Sequential Master of Arts

  • Registration: 2 Residence Units
  • Advising: 2 meetings per semester between student and assigned advisor
  • Coursework: 8 graded courses (30 points), with grades of B or higher, and which must include:
    • Fall: MA Seminar (GR5001x)
    • Spring: MA Thesis Tutorial (GR5005y)
    • Three 6000-level Seminars
    • One class (4000- or 6000-level) in pre-1700 literatures and cultures
    • One class (4000- or 6000-level) in post-1700 literatures and cultures
  • Certification of Proficiency in a Second Language
  • Positive Spring Semester Evaluation
Please note: the requirement of 30 points of credit is a state mandate and cannot be relaxed by the Department or the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).
There are two tracks through the MA program at Columbia: sequential and free-standing. Sequential students are admitted as potential candidates for the MPhil and PhD degrees. Free-standing students are admitted as candidates for the MA degree only.
This webpage is for sequential MA students. Click here for a guide to the free-standing MA program.
The Department of English and Comparative Literature follows the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences policy on transfer credit. Please note, however, that consistent with rules on departmental autonomy, the Department does not offer advanced standing toward the MA degree. Students on the MA-MPhil-PhD track must therefore wait until the second year of study before transferring credit from a previous course of study. In addition, transfer credit cannot be used to excuse students from the following degree requirements: MA Seminar, MA Thesis Tutorial, 6000-level Seminars requirement.
Sequential MA students must register each semester for a full Residence Unit (RU) in addition to their lecture and seminar courses.
For the MA registration worksheet, click here.
The primary advisor for practical questions concerning coursework and degree requirements is Professor Dennis Tenen, the Associate Director of Graduate Studies (ADGS).
In addition, during the first week of the Fall semester, all MA students are assigned a faculty advisor. Every attempt is given to match students with advisors from their own fields, though sometimes faculty research leaves or administrative duties make this impossible.
Advisors and advisees should meet in person twice per semester, once during the registration period and again before classes end. The first meeting will focus on course selection, while the second meeting gives the advisee a chance to say how things are going generally, to discuss any specific issues or problems, and to begin to think ahead to the next term.
Advisors have a responsibility to schedule meetings promptly and to respond to student inquiries made via email within a week, even during the summer and winter breaks. It is, however, the advisee's responsibility to communicate with the advisor and to initiate meetings. Advisors in turn are expected to make it a priority to find time to meet when asked, during office hours when mutually convenient, or otherwise at another time. At least twenty minutes should be blocked out for each of the two required meetings each semester. Both advisors and advisees should not hesitate to be in touch with the DGS or ADGS whenever necessary.
MA Seminar (ENGL GR5001)
This 4-point seminar serves as an introduction to graduate work in literary studies. Generally, it has a broad focus on theory and method rather than on a single author or specific strand of theory. This class is only available in the Fall Term. Currently, two sections are offered and students are assigned to each section by the ADGS, consistent with their interests, class schedule, and the balance of students between sections. If you wish to move sections, or request a particular section, email the ADGS.
MA Essay Tutorial (ENGL GR5005)
This class is a 4-point independent study designed to give the students time to research and write the MA Essay. Althought the ADGS is the instructor of record for the MA essay tutorial, your grade in this class will be assigned by the faculty sponsor under whose direction you write the MA Essay. Sequential MA students must take the MA Essay Tutorial in the Spring semester.
The Department offers three types of graduate classes:
4000-level Lectures (3 points)
These twice-weekly courses serve as introductions to the literature of a particular period (Medieval, Victorian, etc.) or literary movements (modernism, psychoanalysis, etc.). 4000-level lectures are offered to both graduate students and upper-year undergraduates. Professors may not require graduate students to write long research papers for 4000-level lectures.
5000-level Seminars (4 points)
This course number designation is used only for required classes for first year students: the MA Seminar and MA Thesis Tutorial.
6000-level Seminars (4 points)
Once-weekly seminar classes open only to graduate students and involving intensive explorations of special topics, specific authors, or distinct time periods. The reading load is demanding; in addition, students are generally expected to do some writing during the semester and to produce a long research paper (typically 20-25 pages) at the end of the course. Students are never advised to take more than 3 6000-level seminars in any given term.
