Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions graphic
[General Information]  [Admission]  [Coursework]  [Beyond Coursework]  [Foreign Language Requirement]  [Finishing the Program

General Information

Why do people get an MA in English?
In our experience, students get an MA in English because they love English-language literature or English writing, composition, and rhetoric. They also love being in the classroom and exchanging ideas with their classmates and the professor. Of course, they may also have career plans related to English—though some students just get the MA for the fun of it or for personal growth.

What do people with an MA in English do?
Our students (apart from the ones who are just getting the MA for fun) fall into two main groups: those who move into a career generally or specifically related to English, and those who go on to get a PhD in English. There are many careers related to English. The most obvious ones are specifically in teaching (especially at the community college level) and writing (writing grants or manuals, editing and copyediting, etc.), but there are many other general skills you learn in the MA program that can be applied to careers, e.g., critical thinking, research, organization, etc.

How much does the program usually cost?
Right now, tuition is about $7,000 per year for in-state students. Almost all of our students are on some kind of financial aid. If you have questions about financial aid, you should contact that division (https://www.csulb.edu/financial-aid)—we’re actually not legally permitted to give financial advice.

Is there financial aid?
Yes, absolutely—please contact our Division of Financial Aid at https://www.csulb.edu/financial-aid for more information.

Do you have scholarships or fellowships or opportunities to work?
Unfortunately, we do not have scholarships or fellowships that cover tuition. We do, however, have about a dozen merit-based awards in the department, for instance for the best essay in English Education, the best short story, the best paper in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century studies, etc. Keep an eye out for announcements about those! The awards range between about $500 and $2,000. We also have several opportunities to gain some experience and earn some money along the way, all of which are competitive.

Are there job opportunities during the program?
Yes, we have various job opportunities, but they are all competitive, i.e., we can’t guarantee anything. Most prominently, we have the TMAC (Teaching Master of Arts Candidate) program where students teach a section of our first-year composition course, ENGL 100B, under the close supervision of one of our faculty in Rhetoric and Composition. The TMAC program only happens in the fall; applications are sent out and selections are made late in the spring semester. Similarly, many of our students work as tutors in our University Writing Center (UWC).

In addition, there are programs like the Equity Scholars or federal work-study—the Graduate Advisor will send out information on those. Finally, we have occasional opportunities like tutoring in other colleges at CSULB, being a graduate assistant, or doing internships at community colleges in the area. All of these are announced in messages from the Graduate Advisor.

How long does the program usually take?
For most students, the program takes four or five semesters. In other words, students take about 8-10 units per semester, and then some take their comps the fourth semester, while others wait until the fifth semester. If you finish your MA program with a thesis, that usually adds a semester or two.

What’s the difference between a Master of Arts Degree and a Master of Fine Arts Degree?
The Department of English offers two graduate degrees; each program has its own admissions and degree requirements. The MA in English emphasizes the critical study of literature and writing in English. An MA is the basic requirement for teaching at the college level, especially in junior and community colleges. The MFA in Creative Writing emphasizes the writing of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. An MFA is the standard terminal degree in creative writing and is accepted by most colleges as the basic credential for teaching.

How much work does the program require?
For every unit of coursework, you usually spend about one hour in class and two hours outside class (reading, writing, researching) per week. So for a four-unit class, for instance, you’ll spend four hours per week in class, and you’ll probably spend about eight hours per week studying. Of course, the exact number of hours depends on each student, on the time of the semester (usually, there’s more work towards the end when you work on your final papers), on your expectations for yourself, etc. We also hope that you’ll be reading on your own, independently, in whatever field you find interesting.

How many pages will I have to write for each class?
That depends on the level of the course and each professor’s requirements. Most professors require some weekly writing in their seminars, often a mid-term essay or essay exam, and the major writing assignment for most seminars is a 15-20-page research paper.

