English Major

The English major is solidly built on the materials of literary history, remarkable texts stretching from the landmarks of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen to emerging classics by J.M. Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, and Toni Morrison. The major’s course of study is designed to cultivate advanced writing skills, both critical and creative, in tandem with the close analysis of literary works.

We prepare our students for successful careers in law and medicine as well as other fields in which verbal fluency is crucial: teaching, publishing, publicity, marketing, journalism, scholarship, communications, electronic media, and film and television. Such preparation flows from adventurous intellectual agendas in our small classroom settings. In most every English class, we aim to explore the aesthetic and social meanings of literary style; to grasp unfamiliar minds, times, cultures, and identities through imaginative travel; and to discuss the best poems, plays, stories, and novels in communities of enthusiastic readers and writers.

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Major Requirements

Courses

The major in English consists of ten courses comprising thirty units, including:

1. Two Mandatory 200-Level Prerequisite Courses (usually taken in the sophomore year):
English Literature 2151: Early Texts and Contexts
English Literature 2152: Modern Texts and Contexts                                   

2. Three Classes Demonstrating Historical Range
Classes must be taken in three of the five historical periods listed below, any of which may involve British, American, or Anglophone materials. (Course listings explicitly designate which historical period each class represents.) At least one course must be selected from both Group 1 and Group 2:

Group 1
Medieval
Early Modern

Group 2
The Eighteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century
The Twentieth Century and Later

3. One class in Literary Theory (namely, English Literature 3552: Introduction to Literary Theory)

4. Four electives (one of which, if taken in the fall of 2018 and after, may be either an English freshman or sophomore seminar. These seminars, usually topically focused, cannot be used to fulfill the historical distribution requirement.)

5. Of the 10 required courses above, two must also be at the 400 level.
These two 400-level classes may also be used to fulfill the requirement in historical range.

The Portfolio Capstone

To understand and improve our students’ experience in the English major, the department requires graduating seniors to complete a capstone project in which they assemble a portfolio that documents and comments on their work in the major.  This portfolio is expected to contain (1) one analytical paper composed by the student for a 200-level English class; (2) another paper composed for a 400-level English class; and (3) a brief essay reflecting on the student’s learning over the course of the major. The 200-level paper should represent some of the student’s earliest work in the major, while the 400-level paper should be taken, if at all possible, from the student’s most recent coursework and should ideally employ secondary sources.  The final reflection essay should be 3-4 pages long and should address these prompts:

  • How would you describe the difference between your 200-level and 400-level essays in relation to the skills you learned in the time between writing them?  (Think about categories such as argumentation, synthesis, organization, and analysis.)
  • Looking back over your career as an English major, which learning experiences (courses, workshops, internships, poetry or fiction readings, extra-curricular activities such as tutoring, etc.) contributed most to the work you accomplished in the 400-level essay?

Graduating seniors are required to submit their capstone portfolios to the department’s academic coordinator, Sarah Hennessey, by April 13th. For those graduating in December, portfolios must be finalized by November 30th. To complete the capstone project, students meet with their English major advisors to discuss the results of their reflection essays and their general experience of the major. This conversation should take place no later than the last day of reading week in the semester in which the student graduates.  Students are required (1) to bring an “Exit Interview Form” to their appointments with their advisors; (2) to sign the form and to have their advisor sign it; and (3) to return the completed form to the Academic Coordinator. If the capstone portfolio is not completed and the Exit Interview Form fails to be submitted by the deadline, students jeopardize their ability to complete the English major.  

Important General Information

  • For a course to fulfill the requirements for the English major, a student must receive a grade of C or better.
  • Under ordinary circumstances, only one cross-listed course not home-based in the English department may be counted toward the 21-to-24 units of required upper-division (300- or 400-level) work. The two 400-level courses required for the major must be based in English. 
  • English department courses satisfying the Arts & Sciences Advanced Writing requirement may also be counted toward the English major.
  • Students are invited to refer problems and questions of any kind to their English major advisors or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Careers & Internships

Finding a career after you graduate from Washington University can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, we have resources to help you.

Meet with on-campus career counselors. Discover where recent graduates were hired. Browse some of the internships our students have participated in. 

EXPLORE INTERNSHIP & CAREER PATHS

Studying Creative Writing

As an English major with a Concentration in Creative Writing

The English major with a concentration in creative writing provides an exceptionally rich experience for students interested in shaping as well as studying literature. To fulfill the creative writing concentration, majors take five courses in creative writing, including at least three upper-division (300- or 400-level) classes. Students eventually specialize in one particular genre—poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction—and pursue a three-course sequence in that genre at the 200, 300, and 400 level. Students must also select at least one creative writing course from outside their genre of specialization. This last requirement may be fulfilled by courses in screenwriting or playwriting as well as by classes in the secondary genres named above.

Typically, a creative writing concentrator will sample two 200-level courses in different genres to choose an area of specialization. After this choice is made, the student proceeds to complete the sequence of three generically-focused courses, with at least one at the 400 level. Provided that the two-genre requirement has been satisfied, the fifth and final upper-division creative writing class may be taken in whatever genre the student prefers.  

The creative writing concentration does not alter the regular requirements for the English major; the number of courses in literature, as well as the 200-level prerequisites and the existing requirements in literary history and theory, all remain in place. The 400-level course in creative writing cannot count as a 400-level seminar for the purposes of the English major. An English major with a creative writing concentration thus requires 36 credit hours, with nine upper-division hours counting as electives in the major and an additional six hours of writing courses applied to the concentration. 

Courses

The major in English with the Creative Writing Concentration consists of twelve courses comprising thirty-six units, including:

1. Two Mandatory 200-Level Prerequisite Courses (usually taken in the sophomore year):
English Literature 2151: Early Texts and Contexts
English Literature 2152: Modern Texts and Contexts                                   

2. Three Classes Demonstrating Historical Range
Classes must be taken in three of the five historical periods listed below, any of which may involve British, American, or Anglophone materials. (Course listings explicitly designate which historical period each class represents.) At least one course must be selected from both Group 1 and Group 2:

Group 1
Medieval
Early Modern

Group 2
The Eighteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century
The Twentieth Century and Later

3. One class in Literary Theory (namely, English Literature 3552: Introduction to Literary Theory)

4. One additional literature elective based in L14

5. Of the historical or elective literature courses above, two must also be at the 400 level

6.  A three-course sequence in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction

7. Two remaining creative writing electives, one of which must be taken at the 300- or 400-level, and one of which must be taken outside the genre of the three-course sequence. 

 

Howard Nemerov Scholars and the English Major

The Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program recognizes entering freshmen with exceptional literary talent and a pronounced dedication to writing. Please visit the Admissions website for more information on the program.

Nemerov Scholars who also enroll in the English major may count two semesters of the 200-level Nemerov seminar class (L43 211) as three units of 200-level work toward the creative writing concentration. Similarly, two semesters of the 300-level Nemerov seminar (L43 3111) may be counted as three units of 300-level work toward the concentration. A maximum of six Howard Nemerov program units may go to fulfill the concentration, then, but no Nemerov coursework can substitute for the three-course genre sequence.

Students from other majors interested in writing

Students with majors other than English are invited to pursue the writing minor, which includes courses in journalism, screenwriting, humor writing, writing and medicine, and other non-fictional as well as creative modes. This minor requires five courses including a 300-level class in either expository or argumentative writing. Unlike the creative writing concentration in the English major, however, it does not demand a sequence of classes concentrating on a single creative genre. The study of literary history is encouraged for writing minors, but not required.

 

Contact

Still have questions about the major? Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Email Professor Maxwell