Program Information and Degree Requirements

Program Information and Degree Requirements

Picture postcard of Rainbow Harbor in Long BeachRequired Coursework
Foreign Language Study
Advancement to Candidacy
Final Degree Requirement
Faculty Advisors
Research Skills
Additional Degree Requirements

Required Coursework

Upper-Division and Graduate Courses
Students must complete a minimum of 30 units of approved upper-division and graduate courses, with at least 24 units in English, to obtain their MA degree. Students must pass each course with a grade of C or better, and they must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better for the program as a whole.

No courses previously used to satisfy BA requirements may be retaken for graduate credit. Double-numbered courses (400/500) must be taken at the 500 level for MA credit. If students have taken the 400-level component of a double-numbered course as an undergraduate at CSULB, they may not take the 500-level course for credit. Students may take 500- and 600-level courses on the same topic or period, e.g., ENGL 552: Literature of the Renaissance (1500-1603) and ENGL 652: Seminar in the English Renaissance.

Only specified 400-level courses may be counted towards the MA; these courses are listed on the page with Graduate Course Descriptions. Students who have taken ENGL 469, ENGL 479, or ENGL 489 need to request consent of the instructor if they want to take ENGL 681 or ENGL 683 on the same author(s) or topic(s).

600-Level Courses
Of the required 30 units, at least 20 must be at the 600 level (this includes ENGL 696 but not ENGL 697 or 698). Students must be fully admitted to the MA program in English before they can enroll in 600-level courses.

ENGL 696
All students must take ENGL 696: Seminar in Theory, Criticism, and Research prior to, or concurrent with, other 600-level courses. Therefore, students should plan on taking this course as early in their programs as possible.  Students must complete ENGL 696 with a grade of C or better. Students who receive a D or F in ENGL 696 must repeat the course and complete it with a grade of C or better prior to other 600-level courses. (Please note that the original grade will still be on the transcript and still count towards the student’s GPA.) Students must be fully admitted to the MA program in order to enroll in ENGL 696. Therefore, students should plan on taking this course as early in their programs as possible.

Seminar in British Literature before 1800
Students must take at least one seminar at the 600 level in British literature before 1800. ENGL 697: Directed Research and ENGL 698: Thesis may not be used to fulfill this requirement. The following seminars are eligible:

Course Units Course Title
ENGL 652 4 Seminar in the English Renaissance
ENGL 653 4 Seminar in the Age of Milton
ENGL 655 4 Seminar in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature
ENGL 681 4 Selected Topics—Seminar in Major Authors
(for British authors active before 1800)
ENGL 683 4 Selected Topics—Seminar in English Studies
(if topic concerns British literature before 1800)

Additional Units

Students must take additional acceptable units to make up a minimum of 30 units. Up to 6 units approved for graduate standing may come from other departments (such as Comparative and World Literature, History, Philosophy, other languages and literatures, etc.), other campuses, or extension programs, if approved by the Graduate Advisor as relevant to the MA program in English. Outside courses, however, may not fulfill the 24-unit requirement of 600- and 500-level courses in English. All upper-division and graduate courses taken as a post-baccalaureate student affect the overall GPA.

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General Overview
Foreign language proficiency is required as an adjunct to graduate study in English for several reasons. Knowledge of a second language offers a second window of perception on the world. It puts into perspective the logic and illogic of one’s first language. It offers acquaintance with another literature not distorted by translation. It also makes possible research into scholarly and critical writing about the English language and its literatures not available in translation.

Foreign Language Requirement
Candidates must complete the foreign language requirement or be enrolled in the final units of the requirement before taking their final comprehensive examinations. The foreign language proficiency requirement may be fulfilled in ONE of the
following three ways:

  1. Complete college course work in or receive credit for a foreign language equivalent to sophomore proficiency (normally 201B at most universities and community colleges) with a grade of “C” or better.
  2. Complete college course work in or receive credit for a foreign language equivalent to freshman proficiency (101B) with a grade of “C” or better AND complete either ENGL 550: Old English or ENGL 551: Middle English with a grade of “B” or better. Either or both of the English courses may be counted towards the minimum 30 units for the degree. (Students should note that ENGL 550 and 551 require consent of instructor for enrollment.)
  3. Provide evidence of proficiency equivalent to a 201B foreign language course or demonstrate native proficiency in a foreign language accepted by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Unlike almost all upper-division and graduate courses, lower-division foreign language courses may be taken Credit/No Credit (CR/NC). Lower-division foreign language courses do not count towards either GPA.


