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. Students are generally encouraged to declare the major during their second year. If you would like to join the English department, contact the Director of Studies, for a short meeting to review the requirements. At that time, you can discuss your interests and which courses you have already taken toward the required ten classes.
Once you are ready to declare, obtain a major declaration form from the Registrar's office. Bring your form to the English Office (Johnson Chapel room 001), where Ms. Bette Kanner will assist you in completing the form, assigning an advisor, and obtaining the proper signatures. Welcome!
English Majors are responsible for satisfying the following requirements:
- Completing TEN courses, in total, offered or approved by the Department. This includes:
At least ONE 100-Level course
At least TWO 200-Level courses
At least TWO 300-Level courses
At least TWO 400*-Level course
At least ONE course addressing material from a period before 1800 (any level).
*While special topics and senior tutorial courses for thesis students also have 400 numbers, these courses cannot count as the 400 level seminar.
- Participating and presenting at the English Department Capstone Symposium to fulfill the Comprehensive Requirement.
The 10-course Requirement
Majoring in English requires the completion of ten courses offered or approved by the Department. The Department organizes its courses into four levels.
- 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.
Majors may count up to three courses in creative writing towards the ten required courses.
Normally, with approval of the advisor, up to two courses that are related to English from outside the Department may be counted towards the major.
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.
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.
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 (fall)/499 (spring)), 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 portfolio must be approved by the student’s designated advisor. Once the portfolio 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.
Departmental Honors Program
The Department awards Latin honors to seniors who have achieved distinction in course work for the major and who have also demonstrated, in a submitted portfolio of critical or creative work, a capacity to excel in composition. Students qualify for Latin honors only if they have attained a B+ average in courses approved for the major; the degree summa cum laude usually presupposes an A average. Students in the English Department write their theses through the senior tutorial.
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.
Students interested in graduate work in English or related fields should discuss their plans with their advisor and other members of the Department to learn about particular programs, requirements for admission, the availability of fellowships, and prospects for a professional career. Many graduate programs in English or comparative literature require reading competence in several foreign languages; while to some extent these programs permit students to satisfy the requirement concurrently with graduate work, we would encourage those interested in graduate study to broaden their language skills while at Amherst. We would also encourage students to consider writing a thesis, for several reasons: to produce a polished writing sample they can submit with their application; to gain, and demonstrate, experience in sustained independent work; and to get a sense of the areas they might want to pursue in graduate school, some knowledge of which is essential for writing an effective admissions essay.
N.B. The English Department does not grant advanced placement on the basis of College Entrance Examination Board scores.
Questions regarding courses and the major should be directed to Professor Lisa Brooks, the Director of Studies.