Master of Arts in English

The Master’s degree in English welcomes applications from anyone interested in pursuing in-depth study of literature, writing studies, and/or pedagogy in English. Our MA in English primarily serves three types of students: those who plan to pursue graduate studies in literature or creative writing at the doctoral level; those aiming to teach in high schools, community colleges, and technical colleges; and those who want to enrich their background in English studies, develop research and writing skills, and continue their intellectual experience beyond the baccalaureate.Along with courses in English, students may take specialized seminars in related disciplines such as Communication, History, Women and Gender Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology. 

Located in the Red River Valley, in Fargo, a city known as the gateway to the Great Northern Plains, our program encourages individuality and collaboration as it prepares candidates for academic and non-academic careers. Read about our impressive graduate placement here.

Degree RequirementsThe Master of Arts program consists of 27 credit hours of letter-graded course work with an overall GPA of 3.0 or better and (at least) a 2-4 credit Master's Paper. Note that English 764: Teaching Strategies is required of all GTAs who have not taken a similar class elsewhere.

The NDSU Graduate School policies for advanced degrees can be found in the Graduate Bulletin.  

Please direct any questions to Dr. Alison Graham-Bertolini, Director of Graduate Studies. 

Program of Study

For more information, speak to your advisor, or contact the Director of Graduate Studies.

Language Proficiency

MLA Statement on Language Learning and United States PolicyStudents need to demonstrate intermediate competency (200-level, 4th semester) in one foreign language by the time the program of study is completed.

Intermediate competency may be demonstrated by a) providing an official transcript that certifies that secondary or higher education was completed in a language other than English; b) successfully completing a second-semester, second year (or higher level) college foreign language course, with a grade of C or above; or c) passing the final exam for a second-year (or higher level) foreign language course with a grade of C or above (test may be retaken, at discretion of the language instructor, after one month).

Note that language proficiency needs to be certified by the Chair of Modern Languages and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Consult our Forms page for details. 

The 2-Year Plan to Degree Completion

MLA Statement on Language Learning and United States PolicyFor students coming in with two years of college credit in language or already able to pass the language proficiency exam for a level two:

Year One, Fall Semester (6 credits suggested)English 760: Graduate Scholarship (3 credits)English 764: Classroom Strategies for TAs or an English elective (3 credits)

Year One, Spring Semester (6-9 credits suggested)English 755: Composition Theory/English 756: Composition Research or 762: Critical Theory (3 credits)English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics (3 credits)English course in Literature (3 credits)Year One, Summer (0-3 credits suggested)English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics, Literature, or Summer Scholar offeringIf available, complete Language Requirement Year Two, Fall Semester (6-9 credits suggested)English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics or Literature (3 credits)English elective (3 credits)English 797: MA Paper (1-3 credits)Year Two, Spring Semester (6-9 credits suggested)English 756: Composition Research/English 755: Composition Theory or 762: Critical Theory (3 credits)English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics or Literature (3 credits)English 797: MA Paper (1-3 credits)Year Two, Summer (0-3 credits suggested)English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics, Literature, or Summer Scholar offeringEnglish 797: MA Paper (1-3 credits)

NOTE: This is not a fixed plan, but represents an ideal sequence.

Preparing for the Prospectus Defense

The Prospectus In their first year, students discuss possible Master's Paper topics with the Director of Graduate Studies and faculty members who are likely to constitute the student's MA supervisory committee. After the first year, students should identify their major advisor and begin working on their MA Prospectus. 

The MA Prospectus is a proposal for the master’s paper and should be drafted in consultation. It can additionally be revised with the student's academic advisor and then revised together with the supervisor committee. An MA Prospectus is typically 5-10 pages long and, depending on the proposed topic, methodology, and subject of the paper, will include the following elements: 

  • an abstract: abstracts are brief and provide an overview of the problem, question, and approach that the student will use in the project
  • a theoretical framework or methodological approach: depending on the topic, subfield, and type of question, this component of the prospectus should explain the type of inquiry the student plants to undertake and what scholarship or research their work is informed by
  • a review of literature and a working bibliography: this component of the prospectus demonstrates the student’s familiarity with the major existing scholarship or research in the field, and should show a rigorous process of reading and understanding the knowledge foundation relevant to the project. 
  • If appropriate to the project, an outline of the major arguments or expected conclusions of the thesis
  • a work plan or timeline: as is appropriate to the project, the prospectus should include an approximate timeline for the project, for example, gathering data, reading relevant primary texts, IRB application and approval (if needed), drafting, revising, etc. 