General Overview
The procedure known as “Advancement to Candidacy” certifies that the English Department recommends a student to the College of Liberal Arts as a candidate for the MA degree in English. With the aid of an advisor, the student sets up a formal program of study signed by the student, the advisor, the Graduate Advisor, the English Department Chair, and the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. This step determines the University Catalog under which a student will complete the MA program. After advancement, candidates cannot be held to any new requirements for the degree (unless they break enrollment–see above). If students want to change their programs after advancing, however, they may do so by filling out a change of program form, available from the Graduate Secretary.

Note: Students planning to write a thesis must have their thesis prospectus
approved before advancing to candidacy.

Advancement is possible after completion of six units towards the MA degree. Students must be advanced to candidacy at least one semester before they intend to graduate, before the deadline to request to graduate (aka ‘file for graduation’) that semester. If students are writing a thesis, they must be advanced before they take any thesis units.

Students who elect to complete the MA program in one year may request to be advanced to candidacy the same semester that they graduate; they should file a Request to Graduate form (see below) when they begin the program. Students who have such plans should consult with the Graduate Advisor upon entering the program.

Requirements for Advancement
The requirements for Advancement to Candidacy are as follows:

  1. presentation of a current transcript showing a grade point average of 3.0 (B) or better, both in the MA program of study and overall in upper-division and graduate courses taken as a post-baccalaureate student;
  2. completion of at least six units of course work acceptable for the MA in English at CSULB with a GPA of 3.0 or above;
  3. enrollment in regular course work at the time of Advancement to Candidacy; and
  4. for students who wish to write a thesis, approval of the thesis proposal through the thesis form (for approval process, see p.20 under “Option Two: The Thesis”).

Graduate Studies 700B
A candidate who has completed course work, but not the comprehensive examination or the thesis, may satisfy the continuous enrollment requirement with a non-credit course in the College of Continuing and Professional Education (CCPE), Graduate Studies 700B. Students must be registered either in a course or in GS 700B for every semester in which they plan to use CSULB facilities or consult members of the faculty. Registration is also required in Winter or Summer Session if that is when the student plans to graduate. Application forms for GS 700B are available in the English Department office. Students should register for GS 700B in the first two weeks of the semester. After two semesters of enrollment in GS 700B, students will need the Graduate Advisor’s approval for subsequent enrollment in GS 700B.

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Culminating Activity
The culminating activity that constitutes the final requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in English is either

  • the final comprehensive examination (aka ‘exam’ or ‘comps’) or
  • the thesis.


General Overview
The final comprehensive examination is a three-hour closed-book essay exam that serves as a capstone of the 30-unit program of study. Students must have completed all program requirements or be enrolled in their final courses the semester they take the exam. Because students must be enrolled at the University in the semester the exam is taken, those who have finished their course work should enroll in GS 700 (see p.14). The comps usually take place on the Friday of the penultimate week of classes.

Final Comprehensive Examination Areas of Study

The comps test a candidate’s mastery of one of the nine following areas, which the candidate selects on the basis of intensive study, including course work at the graduate level. Students should be aware, however, that 600-level seminars are not survey courses, but typically involve in-depth studies in a portion of the subject named in the course title. For that reason, study beyond the primary and secondary material covered in 600-level seminars is necessary for the final comprehensive examination. Students are required to submit a bibliography of primary and secondary material demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of their area when they sign up for comps. The prompt for the bibliography will be distributed by the Graduate Advisor. The areas are:

Area I              Old and Middle English Language and Literature
Area II            English Literature of the Renaissance
Area III           English Literature of the Restoration and 18th Century
Area IV           English Literature of the 19th Century
Area V            English Literature since 1900
Area VI           American Literature before 1900
Area VII         American Literature since 1900
Area VIII        Critical Theory
Area IX           Rhetoric, Writing, and Composition

Early in the semester they plan to graduate, candidates must apply to the English Department office to take the final comprehensive examination and specify their area of study (see above).

