MA Program Guide

Welcome to the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. We hope your course of study here will be intellectually stimulating and academically enriching. It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the graduate bulletin as well as the academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites; however, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on this graduate bulletin website and on the Graduate School website, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.  This guide is designed to give you the information you’ll need as you progress through the program. It provides general program information as well as details about advising, registration procedures, and requirements.

Information Resources

Where To Find What You Need

The Virginia Commonwealth University bulletins are published yearly for each of the student populations served by the institution. The graduate bulletin contains information about university policies, course descriptions and academic requirements for the programs offered to graduate students.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites; however, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the graduate bulletin website and on the Graduate School website, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

The current Graduate Bulletin for the English Department discusses the School of Graduate Studies’ requirements for all students, including general academic regulations. The bulletin and each semester’s schedule of classes outline the academic calendar and give the dates for registration, the add/drop period, and graduation application deadlines.

The university’s annual resource guide, published by the Division of Students Affairs, provides a directory of university services and policies. In the resource guide, you’ll find a variety of information about topics ranging from grade review procedures to parking services. The Division of Student Affairs is located in Sitterding House, 901 Floyd Avenue, (804) 828-1244.

Department Contacts

If you have questions beyond the scope of these materials, please contact Jennifer Rhee, director of the MA, or Thom Didato, graduate programs advisor. The main departmental phone number is (804) 828-1331. See the online faculty directory for the names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses for all graduate faculty in the department.

Where We Contact You

Every enrolled graduate student must have and regularly check a VCU email account. Electronic mail is the primary vehicle for conveying information to you. Course information, examination dates, fellowship announcements, and other professional opportunities are relayed only by email. Additionally, MA graduate assistants have a place to receive mail and various printed materials in the English department’s main office in Hibbs 306 or Hibbs 341. Please check these mailboxes frequently.

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General Program Information


Initially, students meet with the graduate programs advisor to determine their classes for the first semester. While many graduate students “self advise,” you are strongly encouraged to maintain regular communication with either the graduate programs advisor (Thom Didato) or your faculty thesis / directed study advisor to ensure your program of study is appropriate. Students, however, are expected to keep their own tally of credits and lists of classes that will fulfill the degree requirements.

If you need information about requirements, forms, deadlines, or other administrative aspects of your degree, please see the graduate programs advisor.

Student Status

Graduate students at VCU are considered full-time if they are enrolled for a minimum of nine and a maximum of 16 credit hours per semester. More than 16 hours is an overload and requires special permission. No more than 12 semester credits may be earned in a summer semester.

Note: Nine credit hours comprising three, three-hour graduate courses, is the standard load for students enrolled in the graduate program. Entering students are discouraged from taking more than nine graduate credit hours in their first semester.

Students must maintain an overall grade-point average of 3.0 (“B”) and will receive no credit for courses graded lower than “C.” Students receiving two or more “C’s” or any grade of “D” or “F” will be reviewed for possible academic termination. Students who do not register for courses for more than one calendar year and who do not apply for a leave of absence must reapply for admission to the university and MA in English.

Graduate teaching assistants must register for nine hours each semester (full-time status). GTAs must take three hours of English 500 (Practicum in Teaching College English), which may count toward that total. Also, during each academic year (fall and spring semesters), GTAs must complete at least 15 hours that do count toward graduation. This “reasonable progress” toward a degree is required to maintain financial aid. Please note that English 500 hours do not count toward required graduation credits. GTAs are prohibited from holding jobs in addition to their graduate assistantship.

Time Limit for Completion of Requirements

The time limit for completing a graduate degree cannot exceed seven years. At the master’s level this period includes five years with two possible one-year extensions. Upon written petition through the MA program director, extensions may be granted by the dean of the School of Graduate Studies. All work applied toward the degree, including work transferred from other institutions, cannot be more than seven years old when all degree requirements are fulfilled and you apply for graduation. For additional details, please consult the Graduate Bulletin for the English Department.

