The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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What is Comp Lit?

Frequently Asked Questions about Majoring in Comparative Literature

Why should I major in Comp Lit?

Comparative Literature is the most interdisciplinary and customizable major in the humanities, allowing students to develop a course of study that is guided by their particular questions and interests. Grounded in language and literature, Comp Lit enables students to develop the rigorous critical faculties, strong writing, foreign language skills, and intercultural competence that are essential to many careers. In addition to languages and literature, Comp Lit majors study film, graphic novels, and translation, as well as the intersections between literature and other disciplines.

Here's a quick intro to the program from our Undergraduate Program Director.

How many foreign languages do I need to study?

At least one. All Comp Lit tracks require at least two languages, and your native language—including English—can count as one of them. You may also work in two (or more!) non-native languages if you wish.

If you have specific questions about how many courses you would need to take in these languages, please see Major in Comparative Literature or contact the Undergraduate Program Director.

What language(s) are Comparative Literature courses taught in?

All Comp Lit courses are taught in English, with all texts in English translation. Students who are competent in other languages are encouraged to read works in their original languages when possible, especially in upper-level courses.

What are the different "tracks" in Comp Lit, how much foreign language is required in each?

The three tracks in the Comp Lit major are General Language and Literature (requiring a total of two languages, which may include your native language[s]), Advanced Language and Literature (requiring work in a total of three languages, including your native one[s]), and Literature and a Related Discipline (requiring work in two languages). You can learn more at Major in Comparative Literature. We're happy to work with you to figure out a course of study that will best incorporate your interests.

How does the "Related Disciplines" track work?

The Related Disciplines track is an excellent choice for students with interdisciplinary interests. You get to count four courses from another discipline towards the Comp Lit major, with a reduction in the number of language classes that you need to take.

We consider a very wide array of areas to be "related"—because what, after all, isn't related to human culture? Some of these areas may be in a single department (e.g. Psychology, Art History), but others may span multiple departments (e.g. Translation, Film, Creative Writing etc.).

Can I finish a Comp Lit degree if I don't start my second language until college?

Yes! Depending on which track you pursue, you will need to take 2 or 3 upper-level courses in your second language. Because the fourth semester of the language counts as "upper-level," you need at least five semesters of the second language—which means that you could finish comfortably even if you don't start the language until the second semester of your sophomore year. Taking accelerated language classes, pursuing summer study, or studying abroad can help you to reach this goal even more quickly.

What's the difference between Comp Lit and English?

The most obvious difference is that Comp Lit students work in more than one language, and study literature beyond the Anglophone world.

But beyond that, Comp Lit is a highly flexible and dynamic major that studies other genres and media—such as film and graphic novels—alongside more traditional literature. It is also the home of translation studies at UMass.

Furthermore, as a Comp Lit major, the bounds of inquiry are determined by the individual student's intellectual journey. As such, students may count courses not only from across the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, but also from other colleges across the university.

Can my study-abroad credits count towards the major?

Most likely. Many of our students study abroad, and we strongly encourage them to do so.

Once you've figured out what program you would like to pursue and which classes you want to take, check with the Undergraduate Program Director about how specific courses can count towards the major.

If I major in Comp Lit, will I have time to pursue a secondary major or a minor, too?

Absolutely! Many of our majors are pursuing secondary majors in other disciplines, and we encourage our students to develop a wide range of interests and abilities. If your interests are particularly interdisciplinary, consider pursuing the Literature and a Related Discipline track; this will allow you to count four courses from another field (even your second major!) towards the Comp Lit degree.

What specific courses are required for the Comp Lit major?

Only two: Comp-Lit 394TI (Literary Theory and Criticism), which fulfills the Integrated Experience requirement for the major, and Comp-Lit 357 (Writing Matters), which is our Junior Year Writing course. Comp-Lit 357 does not count towards the six required courses in Comp Lit that you need for the major, however. If Comp Lit is your secondary major, we will usually count your primary major's Junior Year Writing course towards this requirement.

It's also worth noting that virtually none of our courses have prerequisites, which allows you to select the classes that you want to take in the order that you want to take them.

What kinds of job opportunities are available to Comp Lit majors?

Our graduates have gone on to careers in the non-profit sector, translation, legal fields, teaching, film production, and a variety of writing-related positions. They have pursued graduate degrees in law, education, literature, languages, and creative writing. Below are links to two HFA Career Services sites that are specifically for Comparative Literature and language majors.

Career resources for Comp Lit majors

Career resources for language students