About two months prior to the comps, candidates will be supplied with four questions from their area of study and will be told who their three readers will be. Each candidate must choose two of the four questions and reject the other two and communicate that information to the Graduate Secretary.

Candidates are expected to meet with their readers in a timely manner (i.e., not in the last week before the exam) to discuss their choices of primary and secondary materials, possible arguments for the essay, and any other questions regarding the exam.

At the comps, the student will be told which one of the remaining two questions to address in their essay. This essay should demonstrate familiarity with both primary and secondary sources. Students are encouraged, but not required, to write the examination on a computer (PC).

Further Information about Final Comprehensive Examination
Each final comprehensive examination is read by three faculty members. Readers rate the exam as O (Outstanding), P+ (Pass Plus), P (Passing), P- (Pass Minus), or NP (Not Passing); however, final scores consist of only Outstanding, Passing, or Not Passing.

An Outstanding exam must receive two or more O ratings; a Passing exam must receive at least two passing ratings (P-, P, P+, or O); a Not Passing exam is one that receives two or more NP ratings. Students will be notified of the date on which they can call the Graduate Secretary for their overall final score. An official letter with the final score, the scores of the three readers, and any feedback those readers chose to give will be sent out several weeks after the comps examination.

Students assigned a score of NP may petition the Graduate Studies Committee to take the examination a second time. An unsatisfactory performance on the second attempt will result in dismissal from the MA program in English.

Students who sign up for, but later decide to withdraw from, the exam must notify the Graduate Secretary no later than 24 hours before the exam. Failure to report
the decision to withdraw from the exam by this time will result in a Not Passing score. Similarly, students who attend the exam and then leave without finishing will receive a Not Passing score. Students may petition the Graduate Studies Committee to be exempted from either of these rules if they can demonstrate that serious unforeseen medical or personal problems prevented them from attending (and notifying the English Department of their inability to attend) or completing the exam.

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Final Comprehensive Examination Objectives
The exam gives candidates the opportunity to synthesize their learning and to demonstrate their analytical and interpretive skills. More specifically, it requires students to

  1. show their ability to write a complete argumentative essay that demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge and deep understanding of a particular area of British or American literature or rhetoric and composition;
  2. show comprehension of, and familiarity with, a breadth of both primary and secondary materials within their area of study (usually about four primary texts and a larger number of secondary sources), thus providing evidence of their ability to use library resources;
  3. show connections and distinctions within their area of study by drawing from the course work that has formed their program of study, but also going beyond that course work; and
  4. demonstrate in their essay their analytical ability and writing capabilities.

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Students interested in pursuing the thesis option should be aware that writing a thesis is an intensive experience requiring a significant commitment of time (from both student and committee chair) and usually requires at least three semesters to complete. Students should plan ahead accordingly and begin by consulting with a potential thesis committee chair.

Before students can advance to candidacy with the thesis option or begin taking ENGL 698: Thesis units, they must prepare a formal prospectus with a substantial bibliography for the proposed thesis committee. The prospectus should explain the
student’s topic, works to be treated, preliminary thesis or central line of argument, and suggested breakdown of chapters. It should also convey a sense of previous scholarship in this field and indicate the methodology and the major theorists or critical traditions that will be employed.

For more expansive and specific guidelines on the prospectus, students should speak directly with their prospective committee and consult the hand-out available from the Graduate Secretary or through the MA program’s website at

After reviewing the prospectus individually, the three potential committee members will meet with the student to discuss the project. Together, student and committee will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis as set forth in the prospectus and bibliography. Other topics addressed might include a time frame for completing the thesis and the committee’s division of labor. The exact division of labor among committee members will depend on the individual committee; however, in all cases the chair of the committee will bear primary responsibility for establishing guidelines and expectations for the student. In particular, the University Catalog dictates that the thesis committee chair will

• be the major contact point with the student and oversee the other committee members’ work with the student;
• assure that the editorial and format standards appropriate to the mechanical preparation of the thesis are followed; and
• establish guidelines for the student and timeline to be followed to ensure completion of the thesis in a reasonable time.

