English Major

Haverford College’s English major offers students the opportunity to engage with a vast range of literature and culture—British, American and global—that reflects the diversity of our world.

Our program is distinguished by its theoretical and global breadth—of subject matter as well as disciplinary and methodological approaches, and every member of our faculty is committed to nurturing in students the ability to respond thoughtfully and critically to any text. Students emerge from the major as discerning readers, powerful writers, and incisive and intensely human thinkers.

The academic rigor that marks our major goes hand-in-hand with a strong sense of community. Student collaboration, close faculty mentorship, as well as a rich array of learning opportunities outside the classroom are additional hallmarks of our vibrant program.

Curriculum & Courses

Majors pursue a demanding curriculum that progresses from introductory courses in literature, critical theory, and writing to advanced courses to independent research. Our requirements, which include course work across time periods, genres, and geography, and theoretical fields and at a range of levels, reflect that commitment.

The crux of our programming occurs in junior and senior years, when our majors are involved in especially rigorous and rewarding work. Junior Seminar, our two semester-long tutorial course, introduces majors to key texts in British, American and global literatures and a broad range of critical theory. Junior Seminar is followed by Senior Conference. In this year-long course, seniors work closely with faculty to develop and write their theses. They also prepare for and take oral exams covering a range of coursework for the major.

  • Major Requirements

    Admission to the major requires completion of at least two courses, WRPR H150 or a 100-level English course and one course at the 200-level, by the end of the sophomore year..

    In total the major requires eleven credits, including a .5 credit tutorial (ENGL H298J) as part of Junior Seminar. Note: ENGL H399F and ENGL H399B  comprises a 1.5 credit course taken over the full senior year.

    • Seven courses at the 100, 200 and 300 levels of which:
      • at least two must be in literature written before 1800;
      • at least two in literature written after 1800;
      • at least one but no more than two courses at the 100 level, which can include WRPR H150; two to three courses at the 200-level; and at least two courses at the 300-level.
    • ENGL H298 and ENGL H299, the two-semester Junior Seminar in English
    • ENGL H298J, the .5 credit yearlong Junior Seminar tutorial
    • ENGL H399F (fall) and ENGL H399B (spring) for a total 1.5 credit Senior Conference

    Note: The department will give major credit for one semester course in a foreign literature in the original language or for Comparative Literature 200. No more than four major credits will be awarded for work done beyond the Tri- College Consortium, whether abroad or in the U.S. Courses taken in the Bryn Mawr English Department, the Swarthmore English Department, and the U. Penn English Department may also be counted towards the major at Haverford.

    Senior Project


    The culminating research experience for our majors is Senior Seminar, ENGL H399. The course carries 1.5 credits and involves two parts: a critical essay based on independent research and reading guided by a faculty mentor; and a comprehensive oral examination that covers the thesis and the coursework the student has done towards the major. Creative Writing concentrators produce, instead of the critical essay, a portfolio of poems or short stories, a novella, or a screenplay accompanied by a foreword or afterword that reflects on their artistic choices and offers an analytic framework within which the work may be understood.

    Preparatory Work

    English majors take Junior Seminar, a year-long course that considers both major works in the field and critical and theoretical materials in the discipline. This methodological focus, along with an oral exam at the end of the first semester and comprehensive assessment at the end of the second, prepares students for the extended research and oral expectations of Senior Conference. More information on Junior Seminar is available on the department’s website. Students also participate in a workshop conducted by the Writing Program during the spring preceding the senior year: this meeting encourages junior majors to draw upon the coursework they have already undertaken both to identify areas, topics, authors, and critical questions and to begin reading widely in preparation for their thesis.

    Senior Conference

    Fall Semester Senior Year:

    Students in the Senior Conference propose research topics to faculty consultants and are assigned to a faculty advisor by the middle of the fall semester. Students mark out an area of interest focused on an author, text, genre, theme, or formal feature, familiarize themselves with the major critical voices and debates pertaining to this field, and identify a set of issues that they investigate and analyze in their essays. Students meet each week in groups before moving to individualized meetings with their thesis advisor.

    Date Event
    September submission of essay topic and preferences for faculty consultant
    October description of project, approved by assigned faculty consultant
    October meeting with Reference Librarian
    November two-page thesis statement due with short bibliography of relevant primary and critical sources
    December detailed annotated bibliography

    Spring Semester Senior Year:

    Students have individual tutorials as they work towards submission of a draft and final thesis. At the end of the spring semester, eight students give presentations of their work over the course of two evenings. One-hour oral examinations are administered during the following week by the thesis advisor, a second reader, and a third examiner over a three- to four-day period.

    Date Event
    January full outline and 4-5 draft pages of essay due
    February completed rough draft due
    April final draft of essay due
    April abstracts and reflective statements due
    April oral exam lists due
    April senior presentations to full department
    May oral comprehensive examinations with department panel

    Additional information about Senior Conference and the Senior Thesis can be found on the department’s website.

    Senior Project Learning Goals

    The Senior Conference will encourage students to:

    • mark out productive and independent lines of intellectual inquiry.
    • understand theoretical and critical works in the discipline.
    • engage with primary and secondary literature.
    • develop a critical writing voice for article-length work.
    • prepare a bibliography of works for oral examination.
    • hone oral skills of synthesis and dialogue in presentation and exams.
    • reflect in writing and speech about the thesis process.
    • experience scholarship as collaboration: work closely with a faculty advisor and peers on developing the project.
    • define scholarship as process: work through the stages of a research project.

    Senior Project Assessment

    The department seeks well-written, persuasive essays that advance independent and original arguments about texts. Theses will be based on insightful close readings and deep engagement with relevant critical and background material. The creative thesis option is assayed for the imagination with which particular projects are conceived, control over the medium, inventive play with generic conventions, insight, clarity and beauty of expression, and the capacity for self-reflection as demonstrated in the critical foreword/afterword.

    Students are assessed at various stages of the process, described below, both by individual advisors and department faculty as a whole. Final letter grades are decided upon by the full department in careful discussion and consideration of student performance at each stage. Students receive extensive written comments from first reader (faculty mentor) and second reader at the end of the process.

    The faculty mentor provides feedback on the following elements prior to the student examination:

    • Preliminary proposal
    • 4-5 pages of preliminary draft
    • Full draft
    • Annotated bibliography

    The faculty mentor and department assess the following dimensions of the project as a full group:

    • Quality of Senior Essay
    • Quality of Oral Examination
    • Student Reflective Statement

    Requirements for Honors

    The department awards honors in English on the basis of performance in coursework within the Tri-College departments, the senior essay and the oral examination conducted at the end of the senior year. The department reserves honors and high honors for distinguished achievement in all three of these areas.

Associated Programs and Concentrations

Research & Outreach

All English majors produce a thesis, a critical essay 25-30 pages long based on independent research and reading. Work on the thesis occurs throughout senior year as Senior Conference, in which students work closely with faculty advisors on the development of their research, conceptual frameworks, and writing strategies.

Seniors also participate in oral comprehensive exams. The exam, which occurs at the close of senior year, requires each student to participate in a dynamic conversation with several faculty members. The exchange focuses on the student’s thesis as well as a selection of works studied over the course of the major. For students as well as faculty, the thesis and oral exam represent the major at its most powerful and inspiring.

After Graduation

Majors graduate from our program exceptionally prepared to enter graduate programs in English as well as a range of disciplines. Many also pursue other paths, applying the analytical acumen, communication skills, and creative insight that they developed in the major to fields that include law, business, non-profit arts, publishing, government service, and social work, as well as many others.

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