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Program Information and Degree Requirements

Program Overview
Goals and Outcomes
Required Coursework
Foreign Language Study
Advancement to Candidacy
Final Degree Requirement
Faculty Advisors
Research Skills
Additional Degree Requirements

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Program Overview

The MA in English program offers a wide range of courses based in our graduate faculty’s expertise in diverse areas of English studies. Students may choose graduate courses that cover the various periods and genres of British and American literature, as well as courses in rhetoric and composition, literary and critical theory, and special topics such as feminism/modernism, autobiography, postmodernism and the novel.

Seminars that provide intensive study of major authors, literary periods and movements, critical issues, and modes of discourse are the centerpiece of the MA coursework. Of the minimum 30 units required for the degree, 20 units must be at the 600 level, which means that students will take at least five graduate seminars. All students must enroll in English 696 and take at least one seminar in pre-1800 British literature. The remaining 600-level units may be selected from any of the English Department’s graduate seminars.

The culminating experience of the MA in English is either a comprehensive examination or a Master’s thesis. Both final degree requirements offer students the opportunity to demonstrate the mastery of the skills they have been developing and refining throughout their graduate coursework: the ability to analyze and interpret texts, to conduct research using a variety of methods, and to write compellingly in an academic or professional discourse. Students select an exam area based on their interests and coursework, and then prepare essays on three exam topics, one of which will be selected for the final three-hour examination. Writing this essay allows a student to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the exam area, including the ability to cite relevant criticism and theory, to make a persuasive argument based on textual analysis and research, and to write clearly and cogently. Students who elect to write a thesis will have the opportunity to develop an in-depth research project with guidance from the graduate faculty. Both the comprehensive exam and the Master’s thesis provide students with an intensive, rigorous, and rewarding culminating experience.


The MA in English is designed to broaden students’ knowledge and understanding of the literary and rhetorical traditions of writing in English, as well as to provide the opportunity for intensive study in one or more specialized areas of literature or rhetoric and composition. The MA program emphasizes close reading and critical analysis by developing students’ abilities to situate texts within their larger historical and professional contexts, to conduct independent research, and to formulate original arguments in oral presentations and writing.


By the end of their MA program students should be able to:

1.    Demonstrate familiarity with a wide range of representative literary and rhetorical texts, including influential criticism of and commentary on those texts
2.    Examine the theoretical premises underlying the critical analysis of literature, rhetoric, and/or the teaching of reading and writing
3.     Analyze the functions of texts and their relations with historical,
social, and political contexts
4.    Analyze how purpose, style, and genre function in texts to achieve particular literary, rhetorical, and aesthetic effects
5.     Locate, evaluate, and synthesize the available resources for
researching a significant scholarly topic
6.    Write papers that construct logical and informed arguments
7.    Prepare and deliver effective oral presentations and arguments
acceptable within the English professions

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Required Coursework

Upper-Division and Graduate Courses

Students must have a minimum of 30 units of approved upper-division and graduate courses with at least 24 units in English to obtain the MA degree.  No courses previously used to satisfy BA requirements may be retaken for graduate credit. Double-numbered courses (400/500) must be taken at the 500 level for MA credit.  If a  student has taken the 400-level component of a double-numbered course as an undergraduate at CSULB, she or he may not take the 500-level course for credit.  Only specified 400-level courses may be counted toward the MA; these courses are listed on p.7 of this Handbook. Other undergraduate courses may be taken for graduate credit if students obtain permission to do so in advance. To have an undergraduate course approved for graduate credit, students must submit to the Graduate Advisor a memo from the course instructor explaining what extra work the student was assigned in order to meet graduate standards.  Note that General Education courses cannot be applied to the MA degree.

English 696 Requirement

Students must take English 696: Seminar in Theory, Criticism, and Research prior to, or concurrent with, other 600-series courses. Students must be admitted to the MA program in order to enroll in English 696. Plan on taking this course early in your program.

600-Level Courses

Of the required 30 units, at least 20 must be at the 600-level (this includes English 696 but not English 697 or 698).

Additional Units

Students must take additional acceptable units to make up a minimum of 30 units. Up to 6 units approved for graduate standing may come from other departments, other campuses, or extension programs, if approved as relevant to a degree objective (i.e., Area of Concentration). Outside courses, however, may not fulfill the 24-unit requirement of 600- and 500-level courses in English. All upper-division and graduate courses taken as a post-baccalaureate student affect the overall GPA.

