Graduate Handbook

Note: The RLL doctoral programs were suspended by the university in 2011. No new applications to these programs are being accepted. All references in the Handbook to doctoral students pertain only to those students who are currently completing their doctoral degree. All references therein to M.A. students are up-to-date and pertain to new applicants as well as current M.A. students.


This Handbook contains information on the graduate degrees offered by the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, and is designed to provide an overview of all program requirements, policies, and procedures. Students are expected to read this document carefully and to consult it while planning their course of study.


Program Overview

The Department offers the Master of Arts in French, Hispanic Studies, and Italian.

Graduate Curriculum

The graduate curriculum is designed to offer broad coverage in the study of French and Francophone, Iberian, Latin American, and Italian literatures, and it therefore offers courses conducted entirely in the target language. Survey courses are interspersed with seminars that are organized according to more specialized principles of research, such as author, theme, genre, or theoretical approach. Sensitive to the many different ways that the study of literature has been pursued over the past two hundred years, graduate programs in RLL offer students an opportunity to explore literary and cultural phenomena of the romance languages from a large number of traditional and contemporary perspectives. To this end, in addition to completing courses in all the other areas, doctoral students are required to complete one course focused on literary theory as well as one course on the history of language.

The general aim of courses in the Department is to combine the close reading of major works of a romance language with an appreciation of how and why the study of literature continues to occupy a privileged position with respect to confronting the challenges of communication and understanding that necessarily underlie all the liberal arts and that are negotiated daily in every walk of life. The complexity of literary language makes it an obvious object of interest for a full appreciation of the subtle but forceful way that social and cultural activities are constructed and carried out within any given community of speakers. The self-conscious function of literature as fiction allows for the elaboration of alternative visions of reality; it therefore relates the endeavors of our department directly to the goals, methods, and problems that are encountered not only in every aesthetic activity, but also in the more overtly historical, philosophical, theological and social-scientific disciplines of research and knowledge.


Ph.D. Plan I in French and Hispanic Studies

The literature, language and intellectual history of the French and Francophone, or Iberian and Latin American peoples, with special attention to the theoretical tools essential for effective research.

Students enroll in the Ph.D. in French or Hispanic Studies, which involves in-depth work in the respective literature and culture. Students structure their programs to examine the chronological development of French or Hispanic literature, culture and language, eventually concentrating on a period or genre of their choice. They also become familiar with current critical methodologies. This program is designed to build on each candidate’s strengths and develop individual interests that culminate in fields of specialization, the springboard for a professional academic career.

In consultation with their advisors, candidates will assess and remedy any gaps in their intellectual preparation, to produce a consistent knowledge base in their major literature. Advisors will assist students in balancing broad training with preparation for dissertation work in a field in which individual candidates have demonstrated particular interest and ability.

Ph.D. Plan II in Two Romance Literatures

This plan offers lateral specialization in one period or genre of two Romance cultures.

Students structure their program according to a lateral specialization, focusing on one period or genre in two different languages and literatures. Upon entering the program, students formulate a coherent program of studies in consultation with the advisor, selecting two Romance Literatures and a period or genre that merits investigation across linguistic, cultural and political frontiers.

Students who apply to this program must present the intellectual justification to work in two languages in the Statement of Purpose, which accompanies the application. Plan II applicants must have fluent command of the two Romance languages in which they plan to work when they apply.

Ph.D. Degree Requirements
  • Thirty credits (ten courses) beyond the MA
  • Reading knowledge of another modern language
  • Reading knowledge of Latin
  • Doctoral comprehensive examination
  • Dissertation proposal
  • Dissertation and oral defense
Ph.D. Distribution Requirements
  • All doctoral students must take RL 780 Readings in Theory.
  • Students who have never taken a course in advanced textual analysis are advised to enroll in either RL 704 Explication de textes [French] or RL 901 Advanced Textual Analysis [Spanish].
  • French doctoral candidates must take RL 705 History of the French Language, RL 403 Introduction to Linguistics for Students of French, or RL 572 The Comparative Development of the Romance Languages.
  • Hispanic Studies doctoral candidates must take RL 905 History of the Spanish Language, or RL 572 The Comparative Development of the Romance Languages.
  • With the approval of the advisor, a doctoral candidate may design a program containing up to six credits for graduate courses in fields directly related to that of the student's specialization. These may include graduate courses in other Romance or non-Romance literatures, such as Theology, Fine Arts, or Political Science. Approval by the advisor and the graduate Program Director must be secured before enrolling in the courses.
Students admitted to the Ph.D. without an MA

