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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.


Declaring the English Major

Once you are ready to declare a major in English (or even if you are still trying to figure out if English is right for you), you should first meet with the Undergraduate Chair (Jean-Christophe Cloutier) or Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies (Becky S. Friedman) during our office hours (whether in-person or remotely via Calendly). It’s always a good idea to email either of us for an appointment. We also encourage you to talk to the professors teaching your current English courses to learn more!

During our pre-declaration meeting, we will help you choose from among the Standard Curriculum ("General English") and the versions of the English major that emphasize Creative Writing and Cinema Studies. We will also go over the possible concentrations that are open to you beyond the Standard (or “General”) Major in English. Note that you can always add or change your concentration at a later date after declaration.

When you are ready to declare the major, you must initiate the process in Path@Penn by using the “Declare/Update Field of Study” form:

  • Go to the Path Forms page:
  • Click on the “Declare/Update Field of Study” link. A pop-out page should bring you to a page with clear Instructions to follow. If you are a current sophomore, select Fall 2023 as the term you are declaring.
  • Select the appropriate request (e.g. Declare a Major / Concentration) and complete the form.

Once you complete the form it will be sent to the department for approval and then onto the College Office.


Choosing a Faculty Advisor

During the declaration process, you and the Undergraduate Chair or Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies will work together to choose 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.

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, please notify the Undergraduate Chair or the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies and we will help you make the transition.


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 (English 0010-0099) or intermediate courses (English 1000-1999) or First Year Seminars (English 0300-0399) that will fulfill your core requirements and provide you with a broad foundation for both creative writing courses (English 3000-3999) and advanced literature seminars (English 2000-2999).


The One Series  

The One Series (TOS), formerly the Junior Research Seminar (JRS), is a small seminar designed to develop your research methods and skills (English 4500-4599). It offers students the opportunity to undertake a semester-long in-depth study of a major literary text.


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 (3000-3999), Critical-Creative Seminars (0700-0799), Advanced Literature Seminars (2000-2999), and Benjamin Franklin Seminars (0500-0599). 


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.


 Full list of our course types and their course-number ranges:

  • Introductory Lecture Courses: English 0010-0099
  • First Year Seminars: English 0300-0399
  • Intermediate Courses: English 1000-1999
  • Advanced Seminars: 2000-2999
  • The One Series Seminar (TOS): 4500-4599 [beginning in AY 2023–2024]
  • The Junior Research Seminar (JRS): English 4950-4998 [ending after AY 2022–2023]
  • Benjamin Franklin Seminars: English 0500-0599
  • Critical-Creative Seminars: English 0700-0799
  • Creative Writing Seminars: English 3000-3999


The General Curriculum and Concentrations

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

  • 6-course Core
  • The One Series Seminar (English 4500-4599, different versions are offered each term)
  • 4 Literature Seminars (ENGL 2000-2999; 4950-4998; 0500-0599; 0700-0799; 5000-5999)
  • Electives

Majors adopting General English may choose to change their Concentration at any time 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.