The second and third readers serve to provide additional feedback, expertise, and guidance, to offer alternative perspectives, and to ensure that thesis standards are met. In coordinating the other committee members, the chair will work with the student to mediate any contradictory advice or feedback from different committee members, consulting directly with other committee members if necessary. In cases where the chair is unable to bring committee members to a point of agreement, he or she will consult with the Graduate Advisor and the Department Chair. A student may request a change in the composition of the committee by providing justification to the Graduate Advisor and the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

In establishing the timeline for the thesis, the committee chair should allow sufficient time for the student and the committee to produce work that meets the standards for a thesis outlined in the University Catalog. Students should consider that faculty need ample time to provide useful feedback, and that it will take time to integrate that feedback into revisions of the thesis. The committee will then confer and decide whether or not to approve the thesis project as proposed. The committee may decide that more work needs to be done before the prospectus can be approved. If the committee members do approve the project, they will sign the thesis form (which students writing a thesis need to advance to candidacy) at that time.

Other thesis regulations are detailed in the section on Graduate Study in the University Catalog. Essentials include the following:

  1. Students must have submitted their Advancement to Candidacy before enrolling in ENGL 698: Thesis units.
  2. Students must take all six units of ENGL 698: Thesis—but the distribution of those units is up to the students and their committee chairs. The six units of ENGL 698: Thesis may not be used to satisfy MA requirements for 600-level seminars.
  3. A student who takes ENGL 698: Thesis may also use ENGL 697: Directed Research as part of the minimum 30 units of the MA program. However, because University policy states that a maximum of six units shall be allowed for a thesis, ENGL 698 and ENGL 697 cannot be taken for the same project.
  4. A minimum grade of B is required for ENGL 698: Thesis.


Students who have started a thesis may still change to the comprehensive exam option. Students who wish to change to the comprehensive exam option after taking ENGL 698: Thesis units must confer with the Graduate Advisor, who will seek approval from the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. In these cases, the preliminary grade(s) the student received for any ENGL 698: Thesis units will remain on the transcript without being changed to a letter grade. Students may not change options after failing either the thesis or the comprehensive examination.


The MFA provides intensive training in creative writing and is a separate degree program from the MA in English. Students interested in applying to the MFA program should consult the current MFA Advisor. The Graduate Secretary can also answer some questions and provide brochures and application forms.

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All students accepted into the MA program are required to meet with an advisor during their first semester to plan a preliminary course of study. Letter of acceptance will include the name of, and contact information for, the initial advisor. Students can make an appointment through the Graduate Secretary (562-985-4225) or contact their advisors directly.

After the first semester, students are free to choose an advisor other than the one initially assigned; students must choose their particular advisor before advancement to candidacy. The English Department keeps an updated list of faculty available to graduate students as advisors and mentors, and the Graduate Advisor is always available.

Throughout their programs, students are encouraged to seek guidance from advisors on choosing courses and meeting degree requirements. By meeting with their advisor at least once a year, preferably once a semester, students will stay informed about any changes in regulations applying to the MA degree, whether these originate inside or outside the English Department. Students are also welcome to consult with faculty on the intellectual, social, professional, and personal aspects of working on their MA in English.

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All MA students are expected to know basic methods of library research, which include using print and online bibliographies to locate books and journal articles. Students should also be familiar with the MLA style of documentation as described in The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (8th edition). Joseph Aubele, our subject librarian in English, can help with questions about research resources and methods; he can be reached at 562-985-5321 or Faculty may also be consulted regarding questions about research methods or documentation rules.


GPA Maintenance
The University calculates two different GPAs for post-baccalaureate students. The first GPA comprises all upper-division and graduate courses taken after earning the bachelor’s degree (overall post-baccalaureate GPA). The second comprises just the courses that make up a student’s MA program of study (program GPA).

