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Undergraduate Study

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Overview

The Department of English offers a wide range of courses in English, American and Anglophone literature as well as in creative writing, expository writing and film analysis. Literature courses focus variously on close reading of texts, study of particular authors and genres, questions of critical theory and method, and the relationship of literary works to their historical contexts and to other disciplines.

Writing courses typically employ the workshop method in which students develop their skills by responding to criticism of their work by their classmates as well as their instructors. Many students supplement their formal course work in English by attending public lectures and poetry readings sponsored by the department or by writing for campus literary magazines.

The department seeks not only to foster critical analysis and lucid writing but also to teach students to think about the nature of language and to be alert to both the rigors and the pleasures of reading texts of diverse inspiration.

As part of the university-wide First-Year Writing Seminars program administered by the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, the department offers many one-semester courses dealing with various forms of writing (e.g., narrative, autobiographical and expository), with the study of specific areas in English and American literature and with the relation of literature to culture.

Students who major in English develop their own programs of study in consultation with their major advisors. Some choose to focus on a particular historical period or literary genre or to combine sustained work in creative writing with the study of literature. Others pursue interests in such areas as women’s literature, African-American literature, literature and the visual arts, or critical theory. Second-semester sophomores who have done superior work in English and related subjects are encouraged to seek admission to the departmental program leading to the degree of bachelor of arts with honors in English. For students majoring in fields other than English, the department provides a variety of courses at all levels.

The Major

The English major provides a foundation in reading, writing, research, critical theory and critical thinking relevant to a vast variety of fields, including journalism, publishing, authoring fiction and non-fiction, the arts and sciences, law, business and medicine.

The department welcomes students with double majors or minors outside of English as well as students seeking dual degrees. Students who major in English develop their own programs of study in consultation with their major advisors. Some choose to focus on a particular historical period or literary genre or to combine sustained work in creative writing with the study of literature. The effort of creating or discovering a coherent pattern in the courses selected is itself a valuable part of a literary education, and the department expects students to choose courses with an eye to breadth and variety as well as focus and coherence.

Honors Program

Completing the English major with honors allows students to independently study a topic they choose and to write a researched, critical paper of at least 40 pages.

Students almost always find the honors thesis to be an incalculably satisfying project and a memorable achievement. Throughout the process, students work closely with faculty, discuss work with other honors students, and get a real taste of the pleasures of advanced scholarship. Work on the honors thesis places students in an intellectual community, and the experience may well carry on into future work and into other intellectual communities beyond Cornell. Many graduate school applicants submit part of their honors thesis as a sample of their critical, scholarly work and of their future promise as scholars. Students preparing for other career paths also benefit from writing a thesis in their senior year.

Minors

The English Department offers three minors open to non-majors in all Cornell colleges, offering three ways for students to broaden their development in writing and literary understanding.

The English minors include: creative writing, English and minority, indigenous, and third world studies.  Fulfillment of the requirements for these minors will yield a certification on students’ transcripts.

Students may count courses taken at any point in their Cornell careers. Each minor requires students to pass five three- or four-credit courses with a grade of C or higher. No first-year writing seminars will count, and at most four credits from transfer, study abroad, independent study or courses (where relevant) from another Cornell department will count.

How to apply: Students may file an Intent to Minor Form at any time at the English office. By the seventh week of the semester before graduation, students must present the advisor to minors – or another English faculty member – with the Minors Declaration Form for approval and then submit the form at the front desk in the English Department, 250 Goldwin Smith Hall.

Creative Writing Minor

Students must take five courses of at least three credits. Students in the Class of 2019 and later must take:
  • ENGL 2800 or 2810: Introduction to Creative Writing
  • ENGL 3820 or 3830: Intermediate Narrative Writing
  • ENGL 3840 or 3850: Intermediate Verse Writing
  • Either ENGL 4801 or 4811: Advanced Narrative Writing or ENGL 4800 or 4810: Advanced Verse Writing
  • Any English course in literature or cultural studies, 2000-level or higher, including ENGL 4850 Reading for Writers, or an alternative course approved by the director of creative writing, including Screenwriting.
Students in the Class of 2018 and earlier must take
  • ENGL 2800 or 2810: Introduction to Creative Writing
  • Either ENGL 3820 or 3830: Intermediate Narrative Writing or ENGL 3840 or 3850: Intermediate Verse Writing
  • Either ENGL 4801 or 4811: Advanced Narrative Writing or ENGL 4800 or 4810: Advanced Verse Writing
  • One English course in literature or cultural studies, 2000-level or higher.
  • A fifth course that may be a creative writing course or another literature course at the 2000- or higher level

English Minor

Students will choose five courses of at least three credits each. They may choose from courses in literature, creative writing, critical writing and creative nonfiction. These must be at the 2000-, 3000- or 4000- level. Those wishing to take four creative writing courses should minor in Creative Writing.

