Monday, June 8, 2015

What You Need to Know About The English Major

Here's a picture of me demonstrating my love of English by sitting proudly on a throne of books. 

I've always loved reading and writing, so coming into college I knew I wanted to major in English. I was familiar with Shakespeare, Dickens, and the like, but I had no idea how many centuries of literature I'd have to cover in order to fulfill my major. When I read up on the English major, I was overwhelmed by the number of required courses and I didn't know where to begin so I just picked a course blindly: American Fictions taught by Stephen Railton. I absolutely loved the course and soon asked Professor Railton to be my advisor, but to those of you who'd like a little more direction than I had right off the bat, here are some fast facts about the English major:

  • Before you declare your English major, you must do one of two things: either take one ENLT or ENGL 2000-level course OR take two upper-level English courses (3000-level or higher). I took an ENLT with Professor Railton called Contemporary American Drama in which the class read about eight different plays, writing two papers on any two productions of our choosing. Not only did I enjoy reading the plays, but watching select scenes in lecture offered a neat perspective to the written works that helped strengthen my arguments in my essays. 
  • Of the 30 required credits in the English major, six must come from two "survey" courses: ENGL3810 (literature from the Anglo-Saxon era to 1800) and ENGL3820 (1800 - present). 
  • You will also be required to take one course in literature before 1700. For this requirement I highly recommend the Shakespeare Courses taught each semester by Katherine Maus. Her lectures are incredibly interesting and Professor Maus's enthusiasm for her subject is contagious. I took the course offered last semester, Tragedies and Histories, and I recommend it to everyone - English majors and others! 
  • Another requirement is a course in literature from 1700-1900. I took Eighteenth-Century Women Writers with Alison Hurley and loved it! The reading was pretty heavy, but Professor Hurley is a wonderful lecturer and grades pretty fairly. Also, there are plenty of opportunities to raise your grade if you don't do well on the papers because of weekly quizzes which are often open book! 
One of the greatest hidden gems within the English Department is UVa's Creative Writing program. I was looking for a way to continue non-academic writing in college and the Creative Non-fiction course I took last fall was the perfect place to do so! The course, taught by Sydney Blair, met once a week for two and a half hours - a seemingly long time, but the class always flew by. It was a workshop setting so each week we'd write one two-page paper on various topics (a childhood memory, an object, an art piece in UVa's Fralin Museum, and more) and take turns reading the works of our classmates. The class was only twelve students large so we all got really close and Professor Blair took us out to lunch on the last day of class! 

Looking for another space to practice writing outside of the classroom? Check out the Cavalier Daily, UVa's student newspaper. There are numerous literary sections including News, Lifestyle, Sports, Opinion, and Arts&Entertainment that are always looking for new writers and fresh ideas. If writing isn't for you, but you're still interested in joining the Cav Daily team, check out the graphics, production, or business staffs. 

No matter what your literary interests are, UVa is sure to have a lecture, seminar, workshop, or student organization to meet your needs! 

Have any questions? Shoot me an email at and I'll be happy to tell you more about the English major and reading/writing opportunities on Grounds! 

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