English Major Guide


The major’s program of study encourages an accumulation of skills as the means to many kinds of futures.

Some majors proceed to graduate study in English or other advanced literary or humanist studies; others go on to careers in medicine, law, freelance writing, teaching, publishing, social work, or business. Some English majors concentrate their electives on biology, psychology, or economics, in preparation for law or medicine or other careers for which the English major can supply essential skills in textual analysis, logic, cultural history, and persuasive argumentation. Other English majors choose to be double majors, combining English for example with Psychology, Biology, or Art History (although double majors must plan carefully to complete their degrees in four years). The major in English at Cornell prepares students for a wide range of intellectual and professional pursuits, and does so by combining innovative and traditional fields and approaches.

Many students supplement their formal coursework in English by attending public lectures and poetry readings sponsored by the department or by writing for campus literary magazines (visit Activities). Occasionally, visiting writers will be included in coursework, so students have the opportunity to interact with an author whose work they have been exploring (visit the department Events page).

Admission to the Major

There are no prerequisites for admission to the English major.

Prospective majors or double majors are encouraged to declare as early as possible.

Visit the Planning a Program of Study section below for course advice for first-year and sophomore prospective majors. 

We welcome students to consult with the DUS as they consider the major!

Meetings with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) can be scheduled by contacting the Undergraduate Program Coordinator (Aurora Ricardo, ar2368@cornell.edu).

How to Apply: Declare the English Major

  1. Submit a Declaration of English Major form. Contact the Undergraduate Program Coordinator (Aurora Ricardo, ar2368@cornell.edu) with questions. 
  2. The Undergraduate Coordinator will contact students to schedule a meeting with the DUS to approve the form. At this meeting, the DUS will discuss students’ academic interests and experiences, offer advice about the requirements and benefits of the major, and suggest prospective major advisors.
  3. The major advisor will approve the form and be available for consultation and advice. Students should meet with their major advisors each semester to discuss course selections and progress towards fulfilling the major requirements.
  4. The new major will appear in Student Center.

Requirements for the Major

Major requirements for students matriculating in Fall 2022 and later:

Students matriculating in 2021 may choose to follow either these requirements or those listed for students matriculating in 2020 or earlier.

Coursework requirements

Ten full-semester courses in Literatures in English or related fields

A minimum of seven full-semester courses must be ENGL courses.

Major distribution requirements

Students are required to take the following courses from different categories within the course offerings of Literatures in English:

  • Pre-1800: two courses must be from courses in which at least half of the material consists of literature written in English before 1800, studied in the original.
  • Post-1800: two courses must be from courses in which at least half of the material consists of literature written in English after 1800.

Of either the pre- or post-1800 courses, the following further requirements apply:

  • Two courses must be focused on Literatures of the Americas, at least one of which must cover the following fields: American Indian or Indigenous, African American, Asian American & Asian Pacific Islander, or Latinx.
  • One course must be focused on literatures of the Global South (African Literatures in English, African Diaspora Literatures in English, Asian Diaspora Literatures in English, Caribbean Literatures in English, South Asian Literatures in English).

Courses may qualify for multiple categories, but students may use a single course to fulfill no more than two of the four categories above.

  • 4000-level: two courses must be at the 4000-level or above. The 4000-level requirement may only be satisfied with ENGL seminar courses.
  • Concentration: three courses must form an intellectually coherent “concentration.”

Notes on course credits

  • Concentrations are defined by students in consultation with their advisors. Concentrations might feature historical periods or regions of literatures in English (including those required as above), particular genres, or particular approaches. Possible concentrations include creative writing; medieval literature; Renaissance literature; African diaspora literatures; literatures of the Americas before 1900; poetry; twentieth-century literatures in English; literary theory; gender and sexuality studies; film and media; drama; etc.
  • Students must receive a grade of C or better in a course to count it toward the major.
  • Courses must be 3 credits or higher to count toward the major unless otherwise noted.
  • No more than two courses of non-Cornell credit per semester may be applied to the major (this restriction includes study abroad under Cornell auspices).
  • ENGL 4930 - Honors Essay Tutorial I - ENGL 4940 - Honors Essay Tutorial II may be counted toward the required 10 full-semester courses but may not be used to satisfy other categories of requirements.