Students admitted to the doctoral program without an MA will be evaluated at the end of the first year of coursework (after completing at least 15 credits). Satisfactory performance will be defined by a grade point average of at least 3.33 (B+ or above). Incomplete courses, justified by serious and compelling reasons, may result in the postponing of the evaluation.

The evaluation will be performed by a committee of three members of the graduate faculty of the section and will take place between the close of the grading period and graduation. The Graduate Program Director will notify students of the results of the evaluation in writing by June 1.

Students whose performance is deemed satisfactory will be required to complete an additional 30 credits of coursework (for a total of 45 credits in three years) and fulfill all additional requirements for the Doctoral degree as specified in the Graduate Handbook.

Students whose performance is deemed unsatisfactory for the doctoral program will be invited to complete a Masters degree. They will be required to complete a second year of coursework (for a total of 30 credits in two years) and fulfill all additional requirements for the Masters degree as specified in the Graduate Handbook. The MA shall be terminal.

Ph.D. Oral Comprehensive Examination

Upon completion of all other degree requirements, the doctoral candidate must pass an oral comprehensive examination. The examination is designed to test the student’s knowledge of the general field and is based on course work and the reading list for the Ph.D.

The examination is conducted in the target language in Plan I and, when applicable, in Plan II. Questions will address all the periods of the chosen literature (French or Hispanic) or general coverage of two Romance literatures in a given period or genre (Plan II). Consult the appropriate reading list for specific instructions:


  • Before scheduling the oral examination, the candidate should meet with his or her advisor to verify that all requirements have been fulfilled.
  • Ph.D. candidates should schedule their oral examination to follow a semester of focused study. During that time, they should be in contact with all professors of their section regarding questions about the Ph.D. reading list and course work.
  • In agreement with the advisor, the candidate must notify the Graduate Program Director in writing of his or her intention to take the oral examination, and to indicate whether the examination will be open or closed to the public.
  • Ph.D. oral comprehensive examinations are scheduled only in October and April of each year. Deadlines for notifying the Director of Graduate Studies of intention to take the examination are September 15 and March 15, respectively. Candidates in highly exceptional circumstances, such as those in residency abroad or under contractual obligations elsewhere, may petition to take the examination at another moment during the September-May academic year. Upon deciding on a time and date, the Graduate Program Director will announce in writing the date, time and place of the examination.
  • All tenured and tenure-track faculty members of the appropriate section participate in the examination, and the candidate is notified of the result after their 15-minute consultation at its conclusion. Students who fail the oral comprehensive may repeat it once, within a time determined in consultation with their advisor.
Ph.D. Dissertation Committee and Proposal
  • Upon passing the oral comprehensive examination, the degree candidate will select a Dissertation Advisor. The Dissertation Advisor in consultation with the student and the Graduate Program Director will appoint second and third readers from the graduate faculty. The Dissertation Advisor and two readers make up the Dissertation Committee.
  • A dissertation proposal should demonstrate the student’s initial understanding of how the proposed thesis will respond and contribute to existing scholarship. The proposal should indicate that the student is prepared to develop a cogent and realistic project. It should also be viewed by the student as a useful definition of the parameters that will guide the student through the elaboration of the dissertation.
  • The dissertation proposal consists of a paper proposing a thesis, evaluating the state of the question, organizing material into chapters, and including an extensive bibliography. The proposal should be approximately 25 pages in length (not including the bibliography) and should be written in the same language as the proposed dissertation.
  • The dissertation proposal will be submitted within six months of passing the oral comprehensive. Students are expected to consult closely with their dissertation advisor during the writing of the proposal. The proposal is submitted to the full dissertation committee, which meets with the student (for about an hour) to discuss the implementation of the dissertation.
  • Once the proposal is approved, the student begins work on the dissertation immediately.
  • If the proposal is rejected, it may be resubmitted only once, within six months. Students unable to write an acceptable Dissertation Program will not proceed with the Dissertation.
Ph.D. Dissertation

