A versatile education for an ever-changing world
The MA in English Literature at CCNY is an intellectually and culturally diverse urban program with robust international connections. It is home to a community of students who will go on to work in education, administration, publishing, and other fields. Many of our students end up going on to study in some of the top PhD programs in the country.
Compared to other similar programs, ours is distinguished by its links to a large MFA in Creative Writing program. Our students have the opportunity to round out their education by taking classes there, and MFA students are also an exciting presence in our literature courses.
The MA in English Literature is one of three graduate programs offered by the English Department. Students in the three programs take many of their classes together, but the three programs are separate and quite distinct. The MA in English Literature is a classic literature program, focusing on the reading and analysis of literary texts. The MA in Language and Literacy prepares students to work as teachers of rhetoric and composition. The MFA in Creative Writing helps students become poets, novelists, writers of plays, scripts, and creative non-fiction. Before you apply, you should make sure you are applying to the right program. Below you will find information about the MA in English Literature. For the other two programs, check the department website.
Fall Application Deadline: May 01
Spring Application Deadline: November 15
Beyond gaining familiarity with major works of literature, with literary and critical trends and approaches, students in the MA in English Literature program hone their analytical skills, their critical competence, and their ability to work with new and unfamiliar materials.
Employers value our graduates’ ability to creatively and critically engage with the challenges of working with complex texts. Unlike vocational training, which qualifies students for work in one particular field, graduate training in liberal education (within which English is the largest and most versatile discipline) develops skills and competences that prepare students to adapt to new situations and challenges in a wide variety of fields that require thoughtful engagement with people and with documents.
Our flexible curriculum and constantly changing course offerings allow students to choose their own path to the degree, whether they want a historically distributed survey of the various periods of English and Anglophone literatures, or to focus on modern and contemporary writing and global literary phenomena. The MA thesis written under the individual supervision of a faculty member trains students to perform challenging research tasks and also prepares them for doctoral training.
Members of our graduate faculty hold PhDs from the top research institutions in their fields, and publish their work in major journals and with leading presses. Our co-operation with European universities offers our students the opportunity to spend a semester at our partner institutions in Germany, Italy, France, Austria, as well as at other locations.
Graduates of the program often go on to jobs in education, while others have chosen career paths in administration, healthcare, law, etc. The program is also an important stepping stone to further graduate study—each year, students who graduated from our program are admitted to leading PhD programs that offer a full financial package (tuition waiver plus a stipend sufficient to live on).
Students with good reading and writing skills and wide-ranging cultural interests are especially encouraged to apply.
A previous degree in English is generally expected but not formally required. As an alternative, an undergraduate degree in another humanities major (a foreign language, art history, philosophy, or history, for example) is adequate. If you have no humanities degree, the personal statement in your application should put a special emphasis on demonstrating your interest in the sustained exploration of literary texts and your ability to critically engage with them in writing. If a longer period of time has passed between your graduation and your application, you might also want to explain how you spent those years and why you decided to return to higher education. In addition to speaking to your motivations and goals, your personal statement ought to convey the nature of your interest in the subject in concrete terms: a love of books is good, but finding Zadie Smith’s or Jane Austen’s novels fascinating for some specific reason is much better. We are interested in your interests.
Two letters of recommendation should come from your professors. If this is not possible, we would like to see letters from employers or colleagues that can testify not only to your moral integrity but also to your intellectual habits and academic investments.
We also ask for a writing sample: a reasonably substantial piece of writing (longer than a couple of pages) that showcases your ability to discuss and analyze literary or cultural phenomena. If you don’t have a 10-12 page essay, send two to a total of at least 12 pages, or three to a total of at least 15 pages. The samples should be (critical) essays – NOT creative texts (so NOT stories or poems).
The writing sample(s), personal statement, and letters of recommendation are all key elements of the application. Together with the transcripts, which are also required, they should demonstrate your preparation and interest in pursuing an MA in Literature. No one of these four elements is necessarily decisive: we are evaluating the application materials holistically.
For more information about the application process, go to https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/admissions/graduate-studies . In addition to this main page, also browse the menu items, including the FAQ.
International students should also consult https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/admissions/gradinternational-applicants and https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/admissions/english-literature for required language test scores.
About tuition, fees, and funding options, check here: https://www.cuny.edu/financial-aid/tuition-and-college-costs/tuition-fees/#graduate-tuition (Although the former is more straightforward and clear, you can also take a look here: https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/bursar/tuition-and-fee-information )
The program does not offer assistantships or other forms of stipend. There is a small set of options you can look at here: https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/financialaid/graduate-financial-aid
Part time / full time
Our MA program is designed to be very flexible in terms of enrollment. Officially, full-time enrollment is 9 credits (3 courses) per semester. While some students may need to maintain full-time enrollment because of the requirements of their visa or their student loans, the program itself does not require a particular number of courses to be taken per semester. Tuition is per credit: from our perspective, there is no distinction between part-time and full-time students. Our students take anywhere between 1 and 3, sometimes 4 courses per semester. Taking a semester off is also not complicated. Nevertheless, international students ought to maintain what the College and various authorities consider full-time enrollment in graduate courses (9 credits, or 3 courses) to maintain their immigration status. Student loans and scholarships may also require that you enroll full-time.
