Frequently Asked Questions for the M.A.


What are the requirements for admission to the M.A. program?

If you have completed fewer than 24 units, you may be admitted to Conditional Standing, but you will need to complete the required number of units and achieve the required grade point average before you can take graduate-level classes or begin work toward the 30-unit M.A. program. When you are ready to be advanced to Classified Standing you must bring the form and your unofficial transcript to the M.A. Advisor to have the change made official.


How do I apply for the M.A. program?

Simply fill out the online Cal State Apply for Graduate Admissions. You can find instructions here. You will need to list three references in your application, but you do not need to supply letters of recommendation. Have all transcripts sent directly to the Graduate Admissions & Program Evaluations Office. For full and detailed instructions, please review the "Steps to Graduate Admissions" brochure [pdf].

Note: Be sure to specify only the M.A. English program on your form. If you also indicate a credential objective, your application may not be routed to the Department of English and Comparative Literature. Send your writing sample to the Graduate Advisor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. Ideally the writing sample will be an example of your previous work as a student of literature. 


What are the requirements for the degree?

Complete English 201 (Materials and Methods of Literary Research) and English 297 (Comprehensive Exam Prep) as part of your 30-unit program. Both courses are offered only in the Fall. You should take 201 in the Fall of your first year and 297 in the Fall of your second year.


How do I demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language?

The MA requires a level of fluency in a second language roughly equivalent to one year of college study of a language. If you have completed 2 semesters/3 quarters of an approved university-level foreign language course at the time of admission, you have already satisfied this requirement. If not, you may be admitted on a conditional basis and will have to satisfy the requirement before filing for candidacy. Students who have acquired their language skills and knowledge outside of an academic institution can satisfy the foreign language requirement in French, German, Spanish, or other major world languages by taking an examination offered in the World Languages Department that has been specially devised for our graduate students. For information on how satisfy this requirement in a language not offered by the World Language Department, please contact the M.A. Advisor.


What is the comprehensive examination?

The M.A. comprehensive is a written exam designed to test your critical skills and your knowledge of literary history, literary theory, and rhetoric. It is given each semester in two parts:

  1. Part 1 is a timed in-class exam given in English 297.
  2. Part 2 is a take-home exam given in the fifth or sixth week of the semester (check newsletter for dates).

To take Part 2, you must sign up in advance by emailing the M.A Advisor and specifying the three areas you wish to be examined in. Deadline to sign up is May 1 for the Fall exam and Dec 1 for the Spring exam.

Reading lists and sample questions are available online. Examiners will assume that you have read what is on the list and will frame questions accordingly, but you will not be limited to discussing only works on this list when you answer the questions.

The Reading List Guidelines, you should note, represents a minimal coverage of the works an English M.A. should know. The program assumes you will do a considerable amount of reading in addition to your course assignments. Seminars, for the same reason, are not designed necessarily to cover the titles on the list; they are designed rather to model various ways of reading literature and to equip you to understand and evaluate critical approaches. You are expected to apply these approaches as you study the works on the list and to demonstrate on the Comprehensive Examination that you are capable of the level of independent study expected of a Master of Arts in English.


What happens if I fail all or part of the comprehensive exam?

You will be allowed to repeat whichever part of the exam you failed when it is next given, but you may not take any part more than twice. A second failure will result in termination, and you must leave the program without receiving the degree.


Is it necessary to write a thesis?

No. You may take your entire 30 units in course work (Plan B). Or you may, if you have a strong record and submit a strong proposal, be permitted to write a six-unit thesis as part of your 30-unit program (Plan A). (No matter what your plan, you must pass all parts of the comprehensive exam.)

If you are planning to write a thesis, see the Department's M.A. Thesis Guidelines. Follow these instructions very carefully.


Is financial aid available?

General information on financial aid is available from the Financial Aid office. You should also visit the site for Awards and Scholarships available to graduate students. The English department offers no scholarships or fellowships, but you may wish to apply for one of the Graduate Assistant or Teaching Associate positions described below.


Teaching Associate Positions

Newly admitted students as well as continuing students are invited to apply for Graduate Assistant and Teaching Associate positions. Normally, students in their first year will be appointed as Graduate Assistants and will assist professors teaching large classes or composition sections. In their second year, as Teaching Associates they will teach composition classes under the guidance of the T.A. coordinator. But students who enter the program with the appropriate experience may be assigned directly to classroom teaching.

If you wish to apply for one of these positions, write a letter of application:

  1. Describing your goals and your experience
  2. Listing the graduate courses you have taken and the grades you received
  3. Naming the two faculty members who are writing letters of recommendation for you.

Have these letters of recommendation sent directly to the M.A. Advisor. The deadline for applications is on or before April 1. New Teaching Assistants are required to attend meetings in May and during the summer.


How do I plan my program?

You will need to take English 201 (Materials and Methods of Literary Research), demonstrate reading proficiency in a foreign language, and pass the comprehensive exam. The M.A. Reading List will give you some idea of the range of readings expected. Because English 201 provides the groundwork for other graduate courses, you should take it as early as possible in your program.

If you are interested in being a Teaching Associate, please take English 259 (Rhetoric and Composition) as soon as possible. This seminar is ONLY OFFERED IN THE FALL and it is required for all those who hope to work as TAs during their second year.

Choose your electives according to your strengths and your interests but also keep the comprehensive exam requirements in mind and fill in any gaps in your knowledge.The university Catalog gives a general description of the courses; the Graduate English Newsletter in November and April gives more detailed information about the seminars that will be offered the following semester. You are always invited to talk with the M.A. Advisor about your course choices and about any other aspects of your program. Remember, the seminars are designed to provide in-depth work with specific writings and to illustrate ways of reading; they are not designed to "cover" the reading list. You are expected to do much reading on your own and to apply the skills you develop in the seminars.

