MA Guide

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.  Review the current bulletin copy for the Department of English graduate programs.

This guide provides general program information as well as details about advising, registration, curriculum and thesis/directed study options.

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.

Information Resources | General Program Information | Course Information | Other Curricular Opportunities | Other Departmental Resources | General Requirements for the Degree | Concentration Requirements | Thesis | Directed Study | Due Dates | Graduation | Departmental Organization

Information Resources

Where To Find What You Need
Welcome to the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. We hope your course of study here will be intellectually stimulating and academically enriching. 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.

The current Graduate Bulletin discusses the School of Graduate Studies’ requirements for all students, including general academic regulations. Students should be familiar with all university rules and regulations as detailed in the Graduate Bulletin. 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, 828-1244.

If you have questions beyond the scope of these materials, please contact Les Harrison, Director of the MA (827-8428), or Thom Didato, Graduate Programs Advisor (828-1329). The main departmental phone number is 828-1331. See  Faculty 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 an e-mail 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 e-mail, so failure to have an active e-mail account places you at a significant disadvantage. 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.

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
A graduate student at VCU is considered full time if he or she is enrolled for a minimum of nine and a maximum of sixteen credit hours per semester. More than sixteen hours is an overload and requires special permission. No more than twelve semester credits may be earned in a summer 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. GTA’s 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), GTA’s must complete at least fifteen 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.

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.

Course Information

After the initial registration, subsequent registration for most courses can occur online as specified in each semester’s advanced registration booklet. 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 an list of English graduate classes and course descriptions on the Department of English web site. The meeting times and registration information for these classes can be found in the university’s Schedule of Classes published each semester.

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.”

Students may take graduate-level classes offered in other departments that complement their interests within their concentration. You must get approval from the program director or your advisor prior to enrolling. 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.

Other Curricular Opportunities

Independent Study
Independent studies are designed for the student who wishes to pursue a subject beyond the scope a course typically allows; thus, they are intended for students who have developed a specific research interest, theoretical problem, or sustained topic to explore. Prerequisite for all independent study courses are six credits of appropriate graduate course work. Independent study is not available for a course that duplicates courses already being offered. Neither can it be used as thesis hours or for a creative writing project. A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level independent study courses.

Students must have a member of the graduate faculty direct their independent study. Students must submit a description of the course of study, a bibliography, and the anticipated final product (e.g., a long paper). Students should be sure the description and bibliography are carefully prepared to give a clear sense of the aim and goals of the project. Independent studies must be approved by the faculty member who will direct the study, by the Department Chair and by the Director of the MA. A copy of the form required to process an independent study is included in this handbook. Once the study is approved, you will be given a special card with which to register.

Please note: To obtain the required Independent Study Proposal Form please contact the Graduate Programs Advisor.

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, 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 student who has not previously written poetry, drama, or fiction may consider taking an undergraduate course in creative writing at the 400 level in order to prepare a sufficient portfolio. Undergraduate courses in creative writing at the 400 level do not count toward the graduate degree.

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
The possibilities for internships (for credit) exist and change each year. Please consult with the graduate director or the Graduate Programs Advisor for more information and to obtain the required Internship in Writing Proposal Form.

Other Departmental Resources

Graduate Teaching Assistantships
The Department of English offers a limited number of Graduate Teaching Assistantships each year. Assistantship duties usually involve working as a tutor in the writing center,  assisting faculty in large lecture courses, research, or administrative duties, and other assignments that meet departmental needs. Assignments are made by the Associate Chair in consultation with faculty program directors. Assistantships are available to full-time students only, and the students must take the required Practicum (English 500) as part of their responsibilities. 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 Masters 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 must apply to the director of the MA Program (Les Harrison).  Assistantship application forms are available from the Graduate Programs Advisor and must be submitted to the program director by March 1.

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 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. The GWA also helps sponsor select Visiting Writers Series events.

General Degree Requirements

Regardless of concentration, 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/o 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 their concentration. As discussed further below, in each concentration, a student may choose to write a thesis as part of the degree.

Concentration Requirements

There are two concentrations of study, both leading to the MA degree in English: MA in English and the MA in English Research track.  Both concentrations require 30 hours of coursework. The requirements are as follows:

MA in English – for students looking to broaden their literary coverage. Suitable for students who view the Masters as a terminal degree or those who wish to complete a directed study as opposed to a thesis. Requirements:

1.  English 501, Introduction to Graduate English Studies  (1 credit hour)
2.  Either English 605, Introduction to Scholarship in English or  English 606, Literary Criticism (3 credit hours)
3.  Directed study resulting in a major paper with presentation to be completed in the last semester of coursework (1-3 credit hours)

MA-Research – for students pursuing advanced English studies with an emphasis on research, criticism, and methodology.  Suitable for students considering a PhD or for those desiring to write an MA thesis. Students may choose to focus their coursework in either Literature or Writing and Rhetoric. Requirements:

1.  English 501, Introduction to Graduate English Studie (1 credit hour)
2.  Both English 605, Introduction to Scholarship in English and English 606, Literary Criticism (6 credit hours)
3.  Six-hour thesis to be completed in the final two semesters of coursework (6 credit hours)


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

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.

Directed Study/Project and Presentation

Please 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 his or her 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 1, 2, or 3 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 him or her. 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 him or her.

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.


To graduate, students must complete the requirements for their track and submit a completed graduation application. Graduation applications (paper and/or electronic) must be submitted to the student’s advisor 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.

Important English MA Due Dates

For a list of vital due dates for both directed studies and theses please see:

Due Dates for MA Directed Studies and Theses

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 within either concentration are discussed and approved by the graduate faculty.

Montserrat Fuentes, Dean, College of Humanities and Sciences
F. Douglas Boudinot, Dean, Graduate School
Nicholas Frankel, Acting Chair, Department of English
Sachi Shimomura, Associate Chair, Department of English
Les Harrison, Director of MA in English
David Wojahn, Director of MFA in Creative Writing
Thom Didato, Graduate Programs Advisor

Les Harrison, Director of the MA Program
Thom Didato, Graduate Programs Advisor

Upcoming Deadlines

Classes Begin
AUGUST 23, 2018

Add/Drop Deadline
AUGUST 29, 2018

Graduation Application Deadline

Fall Break
OCTOBER 18-21, 2018

Course Withdrawal Deadline
NOVEMBER 2, 2018

Last Day of Classes
DECEMBER 8, 2018



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