FAQ for Prospective Students
Welcome! We're glad you're thinking about taking English courses or majoring in English. Here are answers to some common questions about the department. If you don't see your question and answer here, please email the Department Chair, Professor David Ball, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details about the English major and current upper-level courses, please access our Spring 2016 student major newsletter.
- Do English majors like their department? Do they feel involved?
Yes! The English department has some of the most enthusiastic, involved, and accomplished majors on campus. You can find them discussing complicated passages or difficult issues in classroom discussion, chatting with world-famous novelists at an event reception, or debating contents and layout at a journal production meeting.
Student engagement and participation is key at every level of the English curriculum, from 100 classes (where you can consider some classics of medieval literature through the revisions of Monty Python, or figure out how Eudora Welty's short fiction relates to her photography) to the 400 level (where can will tackle a long thesis on a topic of your choice among the support of your peers in a group workshop.)
What's more, department faculty are committed to involving students in all aspects of the major and consult regularly with a dedicated Student Advisory Committee. Click here to find out what this group of students likes especially about their time in the department. We encourage you to ask these majors and others about their experience in East College.
- What do I tell my parents about the English major, especially if they don’t want me to major in English?
Some parents—and students—are wary of the English major because it doesn't point to a single career following graduation. But this is a benefit, not a detriment, of studying English. Courses in our department provide the skills that are necessary to almost all post-graduate employment. These skills include the ability to write clearly, to read critically, to speak cogently, and to participate in group discussion with tact and acuity. During a time of fast-changing job requirements and career instability, such knowledge will prepare you for your future without constraining you to a certain type of work that may or may not be available in the coming decades. That's why you can find English majors on a court bench and in your doctor's office as well as in a newspaper-column byline or in front of a classroom. Dickinson English department alumni are currently working in finance, curating at a television museum, finishing up a law degree, teaching high school, and managing PR campaigns—among other pursuits. Click here for the first-person accounts of some recent alumni, explaining what they're up to and how Dickinson English helped them get where they wanted to go.
The Dickinson English department does more than just teach important skills, however. Along with Career Center advisors, English department advisors also work with students to plan intelligently for a career from early in college. Professors in our department get to know students, and such attention makes for effective recommendation letters when it comes time to find a job, graduate school placement, fellowship, etc. The close faculty-student ties in the English department are a major advantage during your job search.
English department events will also help you to research career possibilities and develop career skills. The Cogan Fellowship brings a recent English major alumnus/a back to campus every year specifically to talk about his/her career path. That talk is a great chance to figure out your own options. Other talks and presentations provide good chances to meet people, ask questions, practice networking, and discover options.
Finally, as you're thinking about your future, remind your parents and yourself that you will be happier—and work harder, and get better grades, and learn more—if you're engaged in coursework that's genuinely interesting to you. College should prepare you for employment, but life beyond college consists of more than work. Your college major should speak to big questions as well as provide specific skills. Your studies should nourish wide-ranging interests as well as further marketable qualifications.
- What kind of jobs can I get after majoring in English?
Pretty much any kind of job, depending on what you decide to pursue. Dickinson English majors have worked as everything from architects and accountants to management consultants and psychiatric social workers—as well as journalists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and artists. Click here to see the range of positions currently held by recent alumni, along with their accounts of how Dickinson English contributed to their career path.
Be sure to check out the Cogan Fellowship page, too. The Cogan Fellowship brings a recent English major alumnus/a back to campus every year specifically to talk about his/her career path. Recent Cogan fellows have included an international art consultant, a political journalist, a lawyer working for the state of Pennsylvania, and a special-education caseworker.
If you're thinking about a particular career, your departmental advisor may be able to put you in touch with an English department alumnus/a working in the same field. You can also think about an internship that would enhance with your English department coursework and further your job qualifications.
- Can I go to law school, medical school, or graduate school after majoring in English?
Absolutely. English department courses and requirements coordinate well with pre-health and pre-law recommendations. Check with the Career Center for ways to prepare in these fields, and talk with your English department advisor about your plans. English department courses—in particular, the senior experience—also prepare students to make strong graduate-school applications. If you're thinking about graduate school, talk to your English department advisor as soon as possible so that he/she can help you to tailor your coursework, prepare for the GRE, and assemble a strong dossier of writing and recommendations.
- What courses do you offer in the English department? Do you offer the same courses every year?
The English department offers a particularly wide variety of coursework; it's one of the ways that our major stays exciting. Our classes allow breadth and depth: some focus on a single important figure, some on a period or theme, some on a theoretical topic, some on a genre. Click here to see our current offerings, which range from “Asian American Experiences” to “Total War in Contemporary Literature” to “Love and Death in the Early Modern Period.” Upper-level courses change every year, but many courses are offered multiple times over several years—so if you don't get into a class on your first try, don't be disheartened! If you have questions about when a course will be offered, just email the professor who teaches it.
- What courses do I need to take to be an English major?
English majors must take eleven courses, including 101, 220, six courses at the 300 level, 403, 404, and one elective. You must take at least two 300-level classes on pre-1800 material and at least two on post-1800 material. You must also complete a brief research lab (it meets twice) numbered English 300 and offered Pass/Fail. At least two 300-level courses must be taken at Dickinson, and only one 339 course can count toward the six 300-level classes.
Click here for more information about the program and policies. Your English department advisor will help you make sure that you're fulfilling all requirements. The list can seem complicated at the start, but it's not. Many majors find that they've fulfilled the requirements without even trying to do so!
