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Undergraduate Major

Students majoring in English at Penn explore language, literature, and culture across the globe and in a wide array of forms. From books and manuscripts to theater, film, TV, and digital media, English majors go everywhere English goes in order to cultivate their critical and expressive skills.

Please scroll down for information on declaring the major remotely!

Components of the English Major

The major is intentionally of flexible design, consisting of 13 courses distributed as follows: 

The Core  

A 6-course core forms the foundation of your study: 2 courses devoted to genre and critical approach and 4 courses devoted to historical periods that span the development of literature in English. We recommend students interested in pursuing an English major start by taking introductory or intermediate courses (English 017-096) that will fulfill your core requirements and provide you with a broad foundation for both creative writing courses (English 110-199) and advanced literature seminars.


Junior Research Seminar  

The Junior Research Seminar (JRS), English 200, is a small seminar designed to develop your research methods and skills.


Advanced Seminars  

Advanced seminars offer in-depth analyses and explorations led by faculty in their active research and writing areas. They include Creative Writing Seminars, Advanced Literature Seminars, and Benjamin Franklin Seminars. 


Electives   Free Electives count toward your 13 courses and allow the flexibility to take classes and pursue concentrations that interest you. Free Electives include courses within the English Department and approved courses from other departments. With the approval of your Faculty Advisor, you may count up to 2 courses outside of English toward the major. Courses in Linguistics and in Foreign Literatures not in English always count; in the case of Foreign Literatures, however, your courses must be 5th-semester proficiency or higher.



The Standard Curriculum and Concentrations

Most new majors will pursue our Standard Curriculum, designed to provide students with considerable flexibility while introducing them to a range of literary periods, genres, and national literatures. The Standard Curriculum is intentionally of flexible design, consisting of 13 courses distributed as follows:

  • 6-course Core
  • Junior Research Seminar (English 200, offered in 8-12 different versions each year)
  • 4 Advanced Seminars
  • Electives

Majors adopting the Standard Curriculum may add a Concentration if they wish. With this flexibility, our majors are able to construct courses of study that correspond to their own growing intellectual interests. Some decide to explore entire literary periods (from medieval to the present day), others individual genres (poetry, prose, drama, and cinema), and others specific literary cultures (whether British American, or African-American, Asian-American, Latina/o, Caribbean, Celtic, South African, or other literatures in English). 

Concentrations do not increase the total number of courses for the major; students instead build the concentration from courses already taken to fulfill the major. Several concentrations, including the creative writingcinema and media studies, and historical concentrations, deviate slightly in their requirements from the standard curriculum to allow students the flexbility needed to fully immerse themselves in these fields. 


Declaring the English Major

Whether you are ready to declare a major in English or still trying to figure out if English is right for you, we invite you to meet with the Undergraduate Chair (Jean-Christophe Cloutier) or Associate Undergraduate Chair (Deborah Burnham) during our walk-in hours. You can also email us for an appointment. We also encourage you to talk to the professors teaching your current English courses!

For remote declarations: You are welcome to email either one of us to ask questions and to declare the English Major. This will be an easy email exchange, and we are delighted to welcome you to English! It's useful for us to know if you're a creative writer at heart so that we can enroll you on that track, and we also like to know if there are particular professors you'd especially like to have as your Major Advisor. But it's also okay if you don't know these things yet! We can always re-customize your major, and we're very happy to find you an advisor.

When you are ready to declare your major, we will help you through the following decisions:

Customizing your major

When we meet, we will help you choose from among the Standard Curriculum and the versions of the English major that emphasize Creative Writing and Cinema Studies. You can always change your emphasis or add a concentration to the Standard Curriculum down the road. 

Choosing a Faculty Advisor 

Your relationship with your Faculty Advisor is an important component of pursuing the English major. Your advisor can be one of your best resources for selecting courses, concentrations, and even second majors. Whenever possible, your advisor will be a professor who knows your work and specializes in the area of literary study that interests you most. You may wish to consult the Index of Majors' Faculty Advisors to find a faculty member who seems particularly congenial to you. When you declare the major, you and the Undergraduate Chair or Associate Undergraduate Chair will work together to choose a faculty advisor.

As an English major, you should keep in regular contact with your advisor and meet at least during every pre-registration period. Your advisor will guide you in your course choices, and you might also find your advisor to have excellent and even creative ideas about courses outside the department that are perfect for your interests.

If at any time you wish to change your advisor, drop in to talk to the Undergraduate Chair or the Associate Undergraduate Chair.