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University of Massachusetts Amherst

University of Massachusetts Amherst

English Department

The English Major and Commonwealth Honors College

Honors Courses
The English Department’s Honors courses are open to all majors who seek an intensive seminar experience within the program. At the same time, these courses particularly serve the needs of English majors who are enrolled in Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) and have chosen to pursue the departmental honors track as part of their Commonwealth Honors College degree, as described below. Each semester, the department designates several courses, and sometimes sections of larger courses, as honors courses. These 20-student courses often involve more difficult material and assignments and are conducted at a level that requires students’ full concentration and engagement in the course material. In return, they provide a particularly rich learning experience. Any student desiring this kind of intensive work may enroll in an honors course without making any honors commitment beyond the course.

Graduating with Honors
As of May 2009, all students are eligible for Latin honors provided they have taken 54 graded credits at UMass. Latin honors are based on the top GPA percentiles of graduating seniors within a school or college. Every fall, these percentiles and their corresponding Latin honors are posted on the registrar's website (www. CHC students who matriculated prior to May 2009 are awarded Latin honors based on either the old or new system, whichever results in the higher Latin honors designation. The old system for CHC students requires 45 graded UMass credits and a 3.2 cumulative GPA for cum laude; 3.5 for magna cum laude; and 3.8 for summa cum laude.

All CHC students are simultaneously eligible for CHC Honors distinctions: CHC Honors; CHC Honors with Distinction; CHC Honors with Great Distinction; and CHC Honors with Greatest Distinction. For the requirements for each level of distinction, students should visit the CHC website at

Honors Tracks
To graduate with honors, students admitted to CHC first complete a General Education component, consisting of 4 or 5 courses, and then an Advanced Scholarship component. For their advanced scholarship, students choose from 2 options: Departmental Honors or Multidisciplinary Honors (formerly “Interdisciplinary Honors” and “General Honors.”) Each path includes two additional honors courses plus a capstone thesis of 6 or more credits, usually conducted in the senior year. Departmental Honors is the best option for students who wish to pursue advanced scholarship in their major; graduate studies in their major or related field; or a career related to their major.

Ideally, during spring registration in their sophomore year, CHC English majors should begin deciding which track they would like to pursue. To this end, they should meet with the Honors Program Director to explore which track best serves them. It's best to make this decision in the spring of sophomore year (and particularly important if a student plans to go abroad) so that a student can choose courses that might support the thesis work and can develop relationships with faculty who may become members of the thesis committee. To make an appointment to see the Honors Program Director, come to Bartlett 252 or call 545-0388.

Pursuing Departmental Honors

All students interested in Departmental Honors should make an appointment to speak with the Honors Program Director, ideally after they have completed at least one honors course. For classes of 2013 and beyond, entrance into departmental honors requires a cumulative average of 3.4, and no grades below a B+ in English courses. For students graduating in 2011 or 2012, a 3.2 cumulative GPA is required and no grades below a B in English courses.

The specific requirements for the English Department Honors track are as follows:

--one honors course in the English Department at the 200-level or above

--one honors course in the English Department at the 300-level or above. (The Department strongly recommends that students take their Junior-Year Writing courses as Honors courses, where possible.)

And either of two options:

--the two-semester honors thesis, worth 6 credits. Students writing a literary-critical thesis sign up for 499Y (usually in the fall) and 499T (usually in the spring), and students writing a creative thesis sign up for 499Y (fall) and 499P (spring). Note that students interested in an independent creative project are strongly encouraged to pursue the Creative Writing Specialization to prepare them for an extended project and familiarize potential committee members with their work. The honors thesis counts as 2 of the student's 4 upper-level electives.


--English 499C/D, a two-semester capstone course, worth 6 credits. English 499C/D counts as 2 of a student's 4 upper-level electives. Topics for 499C/D may vary, as well as the number of offerings for any year, though students interested in a creative project should consider the regularly offered “Foundations and Departures in Creative Writing” as an alternative to an independent project. The course offers an individualized workshop environment that frees students from the difficulties of putting together a committee.

The Honors Thesis
The thesis is an opportunity for the student to bring his or her literary education to fruition in an independently conceived work, with the guidance and support of two faculty members. This intensive, 6-credit, two-semester written project will count toward the English major as 2 of the student's 4 upper-level electives.

The English Honors thesis may be either an analytical work of literary criticism (typically about 50 pages in length) or a substantial creative work, typically called a “project” (either a collection of poems and stories or one longer work of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction). The thesis/ project is written under the supervision of at least two faculty members. Typically, both committee members are faculty (not graduate students) of the English department, although one member may be faculty from another department. The chairperson of the committee must be a faculty member from the English Department. During the second semester of the junior year, the student pursuing Departmental Honors should again meet with the Honors Program Director, in this case to begin to identify two faculty members to work with him or her on the thesis. It is the student's responsibility to initiate this meeting with the Honors Program Director and then to meet with and ask faculty to serve on his or her committee. Assembling a good faculty committee can be challenging, so this important step should be undertaken in the junior year.

To begin the thesis work, a thesis proposal, signed by both faculty committee members and the Honors Program Director, must be turned into both the department and the CHC office by the end of add/drop in the fall semester of the senior year—but, ideally, will be submitted during registration in the spring of the junior year. Throughout the senior year, the student will work especially closely with the committee chair, meeting regularly to discuss research, drafts, and revision. At the end of the year, the thesis committee will conduct an oral exam and award a final grade.

For further information, see the Honors Program Director, Janis Greve, in 252 Bartlett Hall or call 545-0388. Information about Commonwealth Honors College is available at its office in Goodell 504, by telephone at 545-2483, or on the website at