From Foundations to Comps: For Students Considering a Major in English

The English Major begins by developing the fundamental skills of literary analysis through introductory courses in a changing menu of texts, topics, and traditions.  Students begin by taking a 100-level Foundations course, either as an Argument & Inquiry Seminar such as “Imagining a Self,” or “Woodstock Nation,” or as introductory courses such as African American Literature, British Comedy, or Introduction to Poetry.

Introductory Courses

Introductory Courses (numbered from 100 to 294) are designed for non-majors, prospective English majors, and declared majors as well. They have (excluding 200-level creative writing courses) no prerequisites.

Most 100-level courses are designated as Foundations courses; these form the base for an English Major.  Most Argument & Inquiry Seminars offered in the department are Foundations courses. Introductory courses offer a grounding in genre (introduced at the 100 level) and literary history (mostly at the 200 level). These classes prepare you for more advanced work at the 300 level.

Critical Methods 

English 295, “Critical Methods,” introduces students to theoretical models that are prevalent in literary study. Students gain an understanding of schools of literary and cultural criticism, past and present. While populated largely by English majors and prospective English majors, “Critical Methods” also attracts students from other disciplines–recent classes have seen the participation of students from Philosophy, Asian Studies, and even Geology. English 295 requires prior completion of one Foundations course and another 6-credit English course. (English 295 is not open to first-year students.)

Upper-level Courses

Literature courses numbered 300 and above (upper-level courses) require prior completion of one Foundations course and another 6-credit English course. These are more advanced classes that incorporate research and take up texts and ideas at a more theoretical level.

Advanced Seminar

English 395, “Advanced Seminar,” requires prior completion of English 295 and one 300-level course. With enrollment capped at 15 students, English 395 allows students to take up complex texts and contexts in a more intimate seminar setting. Recent and upcoming seminars feature such topics as “Nabokov,” “The Gothic Spirit,” “V.S. Naipaul,” “Murder,” and “James and Wharton.”

Creative Writing 

English 160, “Introduction to Creative Writing,” is open to all students.  Intermediate courses in creative writing (200-level) require prior completion of one 6-credit English course; admission to upper-level courses in creative writing (300-level) is by portfolio submission.

In addition to taking workshop classes offered by regular Carleton faculty members, including poets Gregory Hewett and Susan Jaret McKinstry, and fiction writer Gregory Blake Smith, students work with the many distinguished visitors to campus to read and to conduct workshops.  Recent visitors include Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt.

Students submit their work to (and edit) college publications such as The Manuscript, The Lens, and The CLAP, and enter Carleton’s literary contests, the Nick Adams Short Story Contest, and others.

Looking Ahead . . .

Funny though they are, Garrison Keillor’s jokes about English Majors are just that: jokes. The English Major is a valuable asset in many walks of life.  You’ll see from our Life After Laird pages that Carleton English Majors enjoy successful careers in business, advertising, law, medicine, education, public policy, publishing, and the media. The department works closely with the Career Center to bring alumni back to campus, for presentations of interest to English Majors. Watch the events calendar for upcoming visits.

Students should talk with faculty, and meet with the Department’s Life After Laird Adviser to learn more about what English Majors are currently doing, about opportunities for intern-, extern- and fellowships, about grad school, and about how to start thinking about the future today.