The English Major

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Considering an English Major?

The department is home to a wide variety of scholarly and creative interests, and our majors are an important part of department life. If you would like to join the English department, you can obtain a major declaration form from the Registrar's office. Then, email Ms. Bette Kanner to schedule a Zoom meeting where she will assist you in completing the form, assigning an advisor, and obtaining the proper signatures. We look forward to welcoming you!

Please note that the deadline for declaring English as your major is the end of your sophomore year. 

English Majors are responsible for satisfying the following requirements:

Policies for Major Requirements

  • The level and period requirements should be fulfilled with courses from Amherst College English Department offerings. 
  • Two English-related courses outside the department may be counted towards the overall major requirement of 10 classes, upon approval by the Academic Advisor.
  • Special Topics and Senior Tutorial courses have 400 numbers, but these courses cannot count towards fulfilling the 400-level requirement.
  • If a student is pursuing an Honors Thesis, only one of the two classes (either 498 or 499) may be counted towards fulfilling the 10-course requirement.
  • There is a maximum of three Creative Writing classes and three FAMS classes that may be counted towards fulfilling the major requirements. These may be used to fulfill level requirements.
  • The Department is stringent in ensuring that all English majors meet the course requirements, but we place no restrictions on how many of the courses that make up an English major may also be counted towards some other major at the college.
  • Transfer students may apply up to three English-related courses taken outside the department (i.e. from a previous institution) to their English major requirements provided that these courses fit in the rubric of the kinds of materials or approaches generally taught in the department. One of those courses may count towards the 100-level requirement and one may be used towards the pre-1800 requirement, if suitable. The Academic Advisor must approve any courses taken outside the department that you wish to use towards fulfilling the major. 

The four levels of courses

Majoring in English requires the completion of ten courses offered or approved by the Department. The Department organizes its courses into four levels. A list of courses by level is available here.

  • The courses numbered in the 100s provide entries for engagement with the English department through small, writing-intensive seminars on a diverse range of topics. They introduce students to a variety of genres and media, entail frequent writing, and cultivate students' skills in close reading.
  • The courses in the 200s emphasize a particular approach to method, genre, medium, period, or discourse. They include introductory courses in creative writing as well as literary, film, or cultural study.
  • The courses in the 300s are electives designed to foster immersion into literary, film, and cultural studies and creative writing. They help students learn skills and/or study materials that will prepare them for independent work in their 400-level seminars. They are open, however, to both majors and non-majors across the college, and generally do not carry prerequisites for admission.  
  • Courses in the 400s are junior and senior seminars emphasizing independent inquiry, critical and theoretical issues, and extensive writing. These courses teach students the intellectual skills vital to framing a research question and conducting independent research. Because 400-level seminars can, in the senior year, lead to a thesis project, the Department strongly urges majors to take at least one of their required 400-level seminars before the end of the junior year.  The Department will not guarantee admission to a particular 400-level seminar in the second semester of the senior year.  While special topics and senior tutorial courses for thesis students also have 400 numbers, these courses cannot count towards the 400-level requirements.

Comprehensive Requirement

In the early spring of each year, senior majors will present independent work drawn from one of their 400-level seminars or from their senior theses at the English Department Capstone Symposium to fulfill the Comprehensive Requirement.  The ten-minute presentations can take many forms and they will be organized into panels.  The Comprehensive Requirement is fulfilled by presenting your work and also participating in the conversations that are generated by your classmates’ presentations.  Early in the fall semester, the Director of Studies will be sending out more details about the symposium and dates for study sessions.

For more information, refer to our Capstone Symposium page.

Senior Thesis

The senior thesis provides an opportunity for independent study to any senior major who is adequately motivated and prepared to undertake such work.  English majors apply for admission to the senior thesis courses (English 498/499) in April of their junior year.  Admission to English 498/499 is contingent upon the Department’s judgment of the feasibility and value of the student’s proposal as well as of his or her preparation and capacity to carry it through to a fruitful conclusion.  The Department assigns Thesis Advisors to students whose applications it approves.

To be considered for senior honors a student must submit to the Department a portfolio, which contains normally 50 to 70 pages of writing.  The work may take the form of a critical essay, a short film or video, a collection of essays or poems or stories, a play, a mixture of forms, an exploration in education or cultural studies.

Before a student can submit a thesis, the final work must be approved by the student’s designated advisor.  Once the thesis is approved, the Department appoints a committee of faculty examiners to read it.  Following an interview with the student, the committee conveys its evaluation to the whole Department, which then makes the final recommendation for the level of honors in English.

For more information, refer to our Honors Program page.

Learning Goals

By the time of their graduation, we expect that students who major in English will have become:

  • Adept at reading closely and writing well.
  • Skilled at critical writing about works in multiple genres, including both written texts, performances and visual narratives such as film. Some students may choose to create works of their own in verse, prose fiction or other media.
  • Attentive to the production of literary culture in a range of historical periods and social contexts.
  • Informed about the relationship between literary texts, literary criticism, and theories about cultural production.
  • Well versed in the literature associated with at least one specific area of concentration.
  • Capable of producing a well-researched long essay and/or completing a sustained creative project.


Questions regarding courses and the major should be directed to Professor Geoff Sanborn, the Director of Studies.