The candidate will write the dissertation under the guidance of the Dissertation Committee. The language in which it is written is determined in consultation with the Dissertation Director. The dissertation should constitute original and independent scholarship and demonstrate advanced scholarly achievement. The manuscript should be prepared according to the latest edition of The MLA Style Manual. A bound copy of the dissertation will be submitted for the departmental library.

Oral Defense of the Dissertation

Once it has been approved by the Dissertation Director, and at least four weeks prior to the oral defense, the candidate’s dissertation will be distributed to the second and third readers. The candidate will offer an oral defense of the thesis in a one-hour oral presentation announced in advance and open to the public. The Committee will make public its decision about the defense immediately thereafter.

Other Ph.D. Requirements

Second Language Requirement

If a doctoral candidate’s MA program did not include a second language examination, a translation test will be required before the student can take the comprehensive examinations. The student must demonstrate a reading knowledge of a second language by means of a 90-minute translation test with the aid of a dictionary. The advisor must approve the choice of the second language, which may not be English or the candidate’s native language. No student may take the translation exam more than two times. Sample examinations are available. Consult the Graduate Program Director to schedule the translation examination.

Latin Requirement

A reading knowledge of Latin is required of all doctoral candidates, and students are strongly advised to take Latin before enrolling in any historical linguistics course. Passing one of the following may satisfy the Latin proficiency requirement:

  • A year of Latin, taken for a grade, at Boston College or in a comparable program elsewhere during the last five years, or the equivalent, as determined by the Graduate Program Director;
  • The qualifying Latin translation examination offered by the Department, consisting of a two-hour translation with the aid of a dictionary;
  • A previously approved, intensive summer course in college Latin.

German Requirement (Medieval Studies Ph.D. Program only)

A reading knowledge of German is required of candidates in the Medieval Studies program.




Once admitted, each graduate student is assigned an advisor. Unless circumstances require a change, students work with the same advisor throughout the MA program, or, in the case of Ph.D. candidates, until they have selected a dissertation director. All graduate students are expected to meet with their advisors during the first week of classes each semester, as well as during the periods of pre-registration (November and April), to discuss course selection and to review their program of study.

The Graduate Program Director (GPD) is responsible for the overall coordination of the graduate programs, from the process of admission to the completion of degrees. In coordination with the faculty advisor, the GPD serves as the students’ advocate within the department and the university, tracking their progress through degree programs, and providing general professional advice.

Academic Good Standing

Students are expected to make consistent and satisfactory progress toward the completion of their degrees, and to meet all their fellowship requirements. Failure to do so may be grounds for dismissal from the program. Only students in good standing are eligible for funding, including Teaching Assistantships or Graduate Assistantships. An annual review of all graduate students at the Masters and Doctoral level is conducted annually (in early February) in order to assess progress toward the degree.

Boston College stipulates that graduate students must maintain an average of B or better in all graduate courses to remain in good standing.  Romance Languages and Literatures doctoral candidates who enter the program without an MA must maintain a grade point average of 3.33 (B+) to be in good standing. No academic credit is granted for courses in which a student receives a grade of F. A student who receives a grade of C in more than ten semester hours of class work, or an F in more than eight, may be required to withdraw from the University. In addition, no student may carry more than two incompletes at one time.