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Course Information


Advance registration for the following semester for graduate students begins during the tenth week of the semester. While you may register at any time between the commencement of advance registration and the beginning of classes, you are strongly encouraged to register during advance registration. Please remember that even though the university generates a bill when you register, tuition is not due until the semester begins so do not let that prevent you from registering in advance. Advance registration enables students to enroll in the courses of their choice and provides the department with the information necessary to make accurate determinations about enrollment figures and future course offerings. Students would do well to consult with an advisor prior to each registration.

Credit for Courses

Graduate courses are listed in the Graduate Bulletin. Each semester the department provides a list of English graduate classes and course descriptions on the Department of English website. The meeting times and registration information for these classes can be found in the university’s schedule of classes published each semester.

Only graduate courses may be applied to a graduate degree. All classes must be at the 500-, 600-, or 700-level. At least half of the required courses for the degree must be numbered 600 or above. As detailed above, students must achieve an overall grade-point average of 3.0 (“B”) and will receive no credit for courses graded lower than “C.” With approval from the program director students may take graduate-level classes offered in other departments that complement their interests within the program. Questions regarding courses offered in other departments should be directed to the directors of graduate studies in those departments.

The graduate bulletin contains further information about the School of Graduate Studies’ regulations including attendance requirements, the grades of “W” (withdrawn) and “I” (incomplete), time limits for completing courses graded “I” and other academic policies.

Course Availability

Not all courses listed in the graduate bulletin will be offered every semester. For course availability on a semester-to-semester basis, you should consult the schedule of classes for that semester, as well as the department’s course descriptions. Generally, we offer English 605, Introduction to Literary Scholarship, and English 606, Literary Criticism, once a year. English 501, Introduction to Graduate Studies, is offered every fall. These regularly offered courses are complemented by a variety of courses in writing and rhetoric and a range of seminars in literature. In addition, students may supplement their study with English 560, Studies in British Literature and Culture, or English 570, Studies in American Literature and Culture, which offer seats in appropriate upper-level undergraduate courses with additional reading, writing, and tutorials for graduate students.

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Other Curricular Opportunities

Independent Study

A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level independent study courses (ENGL692). Required independent study proposal forms, as well as further instruction on the process are available via the graduate programs advisor.

Independent study is not available for a course that duplicates courses already being offered, even if you apply for an independent study in a semester in which the course is not available (such as summer). Neither can IS be used as thesis hours or for a creative writing project. It should be noted that professors are offered no remuneration/compensation for conducting independent studies with students. Nevertheless, the independent study rubric may be an excellent way for second-year MA students to pursue an intense academic study in an area of a professor’s specialty where no course offering is available.

Note that, in accordance with departmental guidelines about coursework and offerings, a very limited number of independent studies will be approved per semester (typically no more than two within the entire MA program any given semester). Additionally, independent studies are often reserved for advance/continuing students and are rarely approved in one’s first year during the program. Most students do the majority (if not all) of their credits within the traditional course offerings. The prerequisite for all independent studies is six credits of appropriate graduate coursework. You must get permission to register for an independent study from the professor, the program director, and the department associate chair or chair. Again, forms are available from the English graduate programs advisor. On that form you will be required to present a description of the project you wish to pursue, the anticipated product (such as a long paper) and a bibliography. All independent study proposals must be approved by the MA program director prior to the beginning of the semester in which they are conducted. No overrides will be granted until the paperwork is submitted and approved.

Creative Writing Workshops

Excluding course work in creative nonfiction (open to both MA and MFA students), students in the MFA have first priority for classroom space in creative writing workshops. However, in rare cases, the director of creative writing or the instructor of the course may permit some MA candidates who have an existing portfolio of work to take a creative writing workshop. Decisions will be made on the basis of the student’s portfolio of drama, poetry or fiction, which must be sufficiently advanced to be eligible for enrollment in these courses.

The MA program may limit the number of workshops that can be applied to the MA degree. Please consult with the MA program director for further details.


