Master of Arts in English

Graduate Students in the MA English program


Thesis Track
27 hours of coursework (9 classes) followed by a 6-credit-hour thesis project.

Exam Track
33 hours of coursework (11 classes) followed by qualifying examinations in two subject areas.  

Core Requirements (12 credits)
To satisfy the core requirements, graduate students must take courses in an author or topic, a literary period, and a genre. These are all variable-content courses and may be taken more than once. The curriculum also requires 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 core courses are as follows:

Note: Degree-seeking students must take ENG 600, Graduate Literary Studies Seminar, before completion of more than 9 credit hours in the program.

Electives (15 credit hours for Thesis Track; 21 credit hours for Exam Track) 

Thesis Track

Students who choose the Thesis Track must complete 27 credit hours of coursework in the program (including the required core courses) and may then begin work on the thesis. Students must follow these steps in writing the thesis:

  1. Select thesis advisor and receive advisor's approval of topic. The thesis advisor must hold full graduate faculty qualification
  2. Submit prospectus (including thesis statement and bibliography) for approval of the advisor and the program director. (See Prospectus Guidelines below.) After the prospectus is approved, the student enrolls in ENG 695, Master's Thesis. A student may enroll for 1-3 credits per semester (for a total of at least 6) and must enroll continuously for at least one credit each semester (including spring/summer) until the thesis is successfully defended and accepted
  3. Select two other faculty members (regular or adjunct) who hold either regular or adjunct graduate faculty qualifications for thesis committee
  4. Submit draft for suggested revisions from committee
  5. Submit final draft for approval of committee. Minimum length for the thesis will be 50 pages (double-spaced, not including bibliography)
  6. The format of the completed thesis should follow the University Guidelines for Preparation of Theses and Dissertations
  7. Thesis defense. The thesis director will schedule a time (1½ hours) for the defense when the entire committee can be present. The student must have registered for a total of at least 6 credit hours of ENG 695 before the defense is scheduled. The defense may be scheduled in summer, fall, or winter terms and should be at least three weeks before the end of classes for that term. The revised draft of the thesis must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks prior to the defense date. Copies will be made available for other interested faculty members to read. All English Department faculty will be invited to attend the defense and participate in the discussion. The defense will be open to other English graduate students as observers.
  8. After the defense, the committee may require further revisions; if so, the student will have 30 days to submit the revised thesis for final determination. If the committee votes not to accept the thesis, the student will have the option of changing to Track 1, which would require taking 6 additional credit hours of coursework and passing the Qualifying Examinations.
  9. Once the thesis has been accepted, you may apply for copyright and need to submit an electronic copy of your signature page (committee members, plus the dean of your college) to The Graduate School (TGS) for final approval and the signature of the Dean of The Graduate School. Once approved, you will submit a final electronic copy of your thesis to ScholarWorks@GVSU, the university's electronic repository for scholarship ([email protected]).
  10. Contact the registrar's office to initiate a graduation audit.

Prospectus Guidelines
The prospectus gives the student a chance to clarify the topic and present the idea formally to the faculty member who is being asked to direct the thesis and to the program director, both of whom must approve the prospectus before the student enrolls in ENG 695, the thesis course. It is not expected that the argument of the thesis would be worked out completely, but it is important to have a hypothesis and to have done some initial research and thinking before committing a great deal of time to the project.

The prospectus should be approximately 4-6 pages (double-spaced), plus a provisional or working bibliography. It should do the following:

  • Describe a focused topic
  • State a provisional thesis
  • Discuss how this work will fit with some of the existing scholarship on the topic

Once the thesis director and 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.

Sample GVSU Master's Theses

Exam Track

Students who elect the Exam Track must complete 33 hours of coursework in the program, including the required courses. After all coursework is finished, students must pass the M. A. Exam in order to be awarded the degree. This track is appropriate for students who wish to take more coursework than the thesis option requires or who do not need the kind of research experience a thesis project provides.

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 will choose two of the following areas to write on, which correspond with the core courses in the program:

  • Major Author
  • Literary-Historical Period
  • Literary Genre
  • Criticism and Theory

The Exam Committee
The committee is made up of two faculty members of the student's choosing and the Graduate Program Director. At least one semester before taking the exam, the student will choose and consult with a faculty member specializing in one of the selected examination areas. This faculty member will serve as the student's exam advisor. She or he will help the student to select another faculty member to serve as an area specialist.

The Reading Lists: In consultation with each student's advisor and area specialist, the student will draw up a separate reading list for each area of the exam. The student will submit the preliminary reading lists to the faculty advisor and area specialist, who will revise them. The advisor will then submit them to the Graduate Program Director for final approval. (This step helps to insure consistency among the various exam committees over time.) The reading lists will consist of major primary texts as well as significant critical works in the field.

The Exam
Students will arrange, with the Graduate Program Director, a date for the four-hour exam period during either the Fall or Winter semesters. (Students may choose to write for a single four-hour period or two two-hour periods on the same day.)  The exam must be scheduled by the third week of the semester. The exam will present the student with a choice of questions from which the student will choose two, one from each of the selected areas.

Both exam essays will be read by the student's advisor and area specialist. Both readers will assign to each exam essay one of the following grades: High Pass, Pass, or Fail. If the two readers disagree on their rating, the Graduate Program Director will serve as third reader. A student who fails one or both parts of the exam may retake one or both parts during the following semester with the same reading list, but new essay topics will be selected. Students may retake the exams once.

Any student who does not earn a passing score after two attempts will not be awarded the degree and will not be eligible to retake the exam. However, a student who does not earn a passing score on the M. A. exam may, with the permission of the Graduate Program Director, and in consultation with the student's faculty advisor and area specialist, be allowed to propose a thesis project. If accepted, the student must register for six hours of thesis credit. As in every case, the student's thesis prospectus must be approved before the student can register for thesis credits.

Page last modified February 1, 2021