- Where is the English department located? Is it a nice place?
The English department is on the third and fourth floors of East College. The main office is EC 409: that's where the Departmental Coordinator works. We have a comfortable lounge on the fourth floor, too, with sofas and lamps and magazines. It's a great spot to relax between classes, to read, to chat with other students. Feel free to stop by.
- If I have questions about courses or about the department, how do I get answers?
Lots of ways. You can email or call our Department Coordinator, Kelly Winters-Fazio, who will answer your question or pass it along to someone who can help. You can email any of the department faculty, whose contact information is listed on the faculty page. You can also email the students in our Student Advisory Committee. Be in touch! We're here to help.
- What sorts of events does the English department sponsor? Can anyone go to these events, or only majors?
The English department is one of the most active at the College in sponsoring events. The Stellfox lectureship brings a major artist to campus every year; the Belfer fellowship hosts a distinguished creative writer in early or mid-career; and the Cogan talk invites a particularly interesting alumnus/a back to campus for discussion. Other speakers come to campus through partnerships of the English department and the Clarke Forum. The English department's student literary society, Belles Lettres, is one of the oldest active literary organizations in the country, and regularly sponsors readings and social events.
Most of these occasions are open to the general public, but English majors always have particular opportunities to interact with guests: participating in a workshop with a prize-winning poet, for example, or munching sandwiches with a best-selling novelist. English majors also come together for the deservedly famous Cogan dinner, with its even more deservedly famous literary dessert contest.
As the above suggests, English department events are a lot of fun. In addition, they complement class offerings—giving you a chance to ask a question of the author or critic you might be assigned to read that week. They're also a great way to think ahead to post-Dickinson possibilities, even to meet interesting and important people related to a potential career.
- How do I declare?
You can declare the major any time during or after the semester you take 220. Print out a major declaration form here and contact the English department chair to schedule a meeting. The chair will chat with you briefly about the major and your plans, sign your declaration form, and help you find an advisor. Your advisor will provide the last signature on the form. Then your turn in the form to the registrar. That's it!
- How do I find an advisor?
You and the chair will decide on an advisor during your initial meeting about the major. You may have a professor in mind—one whose course you've taken, perhaps. Many students choose their English 220 professor. But if you don't know your advisor before declaring, don't worry. You'll get to know him/her soon.
- Can I minor in English?
Certainly! To minor in English, you must complete six courses, including the two introductory courses (101 or 220) and a minimum of three courses at the 300 level (320-399), including at least one on pre-1800 material.
- Can I minor in something else while majoring in English?
- Can I double major in English and something else?
Yes. Popular double majors with English include American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, Psychology, and French. Many other double majors are possible.
- Can I study abroad and be an English major?
Yes! Many English majors study abroad for a semester or full year. Courses at Dickinson's program in Norwich, England fit particularly well with English department requirements, but majors have also studied in Cameroon, France, Italy, and other locations. If you wish to study abroad, talk to your advisor during your sophomore year to make sure you're planning courses appropriately. Learn about the application process and think about recommenders.
- Which college requirements can I satisfy in the English department?
Most of them! Courses in the English satisfy the Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, Comparative Civilizations, and U.S. Diversity requirements.
- What about internships?
English majors have completed internships at newspapers, publishers, television studios, public relations firms, and state and local government offices. If you're interested in an internship, talk to your advisor and he/she can help you find further information about possibilities. You can get transcript notation for your internship, too; contact Amity Fox in the Career Center for more information about this. Sometimes, students combine an internship and an independent study to coordinate experience and research.
- What about creative writing? I'd like to take a class in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction.
You've come to the right place. Dickinson's creative writing program offers a comprehensive progress of courses in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The introductory course in creative writing, 218, is offered every semester, and advanced courses in poetry and fiction are offered every year, as are courses in creative nonfiction. A senior capstone course in creative writing is offered every year. Please refer to information on the creative writing course offerings and creative writing minor, or email one of the creative writing faculty.
- Can I publish my work as an English major or as a creative writing minor?
Yes. The English department's literary society, Belles Lettres, sponsors the Dickinson Review, an annual literary journal of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Anyone may submit writing, which is reviewed anonymously by an editorial board. If you'd like to get involved with production of the Review, email Belles Lettres at email@example.com
- I don't see the kind of class I want in your course listings. What about independent studies?
English students in their sophomore, junior, or senior year regularly undertake independent studies—a terrific chance to pursue a particular topic that is not covered in a term's courses, or to undertake creative work that cannot be accommodated in a term's workshops. If you'd like to set up a study, plan ahead, since proposals will be due the semester before your work. Find a professor who might direct the research and meet with him/her as soon as possible to draft your proposal and set out a reasonable schedule.
- What is the senior experience in the English major?
The senior capstone in the English major is unique among academic departments at Dickinson and English departments across the country; it's an intense experience of both scholarly community and independent work. During the fall term, students takes a senior seminar on an advanced literary topic. During the spring term, the same group of students comes together in a senior thesis workshop, during which each student writes an independent critical essay of about 50 pages. The workshop allows the professor and other students to help each student in the drafting and revision process.
The senior experience can sound intimidating, and it's inevitably intense. But it's also immensely rewarding, and many students remember it as the best part of the English major. Click here to read more about the capstone experience, including memories of recent seniors and sample essays.