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morrissey college of arts and sciences


Undergraduate Program Description

In an academic milieu fragmented into departments and specialized disciplines, the study of literature is one of the few remaining elements of the old liberal education that still offers students a point of view from which they can integrate the diversity of their own experience. Language is the mirror of the human mind and literature the record of its preoccupations—intellectual, aesthetic, psychological, political, social, historical, moral, and religious.

The study of literature offers a schooling in human experience, and its primary use is for the development of those who study it. It is also, of course, good training for any field in which understanding of behavior is valued. The tools used, because they deal with language and the forms of expression, have applicability in any kind of work where precise and effective communication is important. English majors can develop these skills to a considerable degree while undergraduates, and non-majors will find that taking even a few well-chosen courses beyond the Core requirement can widen their knowledge of literature and sharpen their linguistic abilities.

The English major at Boston College is designed to introduce students to a wide range of expression in the literary traditions of the past and present. It aims to help undergraduate students develop a strengthened ability to work critically and sensitively with texts in poetry and prose, to write with clarity and grace, and to articulate judgments about literature with an awareness of various critical approaches. English majors will become familiar with some of the major developments in the history of British and American literature and will have the opportunity to choose from an array of courses covering topics from the medieval period to contemporary cultural studies to a range of transnational literatures written in English.

By the successful completion of the English major at Boston College, students will be able to demonstrate:

  • an ability to write clear, coherent, organized, and stylistically correct papers;
  • an ability to close-read, interpret, and analyze texts (including poetic texts);
  • a knowledge of literary genres and appropriate use of critical terminology;
  • a recognition of the historical specificity of literary works and/or other cultural products;
  • an awareness that there are a variety of critical approaches to literary and cultural texts.

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Information for First Year Majors and Non-Majors

The English Department has primary responsibility for two Core requirements—ENGL1010 First Year Writing Seminar, taught entirely by English Department faculty, and ENGL1080 Literature Core, taught largely by English Department faculty. Students may not take courses through the Woods College of Advancing Studies for the purpose of fulfilling their English Core requirement. Because Core classes are restricted to first-year students, students should plan to take both courses during the first year.

ENGL1010 First Year Writing Seminar

The First Year Writing Seminar helps students use their writing as a source of learning and a form of communication. Designed as a workshop in which each student develops a portfolio of personal and academic writing, the seminar follows a semester-long process. Students write and rewrite essays continuously, discuss their works-in-progress in class, and receive feedback during individual and small group conferences with the instructor. In connection with their writing, students read and discuss a wide range of texts, including various forms of non-fiction prose. In addition to regular conferences, the class meets two hours per week to learn and discuss writing processes and strategies, various genres and rhetorical situations for writing, the evolving drafts of class members, and various forms of conducting and writing research, including an introduction to using the resources at O'Neill Library.

ENGL1080 Literature Core

In this part of the Core program, students explore the principal motives which prompt people to read literature—to assemble and assess the shape and values of one's own culture, to discover alternative ways of looking at the world, to gain insight into issues of permanent human importance as well as issues of contemporary urgency, and to enjoy the linguistic and formal satisfactions of literary art.

Literature Core will strive to develop the student's capacity to read and write with clarity and engagement, to allow for that dialogue between the past and present we call history, and to provide an introduction to literary genres.

Courses for English Language Learners

The department offers Core level courses in language and literature for English language learners. These classes require department permission for registration. Interested students should contact the ELL Director, Lynne Anderson, for more information:

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Major Requirements

Students ordinarily begin an English major in their sophomore year, after completing the First Year Writing Seminar and the Literature Core, or equivalents. In addition to the two 3-credit Core courses, students must take 30 credits (in the form of ten, 3-credit courses) from the Department’s offerings. These must include ENGL2131 Studies in Poetry (3 credits) and ENGL2133 Studies in Narrative (3 credits), usually taken in sequence in the sophomore year. Both courses train students intensively in the close reading of literary texts and in writing with critical awareness about literature.

Because it is important for students to understand the foundations of literary traditions, English majors are also required to take 9 credits in British or American literature, pre-1900, to be distributed in the following manner:

  • 3 credits in medieval or early-modern literature (before 1700)
  • 3 credits in eighteenth or nineteenth-century literature (between 1700–1900)
  • 3 additional credits in either category (e.g., pre–1900)

Students complete the English major by taking 15 credits in elective courses of their choice.

During the sophomore year, historical survey courses such as Introduction to British Literature and Culture I and II and the American Literary History sequence may be useful to fill in students' knowledge of the development of English and American literature. Students who have a special interest in American literature are advised to take American Literary History I as a foundation for later courses. At this point, students should be in a position to begin making their own choices about how they will complete the major requirements, in discussion with their major advisor. They will have many options from among the 30 or more electives the Department offers each semester in English and American literature, in Irish Studies, in writing, in the different genres, and in particular themes.