The requirements for the thesis are outlined below. In order to sign up for thesis credits, students need a thesis director and a prospectus for the thesis. The MA committee, in consultation with your advisor and thesis director, approves all thesis proposals.

Internships in Writing, Teaching, and Editing

MA students may participate in an internship (English 694). Required internship proposal forms, as well as further instruction on the process are available via the graduate programs advisor.

Internship credit is a non-didactic mechanism to reward credit for professionally/academically related work experience. A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level internships.

While many MA students use the Internship in Writing credits as means to work for the Department’s online literary journal, Blackbird, it should be noted that ENGL 694 is not solely designed for internships with the magazine. Other internships have included professional development experiences with local organizations such as the VMFA, James River Writers, Visual Arts Center,, and with Richmond-based magazines, as well as with VCU’s “Open Minds” program, the VCU Writing Center and national writing conference/publishing projects. New internship projects may be arranged by the MFA student in consultation with the program. Again, please see the graduate programs advisor for further details and/or instructions, including forms required to submit an internship proposal for department/program approval.

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Other Departmental Resources

Graduate Teaching Assistantships

The Department of English offers a limited number of graduate teaching assistantships each year. Assistantship duties usually involve assisting faculty in large lecture courses and other assignments that meet departmental needs. Assignments are made by the department in consultation with faculty program directors. Assistantships are available to full-time students only, and the GTAs must take the required Practicum (English 500) as part of their responsibilities and are prohibited from working additional jobs while they hold the assistantship. GTAs receive a stipend and have their full-time tuition paid for the academic year. Assistantships are awarded each year from among all applicants on the basis of each applicant’s academic records (undergraduate and graduate), GRE scores, letters of recommendation, writing sample and professional qualities.

All incoming MA students are automatically considered for assistantships. Students who did not receive an assistantship their first year who wish to be considered for an assistantship their second year may be eligible (if slots available) to reapply to the director of the MA Program (Jennifer Rhee). Interested continuing MA students are encouraged to contact the graduate programs advisor for further information/instruction.

Work-Study Opportunities

The department also has a limited number of work-study opportunities available for graduate students. The applications for these positions are handled through the Office of Financial Aid. Contact that office for further information and the appropriate forms.

Computer Center

The Department of English maintains a graduate student computer room on the fourth floor (room 408) of Hibbs Hall. It is available for use by all English graduate students. Please consult with the department regarding further printing and usage rules.

Graduate Writers Association

The Graduate Writers Association is a student organization, registered with the Office of Student Activities, open to any English graduate student. The organization promotes the literary arts at VCU, primarily through the “Moveable Feast” Readings Series, which provides an opportunity for graduate students to share their work in front of an audience.

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General Degree Requirements

Again, it is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU graduate bulletin as well as the academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites; however, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the graduate bulletin website and on the Graduate School website, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

All students must complete 30 credit hours for the degree, with at least 15 of those hours at the 600-level. University regulations permit the MA committee to accept up to six hours of transfer credit and/or up to six hours taken as a “special student,” i.e., before a student is fully admitted to the program. Credit is not granted automatically but on a case-by-case basis.

With approval from the MA director, students may take a limited number of courses in other departments that complement their interests within the program. Students wishing to explore this option should get in contact with the graduate programs advisor for further information and instruction on the process.

Students may choose to write a thesis as part of the degree or choose to conduct a directed study (non-thesis option).

MA in English (non-thesis)

The MA in English is designed for students pursuing advanced English studies, and students may choose to focus their coursework in either literature or writing and rhetoric.

Degree Requirements

MA in English (with a thesis option)

The MA in English with a thesis option is designed for students pursuing advanced English studies with an emphasis on research, criticism, and methodology.

Degree Requirements


If you decide to write a thesis, there are a number of steps you need to follow. For complete instructions on the process, please read the MA thesis guidelines. In addition, you should consult VCU’s official guide for theses, Graduate School Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Manual, and ETD submission process available from the School of Graduate Studies' Electronic Thesis and Dissertation page.

