Navigating the Undergraduate English Major
Director of Undergraduate Studies
There is a sensible semester-by-semester plan for English majors, both those arriving at Temple as first-year students and transfers, available at the Undergraduate Bulletin.
But, as this plan suggests, “Depending on your situation, your academic plan may look different.” So here are a few observations and suggestions I’ve culled from a decade’s experience at Temple, the last few as Director of Undergraduate Studies.
First, though, I want to urge you to contact me or our excellent Advising Coordinator, Dr. Gabe Wettach, if you have any questions about which classes to take, which professors to study with, what you can do with a degree in English, etc. It is not only our job to field such questions; we enjoy having conversations with our majors.
You should also consider talking to the excellent folks at the CLA Advising Center, especially if you have curricular questions of a more general nature. I also encourage you to make use of your instructors’ office hours, one of the great underused resources on any college campus.
Passing Through The Gateway/2097 Early
- The plan rightly directs you take English 2097, "Intro to English Studies," what we call "The Gateway," your second semester of your freshman year. Of course, many of you will not declare your major this early, but it is very important that you enroll in 2097 as soon as you can.
- There are both bureaucratic and intellectual reasons for this. First, you cannot take any class 3000 and above without The Gateway, including senior seminars. Second, the course is designed to lay the foundation for your studies, introducing you to the knowledges, literacies, and habits of mind English majors need to acquire if they are to do well.
Taking the Surveys Early
- Immediately after this, you are advised by the plan to take in the next four semesters one of the four required surveys of English and American literature (2201, 2202, 2301, and 2302) . This is also sound advice.
- These courses give you the literary-historical groundwork for the courses to follow and should also give you what eras, genres, authors, problematics and the like interest you most. You might consider taking 2 of these classes in a term, but the reading load is usually quite heavy, and I would strongly discourage taking 3.
Choosing Electives and Choosing a Path
- While Temple’s English major is pretty prescriptive at the start—The Gateway and the four surveys—it is pretty open from then on, with only a senior seminar/capstone required. There are no tracks in our major, which is relatively unusual and something that may well change in the coming years as the faculty look to revise the major, in consultation with students, academic advisors, and others. But as it stands, half of the major (6 courses) gives you a great deal of freedom to choose what you will, three 2000+ electives and three 3000+ electives.
- This has its advantages but also its pitfalls. Some students merely take a grab-bag of electives depending on whatever fits their schedules, and this sometimes ill-suits them for a capstone class. Others take a great many creative writing classes; this is fine, and we aim to develop a creative writing track. But this can also leave them not as prepared as they should be for literature courses in which they are asked to write research papers. Finally, some students shy away from any class on texts prior to 1900 (or even 1945). This is understandable but a sad narrowing of your knowledge of the history of literature and rhetoric.
- So I advise you to try to balance convenience, passion, and variety to give your path through the major logic and rigor. If you can identify a particular area within the major that interests you, pursue it. If you are having trouble doing so, please contact me or Dr. Wettach.
Choosing a Capstone/Senior Seminar
- Choose the course that best suits your interests, not your schedule. We know that many of you have significant commitments in addition to your schoolwork—jobs, families, etc. But these are called capstone courses for a reason—this is supposed to be the course that crowns your experience as an English major. It offers you a chance to take a very small class (capped at 17) with many of our finest faculty, and it will require from you a serious commitment in terms of time and concentration. So it’s in your best interests to try and enroll in a course that excites you rather than choosing whatever fits into your current work schedule or with other courses you want to take. If at all possible, choose the capstone first and let these other elements fall into line with that choice.
- Check the pre-requisites carefully before setting your heart on a class. As the course descriptions make clear, all of the capstones have pre-requisites. They all require you to have passed: English 2097, one literary survey relevant to the material (2201, 2202, 2301, 2302), and at least one other survey; and a 3000-level literature course,--or, in the case of the Creative Writing Capstone, English 2097, 2 surveys, and one 3000-level creative writing course. This is particularly important for those double-majoring in Education, since your student-teaching commitments mean that you must take the course your second semester junior year.
- Registration for these courses is first-come, first-served. Unless you are studying abroad or it is otherwise impossible for your to register in person at the Undergraduate Office (and you must check in with us in these cases), you must register with one of us. Our offices are located on the 10th floor of Anderson Hall, in the first module to your left as you exit the elevators to the right. Check with the Office of the Registrar to determine when you are eligible to register, depending on your number of credits.
- Even if you have a current hold on your registration, you should still come to the office and register for your capstone. If and when your hold is cleared up, we will get you officially registered for the class.