MA in English Literature – Current Students

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Program Requirements

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.

Foreign Language Requirement

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:

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.

Comprehensive exam

To be able to graduate, students also need to take the Comprehensive Exam. This is a 4-hour in-person hand-written exam in which you answer a total of 2 essay questions, each chosen out of a series of options. Students cannot bring texts or electronic devices into the exam. 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.


What is the thesis?

Towards the end of your studies, you will register for a semester-long Thesis Tutorial (an additional 3 credits), and write an MA thesis of about 8-13,000 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. The idea is that you are intervening in, or engaging with, a larger conversation – so you need to do some research to work out what people have said about the text you are interested in before you start writing.

When should I do my thesis?

Typically, we recommend students write the thesis in the last semester of their studies at CCNY, after having taken at least six or seven MA literature classes and understood the range of their options.

However, there may be cases where you want to write the thesis earlier. In this case, all that is necessary is for you first to identify a topic that you want to work on and an advisor who would be willing to advise your thesis.

What do I write my thesis on?

Think carefully about the topic of your thesis. It has to be something that you are interested in, and willing to spend a lot of time with. Some students have a sense of what they want to write their thesis on before they even begin the MA. If this is your case you’ll want to keep actively reading throughout your time as an MA student in the subject that interests you most. Read criticism as well as creative writing.

Other students use MA courses to explore a range of subjects in the hope that they will find a topic for an MA thesis. It is not uncommon for students to develop a midterm or final paper for an MA Literature class into a thesis. In fact, in some ways this is recommended: you already have a background and starting point and some feedback. However: note that the thesis is a much larger undertaking than a final paper for a course and is meant to occupy you for a semester. You cannot simply hope to edit a final paper quickly and have a thesis ready.

If you’re still not sure about a thesis topic, schedule a meeting with a professor that you get on with. The professor will be able to suggest possible topics to you.

How do I choose an advisor?

This is an important decision. In the ideal situation you will be working closely with your advisor, so it has to be someone whom you understand and who understands your work. If you want to write a thesis that grows out of your interests in a particular class, it makes sense to ask the professor of that class to be your advisor. If you have a different subject, think about period: certain professors are experts at particular periods of literary history. As the current MA director, I (Václav), am happy to help you choose an appropriate advisor.

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.

What is the actual writing process?

Once you sign up for your thesis you will need to schedule a series of meetings with your thesis advisor. With your advisor you will come up with a plan for how to write the thesis in the time given. One semester is not a long time to write an academic article, so you need to be very proactive if you want to finish the thesis by the deadline. In an ideal situation you will have started reading for the thesis (in particular reading critical material) before the start of the semester.

The deadline for submitting the thesis is on May 9 / December 9. If you don’t finish the thesis in one semester, it is possible to keep writing and to submit it later. However, be aware that faculty may not have time to keep advising your thesis beyond the semester when you are scheduled to write it.

Graduation procedures

The thesis submissions and graduation protocol is explained here:

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.

The option to teach composition at CCNY

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.

Study abroad

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.

Advising and Support for Study Abroad:

Professor Andras Kisery
Director of Master of Arts in Literature (on sabbatical)
Location: NA 6/252
Phone: 212-650-6334

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