Senior Essay Program

All Columbia College and General Studies senior English majors with at least a 3.65 GPA in their English courses. Off-sequence students who will graduate in either May or December should apply for an independent study early during September of the preceding year. 

The senior essay program offers qualified seniors the opportunity to write a critical essay of between 8,000 and 10,000 words under the supervision of a full-time faculty member in the English Department. The essay should constitute some substantial and original critical or scholarly argument of the sort normally required in literature courses. Essays that go beyond the word count will automatically be disqualified.
In order to be considered for honors in the English major, a student must normally submit a senior essay. Students who have not participated in the senior essay program but who have taken an independent study and completed an essay of comparable length may also be considered for honors; please check with the D.U.S. Concentrators are not eligible for departmental honors.

Students interested in applying to this program should devote some time during the summer between their junior and senior year thinking about what topic they might want to explore and how they would go about it. We will have a meeting about the Senior Essay proposal on Friday, September 14th in 201D Philosophy Hall.

Early in the fall semester, applicants submit a one- to two-page proposal for the essay to the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE). (Note: the proposal should include a provisional title that identifies the focus of the essay.) The deadline for the proposal is on October 8th to be submitted electronically by 4pm to Molly Murray ( (To get a sense of what CUE considers an acceptable project, students should consult the sample proposals of past applicants posted at this site.) Along with the proposal, applicants should also submit their transcript (unofficial transcript or record of grades from SSOL is sufficient); at the top of your transcript, please give your cumulative GPA in all English courses you have taken. At the top of your proposal itself, please list suggested faculty sponsors. Note: you are urged to speak with potential sponsors before submitting your proposal; if a faculty member has already indicated a willingness to advise your essay should it be approved, please indicate this in your application.) On the basis of the proposal and academic record, CUE accepts students into the program, at the same time assigning them to individual faculty sponsors. Although efforts are made to accommodate student choices of sponsor, there is no guarantee that this will happen in every case. The final authority to assign faculty sponsors rests with CUE.
Once students have been accepted, they are expected to meet with their sponsors throughout the fall to sharpen the focus of their topics, establish a bibliography, and otherwise organize themselves for the actual preparation of the essay. The DUS will also organize meetings in the fall and early spring to help students with their research and writing. During the November registration period for the spring term, students register for the four-point independent study course, English W3999y.
During the spring term, students are expected to see their sponsors at least once every two weeks as they work on their essays. At least twenty pages of draft should be submitted electronically to the sponsor by the first Monday in March. The essay must be turned in by April 12. ABSOLUTELY NO LATE SUBMISSIONS. Students should submit an emailed copy (only .doc or .docx files, please) to Molly Murray ( and another copy to the sponsor (whether the essay should be delivered electronically to the sponsor or as a paper version deposited in the sponsor’s mailbox is a matter to be arranged between the student and sponsor). Faculty sponsors submit to CUE an evaluation of the essay and a grade one week later. CUE then meets to consider the essays, the sponsors’ evaluations, and the students’ grades to determine which students should be nominated for departmental honors. By College rule, the department can grant honors to no more than 10 percent of the English major graduating class. The list of nominated students is then presented to the College or to the School of General Studies for its final approval.