First Year Writing Seminars, ENGL 2800, and ENGL 2880 may not be counted toward the major.

All cross-listed courses may count for the major, as may up to three courses at the 3000 level or above from other departments or academic units even if focused on literatures not originally in English. Other courses may count only with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Major requirements for students who matriculated in Fall 2020 or earlier:

Students who matriculated in 2021 may choose to follow either these requirements or those listed for students matriculating in 2022 or later.

Coursework requirements

  • 40 credit hours of English courses or related fields
  • A minimum of 28 credit hours must be ENGL courses.

Major distribution requirements

Students are required to take the following number of courses from different categories within the English course offerings:

  • Pre-1800: 12 credits (three courses) must be from courses in which 50 percent or more of the material consists of literature originally written in English before 1800. The sole exception to this rule is ENGL 3280 - The Bible as Literature which, although not originally written in English, may be used to satisfy the pre-1800 requirement. English courses that satisfy the pre-1800 requirement are so designated in the Courses of Study. Courses outside of the department may be used with permission of the DUS.
  • 4000-level: 8 credits (two courses) must be at the 4000-level or above. The 4000-level requirement may only be satisfied with ENGL seminar courses.
  • Concentration: 12 credits (three courses) must form an intellectually coherent “concentration.”

Notes on course credits

  • Students select their concentration in consultation with their major advisor.
  • To receive credit towards the major, students must receive a grade of C or better within a course.
  • A maximum of 12 of the 40 required credit hours may come from appropriate courses originating in departments and programs other than English, provided they are at the 3000-level or above. Upper level courses (3000 or above) in literature and creative writing offered by academic units representing neighboring or allied disciplines (German Studies, Romance Studies, Asian Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, Africana Studies, the Society for the Humanities, American Studies, Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Religious Studies, Asian American Studies, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Jewish Studies, Latina/o Studies, and Performance and Media Arts) are routinely counted toward the 40 hours of major credit. Many 2000-level literature courses in which the material is read in the original language may also be counted toward the English major. Majors should discuss the use of non-English courses for major credit with their faculty advisor or the DUS.
  • No more than 8 credits per semester of non-Cornell credit may be applied to the English major. This restriction applies to study abroad even when that study is conducted under Cornell auspices.
  • ENGL 4930 - Honors Essay Tutorial I - ENGL 4940 - Honors Essay Tutorial II may be counted toward the 40 required credit hours in the major, but they may not be used to satisfy the pre-1800, 4000-level seminar, or concentration requirements.
  • All 2000-level ENGL courses (with the exception of 2800 and 2880) count for the major, as do all 3000- and 4000-level courses. Courses from other departments that are crosslisted with ENGL courses qualify for major credit. Courses used for the English major may also be used to meet distribution requirements in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Planning a Program of Study

Few students know from the moment they decide to major in English exactly what they wish to study. Moreover, it is natural for interests to change over the course of time. The requirements of the English major are designed to provide a flexible framework for increasing skills in literary analysis, research, and writing; span of studies is as important as following particular connections. Within that framework, the concentration and the Honors Program provide two further ways to shape the pursuit of the major.

English majors are expected to discuss their overall program of study with their major advisor each semester. 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.

First-Year Writing Seminars

First-year students interested in majoring in English are encouraged to enroll in at least one section of ENGL 1270 FWS: Writing About Literature, the first-year writing seminar (FWS) designed for prospective majors. Like other writing seminars, this course develops skills for critical reading and effective writing. ENGL 1270 is open, as space permits, to all second-term freshmen, and to first-term freshmen with scores of 700 or above on the CEEB Placement Tests in English composition or literature, or 5 on the Advanced Placement Examination in English.