What if I want to pursue a PhD program after my MA?
Many of our students go on to do PhDs in English or related fields, and we’ve placed students in PhD programs in places such as UC Riverside, UCLA, USC, UC San Diego, Oregon, Emory, Syracuse, Harvard, etc. As you probably know, however, PhD programs are really competitive to get into. As a matter of fact, even a really good GPA isn’t sufficient: you need to become the student who really stands out in terms of their quality, commitment, and work ethic, both in class conversation and in written work. If you’re interested in pursuing a PhD, please start bringing that up with your professors early in the program. There’s no particular cut-off, but the earlier you can start working on what it takes to get into a PhD program, the better.

Can I do the program online?
We are not big proponents of online education: of course, some students might benefit from it, but the way our courses are structured (mostly around class discussion of the reading assignments) is almost impossible to recreate online. In other words, in our assessment not much learning happens in online graduate courses in English studies. For that reason, you cannot do our MA program online.


Where do I apply for the program?
The application for the MA in English goes through Cal State Apply. The only materials that don’t go through Cal State Apply are letters of recommendation (where necessary) or writing samples (where necessary), which are sent directly to the Graduate Advisor.

What are the main components of an application?
The main components of an application are the form (where you give personal information, list colleges you have attended, etc.), your transcripts, and a statement of purpose. Letters of recommendation and writings samples are only required in specific cases (see below).

When are the deadlines to apply for CSULB’s Master of Arts in English Program?
For the current deadlines, please check the CSULB Graduate Studies website at http://web.csulb.edu/divisions/aa/grad/advising/

When and where should I submit my transcripts?
You submit your transcripts on Cal State Apply as well. Actually, though, in most cases you don’t submit transcripts; you ask institutions you previously attended to submit transcripts to Enrollment Services at CSULB.

Do I need to submit transcripts if I went to CSULB as an undergraduate?
If you were a CSULB undergraduate, you should submit an unofficial transcript as part of your application.

What is the statement of purpose?
The statement of purpose tells us 1. that you can write a coherent text; 2. what you want to study in the program (maybe a particular period or field, particular authors or topics, etc.); and 3. what academic, professional, or personal goals you want to achieve with the program (i.e., what you plan to do after the program). Of course, your ideas on all of these may not be fully developed, which is fine, but the more ideas and goals you have the better we can assess whether we can help you achieve them. Keep in mind that your statement can only be 500 words long—Cal State Apply cuts off any words beyond that.

What are the GPA requirements to be admitted?
You can apply for our MA program if your GPA in your upper-division English classes is 3.0 or better. If your GPA in that category is 3.3 or better, all you need for your application is the application itself and the statement of purpose; if your GPA in your upper-division English classes is between 3.0 and 3.3, you can apply with a letter of recommendation and a writing sample or with the GRE.

What if I wasn’t an English major as an undergraduate?
You can still apply if you were not an English major as an undergraduate. In that case, we usually give you conditional admission and assign you some prerequisite coursework, which you need to complete within one year and with a GPA of 3.3 or better. This prerequisite coursework is not because we doubt your intelligence, but because you wouldn’t have been exposed to the content knowledge and disciplinary conventions of English studies—things you need to be successful in the MA program.

What if my undergraduate degree was a long time ago?
It doesn’t matter to us whether you’re just finishing your BA or whether you completed it 30 years ago, as long as you meet the GPA requirements. As a matter of fact, we have a fair number of students of non-traditional age in the program, and they always bring a different and interesting perspective to the classroom.

Do I need letters of recommendation?
That depends. If your GPA in your upper-division English classes is 3.3 or better, you do not need a letter of recommendation. If your GPA in your upper-division English classes is between 3.0 and 3.3, you can apply to the program with a letter of recommendation from a faculty member in an English department at an accredited four-year institution (and a writing sample, see below).

Do I need a writing sample?
That depends. If your GPA in your upper-division English classes is 3.3 or better, you do not need a writing sample. If your GPA in your upper-division English classes is between 3.0 and 3.3, you can apply to the program with a writing sample of no more than 10 pages demonstrating the ability to write scholarly discourse in English studies—so something that’s pretty close to what you’d be writing in an English graduate class (and a letter of recommendation, see above). In other words, it cannot be a piece of creative writing, and it shouldn’t be a paper from a different discipline altogether.