Click here to see a list of acceptable MA courses and descriptions

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General Overview

Foreign language proficiency is required as an adjunct to graduate study in English for several reasons. Knowledge of a second language offers a second window of perception on the world. It puts into perspective the logic and illogic of one’s first language. It offers acquaintanceship with another literature not distorted by translation. It also makes possible research into scholarly and critical writing about the English language and its literatures not available in translation.

Foreign Language Requirements

Candidates must complete the foreign language requirement or be enrolled in the final units of the requirement before taking final comprehensive examinations. The foreign language proficiency requirement may be fulfilled in ONE of the following three ways:

1. Complete college course work in or receive credit for a foreign language equivalent to sophomore proficiency (normally 201B at this University) with a grade of “C” or better.

2. Complete college course work in or receive credit for a foreign language equivalent to freshman proficiency (101B) with a grade of “C” or better AND complete either English 550: Old English or English 551: Middle English with a grade of “B” or better.  Either or both of the English courses may be counted toward the minimum 30 units for the degree (students should note that English 550 and 551 require a prerequisite course, English 461, or permission of the instructor).

3. Provide evidence of proficiency equivalent to a 201B foreign language course, or demonstrate native proficiency in a foreign language accepted by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Unlike almost all upper-division and graduate courses, lower-division foreign language courses may be taken CR/NC.


What is it?

The procedure known as “Advancement to Candidacy” certifies that the Department recommends a student to the College of Liberal Arts as a candidate for the MA degree. With the aid of an advisor, the student sets up a formal program of study signed by the student, the advisor, the Graduate Advisor, the English Department Chair, and the Associate Dean for Instructional Policy of the College of Liberal Arts. This step determines the University Catalog under which a student will complete the MA program. After advancement, candidates cannot be held to any new requirements for the degree. If students want to change their programs after advancing, however, they may do so by filling out a change of program form, available from the Graduate Secretary. Note: students planning to write theses must have their thesis proposals approved before advancing to candidacy.

When should students apply?

Advancement is possible after completion of six units toward the MA degree. Students must be advanced to candidacy at least one semester before they intend to graduate, before the deadline to file for graduation that semester. If a student is writing a thesis, he or she must be advanced before any thesis units are taken.

What if a student plans to complete the MA program in one year?

Students who elect to complete the MA program in one year may request to be advanced to candidacy the same semester that they graduate; they should file a Graduation Application Card when they begin the program. Students who have such plans should consult with the Graduate Advisor upon entering the program.

What are the Advancement to Candidacy requirements?

The requirements for Advancement to Candidacy are as follows:

1. A current transcript showing a grade point average of 3.0 (B) or better, both  in the MA program and overall in upper-division and graduate courses taken as a post-baccalaureate student.

2. Completion of at least six units of course work acceptable for the MA in English at CSULB with a GPA of 3.0 or above.

3. Enrollment in regular course work at the time of Advancement to Candidacy.

4. For students who wish to write a thesis, the thesis proposal must be approved (for approval process, see p.14 under “Option Two: The Thesis”).

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THE FINAL DEGREE REQUIREMENTGeneral Requirement Information

The final requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in English is either:

1.    A final comprehensive examination, OR
2.    A thesis.

Students who wish to change to the comprehensive exam option after taking 698 units must confer with the Graduate Advisor, who will seek approval from the College of Liberal Arts Dean.  In these cases, the RP grade(s) the student received for any 698 units will remain on the transcript without being changed to a letter grade. Students may not change options after failing either the thesis or the comprehensive examination.

Option One: The Final Comprehensive Examination

The final comprehensive examination is a three-hour essay that serves as a capstone of the 30-unit program of study. Students must have completed all program requirements or be enrolled in their final courses the semester they take the examination. Because students must be enrolled at the University in the semester the examination is taken, those who have finished their course work should enroll in GS 700 (see p. 12). Early that semester, the candidate should apply to the English Department Office to take the examination and specify the area to be covered.  Two months prior to the examination date, candidates will be supplied with four questions from their area of study and will be told who their three readers will be.  Each candidate may reject two of the four questions.  At the examination, the student will be told which one of the remaining two questions to address in an essay, demonstrating familiarity with both primary and secondary sources. Students are encouraged, but not required, to write the examination on a computer.

Examination Areas

The examination tests a candidate’s mastery of one of the nine following areas, which the candidate selects on the basis of intensive study, including course work at the graduate level. Students should be aware, however, that 600-level seminars are not survey courses, but typically involve in-depth studies in a portion of the subject named in the course title.



