In the English department at Dickinson College, we study texts and our relation to them as readers and writers. The text might be an epic poem by John Milton or Derek Walcott; a novel by Jane Austen or Cormac McCarthy; a Shakespeare play or a Chris Ware graphic novel; a Clint Eastwood film or an Elizabeth Bishop lyric. Our common work is to learn to view these texts through multiple lenses: historical, cultural, biographical, linguistic, psychological and political. To aid students in becoming independent thinkers and articulate writers, we offer courses in rhetoric, language and expository or creative writing. In a yearlong senior experience, majors write a 35-50 page thesis on a textual subject of their choosing. Because our graduates know how to think critically and write fluently, they flourish in a variety of professions and vocations: they become writers and bankers, teachers and politicians, lawyers and environmentalists, journalists and college professors, activists and world travelers. As we read, think and write, our goal is to learn to live reflectively and imaginatively, to lead thoughtful, examined lives. Long after the last paper is written and course credit recorded, reading literature and writing continue to give our graduates the imaginative space Thoreau found at Walden—the space where, in his words, he learned how “to live deliberately.”

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

ENGL 101, Texts and Contexts

Test scores and credits that may affect course selection.

Advanced placement: course credit and/or placement
Students who score 4 or 5 on the English Literature Placement Examination are encouraged to go directly into ENGL 220 (gateway for majors). They should check with Professor Carol Ann Johnston (, department chair, by email if they have questions. Spaces are being held for first-year students in ENGL 220.

Transfer credits
Students should see the chairperson before selecting courses for the first semester, since prior courses have to be evaluated for equivalence in the English major.

Creative writing
Students interested in creative writing should let the Creative Writing minor coordinator, Professor Adrienne Su (, know of his or her interest. Entry into ENGL 218 creative writing courses is open to majors and non-majors in all years and the demand for these courses is high. We encourage students to be flexible and persistent.

For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: English.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

Humanities (Division I B):
ENGL 101, Texts and Contexts (first-year students, whether wishing to fulfill a distribution requirement or contemplating a major in English, should enroll in a section of ENGL 101, unless the student brings an AP credit, in which case 220 is the appropriate course) 
ENGL 320-99, advanced literature courses with permission of the instructor.

Writing in the Discipline (WID):
ENGL 212, Writing: Special Topics 
ENGL 220, Critical Approaches and Literary Methods (gateway for majors)

Suggested curricular flow through the major

The English Major requires eleven courses, but we find that the more successful students may take as many as eighteen courses in the major. We encourage, in addition, a year’s study abroad. Our program in Norwich, England, at the University of East Anglia, is convenient and enriching for our students; the credits transfer back to Dickinson easily. We also have a selective program at Mansfield College, Oxford. Successful admission to this program requires that a student show depth in the major by second semester of the sophomore year, so taking three hundred level course early is essential. Many of our students also study in Cameroon, India, and other Asian and African countries; this study requires careful planning to ensure successful completion of the major.

The guidelines are written for the entering student who knows he or she wants to major in English. Rather than specify the courses that you “must” have in a given semester, the following is general advice regarding courses that we suggest you take during each year. You should think of these guidelines as giving you a fast track into the major – this provides maximum flexibility in your junior and senior year.

First Year
English 220 (or 101 if you didn’t score at least a 4 on the AP literature exam). 220 is the gateway course to the major, so should be taken in the first year. 
Foreign language
First Year Seminar
Two courses at the 300 level (two of the 300s must be pre-1800, and two, post-1800)

Sophomore Year
Four courses at the 300 level
Continue with foreign language and other requirements. Focus upon courses relevant to the English major to fulfill requirements, such as English and American history, American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Art and Art History. Crucial for understanding literature before the 19th century, a course in the Bible would be very valuable as well. Consider philosophy, music, and Classical literature also as wonderful accompaniments to the English major.

Junior Year
Four Courses at the 300 Level
Electives—all courses taken abroad. Focus upon courses and subjects not offered extensively at Dickinson, but relevant to the English major: Film studies, dramatic literature, and so forth.

Senior Year
English 403 (fall--first semester of required senior seminar) 
English 404 (spring--second semester of required seminar) 
Two 300-level English courses
Finish all other requirements: (core courses, electives, language as needed)

For information regarding the suggested guidelines, please feel free to contact an English department faculty member.

Senior Thesis

The senior experience in the English department is a yearlong course, English 403-404. During the spring term, seniors will workshop their senior thesis in three parts. The process brings all participants together as writers and peer editors to produce a thesis between 35 and 50 pages. When you have chosen your topic, focus upon courses in other departments that might support your topic.


A select number of 404 theses may be recommended for departmental honors by the faculty members who are instructing sections of 403/404. Each candidate must produce a manuscript of truly extraordinary merit (breadth, depth, and sophistication), beyond the normal standards of the grade of "A." A project recommended for honors shall have come about as a result of one's independent research culminating during the workshop semester (404), and shall be awarded only by a vote of the English Department upon the recommendation of a faculty committee appointed by the Chair.

Independent study and independent research

The English Department offers independent study and research in literature and in expository and creative writing for content not covered in regular courses. A list of professors and their special interests is available in the English office, 4th floor, East College 400. As a general rule, no more than two independent studies or independent research courses may be counted toward the major; exceptions must be approved by the department chairperson. Students must secure a professor with whom to study and submit proposals (covering topic, methodology, preparation, relevance to educational goals, bibliography or primary and secondary sources, director, and course requirements) normally in the semester before the study is to be undertaken. See the academic department coordinator for English for the necessary forms.


Students who are interested should gain experience by writing for The Dickinsonian or The Dickinson Review, the college's literary journal. English majors have done internships with state and local government agencies, newspapers, public relations firms, and the media.

Co-curricular activities/programs

Belles Lettres Society
Founded in 1786, the Belles Lettres Society is one of the oldest active literary societies in the country. In addition to sponsoring a variety of events for Dickinson writers and readers, Belles Lettres publishes The Dickinson Review, a national literary magazine.

Opportunities for off-campus study

Majors and prospective majors should investigate opportunities early in their sophomore year. The Dickinson Program in Norwich, England, and other overseas programs can be integrated into an English major's curricular requirements. The department chairperson should be contacted for details.

Additional Remarks

Advising: A student may request a particular faculty member in the department; the chairperson assigns an advisor to each student when he or she declares a major in English.

Related activities: We encourage students who wish to become English majors, or who like to write, to make the most of the opportunities to write on campus and develop a portfolio. Such opportunities include The Dickinsonian, The Dickinson Review, Belles Lettres Society, internships, material for the Mermaid Players and the like. 

Careers: Information about career opportunities is available in the English office and from English faculty.