HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu

Guide to the major

Why Major in English?

Undergraduate Studies in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers the opportunities that come with a large department and a research university along with the small classes and sense of community you might associate with a private liberal arts college. The department faculty includes a host of internationally known professors whose widely published research puts them at the forefront of their fields and whose research and writing enriches what they teach and how they teach it. But unlike many other universities, and many other departments on campus, the English Department continues to provide small classes, on the principle that students learn best, and especially learn to write and read best, in small classes. While we do offer a handful of lecture courses--taught by lively and popular teachers--most courses in the department have 20 to 35 students and include plenty of discussion of readings and attention to writing.

Amid the diversity of our offerings is a common commitment to developing the student's ability to analyze literary and cultural texts and contexts, and to write clear, persuasive, and graceful prose. We encourage you to think outside the box – and make language a source of your power in the world. These reading, thinking, and writing skills will enhance your capacity for persuasion, leadership, clarity, and interpersonal effectiveness in whatever career you pursue. 

This guide familiarizes you with requirements, options, and resources within the English Department. If you do decide to major or minor in English, please hold on to it so that you can consult it as you continue through the program.


The English major affords students the ability to write and speak well, to think analytically and critically, and to solve problems quickly, all of which are required and sought after in today's job market. Knowing this, college graduates with a degree in English can enter into a wide variety of career fields: public affairs, business, politics, education, administration, writing, editing or publishing. Students may continue their education in Ph.D. programs or professional schools. With this flexibility of career fields also comes a broad range of potential employers: English majors can work for newspapers, government agencies, public and private schools, libraries, nonprofit organizations, television stations, publishing companies, magazines, broadcasting companies, and law firms. 

So the real question is not “what can you do with an English major” but “what will you do with an English major”? To help you decide where to direct your many skills, we hold workshops, encourage internships, and run a Career Seminar.

Admission to the Major / Declaring the Major

Students who wish to pursue an English major should understand that it is a writing-intensive degree; our courses require analytical as well as imaginative thinking and they promote thoughtful reflection on expressive culture. Any student may directly enter into the English major but students must complete the following sequence to progress through the major: 

1. First, complete College Writing (English Writing 112 or 113). This course is the prerequisite to enrolling in English 200 and is normally taken in a student’s Freshman year. (Some students may complete this requirement by receiving an exceptionally high grade on the Writing Placement Examination.) 

2. Second, complete English 200: Intensive Literary Studies Seminar for Intended Majors and produce work at the C or better* level as well as attend a Mandatory Advising session where students receive an overview of the department, the major, and programs and services available to them as majors. 

First-year students accepted into the English TAP program will simultaneously complete both English 112 and English 200. With few exceptions, transfer students and students who decide to pursue the English major after their sophomore year must complete both of these requirements before progressing through the major. 

While enrolled in English 200, students may also take upper-level English courses that are designated for General Education (GE) credit, including American Identities (English 270) and Shakespeare (English 221), which will count toward the major; but they may not register for any other courses restricted to advanced English majors who have completed English 200. 

Students who wish to major in English must declare themselves by filling out a change-of-major form in the Undergraduate English Office in E345 South College. 


Upon declaring the major, each student is assigned to a faculty member who will act as an advisor and mentor and can give general advice concerning academic and related matters. Students should plan to meet with their advisor each semester during counseling week to discuss their course schedules for the following semester. Advisee assignments are posted on the bulletin board outside the Undergraduate English Office, E345 South College, and are posted on a student's SPIRE record. 

Your professors and your advisor hold scheduled office hours and they welcome your visits. If you have trouble finding your advisor, come to the English Undergraduate Office in E345 South College and we will make sure you get the advising you seek. Start by reading the paragraphs below (as well as this handbook). And then make an appointment to meet with an advisor!

In addition, the University offers an Academic Advising Link, located on the Garden Level of the Learning Commons-Du Bois library, which offers assistance with General Education requirements and identifying academic interests, review and interpretation of Degree Progress Reports, class scheduling and SPIRE assistance, and more. For more information, visit their website at or email

Students seeking assistance in devising an academic plan or with questions regarding College Requirements or University General Education requirements can contact the Arts and Sciences Advising Center, E20 Machmer Hall, 545-6152.

Students with questions regarding University and General Education requirements, credits, GPA, and repeat courses, should contact the Registrar’s Office, 213 Whitmore, 545-0555. 

For official signatures and for more specific advising related to internships, co-ops, honors, English education, study abroad, a second major or second degree, and preparation for graduate school, students should make an appointment to speak with one of the chief advisors in the Undergraduate English Office, E345 South College. Appointments can be scheduled in person or by calling 545-0388. 

Students who would like further advising may contact the English Student Advisory Board, made up of a group of students representing diverse aspects of the English Department and the University. The board can be contacted by email at and can answer questions about courses, the major, and English department events.