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2020-2021 Undergraduate & Graduate Catalog

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Master of Arts in English

For additional information about opportunities your college offers, please refer to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences section in this catalog.


The Master of Arts in English offers students an opportunity to deepen literary knowledge, sharpen critical skills, and strengthen expository writing by studying a diverse range of literature in English. It teaches students a humanistic approach to literature as they analyze diverse national and international literatures. The overall goal of the program is to train students in reading and writing about a range of British, American, Anglophone, and world literatures with emphasis on literary history, history of genre, close analysis of individual authors and themes, cultural context, and critical theory. It meets the needs of those who wish to pursue a Ph.D. in literature, teachers who want to strengthen their content expertise, and/or any professional that is required to synthesize complex data through analysis, like those in business, law, statistics and/or nonprofit organizations.

The program offers the option of two tracks: one requires 33 hours of coursework followed by a qualifying examination; the other requires 27 hours of coursework followed by a six-credit-hour thesis project. Regardless of the track chosen, all students must take courses in an author or topic, a literary period, and a genre. Additionally, the curriculum requires the Graduate Literary Studies Seminar, a course that introduces students to the history of literary studies and provides them with the conceptual and critical vocabulary of the discipline, as well as instruction in research methods.


The M.A. in English program has rolling admissions. To be considered, the candidate must submit the following:

  • Personal Statement

A brief statement of purpose explaining the applicant's academic preparation, interest in this program, and professional goals.

  • Writing Sample

An original essay writing sample of 10 to 15 pages (approximately) that demonstrates the writer's potential for literary analysis, including the use of sources. It may be a paper written for a previous course.

  • References

Contact information for three people who can assess the applicants academic preparation.

Program Course Requirements

  • Track One: 33 credit hours of coursework plus qualifying examinations
  • Track Two: 27 credit hours of coursework plus a six-credit-hour thesis

Core Courses

All degree-seeking students must take 12 core requirement credits:

These core requirement credits give students a solid understanding of key areas in the field of literary study.

Electives Courses

In addition to the program core requirements, the program offers a variety of graduate courses:

The course offerings vary yearly to ensure students leave the program understanding the breadth of literary studies.

Transfer Courses

Students may apply to transfer a maximum of six credits for courses taken at another prior institution and/or program. To earn transfer credit, the courses must have been completed no earlier than four years prior to the time of application (or eight years prior to the time of graduation) and they must be equivalent to those offered in GVSU's M.A. in English Literature (except the core requirement courses). Contact the program director about the materials required to determine course equivalency.

Responsible Conduct of Research Training

Each graduate student must complete Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training prior to completion of 50 percent of the graduate program or prior to engaging in any research activity (e.g. voluntary, independent, or supervised research, projects, theses, and dissertations).


Qualifying Examination Track

The examination track is appropriate for students who wish to focus on coursework and intense independent study.

Students who elect the examination track must complete 33 credit hours of coursework in the program, including the required core courses. After completing all course work, students must take a qualifying examination. To finally earn the degree, students must pass the exam.

The Exam: Consists of two essays written in a total of four hours. The purpose of the exam is for students to demonstrate a range of skills and knowledge in literary study, including familiarity with a variety of approaches to literature. Students choose to focus on two of a possible four areas, each of which corresponds with the core courses in the program:

  • Major author
  • Literary historical period
  • Literary genre
  • Criticism and theory

Examination Committee: The exam committee consists of the graduate program director and two professors chosen by students. By the completion of 18 credits, students consult with both faculty members, each specializing in one of the selected examination areas. One of these faculty members will serve as the principal exam advisor; students choose whom. All committee members must hold full graduate faculty status in The Graduate School.

Reading Lists: The reading lists consist of major primary texts, as well as significant critical works in the field. In consultation with the exam committee, students draw up separate reading lists for each chosen area. Students submit the preliminary reading lists to the committee, which will give comments for revision should they be required. The principal exam advisor will then submit the lists to the graduate director for final approval. (This step helps to ensure consistency among the various exam committees over time.)

Exam Deadlines: The Graduate School sets exam deadlines each semester. The graduate program director shares the dates with students and exam committees. The exam must be scheduled by the third week of the semester in which students wish to sit for the exam. The exam may not take place during the last three weeks of the semester. On the day of the exam students choose two questions from a list: one from each selected area.

Students write for either

  • a single four-hour period or
  • two (two-hour) periods separated by a 30-minute break.

Evaluation: The exam committee reads both exam essays. Readers assign to each essay a grade: High Pass, Pass, or Fail. If the two readers disagree on their rating, the graduate program director will serve as the third reader.

Unsuccessful students have another opportunity to write the exam in the following semester.