How quickly is the decision about admission made?
It usually takes your application about 4-6 weeks to make it from CSULB Enrollment Services to the English Department (the hold-up is usually 1. the fact that Enrollment Services processes over 100,000 applications every year or 2. missing transcripts); then it takes us another 2-3 weeks to make our decision. If you submitted your application and haven’t heard anything back 6-8 weeks later, feel free to send the Graduate Advisor a friendly query.

When do I get admitted?
We do rolling admissions, which means that we admit you as soon as we accept your application. In the spring semester, we start reviewing applications for the fall around March; in the fall semester, we start reviewing applications for the spring around October.

How do I accept or reject my admission?
There is no official process by which you accept or reject your admission—once we’ve accepted you, CSULB simply considers you a student until further notice. We do ask that you notify the Graduate Advisor if you’ll be joining the program, just so that we know and don’t harass you with more e-mails if you’re not coming. If you’re joining the program, the next thing you do is sign up for classes—Enrollment Services will send you a date for that, or you can find it on MyCSULB. If you decide not to join the program, there’s nothing you need to do; the University will simply drop you as a student once they see you’re not enrolled in any classes.

Who will be my advisor in the program?
When you are admitted to the program, we assign you an initial advisor based on the experiences and interests you have expressed in your statement of purpose. This faculty member does not have to remain your advisor; you can connect with any faculty member you want—usually students connect with faculty in their area, i.e., faculty with whom they have taken classes they’ve enjoyed and where they feel they’ve learned a lot. These faculty members can help you with more general and philosophical questions, like what classes to take or what to do with your degree. For paperwork such as advancing to candidacy, clearing the foreign language requirement, signing up for the comps, etc., students meet with the Graduate Advisor.

Can I combine the MA with other degrees?
Some students try to combine the MA in English with the MFA in English, the Single Subject Credential in English, or the Professional Writing Certificate. All of these are excellent degrees, obviously, but there is very little overlap between them, i.e., hardly any double-counting (if any at all). In other words, if you want to pursue any of these degrees, that’s great, but you’ll really be doing two entirely separate degrees, not really combining them.


How many courses do most students take per semester?
In their first semester, most fully admitted students take ENGL 696 plus either one other 600-level seminar or two 500-level courses or a 500-level course and a language course. Subsequently, most students take about 8-10 units per semester. However, we in the English department have no investment in how quickly you complete your MA—we’re mostly interested in you having a good education, regardless of the speed—so if you want to take fewer classes, that’s fine. We do not recommend taking more classes unless you can devote 100% of your energy to your studies.

On what days of the week and at what times of the day do you offer classes?
Our 600-level classes (which are only for graduate students) are four-unit classes that meet M/W or Tu/Th for two hours each. They meet at 3:30 pm, 5:30 pm, or 7:30 pm. Our 500- and 400-level classes meet at various times of the day and week.

How many students are there in the classes?
Our 600-level classes have a cap of 14 students—they are true seminars. Most MA students also take 500-level classes, which meet with advanced undergraduate students in so-called ‘double-numbered’ 400/500-level sections (so for instance ENGL 474 and ENGL 574 meet together)—you can only sign up for the 500-level section. These classes usually have a combined enrollment of 25 students.

When can I sign up for classes?
Enrollment Services gives you an enrollment date. The further advanced in the program you are, the earlier your enrollment dates get.

Can I take 400-level classes in the program?
We have a short list of pre-approved 400-level classes that you can take on our website—but you should really only take one of those classes at most. If you want to take a 400-level class, please discuss your interest with your advisor or the Graduate Advisor. Please be advised that the Graduate Advisor needs to submit an Advisor Request for your 400-level class to be counted for your MA; that does not happen automatically, so you need to inform them.

How many hours a week should I be devoting to class?
For each unit of class, you’re in class two hours per week. In addition, you should be devoting about two hours per unit to studying, i.e., reading the assigned materials (and beyond) and working on other assignments. So for instance for ENGL 696, which is a four-unit class, you’ll be spending four hours a week in class and should be spending eight hours a week on studying for a total of 12 hours.