Area  I

Old and Middle English Language and Literature

Area II

English Literature of the Renaissance

Area III

English Literature of the Restoration and 18th Century

Area IV

English Literature of the 19th Century

Area V

English Literature since 1900

Area VI

American Literature before 1900

Area VII

American Literature since 1900


Literary Genre (poetry, fiction, or drama) or Critical Theory.*

Area IX

Rhetoric, Writing, and Composition

*Literary Genre covers the tradition of a genre in both English and American literature, and Critical Theory covers various approaches from classical to contemporary. As in other areas, students will have a choice of questions that allows them to focus on specific authors, theorists, and topics within each area.

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Examination Objectives

The examination gives candidates the opportunity to synthesize their learning and to demonstrate their analytical and interpretive skills. More specifically, it requires students:

To show their ability to write a complete essay that demonstrates a comprehensive and deep understanding of a particular field in British or American literature or rhetoric and composition. The essay will measure knowledge, analytical ability, and writing capabilities.

To show comprehension of, and familiarity with, a breadth of both primary and secondary materials within the area of study. Thus the essay will provide evidence of the student’s ability to use library resources.

To show connections and distinctions within the area of study. The essay will encourage the student to draw from the coursework that has formed the student’s program of study.

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Option Two: The Thesis

Students interested in pursuing the thesis option should be aware that writing a thesis is an intensive experience requiring a significant commitment of time and usually requires at least 3 semesters to complete.  They should plan ahead accordingly and begin by consulting with a potential thesis committee chair.

Before a student can advance to candidacy with a thesis option or begin taking 698 units, she or he must prepare a formal prospectus with a substantial bibliography for the proposed thesis committee.  The prospectus should explain the student’s topic, works to be treated, preliminary thesis or central line of argument, and suggested breakdown of chapters.  It should also convey a sense of previous scholarship in this field and indicate the methodology and the major theorists or critical traditions that will be employed.

For more expansive and specific guidelines on the prospectus, students should consult the hand-out available here and in the graduate secretary’s office and speak directly with their prospective committee.  After having time to review the prospectus, the three potential committee members will meet with the student to discuss the project.  Together, student and committee will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis as set forth in the prospectus and bibliography.  Other topics addressed will include a time frame for completing the thesis and the committee’s division of labor.

The exact division of labor among committee members will depend on the individual committee; however, in all cases the chair of the committee will bear primary responsibility for establishing guidelines and expectations for the student.

In particular, the University catalogue dictates that

    • Thesis committee chairs will be the major contact point with the student and will oversee the other committee members’ work with the student.
    • Thesis committee chairs will assure that the editorial and format standards appropriate to the mechanical preparation of a thesis are followed.
    • Thesis committee chairs will establish guidelines for the student and timetables to be followed to ensure completion of the thesis in a reasonable time.

The second and third readers serve to provide additional feedback, expertise, and guidance, to offer alternative perspectives, and to ensure that thesis standards are met.  In overseeing other committee members, the chair will work with the student to mediate any contradictory advice or feedback from different committee members, consulting directly with other committee members if necessary.  In cases where the chair is unable to bring committee members to a point of agreement, he or she will consult with the Graduate Advisor and the Department Chair.  A student may request a change in the composition of the committee by providing justification to the Graduate Advisor and the Associate Dean.

In establishing timelines for the thesis, the committee chair should allow sufficient time for the student and the committee to produce work that meets the standards for a thesis outlined in the University catalogue.

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All students accepted into the MA program are required to meet with an advisor during their first semester to discuss strengths and weaknesses and to plan a preliminary course of study. Letters of acceptance will include the name of your initial advisor. Please make an appointment through the graduate secretary (562-985-4225).After the first semester, you are free to choose an advisor other than the one initially assigned to you; you must choose your particular graduate advisor before advancement to candidacy. The Department of English keeps an updated list of faculty available to graduate students as advisors and mentors.Throughout their programs, students are encouraged to seek guidance from advisors on choosing courses and meeting degree requirements. By meeting at least once a year, preferably once a semester, with your advisor, you will be informed about any changes in regulations applying to the MA degree, whether these originate inside or outside the Department. You are also welcome to consult with faculty on the intellectual, social, and personal aspects of working for the degree.

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All MA students are expected to know basic methods of library research, which include using print and on-line bibliographies to locate books and journal articles. Students should also be familiar with the MLA style of documentation. If you do not already own a copy, you are encouraged to purchase and use The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, ed. Joseph Gibaldi. Leslie Swigart in the library can help with questions about research resources and methods; she can be reached at (562) 985-8327 or Faculty may also be consulted if you have questions about research methods or documentation rules.