Students who do not earn a passing grade after two attempts will not receive the degree and cannot retake the exam. However, in consultation with the exam committee and with final permission from the graduate program director students can propose a thesis project, which requires registration for six hours of thesis credit. As in every case, the principal advisor must approve a thesis prospectus prior to registering for thesis credits. (See Thesis Preparation for details.)

Thesis Track

The thesis track is appropriate for students who are interested in researching, organizing, and writing a sustained argument on a topic of interest within the field.

Students who elect the thesis track must complete 27 credit hours of coursework in the program (including the required core courses), after which they may begin to write the thesis. (See Student Resources on The Graduate School webpage for helpful tips regarding thesis preparation.)

Description: The thesis is a more than 50-page document that consists of five chapters: an introduction, chapters two to four, and a conclusion. The purpose of the thesis is for students to demonstrate the ability to maintain a sustained argument, incorporating current research and exhibiting critical analysis that shows a contribution to the field.

Thesis Committee: The committee consists of the graduate program director and three professors. One of the professors will serve as principal advisor and/or committee chair; students choose whom. By the end of 18 credits, students consult with the committee chair to receive approval of topic. All committee members must hold full graduate faculty qualifications/status in The Graduate School.

Prospectus Guidelines: In the prospectus, students clarify their topic and present the idea formally both to the committee chair and to the program director. The prospectus must reveal an argument that is thorough, succinct, concise, and coherent, demonstrating critical engagement with current scholarly conversations in literary studies. Students will revise the prospectus based on comments from the committee before submission to the graduate program director.

The prospectus will follow all Modern Languages Association (MLA) conventions. It should be approximately four to six pages and include a working bibliography. It must include the following:

  • Description of a focused topic
  • Provisional thesis statement
  • Discussion of how this work will contribute to existing scholarship on the topic

Once the principal advisor and the program director have reviewed the prospectus, they may approve it, decline to approve it and direct the student to consider other topics, or suggest revisions and read it again before making a final decision. Their decision in any case should be given in writing, via mail or e-mail. After successful completion of the prospectus, students may register for thesis credit: ENG 695.

ENG 695 - Master's Thesis: After approval of the prospectus students register for one to six credits of Master's Thesis over two consecutive semesters. At the end of the second semester students must successfully defend the thesis project. Should students require more than 6 credits to complete the thesis project, they must register for ENG 696 credit until project is complete.

Writing the Thesis: The schedule for completion of the thesis must be devised by principal advisor and students that they may successfully defend at the completion of six thesis credits. After drafting each chapter of the thesis, the student will receive feedback from the principal advisor and make necessary revisions. The completed thesis should follow the formatting requirements outlined in the University Guidelines for Preparation of Theses and Dissertations. Students can find the required formatting for the thesis outlined on The Graduate School webpage (see Student Resources).

The committee chair will indicate when the thesis draft is ready that students may share with the thesis committee. Once the thesis committee discusses the draft -- usually four weeks prior to planned defense -- the principal advisor communicates comments for revision to students. Students are now ready for defense.

Thesis Defense: The Graduate School sets thesis defense deadlines each semester. The graduate program director shares the dates with students and thesis committees. The thesis defense must be scheduled by the third week of the semester in which students wish to defend. The defense may not take place during the last three weeks of the semester.

The revised draft of the thesis must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks prior to the defense date, at which time the thesis defense announcement must be to the department, as well as shared with the Graduate School. All English Department faculty and graduate students are invited to attend the defense. Interested faculty may read the thesis and participate in the discussion; graduate students may observe the defense.

After the defense, the committee may require further revisions to the thesis; if so, students will have 30 days to revise and resubmit the thesis for final determination. If the committee votes not to accept the thesis, students have the option of shifting to the Examination Track, which requires taking six additional credit hours of coursework and passing the qualifying examination.

Depositing the Thesis: Once the thesis is finally approved, students must submit the Committee Signature page to The Graduate School for the dean's signature. Students must deposit the thesis to ScholarWorks@GVSU, the university's electronic repository for scholarship. Students must then contact the office of the registrar to initiate an audit for graduation. (See Forms Library on The Graduate School webpage.)

Program Milestones

Between 15 to 18 Credits

  • Thesis Track: Choose Thesis Committee (three faculty members) and graduate program director
  • Exam Track: Choose Examination Committee (two faculty members) and graduate program director

Between 18 to 21 Credits

  • Thesis Track: Submission of Prospectus
  • Exam Track: Create lists/areas of study for exam

Between 21 to 27 Credits

  • Thesis Track: Approval of Prospectus (signed by committee chair and graduate director)
  • Exam Track: Solidify lists/areas of study for exam (confirmed by faculty advisor and graduate director)

Between 27 to 33 Credits

  • Thesis Track: Write thesis
  • Exam Track: Study for exams

Final Projects

  • Thesis Track: Defend thesis
  • Exam Track: Write exam

English Program Description

Click here for the program description.

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