Can I transfer in classes from other departments or programs?
You can transfer in up to six units of graduate coursework from other departments or programs—as long as those courses are related to the MA in English. Technically, the department doesn’t get to decide; the Graduate Advisor submits an Advisor Request that Enrollment Services approves (or doesn’t). Almost all requests get approved—as long as those courses are related to the MA in English.

How many classes does the MA program offer?
Our MA program offers about six or seven 600-level seminars per semester. Usually, two are pre-1800 seminars, two are in American literatures, one is in British literature, and two are in rhetoric and composition.

What classes should I take, and what course requirements are there?
The only requirements we have in the program are that you take ENGL 696 and that you take one 600-level seminar in pre-1800 British literature (so for instance Renaissance literature or eighteenth-century literature or a major authors class on someone like Chaucer or Shakespeare). You need to take a total of five 600-level seminars (including those two), as well as 10 additional units of graduate coursework. Most students choose their classes according to what topics they’re interested in or curious about, which instructors they appreciate, what their fellow students recommend, or simply what fits into their schedule (what days, what times of the day, etc.).

To what extent can I specialize in the program?
We are consciously a generalist program, which means that we want you to be exposed to various areas within English studies. In practical terms, that means that out of the 8-10 classes you will be taking in the MA program, only about three would be in your area of specialization. The exceptions are Rhetoric and Composition, medieval studies, and (to some extent) American literatures, where you can often enroll for more classes. Still, please be advised that any unofficial specialization you might develop will not be reflected on your diploma.

Beyond Coursework

What else could or should I be doing while I’m getting my MA?
If you have any time after attending classes, studying, working, being with family, etc., you might work on your professionalization, participate in department activities, and deepen your academic reading.

• In terms of professionalization, you can think about our TMAC program, apply for a position in our University Writing Center, work as a graduate assistant or tutor in other departments and colleges, do an internship, etc. The Graduate Advisor sends out announcements regarding all of these opportunities.

• In terms of department activities, we have several student organizations (see below).

• We hope that, as students in an MA program in English, you are interested in reading beyond what is just required for your classes. This is both for your personal intellectual benefit and good preparation for your final comprehensive examination (comps). If you’re not sure what to read, talk with your professors—they’re always excited to make suggestions.

What is the TMAC program?
In the Teaching Masters of Arts Candidate (TMAC) program, select MA and MFA students teach their own section of our first-year composition class, ENGL 100B, under close supervision of one of our faculty members in rhetoric and composition. The TMAC program happens each fall; applications come out and selections are made in the spring. The program is competitive: most years, around 20-30 students apply for 6-8 positions. There are no particular requirements to be selected. Generally, it helps to be a good writer, to have good letters of recommendation, maybe to have been a tutor in the University Writing Center, and maybe to have taken coursework that demonstrates an interest in rhetoric and composition.

The TMACs meet over the summer to work on syllabi and assignments, and then they sign up for supervision under ENGL 697. Students can sign up for 1-3 units of ENGL 697 and do work for the course in proportion to the units. Of course, students get paid for teaching the class, though it’s not a fortune.

What student organizations are there in the department?
The English department at CSULB has two student organizations, two student publications, and one annual event:

• The English Graduate Student Organization (EGSA) is the group for all graduate students (MA and MFA) and puts on events like lectures (outside speakers or our own faculty), workshops (e.g., writing a resume or proposal or applying for a job), and social gatherings.

• Another event is our annual Re/Inventions conference, which usually happens in the spring semester. The conference is organized around an annual theme. There is usually a keynote speaker (speaking on the annual theme) and panels of speakers giving presentations of 10-15 minutes. Re/Inventions is a great opportunity to practice giving academic presentations in a comfortable environment. Usually about half of the speakers are from our MA program, while the rest are from other CSU MA programs or further afield.

• Our Medieval and Renaissance Studies Organization (MaRSA) focuses on exactly what the name says. Activities include Old and Middle English reading groups, (safe) sword fighting practice, social events, etc.