In exceptional circumstances, students may request an extension to complete course work after the date set for the course examination. Incompletes can only be taken with the prior consent of the faculty member teaching the course. No student may carry more than two incompletes at one time. In accordance with Graduate School of Arts and Sciences policy, an incomplete (I) from the fall semester automatically becomes an F on March 1 of the following semester, and an incomplete taken during the spring semester automatically becomes an F on August 1. The grade of F becomes permanent if course requirements are not completed within one calendar year of the conclusion of the course.

Time Limits

The Masters degree is designed so as to be completed within two years. The department expects doctoral candidates to complete their program within five to six years. Time accumulated as leave-of-absence will normally be considered a portion of the total time limit for the degree. Leaves-of-absence are not usually granted for more than two consecutive semesters. The time limits set by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are as follows:

  • A student must complete all requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree within eight consecutive years from the date of acceptance into the program;
  • A student must complete all requirements for the MA degree within five consecutive years from the date of acceptance into the program.
Doctoral Continuation Requirement

Students who have completed their coursework must register each semester thereafter in RL 999, Doctoral Continuation, until they have satisfied all degree requirements.

Doctoral Residence Requirement

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires all doctoral candidates to spend at least two consecutive semesters in residence on campus. This requirement may be met by full-time enrollment in the program or, in the case of teaching fellows, by virtue of fulfilling the teaching and study obligations of their fellowships.

MA Interim Study Requirement

Masters candidates who have completed all course requirements, but have not taken their comprehensive exams, must register for RL 888 Interim Study to continue in the program.

Transfer of Credits

Students who have completed six credit hours in the Ph.D. or MA programs at Boston College may apply to transfer a maximum of six credits from another graduate program into his or her Boston College curriculum. Only courses directly related to the candidate’s program of study and taken before the candidate’s admission into the doctoral program at Boston College will be considered. The candidate must have earned a grade of B or better in such courses. The decision to award transfer credit is made by the Graduate Program Director in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Consortium Courses

Boston College is a member of the Boston Graduate Consortium and the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies (GCWS), two partnerships of Boston-area universities that allow graduate students to cross-register among those institutions. If no equivalent course is available at Boston College, students may – in their second year of study – be granted permission to enroll in a graduate course at one of those institutions. Consortium courses are limited to one seminar per semester and to a maximum of six credits. Students who wish to register for Consortium courses must secure permission from the Graduate Program Director before enrolling.

Summer Courses

Requests for transfer of credit for summer course work will be carefully scrutinized, taking into account the level of the proposed program in comparison with departmental standards and the qualifications of the student. Students must seek the approval of the Graduate Program Director before enrolling in the summer course.



The department is committed to supporting all graduate students in Romance Languages and Literatures. Teaching Fellowships, Graduate Assistantships, and Residential Fellowships (in the RLL undergraduate Language Houses) are available to all degree candidates.

Master of Arts candidates will normally be awarded a maximum of two years of support. A fellowship renewal is contingent upon academic good standing and satisfactory progress toward the degree.

Teaching Fellowships

Teaching Fellows receive a stipend, tuition remission for five courses per year, and health insurance. Under the supervision of and training by coordinators, teaching fellows typically teach classes of Elementary or Intermediate language. MA candidates teach two courses per semester (usually two sections of the same course).

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate Assistants receive a stipend, tuition remission for five courses per year, and partial subsidy towards health insurance. These one-year assistantships, customarily assigned in the first year of the student’s study, entail 15 hours of work per week in the departmental office. Knowledge of word processing is necessary.

Residential Fellowships at the Romance Language House

Two Residential Fellowships (at the Casa Hispánica and the Maison Française in Vouté Hall) are available to RLL graduate students. Residential Fellows are offered a full stipend, free room and board, and health insurance. They are responsible for the planning of activities designed to improve the undergraduate students’ language skills, enrich their knowledge of other cultures, and contribute to their intellectual and personal development. To apply for this position, students should contact the Graduate Program Director.

