ve thrown up there are: English, Creative Writing and Drama. Of those options, English Literature is the most taditionally respected. It’d be the most flexible option in terms of jobs, with all kinds of generic grad schemes, advertising agencies, office work etc. looking for English students. It won’t limit your options at all, and you will learn a lot about all elements of story craft that will help you achieve your actual goal of becomming a screenwriter. Many English courses even often optional film modules that would be great for you. However, English is one of the most wok intensive degree options around, leaving you little time to work on film projects, especially if you have to fit in a job.
Creative writing, on the other hand, will completely limit your options. There are very few jobs out there looking for creative writing BAs. Not to say that you shouldn’t do it, or that it wouldn’t be really useful, but if you went this way I would recomend also getting a job in an industry where you can climb to management very easily so when you leave Uni you have a degree and demonstartive leadership skills.
Drama is a total balancing act. I would stake my life on saying that a good theatre degree gives you more transferable work skills than any any other degree out there. But good fucking luck convincing employers of that. My theatre degree let me project manage from start to finish massive, sell-out shows, that required so much teamwork and determination and none of my peers from other courses would ever dream of doing that. But despite that, it is still seen as a pretty soft subject so you have to be ready to sell yourself hard afterwards.
There are some areas of the UK that are a young screenwriters dream. If Salford or Manchester aren’t on your radar they need to be, because the Media city is the golden land of oportunity for your field. It’s also a big city with lots of other jobs on offer, relatively cheap to live in and above all fun.
Otherwise London is a great choice, but a very expensive one. It’s easier to stay in London after your degree than to move there from the regions (trust me sometimes I wish I’d never left).
If you end up in like…Conventry (Warwick uni has one of the best English and Drama courses going, plus it’s a Russell Group Uni) you’re going to really struggle to find work even with a great degree under your belt. Plus Coventry is a dull, dull place.
And on that note, Russell Group Unis do look more impressive on a CV. It always stands out to me when I’m hiring, rightly or wrongly. They’re prestigious for a reasonand the teaching quality generally is better.
What are your expected grades? And your extra ciriculars? Where can you achievably get into that balances all of the above? It’s good to apply to one or two that will really stretch you, because if you really want to get onto a specific course then that course probably really wants you.
And at the end of the day picking a course that you want to do is the SINGLE most impotant factor. You are going to sink nearly £30k on just the tuition. IT’s going to be hard work in the prime of your life. You need to do something that excites you, even if it meets literally none of the other critera.
To sum up: I was always going to go to Cambridge to read English Literature. I easily had the grades, I had a great personal statement, I had all the ambition and then one day I looked at everyone else going to Cambridge and I just…didn’t want to be around them. I didn’t think I’d enjoy being stuck in an expensive, pretentious city with a load of rich arseholes learning Old Norse so that I could better understand ancient texts. So I withdrew my application and last minute started applying for Engish and Drama because I was too afraid that pure Theatre was too soft.
I got accepted everywhere, got headhunted into a few more English offers and accepted an unconditional at a great Uni because it took all the pressure off. But with that pressure off I got less and less excited about going.
On results day I got fantastic results in a year where they really cut bacck on the percentages of As and A*s and someone said to me “have you thought about York? They have a really exciting theatre course, give them a ring.”
I looked at the course and I fell in love. I rang the admissions dean and they had no more spaces but I kept her on the line. She said my application was better suited to English at Oxford or Cambridge but I told her that I wanted to be a playwright, that I’d won the National Theatre New Views playwright award earlier that year but I left it off my application because I had thought theatre was too soft, but I regretted it and I really wanted to go to York and study theatre. She made me an extra place on the course because she liked my passion and honesty.
It was a “soft” degree, in an expensive city (that I still live in, and I hate) away from London where all the theatres are. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I loved my course so much and I learned more than I ever would have on a stuffy English Course.
Everything that I’ve outlined is important pragmaticaly but nothing is as important as doing something you love. You can make it work!
I hope any of that was useful. As I said I used to coach people through UCAS applications and then also mentor students at Uni. So if you have any questions shoot them my way! I’ve been to acadmic conferences at Unis all over the country so I might be some help.