• Watermark is our peer-reviewed student-run annual publication in English studies, i.e., American and English literatures as well as rhetoric and composition. You can participate in Watermark in two ways: you can submit your work for publication, or you can become an editor at various levels (reviewer, section editor, managing editor, editor-in-chief). Editors can receive course credit for their work on Watermark through ENGL 598, with the number of units depending on the amount of work.

• RipRap is our graduate creative writing journal. It is run by MFA students, but MA students often participate as readers or reviewers. Students can receive credit for their work on RipRap through ENGL 598.

What events does the department host?
The department hosts occasional lectures and presentations, usually in conjunction with EGSA. In addition, there are many, many events across the College of Liberal Arts and the university as a whole. You can find these events on various university calendars, and the Graduate Advisor will send out information on any events they deem interesting and appropriate.

Foreign Language Requirement

Why is there a foreign language requirement?
At least basic knowledge of a foreign language ultimately helps you understand English better, i.e., appreciate the nuances of spelling, vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, etc. In other words, knowledge of a foreign language helps you become a better student of literature and a better student of rhetoric and composition.

What counts as a foreign language?
We accept any ‘real’ language, living or dead, spoken or signed (sorry, no Sindarin, Dothraki, or Klingon). In other words, it might be Spanish, Chinese, Swahili, Nahuatl, French, German, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Igbo, Armenian, Inuit, etc. We also accept Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and American Sign Language.

What do I need to do to fulfill the foreign language requirement?
There are two ways to fulfill the foreign language requirement:

1. You can demonstrate the equivalent of sophomore competency in a foreign language.
2. You can demonstrate first-year competency in a foreign language and take our ENGL 550, Old English, or ENGL  551, Middle English.

In order to figure out your path towards fulfilling the requirement, the first thing you should do is assess your skills in any foreign language. That assessment is usually either through coursework you’ve taken or through a placement exam.

• If you’ve taken coursework in a foreign language, you should know at what level you are: if you’ve taken two semesters or three quarters (and finished with a C or better), you have first-year competency; if you’ve taken four semester or six quarters, you have sophomore competency. There are some exceptions, like intensive courses where you cover the material of one year in one semester, or study abroad experiences where you learn the language. If you’ve taken less than one year of a foreign language, you’ll need to take language classes; if you’ve completed one year, you can choose between continuing learning that language or taking our ENGL 550, Old English, or ENGL 551, Middle English.

• The placement exam we use is through our Department of Romance, German, Russian Languages and Literatures, and you can find it here: http://cla.csulb.edu/departments/rgrll/placement-exam-information/. It currently costs $10, and it’s entirely online, so you can take it whenever you want. There are tests for Spanish, French, German, and Italian. Native or heritage speakers of foreign languages can usually finish the exam in about 10 minutes; second language learners take longer. At the end, the system generates a page with your name, student ID number, and score. The score tells you where you would be placed, i.e., what class you should take next if you were to take more classes in that language. If you score above the score for 201B (so for instance 501 or more for Spanish), you have fulfilled your foreign language requirement. In that case, please take a screenshot of the results page (or print and scan) and send it to the Graduate Advisor.

Can I do two languages to fulfill the foreign language requirement?
The only combination that is allowed is a foreign language with Old English or Middle English; combinations of two foreign languages (so maybe Japanese and Portuguese or American Sign Language and Spanish) are not permitted.

Can I take my foreign language classes at other institutions?
Yes. Many of our students take foreign language classes at a community college in the area, often over the summer. If you’re taking a foreign language class in the regular semester, you might as well take it at CSULB, since you’re paying tuition anyway, but over the summer classes at community colleges are of course cheaper.

What should I do once I’ve taken all my foreign language classes or aced the placement exam?
Once you’ve completed your foreign language classes or taken the placement exam, please consult with the Graduate Advisor. If you took classes at a community college, make sure that community college has sent your transcript to Enrollment Services; if you took the placement exam, make sure you send your results page to the Graduate Advisor.

