MA Degree Requirements

The MA in English encourages a wide exposure to the field, while permitting students to pursue more focused interests. MA students at Virginia broaden their knowledge of literature in English, deepen their understanding of literary history, and strengthen their grasp of the critical approaches that are current within literary studies. Students exercise analytic, interpretive, and communicative skills that are essential to effective teaching and research, and for which an increasing demand exists outside the academy. Students interested in careers in teaching, either in independent schools or at the post-secondary level, may pursue the MA in English with a Concentration in Teaching Literature and Writing, a two-year program that provides specialized training in teaching, and, in the second year, teaching opportunities and financial support (tuition, fees, one-person health insurance coverage, and a salary per course). In cooperation with the Law School, we offer an interdisciplinary MA in Law and Literature.  Interested MA students may choose to earn a certificate in Comparative Literature, American Studies, Africana Studies, Gender Studies, or a Digital Humanities certificate.

The requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English may be completed in three semesters, with a fourth semester of part-time enrollment a fairly common option for those writing a thesis as their final exercise. (NB: There are various enrollment options available to second-year MAs, each with specific tuition implications; for tuition and fees, see this GSAS page, and for further details of the University's MA-reqs see this page of the Graduate Record. ) The BA/MA allows select students already pursuing the BA at UVa complete an MA in one year of additional study, comprised of full-time graduate coursework and including an MA final exercise. The MA in English is a terminal degree; candidates may move to the PhD only by joining the pool of outside applicants for that program.

Course Requirements

Ten courses, including at least eight courses taken for letter grades at the 5000, 8000, or 9000 level (total of 24 credits of letter-graded courses required). These courses must be completed with a grade of B- or higher, while in residence at the University. MA students also take ENGL 8800, which is graded on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory basis. The only mandatory course for the regular MA, ENGL 8800, Introduction to Literary Research, is a practical introduction to the techniques and uses of literary scholarship, tied to the resources of the University library system. Concentrations within the MA program entail additional requirements; please see the descriptions of those programs for further detail. Courses taken for letter grades must satisfy the following distribution requirements:

  • one course in a period before 1700
  • one course in a period from 1700 to 1900
  • one course in literary theory or the history of criticism

The tenth course may be either another graded course or 3 credits of Non-topical Research, ENGL 8999, which does not actually meet as a class, but allows for preliminary research towards the final exercise, or ENGL 8998, taken while writing the thesis.  MA students who are teaching for the English department must be full-time students, thus must take NTRs as needed to bring their credit total up to 12.  Other MA students may be part-time, but should inform the DGS of this choice.  The Graduate School allows no transfer credit toward the MA. Students who receive two or more failing grades will not be permitted to remain in the program.


Students are strongly advised to stay current with their work and to complete all courses at the time they are taken. With the written agreement of the instructor, however, students may be given a grade of "Incomplete" in one course each semester. According to GSAS policy, outstanding work is expected to be completed by the end of the following semester, after which remaining incompletes automatically default to Fs. Under exceptional circumstances and with the instructor's approval, students may still complete the work and receive a letter grade after that point. Agreements between instructors and students regarding incompletes should include a specific due date and be placed on file with the Graduate Office.

Foreign Language Requirement

MA students are required to demonstrate reading proficiency in a foreign language. This requirement is normally satisfied by passing a translation exam given by the appropriate language department at the University. With approval from the Director of Graduate Studies, students also may satisfy the MA requirement with an intermediate or advanced foreign language course taken as an undergraduate in which they received a grade of B or better.

Final Exercise

As the concluding element in their MA program, students elect one of three options, in consultation with their assigned faculty advisor or the Director of Graduate Studies.

  • An MA critical thesis of 10,000 to 15,000 words. A faculty director must agree in advance to supervise and evaluate the thesis; a second reader is assigned by the Director of Graduate Studies once the completed thesis is submitted. Upon acceptance of the thesis as satisfactory, the student uploads to the University Library a final copy in accordance with regulations set by the Graduate School. In form, the thesis should observe the stipulations of the MLA Handbook, current edition. Students preparing an MA thesis may enroll in ENGL 8998 (MA Thesis), which counts as one of their ten courses. They are not, however, required to do so. (Again, see enrollment options.)