Please be aware that electives are NOT offered every year, nor sometimes even every third semester. If you see an elective that you are interested in, please be sure to sign up for it when you see it. Unless you stay with us for more than two years, an individual elective is unlikely to appear again. 


How long will it take to complete the M.A.?

Because 12 graduate units is considered a full semester load, and because the department offers no graduate seminars in the summer, it will take at least three semesters to complete the course work. You must also satisfy the foreign language requirement and pass the comprehensive exam. Most students take at least two years to complete the program and many, because they take classes part-time, take longer. Remember that per CSU policy, courses completed more than seven years before your date of graduation do not count toward your required 30-unit program and must be retaken. A small percentage can be recertified via oral examination but the best policy is to complete all of the degree requirements within seven years.


Can I complete the M.A. without having or working toward a secondary credential?

Yes, these are quite separate programs. Consult the Credential Advisor if you are interested in also obtaining a credential that will allow you to teach high-school English. The M.A. is the required degree if you wish to teach in the community colleges. Four-year colleges and universities require the Ph.D. If your goal is to eventually teach at the college level, we highly recommend that you apply for the graduate assistant and teaching associate positions as the experience and training these programs provide will be invaluable.


If I later decide to work for the Ph.D. degree, will the M.A. count?

The weight given to your M.A. work will depend on the policy of the university that accepts you, and these policies vary widely. Consult university catalogs on line and in the library, and talk to SJSU faculty about the programs that interest you. When you've narrowed your choices, make an appointment to talk directly with the graduate advisors at the schools to which you might apply. In any event, a good record in your M.A. studies will strengthen your case for acceptance, and the studies themselves will give you training and experience that will be helpful when you undertake your Ph.D. work.


If I later decide to apply to San Jose State's MFA Program, will the M.A. count?

Literature seminars completed for the M.A. will also count toward the M.F.A. program at San Jose State. The M.F.A., however, requires a total of 48 units (as opposed to 30 for the M.A.) and several specific courses beyond what the M.A requires. The M.F.A. program also requires a high level of achievement in creative writing as a condition of admission. If you wish to apply to transfer from the M.A. to the M.F.A. program, you must do so before you've completed your M.A. degree. If you have not yet earned your M.A. from SJSU, you can apply the units you've earned toward the M.F.A. degree (except for ENGL 201). If you complete your M.A. at SJSU, you would be required to start taking the 48 units all over again; you could not apply the units that had earned you the MA towards M.F.A. credit. If for some reason you desire both the MFA and the MA in English, you should discuss this with both the program advisors and Graduate Studies as additional restrictions may apply.


How is the Grade Point Average figured?

You must have a 3.0 g.p.a. to secure and to maintain candidacy. Grades of C count toward the M.A. but they must be balanced by a like number of A grades. Still, if you receive C, or even B-, grades in your graduate work, you should reassess your suitability for the program. Continued marginal performance in course work suggests you may have trouble passing the comprehensive examination.

Please note that you must have a 3.0 average in all units attempted after your admission to the graduate program. This means that courses you take as a Conditionally Classified student, or any other courses you may take that do not count toward your official 30-unit program, will nevertheless be figured into your g.p.a. So if you fail to withdraw officially from a course or to finish an Incomplete, these units will pull down your average and may prevent your receiving the degree.


May I count undergraduate classes toward the 30-unit M.A. program?

It is assumed that your graduate work will be in 200-numbered classes unless you have a compelling reason for choosing an undergraduate course. In these special cases, a limited number of upper-division literature units carrying English major credit may be approved by the M.A. Advisor, but get the Advisor's permission before you sign up. If you are approved to take an upper-division undergraduate course, the instructor in that course will require you to do the amount and kind of work expected at the graduate level.


May I count courses taken in other departments?

Only in exceptional circumstances will courses outside the English department be approved. Always check first with the M.A. Advisor.


Will the M.A. program accept transfer units?

With the approval of the M.A. Advisor, you may earn up to six units of graduate credit in another English M.A. program or in SJSU graduate courses taken through Open University. San Jose State seniors who are in their last semester and who need fewer than 14 units to complete their undergraduate work may petition the M.A. Advisor to be allowed to earn some graduate credit in their final semester. Consult the Advisor for details.


How can I be advanced to candidacy?

You are advanced to candidacy when you file your official 30-unit program with the M.A. Advisor, who will forward it to the Graduate Studies Office. You must do this early in the semester before the semester in which you plan to graduate. To be safe, do it a year in advance. Thus, if you plan to graduate in May, file your program the previous May; if in December, file the previous December. When you apply for graduation, the Graduate Studies Office will check your transcripts against your official program, and these must match exactly. (Changes in your official program can be made after it is filed, but only by submitting, via the M.A. Advisor, a Change of Program form.)


What other steps are required for graduation?

At the start of the semester in which you plan to graduate (deadlines will be posted on the Graduate bulletin board and reported in the Newsletter), you must file an Application for Award of the Master's Degree at the Graduate Studies office and pay the graduation fee. At the same time, check once more with the M.A. Advisor to be sure all your paperwork is in order and all requirements will be completed by the end of the semester.


Must I register for classes every semester?

As per University policy, starting Fall 2018 all students are required to be continuously enrolled until they complete the culminating experience -- ie. pass the comprehensive exams (and finish the thesis, in the case of Plan A option). Those who have completed program requirements, including course work, but have not yet completed the culminating experience (exam/thesis) must enroll in a 1-unit UNVS or departmental 1290R to maintain continuous enrollment. Enrollment in 1290R must be repeated each semester until degree completion. There are no class meetings for the course; however, there is a fee of approximately $280. To enroll in 1290R, please get in touch with the graduate advisor. For more information, see