Academically, our program is also very flexible. Each semester, there is a different set of 4-7 literature courses offered, and students can pick and choose what piques their interest and fits their schedule. For current offerings and recent semesters, you can look here: https://bulletin.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
Classes are all offered in late afternoon and in the evening, making it possible to enroll while working full-time. Our program is fully in-person, with the occasional hybrid course option.
The program requires students to take 27 credits (9 courses) total. Of this, 21 credits (7 courses) must be Literature courses offered by our own MA program. The remaining 6 credits (2 courses) can also be courses in our Department’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, or Language and Literacy MA program, or graduate courses at other CCNY departments or other CUNY schools. Registration for our courses requires departmental permission, so enrollment for a semester’s classes is preceded by pre-registration, when students discuss with the program director the courses they want to take. Once we have agreed on your schedule for the semester, we enter permissions in the CUNYFirst enrollment management system, and then you are able to register for the courses you selected.
1. Thirty credits are required for the degree, six of which may be taken outside of the concentration after consultation with and approval by the Director of the Literature Program, and three of which are given for thesis tutorial. The Graduate English courses are worth three credits each.
2. To fulfill the thesis requirement, students will compose an essay of 8,000-13,000 words (including references) in the genre of an academic article intended for a peer-reviewed journal. The topic of the essay will be selected in conference with a member of the full-time faculty whom the student has asked to serve in the capacity of thesis mentor.
3. M.A. Literature students must also pass the Comprehensive Exam before graduation. This exam is given once every semester. More information and sample exams are available in the Graduate Office.
4. Before the M.A. degree can be earned, a foreign translation exam, given once a semester, must be passed. Alternatively, students may fulfill the foreign language requirement by successfully completing specially designated language courses.
5. Full-time study consists of three literature seminars, and in the final semester, additionally the thesis tutorial. (Over the course of the program up to two Creative Writing workshops may be substituted for literature courses, with the approval of the Director.) Part-time study, taking one or two courses a semester, is common in the program.
Students are also required to demonstrate their foreign language skills. This requirement can be fulfilled in two ways:
a., Passing the Foreign Language Qualifying Exam, a translation exam, administered once each semester by the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures of CCNY. You translate a page-long passage into English, using a dictionary. The exam is free, and is offered once per semester. You should inquire about the languages offered—Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, French, and Spanish are among the options.
b., Taking one of the courses offered by the Language Reading Program of the CUNY Graduate Center. The courses of the LRP are aimed strictly at the translation of scholarly texts. One course in any language taken at any level fulfils the requirement when passed with a B or better grade. More information can be found here: https://www.gc.cuny.edu/Page-Elements/Academics-Research-Centers-Initiatives/Special-Programs/Language-Reading-Program
As CUNY graduate students, you receive a steep discount: one course currently costs 275 dollars. Courses are offered during the semester as well as over the summer. These courses do NOT bear credit, do not go on your transcript, and the payment is directly paid to the Language Reading Program out of pocket—it is not part of CUNY tuition.
To be able to gradate, students also need to take the Comprehensive Exam. This is a 6-hour take-home exam in which you answer a total of 3 essay questions, each chosen out of a series of options. The questions change from semester to semester. They are written by the professors who have taught classes over the past few years, and are based on topics that were discussed in class. In this sense, it is a review of your studies in the MA program, and the best way to prepare for it is by reviewing your readings and notes for the classes you have taken. In writing the exam, you should demonstrate your ability to write a coherent and clearly argued essay using some familiar examples on the chosen topic. You can use any resource – provided that you properly acknowledge this through citations. The exam is pass / fail, and is offered once a semester.
At the end of your studies, you will also register for a semester-long Thesis Tutorial (an additional 3 credits), and write an MA thesis of about 9-12,000 words. The thesis is written under the guidance of an advisor (a professor teaching in our department).
The MA thesis is an essay of 8,000-13,000 words (including references) in the genre of an academic article intended for a peer-reviewed journal. Do not imagine the thesis as a mini book: rather, it is a larger, more elaborate version of a seminar paper. It is a focused essay that demonstrates your familiarity with a topic or critical perspective as well as with the (no more than a handful of) literary text(s) in question, and presents a clear argument that is in explicit conversation with existing critical work. While the thesis advisor needs to be a professor in our department, the second reader (the person who reads the final product before submission, after the advisor approved) can also come from another CCNY department. This is something you need to discuss with your advisor and the program director.
The thesis submissions and graduation protocol is explained here: https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/humanities/checklist-graduation
To be able to graduate, you need to apply for graduation during the semester at the end of which you intend to graduate. In addition to Spring (May) and Fall (December), there is also a Summer graduation date, in August.
Our Undergraduate Writing Program regularly invites MA students who have taken a couple of semesters of course work to apply to teach in our composition program. This is an adjunct teaching position governed by our union contract. It is a good way to start exploring a career in teaching.
Students interested in this are expected to take a semester-long Teaching Practicum, a course that prepares them for the challenges of the job. The availability of these positions fluctuates, and they are always competitive. Students can only apply after the completion of at least one semester.
MA students can also spend a semester at one of our European partner institutions. For more information, see Study abroad opportunity for master’s students.
Last updated: May 2022.
Professor Andras Kisery
Director of Master of Arts in Literature
Location: NAC 6/252