  • An MA pedagogy thesis that demonstrates how the candidate’s graduate study for the Master's has led to informed and deepened thinking about teaching English at the high school or undergraduate level. The 10,000-15,000 word essay may demonstrate mastery of critical analysis, literary approaches, and/or research methods but may also or instead focus on pedagogical theory, history, and practice. In the latter case, the materials analyzed may include syllabi, educational policies, textbooks, etc. The candidate may also include, with the thesis director’s approval, part or all of an originally produced syllabus, unit plan, and/or assignment to illustrate central insights. A faculty director must agree in advance to supervise and evaluate the thesis. A second reader is assigned by the Director of Graduate Studies.

  • A one-hour oral examination, conducted by two faculty members appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies, on a topic and list of readings submitted by the student. Lists normally consist of ten primary texts and several secondary texts taken from the departmental list in the student's chosen area. Alternatively, students may devise an examination list of the same scope with its own principle of coherence (thematic, generic, or the like). Such individually designed lists must include a one-page proposal, explaining the choice of texts and rationale for bringing them together. All orals lists must be approved by an area committee head or other appropriate faculty member, as well as the Director of Graduate Studies.  (Applications and specimen lists here.)

Importants dates: By May 1st of their second semester (or in the fall term for BA/MA students), students submit the MA Final Exercise application. Students then complete the exercise in either their third or, if they wish, fourth semester at the University, and submit a signed Final Examination Form to the English Department graduate secretary on completing the exercise successfully. Those opting for a critical or pedagogy thesis should deliver two copies to the Graduate Office; these are due two weeks before the final GSAS deadline. See the GSAS website for exact deadlines in a given semester; note the earlier deadlines for MA degree applications, officially required of all students. Those opting for a fall oral examination must submit an approved orals list to the graduate office by October 1 their last year (and by mid-January for spring exams).

Concentration in Teaching Literature and Writing

Designed to prepare students for a wide range of career opportunities, the MA with a Concentration in Teaching Literature and Writing unites the study of literature with the study of pedagogy, while providing training and experience in teaching. The concentration takes two years to complete. Students take courses in literature, theory, criticism, and pedagogy in the first year. In the second year they continue their studies of literature and pedagogy while serving as writing instructors or teaching assistants for literature courses. Also in the second year, students complete their work in the program with a thesis, composed in the spring semester.

In the second year of the program and in compensation for their service as teachers, students receive full tuition support, payment of university fees, one-person health insurance coverage, and wages.

Program Requirements:

In tandem with the standard requirements for the master’s degree, students are expected to complete Pedagogy (ENGL 8900), one course in Literary Pedagogy (ENGL 5900 or an approved equivalent), and a thesis on pedagogy.

In addition, students are expected to complete a pedagogy practicum through two semester-length appointments as a graduate teaching assistant.

Typical Enrollment and Teaching Pattern:

First Year:

Fall:     ENGL 8800: Intro to Research Methods 

           3 additional graduate English courses                                                           

Spring:   ENGL 8900: Pedagogy Seminar (Writing)

              2-3 additional graduate English courses


Second Year:

Fall:     1 Course in Literary Pedagogy (ENGL 5900 or an approved equivalent)               

           1 additional Graduate English Course       

           NTR courses as needed to raise credit hours to 12                                                                

           Teaching assignment: 1 section of ENWR or 1 Literature Discussion Section                                                              


Spring:  MA Thesis (ENGL 8998) (MA Thesis guidelines)

            Optional additional Graduate English Course

            NTR courses as needed to raise credit hours to 12   

            Teaching assignment: 1 section of ENWR or 1 Literature Discussion Section


Customized Programs

A student may petition the departmental Graduate Committee for approval of a self-designed MA program, provided it is comparable in rigor and intellectual coherence to the regular MA curriculum. Before seeking such a program, however, students should be aware how much flexibility the standard program permits. For example, candidates may receive permission from the Director of Graduate Studies to include up to two courses from other departments as part of their degree program. Thus students can pursue interdisciplinary or comparative literature interests under our existing rules, even if no established interdisciplinary program meets their needs.

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at