In English and Comparative Literature, all graduate seminars (5000- and 6000-level) are worth 4 points of credit and all 4000-level lectures are worth 3 points.
However, some Columbia departments and programs apply different points values to their classes—e.g., 4 points for a lecture or 3 points for a seminar. Be sure to check that your course of study will add up to 30 points over two semesters and will not exceed 18 points in any one semester.
Lectures for Seminar Credit
If desired, a 4000-level course can be taken for seminar credit, with the permission of the instructor and ADGS. The student and instructor should agree on the writing of a seminar-style research paper, or its equivalent. The instructor should e-mail the ADGS and Graduate Coordinator to signal agreement to this plan. The Graduate Coordinator will then coordinate the student’s registration.
Seminars for Lecture Credit
Conversely, with the permission of the instructor and ADGS, a student can take a 6000-level seminar for lecture-course credit. Under such an arrangement, the student will do the reading and participate in discussion, but complete less demanding writing requirements. The instructor should e-mail the ADGS and Graduate Coordinator to signal agreement to this plan. The Graduate Coordinator will then coordinate the student’s registration.
Courses in Other Departments
Students may take relevant courses in other departments, but these courses must be approved by the ADGS if they are to count toward the degree. Students must submit a brief rationale, the course name, instructor, course description, and syllabus.
Courses through the Intra-University Doctoral Consortium (IUDC)
IUDC courses at universities such as NYU and Princeton are not open to MA students. On rare occasions—e.g., when faculty in a key research area are all on leave—MA students may petition to take an IUDC class. In this event, permission must be granted by the ADGS and by the Dean of Academic Affairs in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

During the M.A., students must take at least one course in each of the following categories:
  • One class (4000- or 6000-level) in pre-1700 literatures and cultures
  • One class (4000- or 6000-level) in post-1700 literatures and cultures
Each year the department draws up a list of courses that fulfill each period requirement. When a course spans two periods, it can count toward whichever period serves as the basis for the student's primary written work.
The most extended piece of written work required of MA students is the MA Essay, which develops an extended argument over 25-30 pages. Most years, revised versions of some students' MA Essays go on to be published as scholarly articles.
Although the ADGS administers the MA Essay Program, students work primarily with a faculty sponsor who has knowledge of the essay topic. The sponsor assigns the student’s grade for the MA Thesis Tutorial, though the final essay is also evaluated by a second reader. (A third reader is added if there is a substantial divergence between the evaluations given by the sponsor and second reader.)
The MA Essay Program has the following requirements:
  • Attendance at the Fall semester MA essay workshop led by the ADGS
  • Securing a faculty sponsor before the late January deadline set by the ADGS
  • Regular advising meetings with sponsor, to a schedule satisfactory to the student and sponsor
  • Submission (with sponsor’s approval) of an MA essay proposal by the mid-February deadline set by the ADGS
  • Submission (to sponsor’s satisfaction) of a 20 page essay draft by a late March deadline set by the ADGS
  • Submission of a final essay draft by a late April deadline set by the ADGS
Failure to complete any of these requirements will affect a student’s grade for the MA Thesis Tutorial, up to and including receiving an “F” for this required course, with the result that the student will not receive the MA degree.
All MA students must demonstrate a solid reading ability in a language other than English. We accept in our program any language that will be relevant for a student’s scholarly work. This may include languages in which much theoretical and scholarly discussion is carried on (French, German, Spanish, Chinese), classical languages that English-language writers often cite (Greek, Hebrew, Latin), the other literary languages of the British Isles (Irish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic), and languages of major colonial and post-colonial populations closely engaged with England (Arabic, Hindi, Zulu). This list is not exhaustive. Any language may be offered, so long as it bears a clear relevance to the candidate's prospective work.
Students may not use proficiency in machine languages (e.g., Python, C++) to satisfy the MA language requirement.
