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MA Program

MA Program

The Graduate School defines the degree in terms of credits earned. Conceived in this manner, the M.A. in English is a 30-credit degree. The M.A. program requires a minimum of one year to complete, though students with graduate assistantships usually take two years, which is the department’s limit on assistantship funding at the M.A. level. According to Graduate School regulations, all requirements must be met within eight years, though the department reserves the right to stipulate that a student fulfill remaining requirements within a shorter period.

  • Ten 3-credit courses in English, five of which must fulfill the distribution requirements for the degree, and one of which may be an independent-study course leading to a Writing Project;
  • A reading knowledge of a foreign language;
  • Completion of a Writing Project. The Graduate School requires each student to submit an essay prior to graduation (see Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin ). Students fulfill this requirement by submitting either a Master’s Essay or a revision of one of their seminar papers into article form.

The University requires graduate assistants to register for a minimum of 9 credits a semester. Credits may be earned during the summer.

The department requires graduate assistants to register for at least 1 credit of ENGL 602 (Supervised College Teaching) in each of their first two semesters.

Distribution Requirements

English 501

One course in literary theory or rhetoric

Two courses in literature in English prior to 1800

Two courses in literature in English after 1800

Note: Courses which overlap the divisions listed above may be used to fulfill requirements in one or the other area, but no one course may be used to fulfill more than one requirement.

Transfer Credit. According to Graduate School regulations, a maximum of 10 credits earned in residence at another graduate institution may be used toward fulfillment of degree requirements. The transfer of credits must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Upper-level undergraduate courses (400-level) may serve to introduce students to new areas of study or to substitute for graduate courses when the latter are not available. With the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee, M.A. candidates may apply two 3-credit 400-level courses toward the fulfillment of the ten-course requirement. These courses may not, however, be used to fulfill the distribution requirements. Additionally, M.A. students considering the Ph.D. are advised that admission to the Ph.D. will be based primarily on their performance in English graduate seminars.

Proseminars are designed to introduce master’s and beginning doctoral level students to areas in which they lack sufficient breadth to enable them to perform well in specialized seminars. Their function is both to introduce students to primary texts in multiple genres and to map out the historical and critical territories surrounding those texts. Proseminars carry a heavier reading load and a lighter writing load than do seminars.

Students may register for courses in other departments, but use of any course toward fulfillment of the ten-course requirement requires approval by the Graduate Studies Committee. The committee is usually hospitable to requests that offer a coherent rationale for taking the course.

The department requires a demonstrated reading knowledge of one of the following languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Latin, or Classical Greek. Other languages may be substituted with the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee.

The foreign language requirement may be fulfilled by one of the following:

  • A grade of B or better in an intermediate- or advanced-level foreign language or literature course at Penn State.

  • Successful performance on an examination administered by English department faculty (or faculty in other Liberal Arts departments) with competence in the language. (The Director of Graduate Studies will compile and update a roster or appropriate examiners.)

  • A waiver granted by the Graduate Studies Committee for bilingual students, native speakers, or students whose academic records otherwise demonstrate competence (e.g., an undergraduate major or minor).
    Students should begin to think about satisfying the foreign language requirement as soon as they enter the program. There have been cases in which M.A. candidates have waited until their last semester and then either failed the examination or were unable to find a course to satisfy the requirement.

The Writing Project is a Graduate School requirement for a final project that will demonstrate mastery of the field. In the English department, the Writing Project may be fulfilled either by submitting a Master’s Essay or by substantially revising a seminar paper into article form.

The Master’s Essay is a 3-credit option that enables a student to conduct independent research leading to an extended essay (25-30 pages) on a single topic. The Master’s Essay is equivalent to one course and should be completed within a single semester. It must be directed by a graduate faculty adviser and one additional member of the graduate faculty chosen by the student in consultation with the principal advisor. Both faculty members and the Graduate Studies Committee must formally approve the topic before the student registers for the Independent Study Course (English 596) in which the essay will be written. Both faculty members must approve the essay in its final form before the adviser awards it a letter grade, and the student must submit a copy of the approved version of the Essay to the department’s Graduate Office.

A candidate who chooses not to write a formal Master’s Essay is required instead to present one of his or her best and most extensive term papers revised into article form to the Graduate Office in fulfillment of the requirement for a “suitable essay or paper” set forth in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin . This paper should be approved, as fulfilling the requirement, by the faculty member for whom it was written and by the Graduate Studies Committee. The deadline to submit the essay or paper is the last day of classes for the semester of graduation.

With the approval of the graduate studies committee, a student may pursue a minor in another field. The student must take at least eight 3-credit courses in the English department, plus at least three 3-credit courses in the minor field. Thus a total of 33 credits is required for the degree (eleven 3-credit courses).

Early in the fall semester, the Graduate Office issues a memo through which second-year M.A. candidates may apply for admission to the Ph.D. program. Students with both B.A. and M.A. from Penn State are discouraged from applying. Students applying to the Ph.D. from the Penn State M.A. or M.F.A. programs are required to submit a writing sample (preferably an essay from a graduate English course), and a one- to two- page statement of professional purpose. In considering candidates for the Ph.D., the Graduate Studies Committee gives highest priority to performance in graduate courses and solicits comments from all of the student’s graduate instructors. Students should make sure that they have no outstanding deferred grades at the time of application. The committee makes its decisions between October and early March.