It is highly recommended that all MA students who intend to write a thesis should meet with the graduate programs advisor during the beginning of their second semester in order review the thesis process/procedure.

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Directed Study/Project and Presentation

Note: Those MA students intending to complete/present a directed study should arrange a meeting with the graduate programs advisor well prior to their last intended semester in order to review the directed study timeline/process and to obtain the required Directed Study Proposal Form.

Every student who chooses not to write a thesis must complete a directed study, which is a substantial project with a graduate faculty advisor and share the results of their research in a public presentation. This project may result in an expansion or reworking of a seminar paper or group of seminar papers; it may involve one, two, or three credits, depending on how much original work the project requires; and it must contain a statement of the theoretical, critical, or methodological issues important to the project. By the end of your second to last semester in the program, submit to the MA director a Directed Study Proposal Form that your faculty advisor has already approved. In order to do this, you must of course first invite and convince a faculty member to direct your study, by sharing a draft proposal with them. Once your project director has agreed, complete both a directed study form and your proposal. A completed form will need your project director’s name and signature and will include a title, a brief description, an explanation of the number of credits the project will require, a selected bibliography, and a biographical paragraph about yourself.

Send the advisor-approved Directed Study Proposal Form to the MA director by the end of the term before you start your directed study. During the semester of your directed study, submit the following drafts to your project director by the following dates: an introduction by the end of the first partial month of term, and a complete draft of your 20-minute, roughly 10-page, presentation by the end of the second month. Failure to meet these preliminary due dates may prohibit a student from graduating on time. Please allow your faculty director at least two weeks to read and respond to any draft that you give them.

Near the end of your last term (and usually in November or April), you will make a presentation, not to exceed 20 minutes, before your advisor, the MA committee members, and interested faculty and students. Shortly thereafter, and before the end of term, present your full essay, complete with notes and references.

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Important English MA Due Dates

For a list of vital due dates for both directed studies and theses, please visit the MA Students Due Dates page.

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To graduate, students must complete the requirements for their track and submit a completed graduation application. Graduation applications (all are now electronic/online) must be submitted during the first two weeks of the semester in which the student plans to graduate. Students must be enrolled the semester they plan to graduate. In consultation with the graduate programs advisor the graduating student is responsible for verifying that they have met all the program/degree requirements by the end of their final semester.

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VCU Title IX Policy

VCU’s policy on sexual misconduct/violence and sex/gender discrimination applies to the entire university community: faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate student, and third parties. That means the policy applies both to your interactions with your faculty supervisor and, in turn, the undergraduates in the class you are assisting. As the policy details, “membership in a university community carries with it the responsibility for mutual trust and respect and adherence to the standards of conduct established by the community. Virginia Commonwealth University is committed to providing an environment that emphasizes the dignity and value of every member of its community and that is free from sexual misconduct, assault, harassment or any form of discrimination based on sex/gender.”

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Departmental Organization

The MA committee, with the director of the MA as ex officio member and with two elected members from the graduate faculty, monitors the program. The committee serves as an admission committee, reviews student requests for special action (including waivers of requirements), and evaluates thesis proposals. The committee also meets to consider curricular changes and serves as an advisory committee to the director.

The director of the MA also serves on the Graduate Studies Committee. This committee facilitates interaction between the MA and MFA programs and plans scheduling of graduate courses. Chaired by the department chair, the committee includes the director of the MFA, the associate chair, and elected members of the faculty. Any changes to the curricular requirements are discussed and approved by the graduate faculty.

Catherine Ingrassia, Interim Dean, College of Humanities and Sciences
Manu Gupta, Interim Dean, Graduate School
Les Harrison, Chair, Department of English
Gretchen Comba, Associate Chair, Department of English
Jennifer Rhee, Director of MA in English
Kathleen Graber, Director of MFA in Creative Writing
Thom Didato, Graduate Programs Advisor

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