Year Abroad at the École Normale Superieure (ULM, Paris)

The Department has an annual exchange program that enables one graduate student to spend a year in Paris at the ENS, the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the liberal arts in France, founded in 1794, and located in the heart of the Latin Quarter in Paris. The selected student is granted free dormitory housing on one of the three ENS campuses (Ulm, Jourdan, or Montrouge), access to a low-cost government-subsidized meal plan, free access to all ENS classes and seminars in all disciplines, individual tutorials with a designated faculty member, and free access to libraries and to all other facilities and activities at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm).

The program is open to all Boston College graduate students, although priority will be granted to students in Romance Languages and Literatures, and in general to those that can demonstrate a need to study in France. Tuition remission for continuing fees is available for the one-year exchange. Students interested in the program are encouraged to speak to the Coordinator of the Exchange Program as soon as possible. Students wishing to be considered for this program are invited to send a letter of interest to the Program Coordinator by October 15 for the following academic year. The selection will be announced by mid December. For further details, see "Resources for Graduate Students" on the RLL department website.

Graduate Resident Assistantships

Positions are available in campus residence halls. Interested students should contact the Office of Residential Life.

Tuition Remission

Tuition remission for continuing fees is available on a competitive basis. Tuition remission is also available for the Boston College Summer Latin course. Consult the Graduate Program Director.

Financial Aid

Students eligible for federal or state financial aid, consult the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Students who receive financial must file their Financial Aid Form each year with the Office of Student Services at Boston College.

External Grants and Fellowships

The Department strongly urges students to apply for external grants and fellowships, and to begin this process well in advance of the deadline. Grants are awarded for a wide range of activities at various levels: teaching, dissertation research, summer travel abroad, and travel to research libraries. Information about grants and fellowships is available in the departmental office, and from the Graduate School of Arts in Sciences Associate Dean in McGuinn 221.

Research Travel Prizes

The Department of Romance Languages and Literatures offers three Research Travel Prizes (one each in French, Hispanic Studies, and Italian) in the amount of $3,500, awarded on a competitive basis to students in our Masters program. For detailed information, see the Graduate Resources section of the department's website.

Nguyen Prize for Academic Excellence

The Sue L. Nguyen (M.A. ’73) Prize for Academic Excellence in Graduate Studies in Romance Languages and Literatures is a cash award given at the end of each academic year to a student enrolled in one of the three Masters of Arts programs (French, Hispanic Studies and Italian) selected by the department faculty for outstanding performance in her/his course work. The prize was established in 2014 by the family of the late Sue Nguyen in her memory and in recognition of her appreciation for the value of graduate education in Romance Languages and Literatures. Students are nominated for the prize by the faculty of the department.

Conference Travel

The Graduate Dean’s Office will contribute half the cost of the airfare for graduate students delivering a paper at a conference. The Graduate Student Association at Boston College offers funding for the same purpose. Contact the Associate Dean and the Graduate Student Association for further information. Some conferences will also provide financial support towards travel and lodging expenses for students presenting papers.

Graduate Student Association (RLGSA)

The Romance Languages Graduate Student Association sponsors a variety of events including informal seminars on topics related to course work, dissertations in progress, and papers presented at professional conventions, and provides general information and services to all students concerning all aspects of departmental and university life.

Professional Workshops

As part of the professional formation of our graduate students, the RLL Graduate Program Director organizes a series of workshops during the Fall semester of each year, covering a variety of topics in support of students negotiating course work, teaching, research, and future career planning. The topics include: resources for graduate students in the BC library, writing the Independent Research Project, writing and submitting scholarly articles for publication, effective conference presentations, composing a resume, preparing for job interviews, professional ethics, etc.

Professional Organizations

Students are encouraged to take advantage of graduate student membership rates in professional associations, such as the MLA (Modern Language Association of America), and its regional affiliates, such as NEMLA. Doctoral students are expected to join the society representing their major field of specialization. Students planning to teach are encouraged to join one of the professional organizations in the field of pedagogy: ACTFL (American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages), MaFLA (Massachusetts Foreign Language Association), AATF (American Association of Teachers of French), AATI (American Association of Teachers of Italian), or AATSP (American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese).


Updated August 7, 2014


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