Minority, Indigenous and Third World Studies (MITWS) Minor

Students wishing to minor in minority, indigenous, and third world studies (MITWS) must complete five courses from a list of departmentally designated offerings in such areas as African American, Asian American, Latino/a, and Anglophone African, Asian and Caribbean literature. The list of designated courses can be found here. One of these five courses must focus on Indigenous subject matter, defined as American Indian (including all the Americas), Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, Maori and Australian Aboriginal. Because the purpose of this minor is to foster comparative thinking across its categories, students are encouraged to choose courses that engage with several ethnic and/or national literatures. Where possible these courses should be in the English Department.

Courses

Explore Department of English Courses here.

Study Abroad

As an English major, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities for study abroad, which are available through the Cornell Abroad Program and the College of Arts and Sciences Abroad Program.

English majors may seek to study at a foreign institution, usually during their junior year. Some may spend a single semester away from campus, others an entire year. The Cornell Abroad office has information on a variety of programs at universities around the world. Many English majors pursuing such studies go to the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, but some choose non-English speaking locations. As long as they continue to meet all college and department requirements, studying abroad can be readily fit into the English major. English majors planning on completing the Honors Program (see below) who are spending the entire junior year abroad may need to take the honors seminar (4910) as seniors. Students seeking to be candidates in the Honors Program should discuss their plans with the Director of the Honors Program in English before leaving campus.

Credit for literature courses taken abroad can in most cases be applied to the 40-hour minimum for the major, the concentration and pre-1800 requirements. Approved requests to apply credit for study abroad to the English major is granted by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) in English (the student’s advisor may not grant this credit). Students must confer with the DUS in advance of going abroad as well as upon return. The first conference will include a review of catalogue descriptions of courses that the student expects to take while abroad (along with alternates); the second will involve a presentation of transcripts, documentation of successful completion of the work, papers and exams.

No more than 16 credits per year, or 8 credits per semester, of non-Cornell credit may be applied to the major. This restriction applies to study abroad even when that study is conducted under Cornell auspices.

Books Sandwiched In

Books Sandwiched In (BSI) is a monthly lunch series for Cornell undergraduates. You don't even need to be an English major to attend – in fact the English Department urges non-English majors to attend to share in the joys of literature. BSI provides opportunities for our majors and potential majors to meet faculty in an informal setting. The series happens once a month on Wednesdays, from 12-1 p.m. in the English lounge. A short, informal talk is delivered by one faculty member, followed by a Q & A and time to mingle over free lunch. Join us for this informal event – participate in interesting discussions, mingle with other students and faculty, and take a break from your usual routine!

Interested in attending BSI events? Email Corrine at cb624@cornell.edu and please include your NetID in your message.

Watch archived BSI events here.

Activities

The Cornell Literary Society

Organized by and for English majors and enthusiasts, the society plans events each semester to inspire interest in the major. Events may include panel discussions with English Department professors, student poetry readings, book club discussions with Cornell authors, pre-performance discussions for theater productions at the Schwartz Center, a mentor program between under- and upper-class English majors and luncheons with visiting writers. The Literary Society is comprised of English enthusiasts of all different areas – from English majors with concentrations spanning literary theory, creative writing, medieval literature and British literature to English minors and students of other disciplines. Anyone with a love for reading is encouraged to join the listserv and attend the society's monthly mixer-meetings, where students chat in the English Lounge over refreshments. The society's ultimate goals are to inspire interest in the major and minor, establish strong relationships with English Department faculty and foster a united community among English enthusiasts. Membership is open to ALL undergraduates. For further information, contact Jacob Wang or Gwen Aviles.

Rainy Day

Rainy Day is an undergraduate publication sponsored by Cornell University which strives to publish the best poetry and fiction from colleges and universities across the country. Published biannually in the fall and spring, the publication accepts submissions throughout each semester. For further information, contact rainyday@cornell.edu or visit their website.

Additional Resources

Writing Prize Competitions
Change of Advisor Form
Transfer Credit Checklist
Commencement Information for English Degree Candidates
Arts & Sciences Career Development
Arts & Sciences Academic Advising