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Department of Literature and Language

College of Arts & Sciences


The Department of Literature and Language at East Tennessee State University has twenty-three members of the English Graduate Faculty, and at any one time our MA program generally has enrolled between fifteen to twenty-five full- and part-time students. This teacher-to-student ratio means that we are able to keep class sizes small and give our students personalized attention. Together, we form a constructive academic community, helping students to develop their critical skills, research methodologies, and writing. The MA in English is an excellent degree to enhance the skills of those already in or planning to enter the teaching profession, and it is an essential stepping stone to earning a PhD and entering into a career as a professor at a college or university.

Program Requirements

The MA program requires thirty-three credit hours for students pursuing a non-thesis option or thirty credit hours for students who choose to write a thesis. All students must successfully take a Comprehensive Exam. This exam asks students to demonstrate mastery of material from four of eight possible subject areas. Students who elect the thesis option test in three areas on the Comprehensive Exam. There is one required class, ENGL 5950: Methods of Research. For the rest of their program, students are able to select from a variety of graduate courses in literature and linguistics. Be aware that students may take only three split-level courses (all split level courses end in -7, e.g: Engl. 5117: Grammar and Usage). Course descriptions are available on the Literature and Language home page under the heading The Clarion.


ETSU has a rolling admission policy  Applications completed more than one month before the beginning of the semester will be considered for admission for the upcoming semester. Applications received less than one month before the start of the semester will be considered for the subsequent semester. Access forms for graduate admission here.

Note: Students interested in being considered for a Graduate Assistantship should plan on completing their applications by March 15.  There are occasionally assistantships that become available starting in the spring semester.  Students wishing to be considered for assistantships starting in the spring semester should complete their applications by October 15.

Admission Requirements:

  • BA in English. Applicants with BA degrees in areas other than English who have taken at least twenty-four undergraduate credit hours in English courses will also be considered.
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0.
  • Acceptable scores on both the Verbal and the Analytical Writing portions of the GRE exam.
  • Three letters of recommendation. If possible, these letters should be from people familiar with your academic work.
  • Writing Sample. Select a writing sample that showcases your ability to perform literary analysis and research. Writing samples of around ten pages are generally sufficient to demonstrate your writing skills.

All of your materials should be submitted directly to the Graduate School; once all of your materials have been received, they will get passed on to the Literature and Language Department Graduate Committee, which generally makes admission decisions within a week of receiving your completed application. 

Graduate Assistantships and Tuition Scholarships:

We have a number of Graduate Assistantships available, The GA positions provide students with tuition remission plus $7000 a year. In return, students work twenty hours a week for the department. In the first year, Graduate Assistants function as Research Assistants for faculty members. In the second year, Graduate Assistants teach two sections of Composition per semester. Assistantships are competitive; decisions about GA positions for the fall semester will generally be made around mid-April.  The majority of Assistantships are awarded starting in the fall semester; there are generally one or two GAs that become available starting in the spring semester. Decisions about assistantship starting in the spring semester will be made by November 1.

We also have one Tuition Scholarship available, which provides students tuition remission in exchange for eight hours a week as a Research Assistant.

Students who are awarded a GA or TS position will be eligible for that position for a total of four semesters. Students holding an assistantship must maintain status as a full-time student, which means taking nine credit hours per semester.


All Research Assistants must register for ENGL 5029 ("Supervised Research"). All Teaching Assistants must register for ENGL. 5019 (" Supervised Teaching"). These one credit hours courses do NOT count toward the credit hours needed to graduate. 

Comprehensive Exam:

All students must take a Comprehensive Exam to demonstrate their knowledge in four subject areas. Each student is allowed to chose one special topics area not covered by the reading list if they so choose (e.g. Appalachian Literature). Students who have elected to write a thesis will be tested in three subject areas. The exam takes place over the course of five consecutive hours in the Literature and Language Department Computer Lab.  Students are not allowed notes or other materials. The comprehensive exam is generally taken during the student's last semester at ETSU. Students who fail one section of the exam can re-test in that area by means of an oral re-examination which is to take place within ten days of receiving test results. Students who fail two or more sections of the exam must retake the entire exam the following semester. Students planning to take the exam should notify the coordinator of Graduate Studies in Language and Literature at the beginning of the semester; subject areas should also be selected at this time.


There are several forms that you will need to complete at designated times during your program. All of them can be accessed on the Graduate Studies page, “Forms.”

These forms include:

Program of Study: This form needs to be completed after completion first 18 hours of coursework.

Application for Candidacy for the Master’s Degree: This form gets turned in with your program of study after you complete your first 18 hours.

Appointment of Advisory Committee Form: This form needs to be filled out by students electing to write a thesis. Such students need to select three faculty members for their committee. The chair of the committee needs to be a full or associate professor.

Intent to Graduate Form: This form must be completed VERY early in the semester you intend to graduate. For example, students planning on graduating in the Spring of 2010 had to file their intent to graduate form by January 25. If you do not file this form on time you will not be able to graduate as planned. See the Graduate Calendar for the specific dates each semester.

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