Finishing the Program

Should I do the comps (final comprehensive examination) or a thesis?
You can choose between comps and a thesis. You do the comps after you have completed all of your coursework; you can start working on the thesis while you’re still taking classes. The advantage of the comps is that there is a clear process you can follow and it’s over in three hours; the advantage of the thesis is that you have much more time to think, write, and revise. The disadvantage of the comps is that it comes down to those three hours; the disadvantage of thesis is that it usually adds at least a semester, if not two, to your career as an MA student. Also, with the thesis, the onus is on you to develop a proposal and find faculty members who are willing to work with you on your thesis. Generally, faculty will only work with students who they already know will do an excellent job, so if you’re thinking about a thesis you should do your best to impress your professors with excellent research and writing in their classes. If numbers help, something like 95% of our MA students do the comps—but if you want to do a thesis, that’s up to you.

How do the comps work?
The comps usually take place on the Friday of the penultimate week of classes. In the comps, you answer one comprehensive question about the area you have chosen. Most questions require engagement with a certain number of primary and secondary sources. You can see questions from previous semesters on the English Graduate Student web page on BeachBoard, but of course your questions will be different. Your answer is read and graded by three professors.

As for the process: at the beginning of that semester, you sign up for the comps with a form that is sent out by the Graduate Advisor and a bibliography (see below). On the form, you indicate in which of the nine areas you plan on taking your comps. The form and bibliography are usually due at the end of the second week of classes. About two or three weeks later, the Graduate Advisor hosts an MA orientation session with more information. At the end of that week, you learn a) what your four possible questions are and b) who your three readers are. Next, you have about one or two weeks to whittle your four questions down to two. Then, you prepare for those two questions with the help of your three readers. It is your responsibility to contact your readers; please also realize that they will not answer the questions for you, so you should come prepared with materials and ideas. Readers will generally talk about your ideas, but will not read your answers (just maybe introductions or theses). The last week or two before the comps, readers will generally not be willing to read any of your materials anymore. Finally, you write the comps under exam conditions (no notes or books are allowed). You receive one of your two questions and have exactly three hours to write your comps essay.

What is the bibliography?
As part of signing up for the comps, you are required to submit a bibliography in your area. The prompt for the bibliography is on the English Graduate Students web page on BeachBoard.

Do students generally pass the comps?
Of course (unfortunately), we can’t promise that you’ll pass the comps. We can say, however, that we want you to pass the comps and that we’re confident you’re able to do it—you wouldn’t have made it through the program if you weren’t capable. And in fact the overwhelming majority of students who prepare properly for the comps (apparently, it’s about the same workload as taking a 600-level class) pass. To put that differently, the only students who usually don’t pass the comps are the ones who haven’t met with their readers, haven’t taken any of the advice from their professors and fellow students to heart, haven’t really spent serious time preparing, or chose an area where they didn’t know much in the first place.

How does the thesis work?
For a thesis, you have to develop a topic and a proposal—you can find guidelines for the proposal on our website under “Program Information and Degree Requirements.” Students often broaden the scope of a seminar paper for their proposal and thesis—if you do that, your seminar paper should have been excellent. You also have to find a faculty member who will be your chair and two others who will be on your committee as readers. (One of those readers can be from a different department.) You negotiate your proposal and timeline with them, and eventually they approve it.

At that point, you advance to candidacy, in which process you declare to the University that you will be writing a thesis. The University requires that you take six units of ENGL 698, Thesis Units, when you write your thesis, and you can spread those units over several semesters or do them all at once. Most theses are about 60-80 pages long.

After your committee approves your thesis, you submit it to the College of Liberal Arts and then to the Thesis Office. Please note that there are strict deadlines for these submissions that are not at the end of the semester, but about two-thirds through. You can find submission deadlines for the Thesis Office here: https://www.csulb.edu/thesis-and-dissertation-office/thesis-and-dissertation-office, but please note that this page does not list the College of Liberal Arts deadlines (you can find those in the MA newsletter at the beginning of each semester). Once the Thesis Office approves your thesis (which may be after the semester has ended), you’re done!

Since all of these steps are pretty specific and you can’t take the next step before you’ve completed the previous one, and since the submission window is not at the end of the semester, writing a thesis usually adds one or two semesters to your time in the