G.P.A. Information

The University calculates two different GPAs for post-baccalaureate students.  The first GPA comprises all upper-division and graduate-level courses taken after earning your bachelor’s degree (your overall post-bac GPA).  The second comprises just the courses that make up your MA program (your program GPA).

GPA Maintenance

Students are required to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better both in the MA program and in all upper-division and graduate courses taken at CSULB as a post-baccalaureate student.  Graduate students are subject to dismissal from the University if they fail to raise their overall GPA to 3.0 after two semesters on probation.  A student who has been disqualified must reapply to the University.  As the Catalog states, “subsequent removal of GPA deficiencies . . . does not guarantee readmission to CSULB.”  The Graduate Advisor, in consultation with the Graduate Studies Committee, will decide whether or not to readmit students who have been on probation or academically disqualified from the MA in English program.

Upper-Division and Graduate Course Grading

Credit/No Credit grading is not available in upper-division or graduate courses, with few specified exceptions such as teacher training.  It is acceptable for lower-division courses, such as 100-200-level foreign language classes, which do not affect a graduate student’s overall GPA.

Incomplete Course Grades

Graduate students should avoid “I” (Incomplete) grades in any courses on the graduate program. Any Incomplete grades must be finished within one year from the semester when they were awarded. Students who need to extend the time required to complete a course beyond one year may apply for an extension of the Incomplete grade. The application for extension requires approval by the instructor of the course, the Department Chair, and the Dean of the College. If an Incomplete is not finished within the allotted period, it will lapse to an “F” or the grade designated by the instructor. Grades lower than “C” cannot be counted on the MA program and subject a student’s Advancement to Candidacy to cancellation.

Continuous CSULB Enrollment

Students are required to be continuously enrolled at CSULB to acquire the MA degree. Students who are absent for twelve consecutive months break the continuous enrollment and must apply for readmission. Students previously Advanced to Candidacy must satisfy any new requirements in effect at the time of readmission and may have to petition through the Graduate Advisor for reinstatement in the program by the Associate Vice President. To avoid such problems, if you know you must break enrollment temporarily, you should submit in advance an Educational Leave Form to the Office of Enrollment Services. Consult the University Catalog for further information on policies governing “Educational Leave.”

Graduate Studies 700

A candidate who has completed course work, but not the comprehensive examination or the thesis, may satisfy the continuous enrollment requirement with a non-credit Extension course, Graduate Studies 700. Students must be registered either in a course or in GS 700 for every semester in which they plan to use University facilities or consult members of the faculty. Registration is also required in Winter or Summer Session if that is when you plan to graduate. Application forms are available in the English Department office.  Students should register for GS 700 in the first two weeks of the semester.  After two semesters of enrollment in GS 700, students will need the Graduate Advisor’s approval for subsequent enrollment in GS 700.

The Request to Graduate Form

All students must file a Request to Graduate Form.  This form is due to the Office of Enrollment Services the semester prior to intended graduation—by March 1 for fall or winter graduation, by October 15 for spring or summer graduation.  This form is available only by downloading it from the website of the Office of Enrollment Services:

Before filing, students must already have an approved Advancement to Candidacy on file in Enrollment Services.  The completed form must be returned to the General Information windows after paying appropriate fees to the Cashier’s Office. No degree can be granted unless this form is filed.  Students planning to graduate in one year should file the card at the time of admission.

Seven Year Requirement for Completion of Degree

All students must complete all degree requirements within seven years from the first units earned towards the MA.  Courses more than seven years old must be replaced or “revalidated” to count in an MA program.  The English Department  will revalidate no more than three courses on a student’s Program of Study and will not revalidate any course for which a student earned a grade lower than a “B.”  If more than three courses require revalidation, or if the grade for a course is lower than a “B,” the student will have to retake those courses, if it is a requirement for the MA program, or replace it with a current course that completes the student’s Program of Study.  To revalidate a course, students must provide a written demonstration of current competence in the subject matter of the course; the specific work to be performed will be assigned by the faculty member who taught the courses, if he or she is available, or by another faculty member in the same or related area of study.  Revalidation requires authorization by the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Studies.


Some courses carrying credit in the English MA program may also count toward a teaching credential or a certificate program (e.g., Technical and Professional Writing). A student interested in combining such programs should consult both the Graduate Advisor and the advisor of the other program involved to determine which courses may overlap.  In such situations, students may wish to take the final comprehensive examination in an Area of Concentration that takes advantage of the overlap, e.g., IX–Rhetoric, Writing, and Composition (see “The Final Comprehensive Examination” section for more information).

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