Information about the Spanish Major

The Spanish Department welcomes students with all levels of knowledge and from all backgrounds: beginning to advanced learners of Spanish; majors and non-majors; heritage, non-heritage, and native speakers. Our wide range of courses offer students many opportunities to develop a deep understanding of the cultures associated with the Spanish-speaking world; highly polished critical thinking and research skills; and the ability to communicate effectively in Spanish using formal and informal registers. The Department sponsors community events throughout the year that help enhance students’ language skills and cultural understanding, such as the Spanish table at Val, activities at the Spanish Language House, film festivals, lectures, and other activities.

With faculty who specialize in the Spanish language, Applied Linguistics, Latin America, Spain, Transpacific Studies, and Latinx Studies, students are able to explore in depth the aspects of the Spanish-speaking world that most fascinate them, while understanding the roots and intersections of the centuries-long cultural, linguistic, and literary legacies that make up our fields of study. Through coursework, study abroad, and creative- and research-based projects, we offer diverse learning experiences designed to challenge students to expand their knowledge and exposure to the literatures and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. We integrate Spanish language development and practice into all of our courses, from Spanish 101 to 400-level seminars.

Majors have gone on to non-profit work, teaching, medical school, graduate programs, legal advocacy, media professions, and business, among many other fields. Please consult the Department’s website to read more about our current and former students.

The Spanish Major. The Spanish major consists of a minimum of eight courses at the 300 and 400 levels. Exceptions to this rule are SPAN 205 (Owning the Bilingual Self), and SPAN 210 (El Camino de Santiago).  Of these eight courses, at least four must be taken from the Spanish Department offerings at Amherst College, including the senior seminar (SPAN 495) and one 400-level seminar during the student’s final year. Other courses may count toward the major with pre-approval from the advisor. These may include a maximum of one Special Topics course, up to three courses taken while studying abroad, and upper-level courses from the Spanish Departments at Smith, Mount Holyoke, or UMass. All courses from outside the Department must be taught in Spanish and not substantially repeat topics that the student has already covered in order to be counted for major credit. Courses in English and courses taken pass/fail may not be counted toward the major. 

Study Abroad. We expect all Spanish majors to spend a semester or a full year in an immersive study abroad program where they have the possibility to enroll in courses at a local university, and where they live with a host family or in another similarly-immersive housing arrangement where only Spanish is spoken. Students may choose from a list of pre-approved study abroad programs, or they may submit a petition for an alternate program to the Department. Up to three courses taken at an approved program and taught in Spanish may be counted for the major. To receive three major credits while abroad, one course must focus on literature. To receive two major credits while abroad, no literature course is required. For students studying abroad for a full year, an additional fourth course focused on literature may be counted toward the major. Art, dance, and music practice courses may not be counted for major credit while abroad, but they may count for Amherst College credit. Spanish majors must discuss their potential classes with their Spanish major advisor before going abroad and obtain their advisor’s approval of courses via email during their first week of classes abroad.

Capstone Requirement. The Senior Seminar (SPAN 495) is offered every fall semester and, along with a public presentation in the spring, fulfills the capstone requirement. 

Departmental Honors (Thesis). An honors thesis for the Spanish major is an opportunity for a student to focus on a topic in depth. Students who propose a thesis are often inspired by their experiences studying abroad and/or by their work on a research assignment in one of their courses. Thesis students work closely with their advisor beginning in the spring of their junior year to develop a topic and research plan. The subject matter must revolve around the culture, literature, language, and/or arts in Spain, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Hispanic Philippines, and/or the United States. The thesis is normally written in Spanish, but may be written in English, with Departmental approval, if the topic warrants it. A thesis is typically 80-150 pages in length, and may include a creative component. Students writing a thesis take two courses. During the fall, they enroll in SPAN 495 (Senior Seminar) and work on the thesis as their individual project. In the spring, all thesis students enroll in SPAN 499 (Thesis). 

All prospective thesis writers must develop, in consultation with their Spanish major advisor, a three-page thesis proposal with a bibliography. This proposal must be submitted to the Department for approval by the first Monday in April of the student’s junior year. Prospective thesis students are encouraged to include the faculty member with whom they wish work in their proposal, although the thesis advisor is ultimately determined by the Department. All student-faculty consultations and departmental approval can be accomplished via email, if the student is studying abroad. The Department will review the proposal, and within two weeks the Chair will notify the student if the proposal has been approved and who the designated advisor will be. Advisors will be tenured and tenure-track members of the Department. Faculty and thesis writers will determine an individualized advising schedule, responding to the proposed project. Advisors are responsible for guiding the student’s interests and making content and stylistic suggestions throughout the process. Students are responsible for regular communication with their thesis advisor and keeping up with agreed-upon writing and research goals.

After the first semester, the thesis advisor will determine if the project is advancing properly. If so, the fall semester thesis work will be deemed satisfactory and the student will register for the spring thesis course (SPAN 499). If not, the student will receive a grade for SPAN 495, but may not enroll in SPAN 499. Final thesis manuscripts must be submitted to the Department no later than the first week of April. The thesis defense will take place during the third week of April when the student will be asked to elaborate on the development, content, and style of the thesis. The student’s advisor will serve as the defense moderator. Unless otherwise stipulated, the defense committee will be made up of tenured and tenure-track members of the Department.

As a result of the defense, a thesis might be judged fully satisfactory with no revisions requested; minor departmental revisions may be recommended; the student may be asked to make substantial revisions; or the thesis might be deemed unacceptable by departmental standards. Based on the committee’s evaluation and following the College honor system, the Department may recommend thesis students for  summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude.  Alternatively, the Department may deem the quality of a thesis to be insufficient for honors, in which case the student would receive rite. Latin honors are determined by the Department’s recommendation, the student’s grade point average standing in their class, and the approval of the full faculty of the College. The final version of the thesis is to be submitted to the Registrar, following College guidelines, during the last week of classes in May.

Special Topics. Special Topics courses can be taken by seniors who are interested in pursuing a subject matter that is a particular faculty's specialty, is not offered by the Department, and is not available at the Five Colleges. The student must have a well-defined idea of the topic and a clear and convincing reason to take the course. Special Topics courses are approved solely at the faculty’s discretion and must be proposed and approved the prior semester. Only one Special Topics course may be counted toward the major. Special Topics courses are limited to one per professor per semester, and enrollments are limited to two students per course.

Combined Majors. Students may combine the Spanish major with any other Amherst major field of study or pre-med requirements. Double majors can often complete course requirements for their other major while abroad, with the approval of their other advisor.

Interdisciplinary Majors. Interdisciplinary majors are established through the Committee on Academic Standing and Special Majors, with the endorsement and cooperation of the Department or with the approval of individual members of the Department.