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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 on 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 two of the eight subject areas. All degree-seeking students are required to take ENGL 5950: Methods of Research. Students holding Graduate Assistantships are also required to take ENGL 5057: Writing: Theory and Teaching. For the remainder of their program, students select from a variety of graduate courses in literature and linguistics, the only restriction being that they may count no more than three split-level (5XX7) courses toward their degree. Course descriptions for any given semester 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 prior to the beginning of any given Fall or Spring semester will be considered for admission to graduate studies for that upcoming semester. Applications received less than one month prior to the beginning of any given semester will, at the discretion of the department's Graduate Committee, be considered for that upcoming semester or the next subsequent semester. Access forms for graduate admission here.

Note: Students interested in being considered for a Graduate Assistantship should plan to complete their applications by March 15 for Fall entry or by October 15 for Spring entry. Be aware that, typically, more Graduate Assistantships are available in Fall than in Spring.

Admission Requirements:

  • A completed bachelor’s degree is required. A degree in English is typical. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree in an area other than English must have taken at least twenty-four undergraduate credit hours in English before being considered for admission.
  • 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 application materials should be submitted directly to the School of Graduate Studies. When the application file is complete, the School of Graduate Studies sends it to the Graduate Committee in the Department of Literature and Language, 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 (GA) available. For the two academic years of the MA program, GA positions provide students with per-semester tuition remission, not including summers. (Students remain responsible for per-semester fees.) GA positions also provide academic-year stipend. In return, students work twenty hours a week for the department. First-year Graduate Assistants divide their time between between tutoring in the Center for Academic Achievement and serving as Research Assistants for faculty members. Second-year Graduate Assistants teach two sections of freshman composition per semester. Graduate assistantships are competitive. Decisions on GA awards for Fall are generally made by mid-April; decisions on GA awards for Spring are generally made by mid-November.

We also have a limited number of Tuition Scholarships (TS) available. These provide recipients with per-semester tuition remission—students remain responsible for per-semester fees—in return for working eight hours per week as Research Assistants for faculty members.

Students awarded GA or TS positions must maintain full-time status (a minimum of nine credit hours per semester) throughout their two-year program.


All Research Assistants must register for ENGL 5029 ("Supervised Research"). All Teaching Assistants must register for ENGL. 5019 (" Supervised Teaching"). These one-credit courses DO NOT count toward credit hours needed either for the MA degree or to graduate.

Comprehensive Exam:

All degree-seeking students must take Comprehensive Exams to demonstrate their knowledge in specific subject areas as defined by the MA Comprehensive Exam Reading List. Non-thesis students choose four subject areas in which to be examined; upon approval, non-thesis students may choose to be examined in one special topic area not covered by the reading list—e.g., Appalachian Literature—as a substitute for one subject area exam. Thesis students choose two subject areas in which to be examined. Thesis students are not allowed to create a special topic area; nor may they be examined in a subject area that includes the subject of their thesis. Comprehensive Exams typically are held just past the midpoint of the students’ final semester in the MA program. Students who plan to take the Comprehensive Exams should notify the Department of Literature and Language’s Assistant Chair for Graduate Studies at the beginning of their final semester; subject areas should also be selected at this time. Exams take place in the department’s Computer Lab, over the course of a five-hour block on a Saturday afternoon. Students are not allowed to use notes or other materials. Students who fail one subject area of the exam may retest in that area by means of an oral reexamination, which is to take place within ten days after receiving results of the written examination. Students who fail two or more sections of the written exam—or fail both the written and oral examinations in one area—must retake the entire exam the following semester. Students may attempt the Comprehensive Exams only twice. Failure to pass both attempts will result in dismissal from the program.


Several forms must be completed 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 upon the student's completion of the first eighteen hours of coursework.

Application for Candidacy for the Master’s Degree: This form must accompany the Program of Study upon the students’ completion of the first eighteen hours of coursework.

Appointment of Advisory Committee Form: This form must be completed by students electing to write a thesis. The chair of the thesis committee must be a tenured or tenure-track professor and a member of the ETSU Graduate Faculty. Students, in consultation with their thesis chair, select two additional faculty members to complete their committee.

Intent to Graduate Form: This form must be completed and filed with the School of Graduate Studies near the beginning of the students’ final semester. Students intending to graduate in Spring must file by the end of January; students intending to graduate in Fall must file early in September. See the Graduate Calendar for each semester’s specific date for filing.

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