1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

MA Requirements

The MA in English encourages a wide exposure to the field, while permitting students to pursue more focused interests. MA students at Virginia broaden their knowledge of literature in English, deepen their understanding of literary history, and strengthen their grasp of the critical approaches that are current within literary studies. Students exercise analytic, interpretive, and communicative skills that are essential to effective teaching and research, and for which an increasing demand exists outside the academy.

The requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English may be completed in three semesters, with a fourth semester of part-time enrollment a fairly common option for those writing a thesis as their final exercise. (NB: There are various enrollment options available to second-year MAs, each with specific tuition implications; for tuition and fees, see this GSAS page, and for further details of the University's MA-reqs see this page of the Graduate Record. ) The BA/MA - for select students already pursuing a BA at Virginia - may be completed in one additional year of full-time graduate coursework including an MA final exercise. The MA in English is a terminal degree; candidates may move to the PhD only by rejoining the pool of outside applicants for that program.

Course Requirements

Ten courses, including at least nine graded courses (total of 27 credits graded courses required). The only mandatory course is ENCR 8100, Introduction to Literary Research. This three-credit course, offered as a fourth first-term course and graded on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory basis, is a practical introduction to the techniques and uses of literary scholarship, tied to the resources of the University library system. In addition to ENCR 8100, the MA requires eight graded graduate courses (at the 5000, 8000, or 9000 level) taken in residence at the University and completed with a grade of B or higher. These courses must satisfy the following distribution requirements:

  • one course in MD or RN (Medieval or Renaissance)

  • one course in EC or NC (Eighteenth-Century or Nineteenth-Century)

  • one course in the history of criticism or literary theory

The tenth course may be either another graded course or 3 credits of Non-topical Research, ENGL 8999, which allows for preliminary research towards the final exercise. The Graduate School allows no transfer credit toward the MA. Students who receive two or more failing grades will not be permitted to remain in the program.


Students are strongly advised to stay current with their work and to complete all courses at the time they are taken. With the written agreement of the instructor, however, students may be given a grade of "Incomplete" in one course each semester. According to GSAS policy, outstanding work must then be completed by the end of the following semester, after which remaining incompletes automatically default to permanent Fs. Agreements between instructors and students regarding incompletes should include a specific due date and be placed on file with the Graduate Office.

Foreign Language Requirement

MA students are required to demonstrate reading proficiency in a foreign language relevant to their course of study. This requirement is normally satisfied by passing a translation exam given by the appropriate language department at the University.   With approval from the Director of Graduate Studies, students also may satisfy the MA requirement with an intermediate or advanced course taken as an undergraduate in which they received a grade of B or better.

Final Exercise

As the concluding element in their MA program, students elect one of three options, in consultation with their assigned faculty advisor. By May 1st of their second semester (or late in the fall term for BA/MA students), students submit the MA Final Exercise application. Students then complete the exercise in either their third or, if they wish, fourth semester at the University, and submit a signed Final Examination Form to the English Department graduate secretary on completing the exercise successfully. Those opting for a critical or pedagogy thesis should deliver two copies to the Graduate Office; these are due two weeks before the final GSAS deadline. See the GSAS website for exact deadlines in a given semester; note the earlier deadlines for MA degree applications, officially required of all students. Those opting for a fall oral examination must submit an approved orals list to the graduate office by October 1 their last year (and by mid-January for spring exams).

  • An MA critical thesis of 10,000 to 15,000 words. A faculty director must agree in advance to supervise and evaluate the thesis; a second reader is assigned by the Director of Graduate Studies once the completed thesis is submitted. Upon acceptance of the thesis as satisfactory, the student prepares a final copy in accordance with paper and format regulations set by the Graduate School, and the thesis is permanently archived in the University Library. Students preparing an MA thesis may enroll during their third semester in ENGL 8998 (MA Thesis), which counts as one of their nine courses.  (Again, see enrollment options.)

  • An MA pedagogy thesis correlated to undergraduate or secondary teaching: the preparation and rationalization of a detailed course syllabus, including an explanation of assignments and a bibliography.  Theses should draw on and demonstrate the relevance of graduate course work to practicing and thinking about pedagogy. A faculty director must agree in advance to supervise and evaluate the thesis. A second reader is assigned by the Director of Graduate Studies.

  • A one-hour oral examination, conducted by two faculty members appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies, on a topic and list of readings submitted by the student. Lists normally consist of ten primary texts and two or three secondary texts taken from the departmental list in the student's chosen area. Alternatively, students may devise an examination list of the same scope with its own principle of coherence (thematic, generic, or the like). Such improvised lists must include a one-page proposal, explaining the choice of texts and rationale for bringing them together. All orals lists must be approved by an area committee head or other appropriate faculty member as well as the Director of Graduate Studies.  (Applications and specimen lists here.)

Concentration in World Religions, World Literatures

As part of fulfilling the standard requirements for the MA in English, students are expected to complete the three-credit course "Introduction to World Religions, World Literatures" and three semesters of the one-credit "Proseminar in World Religions, World Literatures”; a minimum of six credits in a single religious tradition; a minimum of six credits in the English Department in the literature of a single language community (either in one historical period or two consecutive historical periods) or in the literature of a single pair of language communities within one historical period; and a minimum of three credits that involve the reading of scriptural texts.  A roster of eligible courses is approved by the faculty advisory committee for the concentration in World Religions, World Literatures, and additional courses may be approved by the student’s advisor. For more information, contact Professor Elizabeth Fowler (fowler@virginia.edu).

Customized Programs

A student may petition the departmental Graduate Committee for approval of a self-designed MA program, provided it is comparable in rigor and intellectual coherence to the regular MA curriculum. Before seeking such a program, however, students should be aware how much flexibility the standard program permits. For example, candidates may receive permission from the Director of Graduate Studies to include up to two courses from other departments as part of their degree program. Thus students can pursue interdisciplinary or comparative literature interests under our existing rules, even if no established interdisciplinary program meets their needs.


The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at http://records.ureg.virginia.edu/index.php.