Students are required to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better both in their MA program of study and in all upper-division and graduate courses taken at CSULB as a post-baccalaureate students. Graduate students are subject to dismissal from the University if they fail to raise their overall GPA to 3.0 after two semesters on probation. A student who has been disqualified must reapply to the University. As the Catalog states, “subsequent removal of GPA deficiencies … does not
guarantee readmission to CSULB.” The Graduate Advisor, in consultation with the Graduate Studies Committee, will decide whether or not to readmit students who have been on probation or academically disqualified from the MA program in English.

Upper-Division and Graduate Course Grading
Credit/No Credit grading is not available in upper-division or graduate courses, with few specified exceptions such as teacher training. It is acceptable for lower-division courses, such as 100-200-level foreign language classes, which do not affect a graduate student’s overall GPA.

Incomplete Course Grades
Graduate students should avoid “I” (Incomplete) grades in any courses in the graduate program. Any Incomplete grades must be finished within one year from the semester when they were awarded. Students who need to extend the time required to complete a course beyond one year may apply for an extension of the Incomplete grade. The application for extension requires approval by the instructor of the course, the Department Chair, and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. If an Incomplete is not finished within the allotted period, it lapses to an “F” or the grade designated by the instructor. Grades lower than “C” cannot be counted on the MA program of study and subject a student’s Advancement to Candidacy to cancellation.

Continuous CSULB Enrollment
Students are required to be continuously enrolled at CSULB to acquire the MA degree. Students who are absent for twelve consecutive months break the continuous enrollment and must apply for readmission. Students previously advanced to candidacy must satisfy any new requirements in effect at the time of readmission and may have to petition through the Graduate Advisor for reinstatement in the program by the Dean of Graduate Studies. To avoid such problems, students who know they will have to break enrollment temporarily should submit an Educational Leave Form to the Office of Enrollment Services in advance. Further information is available in the University Catalog in the policies governing “Educational Leave.”

Seven-Year Requirement for Completion of Degree
All students must complete all degree requirements within seven years from the first units earned towards the MA. Courses more than seven years old must be replaced or “revalidated” to count in an MA program. The English Department will revalidate no more than three courses on a student’s program of study and will not revalidate any course for which a student earned a grade lower than a “B.” If more than three courses require revalidation, or if the grade for a course is lower than a “B,” the student will have to retake those courses, if they are requirements for the MA program, or replace them with current courses that complete the student’s program of study. To revalidate a course, students must provide a written demonstration of current competence in the subject matter of the course; the specific work to be performed will be assigned by the faculty member who taught the courses, if he or she is available, or by another faculty member in the same or related area of study. Revalidation requires authorization by the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Studies.


All students must file a Request to Graduate form (aka ‘grad check’). Before filing, students must already have an approved Advancement to Candidacy in the system with Enrollment Services. The deadline for filing the Request to Graduate form is March 1 for fall or winter graduation and October 15 for spring or summer graduation. Students who meet these deadlines submit the Request to Graduate form through MyCSULB and pay (as of December 2018) $45. Students who miss these deadlines have to submit the form in hard copy at the Enrollment Services window in Brotman Hall and pay (as of December 2018) $55. The hard copy of the form can be downloaded from this website:, under the tab “What happens if I miss the deadline to apply?”

The completed form must be returned to the General Information windows at Brotman Hall after paying appropriate fees to the Cashier’s Office. No degree can be granted unless this form is filed. Students planning to graduate in one year should file the form at the time of admission. If students change their semester of intended graduation, they need to fill out a new Request to Graduate form.

No degree can be granted unless this form is filed. Students who change their semester of intended graduation need to fill out a Request to Change Graduation Term form (, under the tab “How do I postpone my graduation term?”). Students planning to graduate in one year should file the form at the time of admission.


Some courses carrying credit in the English MA program may also count towards a teaching credential or a certificate program (e.g., Certificate in Professional Writing). A student interested in combining such programs should consult both the Graduate Advisor and the advisor of the other program involved to determine which courses may overlap. In such situations, students may wish to take the final comprehensive examination in an area of study that takes advantage of the overlap, e.g., IX—Rhetoric, Writing, and Composition (see “The Final Comprehensive Examination” section for more information).


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