The Supervisory CommitteeThe supervisory committee should be formed during the term immediately after the major advisor is identified for the student, and members should be identified before the plan of study is formulated so that all committee members have a chance to contribute; the Plan of Study needs to be signed by all three members of the supervisory committee. It needs to be approved by the program administrator and shall be recommended to the Dean of the Graduate College for final approval.The supervisory committee will have at least three members. The members consist of:

  • The major adviser, who must be a full or affiliate member of the graduate faculty Level 1 or 2. The student selects the adviser with approval of the program administrator and the Dean of the Graduate College. The major advisor-student relationship must be a mutually acceptable one. The major advisor will act as the chair of the student's supervisory committee and will be in charge of the Plan of Study. The remaining members of the committee must be agreed upon by the student, the major advisor, and the Dean of the Graduate College.
  • A second member, who must be a full or affiliate member of the graduate faculty.
  • A third member, who could be either a faculty member from outside the student's program or a qualified off-campus expert in the field.

​If the third member, or additional committee member(s) is not a full or affiliate member of the graduate faculty, the approval of the Dean of the Graduate College is required. To request approval, the Plan of Study must include 1) a memo from the program/department chair explaining the qualifications of and rationale for this person to serve on the committee and 2) curriculum vitae.The Prospectus DefenseStudents present and defend first their MA paper proposal, i.e., "The Prospectus" to their supervisory committee (composed of two members in the department and one outside member) in and oral defenses and prior to embarking on their Master's Paper project.During the Prospectus Defense, the student, his/her academic advisor, and the rest of the supervisory committee meet to discuss this proposal and offer suggestions on how to complete the MA paper successfully and within the framework of the degree requirements. After the Prospectus Defense, the MA student and his/her academic advisor revise the proposal, according to the committee's feedback. The student is now ready to start writing his/her Master's Paper. 

The Master's Paper

The Master's PaperThe master's student will develop a thorough understanding of existing knowledge and the ability to apply that existing knowledge to a problem of interest. The MA Paper requires independent research at the graduate level in a sustained consideration of a critical project. The MA paper may build on work produced in coursework but must also include significant new work. A total 2-4 credits in ENGL 797 Master's Paper* may be counted toward the degree. Students generally take 1-3 credit hours at a time, while doing research and writing. MA paper credits may be taken during the summer, as well as during the regular semester. Students will register for a section of ENGL 797 with their academic advisor.Required length: 35-50 pagesThe successful Master's Paper in English will:

  • identify and investigate a problem or question that is relevant to current debates in the field.
  • demonstrate an awareness of current critical, theoretical trends and/or historical contexts relevant to the project.
  • situate the investigation within the relevant scholarship with appropriate citation of the literature
  • demonstrate command of methodological and analytical tools suitable for the investigation.
  • use library resources to locate and select critical and/or historical sources, and connect them meaningfully to the central text(s).
  • show proficiency in documentation and bibliography.
  • demonstrate command of effective writing in an appropriate academic register.

The Final DefenseEach candidate will pass a final oral examination, the date and place of which needs to be announced to the Graduate School two weeks in advance (see the Notification of Scheduled Examination on the Graduate School's Form page) and posted in the Department of English one week prior to the final defense. Following a successful defense, the supervisory committee will sign and complete The Report of Final Exam, detailing any and all changes the students needs to perform still in the Master's Paper. The candidate will then revise the Master's Paper, in consultation with his/her major advisor and according to the committee's feedback. Unless otherwise specified, the final Master's Paper submission to the Graduate College is to be approved by the student's supervisory committee.*Note that the MA in English follows Plan B, as outlined by the Graduate School: Plan B Master's Degree.

  • Minimum 30 credits total
  • 21 of the 30 must be didactic credits
  • 2-4 credits of research (797 Master's Paper)

Plan B: Master's Paper/Comprehensive Study-based Master'sThe Plan B master's student will develop a thorough understanding of existing knowledge and the ability to apply that existing knowledge to a problem of interest. Note that under this degree, the new knowledge being created is limited, and this is the primary difference between the Plan A and Plan B degrees. The precise nature of the individual creative component is defined by the program. Examples of possible creative components include a comprehensive paper, a portfolio, or an integrated field experience. Candidates for the Master of Arts degree will meet the general requirements and those specific requirements in the humanities or social and behavioral sciences; these typically include two years of a foreign language.Each candidate would assemble a supervisory committee and pass a final oral examination. Following a successful defense, the candidate will compose an executive summary or assemble other appropriate documentation as defined by the program to be submitted to the Graduate School. This submission to the Graduate College is to be approved by the student's supervisory committee.

Recent MA Paper Topics and their Writers

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