Survey Courses

The department recommends that prospective English majors begin with at least one survey course. ENGL 2010 Literatures in English I provides a survey of pre-1800 British and American writers. ENGL 2020 Literatures in English II broadens to include literatures of the Caribbean and Africa from the late 18th-century until the present. Several other 2000-level courses are offered each semester which provide introductions to important aspects of literature, culture, and theory also covered in more advanced courses. These introductory courses concentrate on the skills basic to the English major and to other academic work—analytical reading and articulate writing. 

Creative Writing Courses

Students interested in developing their skills as writers can participate in workshop courses in expository and creative writing. 

ENGL 2800/2810 Creative Writing, and ENGL 2880/2890 Expository Writing are also suitable preparations for the major, and are open to students who have completed their first-year writing seminar requirement. Although these introductory courses do not qualify for major credit, ENGL 2800/2810 is a prerequisite for the 3000-level creative writing courses, which do qualify. Students may not enroll in more than one writing course per semester, although exceptions are sometimes allowed if one of these is ENGL 2880/2890.

An expository writing course can, with permission of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, count as a FWS. Creative Writing courses do not count for First-Year Writing Seminar credit.

Junior Fall Form

English majors fill out the Junior Fall form by the end of the first semester of their junior year. Students meet with their major advisor to complete the form, making sure they are on track to meet all requirements of the major by their expected graduation date.

Honors Program

Second-semester sophomores who have done superior work in English are encouraged to seek admission to the departmental program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Distinction in English. 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 50 pages.

Honors Program Guide

Study Abroad

As an English major, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities for study abroad. For information about studying abroad as an Arts & Sciences student visit the Arts & Sciences Study Abroad website.

A number of English majors study at a foreign institution, usually during their junior year. Some spend a single semester away from campus, others an entire year. The Office of Global Learning has information on a variety of programs at universities around the world. Some English majors study abroad in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, while some choose other locations. As long as students continue to meet all College and department requirements or can complete them upon returning to Cornell, the English major can easily accommodate study abroad.

Pre-Application Considerations

Students must confer with the DUS in advance of going abroad as well as after their return. The first conference includes a review of catalogue descriptions of courses the student expects to take while abroad (along with a few alternatives). The second a presentation of syllabi, transcripts, or equivalent documentation of coursework and successful completion of the classes actually taken abroad. To schedule a meeting with the DUS, contact the Undergraduate Coordinator (Aurora Ricardo, ar2368@cornell.edu).

The Study Abroad Office requires DUS approval on the Study Abroad Application, as well as on the Approval of Study Abroad Credit Form for major credit after the completion of the study abroad program.

Students planning to study abroad in their junior year who wish to complete the Honors program should make arrangements with the Director of Honors in English before leaving campus.

Credit Considerations

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. Requests to apply credit for study abroad to the English major cannot be granted by the student's major advisor (see How to Obtain Transfer Credit section for more information). Credits earned abroad are also subject to the restrictions detailed under "Notes on course credits" in the major requirements section.

Preparation for Graduate Study in English

Students intending to pursue graduate work in English should investigate the requirements of schools offering programs to which they think they might apply. Faculty advisors and the DUS are available for consultation. Majors considering a Ph.D. in English should give special attention to language preparation in planning their undergraduate study; most graduate programs require reading knowledge of at least one foreign language (usually French or German), and sometimes two or more. Some programs require knowledge of Latin. A broad program of undergraduate study in English is advisable since most graduate programs in English require students to demonstrate a wide knowledge of the major authors and periods of British and American literature. Grounding in literary theory and some exposure to the critical tradition is also highly desirable.

For Further Information

Visit the Department of Literatures in English Undergraduate Study webpage.
Contact the Undergraduate Coordinator (Aurora Ricardo, ar2368@cornell.edu).