Professor Daniel Donoghue, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The undergraduate program introduces students to the full breadth of imaginative literature written in the English language from the eighth century to its more recent dispersal around the globe. Whether engaged with literary giants such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickinson, Keats, and Woolf or in exploration of less famous authors, students in the English program have a rare opportunity to combine aesthetic pleasure, intellectual stimulation, and ethical deliberation in their plan of study. In their first two terms concentrators take four common ground courses that integrate genre and modes, historical periods, and geographic dispersal in a way that lends coherence to an otherwise vast field. Because of their relatively small size, these courses offer students the mentoring they need to cultivate a vocabulary and a set of analytical tools essential for discussing literature and writing critical essays. Moving out from this foundation in the discipline, students explore English literature and language through electives, guided in their choices by a designated faculty adviser.

A degree in English prepares students for any field in which careful reading, clear thinking, and persuasive writing are valued. Our concentrators regularly go on to graduate school and to successful careers in business, law, education, and other fields too numerous to list. Sharpening one’s powers of discernment as well as widening one’s intellectual horizons is at the heart of a liberal education. Such an education, to which literature is central, prepares the student for life as an engaged, intelligently caring citizen of the world.

The program offers a wide array of creative writing classes in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, and play-writing. Although students are admitted by application only, the classes are open to all undergraduates, including non-concentrators.

Concentrators who pursue an honors degree have the opportunity to write a senior thesis, which may take the form of an investigation of a critical topic or a creative-writing project (which requires a separate application). All theses are directed by a professor in the English faculty. Honors seniors who choose not to write a thesis have the option of taking two undergraduate seminars in place of the senior tutorial.

English concentrators can pursue either the Elective Program or the Honors Program. The Elective Program allows more scope for course selection within and outside the English department. Students in the Honors Program engage in more intensive study through seminars and the thesis options. A grade point average of 3.40 or higher in the concentration is required in the Honors Program, beginning in the junior year. A third option, for honors candidates only, is a joint concentration, which culminates in a critical thesis supervised jointly by a member of the English department and a member of the allied department (see below.) A grade point average of 3.60 or higher is required for the joint concentration.


Elective Program: 11 half-courses
Honors Program: 14 half-courses
Joint Concentration: 8 half-courses in English

  1. Four common-ground courses:

    1. English 40–49: Arrivals

    2. English 50–59: Diffusions

    3. English 60–69: Poets

    4. English 70–79: Shakespeares

  2. Additional Requirements

    1. Elective Program: 11 courses total. Seven courses in addition to the four common ground courses, one of which may be a related course from outside the English department.

    2. Honors Program:  14 courses in total

      1. Junior Tutorial, English 98

      2. Senior Thesis Tutorial, English 99, two terms;
        or two English 90 seminars (see 3.c below)

      3. Foreign Literature (see 5.a below)

      4. Six electives, of which one must be a 90-level seminar, and one may be a related course from outside the English Department.

    3. Joint Concentration: see also section 4 below. The requirement is eight courses in total—four beyond the common ground courses:

      1. Junior Tutorial, English 98

      2. Senior tutorial, Eng 99, two terms.

      3. Foreign Literature (see 5.a below)

      4. Note: Any adjustments to the Common-Ground courses and Junior Tutorial will be decided in consultation with the DUS.

  3. Senior Year, Honors Concentrators

    1. Honors students have three options for the senior year:

    2. Critical thesis: The two-term senior tutorial, English 99, culminates in a completed thesis submitted in March. The process begins in April of the junior year with a thesis proposal of 300 to 500 words. See the online Guide for Concentrators for further details.

    3. Creative thesis: Like the critical thesis, a creative thesis is completed in the two terms of English 99. Creative thesis proposals by honors juniors (out-of-phase students included) are submitted in February. Students applying for a creative writing thesis ordinarily will have completed one course in creative writing at Harvard before they apply. Questions about creative theses should be directed to Bret Johnston, director of the Creative Writing Program, or to Jeff Berg, undergraduate program administrator. Creative writing thesis information may be found on the department web site.

    4. Non-thesis option: Honors students who would rather not write a thesis may choose the option of taking two additional 90-level seminars. Students who choose this option will not be eligible to receive a departmental degree recommendation higher than “with honors.”

    5. Oral Examination for Highest Departmental Honors: To be recommended for highest departmental honors, eligible seniors take a forty-five minute oral examination at the end of the senior year.

  4. Joint Concentration:

    1. Upon approval from the department’s undergraduate program office, honors candidates may combine a concentration in English with a concentration in another department, supervised by advisers in each department. It is a challenging undertaking, in part because joint concentrators are expected to take more courses than other students. Ordinarily, only students with a concentration GPA of 3.6 or above, an overall strong record, and a clearly formulated project across two disciplines will receive approval. A critical senior thesis is required; the creative thesis option is not available.

    2. Joint concentrators may declare English to be either their primary or allied concentration; the requirements are the same for both. Students are expected to take the junior tutorial in English. The senior tutorial will be administered by the primary department, but even if English is the allied department, an English faculty member will be a joint adviser of the thesis. Decisions about each tutorial and the entire shape of the joint degree depend on close collaboration between the two departments at every stage.

    3. Students interested in declaring a joint concentration must complete a change of concentration form, which must be signed by both departments and by the student’s Allston Burr Resident Dean. For further information contact Jeff Berg (jmberg@fas.harvard.edu).

  5. Other Information:

    1. The foreign literature requirement for honors candidates goes beyond the College’s foreign language requirement. In simple terms, it asks honors candidates to take one half-course in which works of literature are read in the original language, and thus rules out basic grammar and comprehension courses. For options on how to fulfill this requirement, see the relevant section in the Guide for Concentrators.

    2. Pass/Fail and SAT/UNS: Courses counting for concentration credit must be taken for a letter grade. The only exceptions are the senior tutorial and one Freshman Seminar, which are graded SAT/UNS. Only one Freshman Seminar, taught by a member of the English department faculty, may be counted for concentration credit.

    3. Creative Writing Courses: Admission to creative writing courses is by application only. Only two creative writing courses may count toward the total number of required courses for the concentration, although students may apply for and enroll in as many as their plan of study can accommodate. See the Guide for Concentrators for details.


The English Department is committed to providing high quality advising to undergraduate concentrators, prospective concentrators and any Harvard student interested in the study of English literature. The Undergraduate Program Office assigns each sophomore, junior, and senior concentrator to a faculty adviser. All concentrators are encouraged to visit other members of the English faculty during scheduled office hours. The staff of the Undergraduate Program Office is always available during open office hours to discuss specific questions regarding the program.

For up-to-date information on advising in English, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


Child Memorial Library, located on the top floor of Widener Library, is the English Department research library. Its extensive, non-circulating collection comprises works from all areas and periods of English and American literature. Maintained and staffed by graduate students, Child Library is dedicated to providing up-to-date, scholarly editions of authors, as well as a cross-section of recent and influential criticism.

Library Guide for English Concentrators.


The Guide for Concentrators, along with all worksheets and forms, is available on the department website.

Questions may be directed to the undergraduate program office at enghelp@fas.harvard.edu or 617-495-2533. Or contact any member of the staff:


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

†Foreign Cultures

Literature and Arts A

†Historical Study A

Literature and Arts C

†Historical Study B

TWO of the areas marked †, but not both Historical Study A and Historical Study B.

†Literature and Arts B


Moral Reasoning


Quantitative Reasoning


Science A


Science B


Social Analysis


For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.


Number of Concentrators as of December













English + another field






Another field + English