Students arrange the completion of the language requirement with the Graduate Coordinator, who can refer them to the ADGS in any cases of uncertainty as to whether a language is appropriate. Our standard for proficiency is the ability to accurately translate a page of literary or critical prose in two hours, using a dictionary.
This standard is measured using one of three methods. Please note that, with the exception of foreign-language graduate courses (4000-level and above) that are taken for a grade of B+ or above, none of the following classes can be counted towards degree credit.
Language Exams
Several of the language departments offer periodic proficiency exams throughout the year. Consult with the Graduate Coordinator regarding the dates of exams.
Intermediate Undergraduate Language Classes
The language requirement can be fulfilled with a grade of B+ or better in an intermediate undergraduate language class designated as proficiency level (for example intermediate French II, but not intermediate French I). A grade of B+ or better in a graduate class whose language of instruction is the language in question can also serve; in both cases the language class must be taken during the student's enrollment in the Columbia graduate program—i.e., the language requirement cannot be met through transfer credit. Before enrolling for the course, contact the Graduate Coordinator for written permission that it will satisfy the language requirement.
"Rapid Reading and Translation" Courses
Rapid Reading and Translation Courses (e.g. Spanish 1113, Italian 1204, French 1206) are designed to give students proficiency suitable for graduate study. In some cases, these classes offer final exams that will satisfy the proficiency requirement.
Written Work
With the exception of the MA Essay, which may be developed from a paper originally written for course credit, no written work in the MA program may be submitted more than once for credit. Students are responsible for avoiding plagiarism and following the letter and spirit of the Graduate School's guidelines on academic integrity.
Letter Grades
Students and faculty should consider that both the A and the A- are truly positive grades. Grades of A- do not indicate a lack of satisfactory progress, but simply register good work that can be taken a step further in future. The grade of A+ is given rarely, and only to signal work of truly outstanding quality.
Grades of B+ signal work that raises concerns about the quality of a student’s thinking, writing, or work ethic. The grade of B is the minimum grade for counting a course toward degree requirements and is only used for work that is barely satisfactory.
Incomplete Grades
The Department’s policy on incompletes (INC) is stricter than that which applies to the GSAS students generally. The following rules apply:
  • MA students are not generally allowed to take incompletes.
  • In exceptional circumstances (e.g., serious illness, family emergency) MA students may request permission to take an incomplete. Permission must be given by the ADGS and the instructor of the course in question.
  • For incompletes taken in the Fall semester, all work must be submitted by the first day of the Spring semester.
  • For incompletes taken in the Spring, all work must be submitted by June 30.
  • Students who take incompletes in the Spring cannot take their MA degree until the October graduation ceremony. For this reason, Spring incompletes are especially discouraged. Permission to take them will be given only in the most exceptional circumstances.
  • The taking of multiple incompletes will affect the Committee on Graduate Education’s judgment of a sequential MA student’s suitability to continue to the MPhil stage of the graduate program.
These regulations take precedence over the common GSAS regulations.
End-of-the-Year Evaluation
Each spring the faculty members of the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) meet to evaluate the work of sequential MA students and to certify them for graduation. This meeting takes place around May 10; all work must be completed in time for faculty to submit students’ grades by then.
The CGE also checks to see that each student has done work of high quality and made satisfactory progress, so as to be admitted into the MPhil program. It is our expectation that all sequential students will indeed have done so. The minimum standard as expressed by grades is an A- average both in coursework overall and on the MA Essay specifically; satisfactory progress is defined as having completed all coursework and fulfilled the language requirement by the time of the CGE's review.
Sequential MA students who finish the first year with unsatisfactory grades, unexcused incomplete coursework, or an unsatisfactory MA essay are not likely to thrive in our program and will be denied permission to advance to the MPhil stage. Such cases are infrequent, but the CGE considers it important for the student as well as the program to identify such cases and face the situation squarely.
If, having completed the MA program, you wish to defer entrance to the MPhil stage, you may petition the DGS for a leave of absence and the right to reapply for admission the following year. Under special circumstances, a further year's extension may be granted. After two years, admission to the MPhil program requires a formal review by the CGE. No deferral is permitted for students applying to the MPhil program from other schools.