Students are reminded that courses taken through the Woods College of Advancing Studies cannot be counted toward the major.

Advanced Topic Seminars

Advanced seminars are designed for English majors who want to pursue a topic or field in more depth than is possible in larger electives. The advanced seminar, with its small class size and intensive focus, is designed to foster an intimate learning community where students are encouraged not only to study an issue intensively but also to engage actively in intellectual exchange with a faculty member and a select group of committed peers. These courses are intended mainly for juniors and seniors, and students are required to have completed both Studies in Poetry and Studies in Narrative and at least one additional elective before taking an advanced seminar. Students should expect to produce a longer seminar research paper (15–20 pages) as well as one or more shorter papers and make at least one oral presentation. Students who intend to apply to graduate school in English are strongly urged to take at least one advanced seminar.

Individually Designed Major

For some students with specific interdisciplinary interests, in American Studies for instance, an individually designed sequence of courses under the English major is appropriate. Students who satisfy their major requirements this way may count for English credit up to two courses (6 credits) taken in other departments. This plan must be approved by the chairperson and the student's department advisor by the end of the first semester of junior year.

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English Minor

The English minor is comprised of six courses (18 credits) beyond the Core requirements in English. These must include:

  • Either Studies in Poetry (ENGL2131) or Studies in Narrative (ENGL2133)
  • A historical foundations course (pre–1700 or pre–1900)
  • Four electives from the department offerings.

Core and Woods College classes may not be counted toward the minor, though additional courses that fulfill the first two requirements may be counted as electives. Students may count up to two courses from study abroad toward the minor, though they must be approved by the department.​

​For questions about the English minor, or to declare, please contact Trese Ainsworth (

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English Courses for Non-Majors

Students majoring in other subjects have always been welcome in English courses for the diversity of viewpoint and variety of knowledge they often bring with them. From the students' point of view, English courses offer the enjoyment of reading good literature; insight into history, culture, and human character; and a chance to polish skills of reading and writing.

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American Studies Program

American Studies is an interdisciplinary program that brings together faculty from several departments to expose students to a wide range of approaches to American culture past and present. Thematic emphases include the American city; the historical interaction of class, gender, race, and ethnicity; high culture, popular culture, and mass media; crime and deviance; migration, borderlands, and empire.

Minor Requirements

Courses used for fulfilling the minor must come from outside the student's major and from at least two different departments. Eighteen credits are required for the minor. Nine of these credits must be clustered in a common area of concentration chosen by the student in consultation with the director of American Studies. In the fall of the senior year each student must take the elective designated as the American Studies senior seminar for that year. Also, ENGL2277 Introduction to American Studies, is strongly recommended for minors, but not yet required.

For further information on the American Studies minor and application forms, see Professor Carlo Rotella in the English Department (, 617-552-3191) or visit the American Studies website at

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Irish Studies

Irish Studies, an integral part of Boston College's distinguished Irish Programs, offers an interdisciplinary approach to the culture and society of Ireland. Individual courses cover the areas of social, political, and economic history, literature, medieval art, sociology, folk music, and the Irish language. In addition, there are several courses that are jointly taught by faculty from various disciplines. These include a 3-semester sequence of courses integrating the history and literature of Ireland, from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The minor in Irish Studies requires students to complete 6 courses drawn from more than one discipline and designated as appropriate by the Irish Studies program. (These courses may not be “double counted” towards both a major and minor.) Students should contact Irish Studies at 617-552-3938 to arrange a meeting with the Director for assistance planning their courses. Those completing the Irish Studies minor are eligible for the Maeve O’Reilly Finley Fellowship for graduate study in Ireland. A listing of Irish Studies-approved courses is posted on our website and is also available at Connolly House.

Students pursuing the minor are encouraged to take advantage of the partnership programs that the Irish Studies program and the Office of International Programs have developed with the National Universities of Ireland at Galway and Maynooth, University College Cork, University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Ulster, and Queen’s University Belfast.

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Women's and Gender Studies

Please contact Professor Sharlene Hesse-Biber in the Sociology Department for information regarding Women's Studies.

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Creative Writing Concentration

The English Department offers a Creative Writing Concentration that allows certain students to intensify and focus their English majors by taking a series of practice-based writing courses along with their literature courses.

  • The creative writing concentrator undertakes a 36-credit English major instead of the usual 30 credits. At least 9 of these credits must be writing workshops in any genre, selected with the help of the student's concentration advisor.

