Through a wide range of courses offered in English, students develop the ability to read closely and to engage in skilled textual analysis. They gain a sense of diverse literary histories and an understanding of literary genres. Deepening their engagement with literature, they formulate and test questions about texts and compare them critically. Students learn to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of critical sources, methods, and interpretations and to negotiate among them. Discussions and course work require students to develop their own ideas about texts and to present persuasive arguments in an articulate, responsive, and insightful manner, in both speech and writing. The English major prepares students for careers such as teaching, publishing, and writing, for graduate study in literature, and for graduate programs leading to the study or practice of medicine, law, public health, bioethics, and library science.

Departmental offerings are intended to be taken in sequence. Courses at the 100 level are open to all students. Courses at the 200 level are more difficult in both the amount of material covered and the level of inquiry; they also address questions of theory and methodology in more self-conscious ways. Most 200-level courses have prerequisites. Seminars at the 300 level are generally for juniors and seniors who have completed several English courses (the latter requirement may be waived at the discretion of the instructor for certain interdisciplinary majors). More information on the English department is available on the website (

Major Requirements

Majors must complete eleven courses of which a minimum of seven must be taken from Bates faculty in the English department.

1) For students not electing the option of a creative writing concentration, the eleven courses required for the major include the senior thesis and ten other courses, one or two courses of which may be taken at the 100-level, with the remaining taken at the 200-level and above.

2) Among the eleven courses, students must complete the following:
a) a critical methods course;
b) three courses on literature before 1800 (one must be medieval; only one may be on Shakespeare);
c) three courses on literature after 1800;
d) two courses taken in the department that examine race, ethnicity, or diasporic literature;
e) two junior-senior seminars taken in the department and taught by English faculty;
f) a one-semester or two-semester thesis.

The critical methods course (ENG 296) is a prerequisite for the senior thesis. Students are strongly advised to take the methods course in their second year. Students also are strongly encouraged to take an additional critical theory course before their senior year (e.g., INDS 325).

The department requires each major to begin to assemble a portfolio of their most significant writing from courses (that is, ambitious, accomplished, representative writing). The portfolio includes critical essays written for 100-, 200-, or 300-level courses, and if relevant to the individual major's plans, also creative work in fiction or poetry. During the winter or Short Term of the third year, the department reviews each major's portfolio.

For the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023, English Short Term courses may be counted toward the major at the discretion of the course instructor. For the Class of 2024 and beyond, two English Short Term courses may count toward one course requirement. For the major, at the decision of the course instructor. A first-year seminar taught by a member of the English faculty may count toward the English major as a 100-level course, at the instructor's discretion. Students not pursuing the creative writing concentration may count one course in creative writing toward the major.

Students may count any two Bates literature courses offered outside the department toward the English major, including:
a) literature courses in a language other than English in which the primary focus is on literature rather than language instruction.The English department strongly recommends that majors take courses in Greek and Latin literature, particularly courses in Homer, Virgil, Ovid, or classical mythology that are offered by the Program in Classical and Medieval Studies.
b) literature courses offered by the Department of Theater and Dance, with a primary emphasis on literature rather than production.

Students may receive no more than two credits for semester-abroad courses, and, normally, no more than two credits for yearlong study-abroad courses. Under special circumstances, and upon written petition to the English department, students studying off campus for the year may receive credit for three courses.

One course credit is granted for Advanced Placement scores of four or five. However, such credits count only toward overall graduation requirements, not toward the eleven-course major requirement in English.

Creative Writing

English majors may elect a program in creative writing, which entails a thirteen-course major. This program is intended to complement and enhance the English major and to provide structure for those students already committed to creative writing. Students who wish to write a creative thesis must undertake this program.

Requirements for the focus on creative writing include:

1) Two introductory courses in the writing of fiction (291), poetry (292), nonfiction (293), drama (THEA 240), or screenwriting (294).

2) One advanced course in the writing of fiction or poetry (391 or 392) or playwriting (THEA 339).

3) Three related courses in the English department and/or in the literature of a language other than English. These courses should focus on the genre (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama) in which the student plans to write the thesis.

4) A one- or two-semester thesis (nonhonors) in which the student writes and revises a portfolio of creative work.

Students who elect the creative writing concentration must fulfill all English major requirements but may count toward those requirements one creative writing course as well as the related literature courses and the thesis.


With departmental approval, students may write a two-semester honors thesis in the senior year. Majors who wish to present themselves as potential honors candidates are encouraged to register for at least one junior-senior seminar in their junior year. Majors who elect to participate in a junior-year-abroad program and who also want to present themselves as honors candidates must submit evidence of broadly comparable course work or independent study pursued elsewhere; such persons are encouraged to consult with the department before their departure or early in their year abroad. At the end of their junior year, prospective honors candidates must submit a two-page proposal and a one-page bibliography; those wishing to write a two-semester creative thesis must submit a one-page description of a project and a substantial writing sample. Both are due on the first Friday of the Short Term.

Graduate Study

Students planning to do graduate work — whether an M.A. or Ph.D. or an M.F.A. in creative writing —should seek advice early concerning their undergraduate program, the range of graduate school experience, and vocational options. Most graduate programs require reading proficiency in two other languages, so it is strongly recommended that prospective graduate students achieve at least a two-year proficiency in a classical (Latin, Greek) or modern language.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

Pass/fail grading may not be elected for courses counting toward the major.