Requirements in Detail

Click here to download a checklist to which you can refer as you work your way through the major. You may wish to print it out as a separate document, so that you can refer to it in hard copy.


English 205

English 205 introduces students to the close reading of literary texts through reading a wide variety of poems and learning to write about them with literary skill. The department strongly encourages majors to take 205 when they begin the major. Several sections are offered every semester. Majors who are unable to schedule a section should see the Director of Undergraduate Studies for possible placement. 

Area of Concentration

The concentration involves four courses at a 300- or 400-level that focus on a particular area of study within English-language literatures. The concentration is to be conceived broadly—you cannot concentrate, for example, in works by a single author—and it must correspond to courses and approaches offered by the department. So, for example, your concentration cannot be fulfilled by arranging to take independent studies.

The area of concentration offers a way to focus your studies in English without becoming overly specialized, and it should arise out of your own interests. You can decide what you wish to have as your concentration as long as you can realistically expect to find four courses that match it and get approval from your advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

How to organize a concentration:

  1. Concentrations may be based in traditional historical and geographical fields such as “Medieval and Renaissance Literature” or “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Literature” or “African-American Literature."
  2. Concentrations may be based in large-scale genres such as “novels” or “poetry."
  3. Concentrations may also be based in thematic or theoretical categories such as “literature in interdisciplinary contexts” or “gender and sexuality.”

Students may also combine these approaches and develop a more focused concentration such as “British Poetry” or “Novels of the Americas .” (Particular examples of how a program might work may be found in the FAQs section below; you may also wish to look at some sample majors.)

On first declaring a major, students are required to meet with an advisor and discuss potential areas of concentration. You have the option of changing your mind as you take more courses. In some instances, a course originally taken for the area of concentration will become one of the five elective English courses as you shift to a different concentration. However, majors must make a final commitment to a concentration that has been approved by her or his advisor during the second semester of their junior year at the latest (before registration begins for senior classes). The Director of Undergraduate Studies also reviews these final choices. Students who declare the English major only at the end of Junior year or during Senior year must meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to determine how to proceed with the major. The “area of concentration” does not appear on your transcript.

Five Electives

 Students complete their major by taking five additional courses in the English department. Remember that 101, 181, 190, 289R, and 496R do not count towards the major.

Distribution Requirements

Reviewing your electives and your courses for the concentration—that is, all the English courses you have taken except for 205—you must have covered the department’s distribution requirement (reviewed below). The distribution requirement ensures at least some exposure to a range of literatures in English and to ideas about how the discipline understands itself and its role in the world. Please note that no course can count towards more than one distribution requirement and that at least two of these courses must be at the 300 or 400 level. If you are uncertain about whether a course can count towards a requirement, we offer some further guidelines in the following paragraphs. You can also contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

a) British Literature Before 1660

The requirement for a course in British Literature before 1660 includes any course, including special topics, that focuses primarily on literature of the British Isles produced before 1660.

b) British Literature after 1660

The requirement for a course in British Literature after 1660 includes any course, including special topics, that focuses primarily on literature of the British Isles or any non-American English language literature produced after 1660. So, for example, a course in Irish twentieth-century poetry or a course on postcolonial literature can count for this requirement.

c) American Literature

The requirement for a course in American Literature includes any course, including special topics, that focuses primarily on literature of the Americas.

d) Theoretical or Interdisciplinary Requirement

The requirement for a course having a theoretical or interdisciplinary dimension includes any course that focuses primarily on broader conceptual problems that shape our understanding of literature—that is, “literary theory”—or that focuses on relating the study of literature to other disciplines. These courses must be offered by the English department though they may be cross-listed with another department. However, please be aware that not all cross-listed courses count towards this requirement.

Since such courses may be harder for students to identify than courses fulfilling the other distribution requirements, a list of courses that can always count towards this requirement is offered here:

  • English 345: Postcolonial Literature
  • English 360: The English Language
  • English 361: American English
  • English 368: Literature and Cultural Studies
  • English 384R: Criticism
  • English 386: Literature and Science
  • English 387R: Literature and Religion
  • English 483R: Seminar in Theory and Criticism
  • Any 300 or 400 level English course that is cross-listed with IDS (Interdisciplinary Studies)

Additionally, several special topics courses (offered as English 389R or as English 489R) that have been offered recently and may be offered again in the future can count to fulfill this requirement. Please note that this does not apply to all 389R or 489R classes, but only to those classes having the following topics:

  • Introduction to Literary Theory
  • Introduction to Freud/Psychoanalysis
  • Literature and Psychology
  • Literature and Justice
  • Media Theory

However, if you are taking a course in the English department that is not listed here and that focuses on theory or that is interdisciplinary in approach, please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, as you may be able to get permission to have that course count towards the requirement.

Additional information about distribution requirements:

English 317 (Milton) can count either towards the requirement for a course in British Literature before 1660 or for a course in British literature after 1660. English 345 (Postcolonial Literature) can count either towards the requirement for a course in British Literature after 1660 or for a course having a theoretical or interdisciplinary dimenstion. However, as noted above, no course can be used to count towards more than one distribution requirement.

Meetings with Advisors

 We encourage students to meet with their advisors at least once a semester, but please note that you are required to meet with your advisor when you first declare a major and again second semester junior year before preregistration when you finalize your area of concentration. Students who do not do so may find themselves locked out of online preregistration for courses.