All concentrators also attend monthly social gatherings to read new work and share news about literary activity on campus. English majors may declare the Creative Writing Concentration up through first semester of junior year, after receiving a grade of A- or better in one of the Department's creative writing workshops. The period for declaring the Concentration runs through the end of add/drop week of each semester. Eligible English majors wishing to declare should see Treseanne Ainsworth in Stokes S493.

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Secondary Education Majors and Minor

English majors who are also completing Lynch School of Education and Human Development majors must fulfill more specific major requirements to demonstrate a broad range of knowledge within the discipline. In addition to the First Year Writing Seminar, the Literature Core, Studies in Poetry, and Studies in Narrative, these students must fulfill the following requirements:

  • one Pre–1700 course
  • one Pre–1900 course
  • one course on Anglophone or Ethnic American Authors
  • one course on Women Authors
  • one course on the History of Language/Grammar/Linguistics
  • one course in Adolescent and Young Adult Literature
  • two English electives

To acquire sufficient knowledge across this spectrum, LSOE students should consider taking more general survey courses (e.g., Introduction to British Literature and Culture I and II, American Literary History I, II, and III) to fulfill some requirements.

Students with questions about the ENGL/LSOE requirements should contact Treseanne Ainsworth, in Stokes S493.

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Minor in Secondary Education

Students in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences majoring in English may apply to minor in Education, in order to gain certification for teaching. The program begins in the junior year. Interested students should contact the Coordinator of Secondary Education or the Associate Dean in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development during the first semester in sophomore year.

The Department recommends that English majors completing a secondary education minor follow the guidelines listed above for course selection as well.

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The Program in Linguistics, housed in the Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages, offers courses for English majors who want to study English from a linguistic perspective or to examine the nature of language.

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Information for Study Abroad

While the department is flexible as to the number of courses that majors need to complete before studying abroad, English majors wishing to study abroad should complete (at minimum) the required Studies in Poetry and Studies in Narrative. Because each student's background varies, students are advised on an individual basis. Two courses per semester from an English speaking country and one course per semester from a non-English speaking country may be counted for major credit. These courses may fulfill historical requirements or major electives.

Journalism and communications courses are not considered English electives unless they are taught within an English department. Students in the Creative Writing concentration are strongly discouraged from studying abroad for a full year.

Students may study abroad for either or both semesters but must contact Treseanne Ainsworth, Assistant to the Chairperson, Stokes S493, when planning their study abroad.

There are many strong English programs offered through universities overseas. Majors are encouraged to discuss options with their faculty advisors. Some examples of particularly strong programs include: Oxford University, King's College, Cambridge University, University College London (UCL), Queen Mary and Westfield (QMW), University of London, Advanced Studies in England, Bath, Lancaster University, University of Glasgow, University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway and Cork, and University of Paris.

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Honors Program

The English Department offers an honors program for English majors. Students admitted to the program will write an honors thesis senior year, either a critical study or a creative project, for 6 credits total toward the major. Students contemplating an honors thesis are encouraged to take the department's Honors seminar during their junior year. A description of this program is available on the department website.


The English Department at Boston College has created a B.A./M.A. Program that allows selected students to earn both a B.A. and an M.A. in English in five years. Enrolled students will start earning graduate credit as a senior, then complete the M.A. in a fifth year of full-time study.

Admission to the program requires a GPA of 3.3 overall and 3.6 in the English major. Students may carry in up to four courses taken in the senior year toward their M.A. degree: two Advanced Topic Seminars and two graduate seminars. The two ATS courses will also count towards the B.A. degree. The two graduate courses must be taken as overloads. One of the graduate courses taken in the senior year must be either Introduction to Advanced Research, or Issues and Methods in American Studies.

The purpose of the program is to allow students a greater opportunity for concentrated study and research training. Students in the B.A./M.A. program must meet all the specific course requirements for the undergraduate major as well as the formal requirements for the M.A., including the completion of Introduction to Advanced Research or its equivalent, demonstrated proficiency in a foreign language, a theory course, and a comprehensive exam.

Students interested in the program should consult the Director of the M.A. Program to discuss whether this version of the M.A. is right for their individual goals. The Director will review the student's academic record and, if appropriate, facilitate the application process. The application fee and GRE requirement will be waived. Once accepted into the B.A./M.A. program students will have the Director of the M.A. Program as their advisor. Students in the program will not be eligible for TF/TA positions or financial aid.

How to Apply:

Students must submit applications by March 31 of the junior year. The required application materials are a personal statement, a writing sample, three letters of recommendation, and an official transcript. Please take a look at for application instructions and e-mail with any questions on how to upload materials.

Do not send any materials to the English Department.

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