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English Graduate Student Handbook

Welcome to the graduate program in English at Austin Peay State University.  Designed to lead to a Master of Arts (M.A.) in English, our program offers an array of literature and creative writing classes, optional programs of study to meet the varying needs of students, opportunities for financial aid through graduate assistantships, and an experienced, fully qualified faculty.  Our program also features a English Graduate Coordinator who can provide advice and guidance as you chart your course through graduate school.

The following information is intended to answer many of your questions and concerns about pursuing the M.A. in English at Austin Peay.  It does not replace or supplant the official Graduate Bulletin.  If you would like further information or an appointment to discuss your plans regarding our M.A. program, please contact the English Graduate Coordinator through the Department of Languages and Literature, 115 Harned Hall, or telephone 931-221-7891.


Click here for a printer-friendly summary of our admission requirements.

To become a graduate student in the English M.A. Program you must:

  • Complete the "Application for Admission/Readmission" form, which is available from the APSU Office of Graduate Studies or from the Coordinator of English Graduate Studies. 

  • Deliver the completed form to the College of Graduate Studies (KB 203). 

  • Take the General Test of the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE).

  • To  be  admitted,  an  applicant  must  have  a  bachelor’s  degree  with  a  minimum  cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.7, and meet the conditions of the following formulae for the GRE exam:

         GPA + (0.15 x GRE [Verbal]) > 23.4
         GPA + (0.15 x GRE [Quant]) > 23.4
         GRE Analytical Writing Score of at least 3.5. 

  • Arrange for two "Recommendation for Graduate Study" forms to be completed and submitted to the Graduate School by your undergraduate advisers or other persons who are able to judge your potential as a graduate student.

Under "Non-Degree Seeking" status, an applicant may be granted conditional admission status if he or she submits unofficial documents for review and meets the criteria for regular admission. The Graduate Bulletin offers a full explanation of requirements for "Non-Degree Seeking" status.

Non-degree seeking students and students from other graduate programs who would like to enroll in graduate-level courses must request the permission of the department. The graduate program in English is not required to allow non-degree seeking students or graduate students pursuing degrees in other graduate programs at Austin Peay State University to enroll in graduate seminars. 

Austin Peay State University’s Department of Languages and Literature reserves the right to deny admissions to prospective graduate students on the basis of their academic performance, professional qualifications, and personal conduct.


Applications for Graduate Assistantships are available from the Office of Graduate Studies or from the English Graduate Coordinator. The form is also online on the Graduate Studies Forms and Applications page. This form should be completed well in advance of the next academic year (typically by March 1 if the application is for the Fall semester of the following year).  Members of the English graduate faculty choose their Graduate Assistants on the basis of the GPA (special attention may be given to courses within the field), GRE scores, letters of recommendation, resumes, and sometimes personal interviews.  Graduate Assistants (GAs) are required to work twenty hours per week and must be full-time graduate students (enrolled for nine credit hours).  A GA is usually assigned to a writing lab or to an individual professor in the Department of Languages and Literature and is employed as an assistant with either teaching or research duties.  Stipends are paid monthly, and the graduate tuition may be deducted from it upon student request.  A student is eligible to hold an assistantship for only four semesters and must reapply each academic year.  (See Graduate Bulletin for further detail.)

By accepting a Graduate Assistantship from this department, you agree to enroll in nine hours of graduate work in English during each semester for which you hold the assistantship. In extraordinary circumstances and on the Graduate Coordinator's recommendation, the Department Chair may permit you to include course work outside of English in the required nine hours.


Two forms must be completed prior to the completion of 9 hours: (1) Admission to Candidacy and (2) Program of Study and Graduate Committee.  These forms are available in the Graduate Office (KB 203).  The "Admission to Candidacy" establishes that you are a candidate for degree; the "Program of Study and Graduate Committee" specifies both the courses to be taken within your graduate program and your graduate committee (three professors) who will approve and oversee your program.  Your adviser or the English Graduate Coordinator will help you pick your committee. 

If you have chosen the non-thesis program, this committee is merely a safeguard to insure that a rational program has been established.  If you have chosen the thesis program, the committee becomes much more important as it will oversee the writing of your thesis and should be chosen with the defined subject area of your thesis in mind.  This committee will also need to approve a brief summary of your thesis topic and will sign off on a form which indicates "Approval of Proposed Thesis." 

The department will provide you with a tentative schedule for graduate English classes for a two or three year period.  It is often necessary to make a change in your Program of Study because you may need to change a course, a committee member, or change from the thesis to the non-thesis option.  For such changes, you will need to complete a "Change of Program of Study" form or a separate "Revised Committee" form.  Both forms are available in the Graduate Office (KB 203).

There are two central choices that we ask you to make within your English M.A. Program of Study: (1) whether you will choose the thesis or non-thesis option (see below) and (2) whether you will choose a traditional English M.A. focused on literary study (possibly with a thesis in literary criticism) or an English M.A. with specialization in creative writing (which requires a thesis in creative writing).  All of our Programs of Study require 33 credit hours from course work at the 5000-level or above, including English 5000 (Bibliography and Methods of Research).  Also note that all English M.A. candidates are required to pass a Comprehensive Reading Exam.  We ask you to take this exam towards the end of the completion of your course work. 

If your Program of Study is an English M.A. with a specialization in creative writing, your program should include two of the following creative-writing courses: English 541A, English 541B, or English 541C before you register for your creative thesis hours.  You will need the permission of the instructor to enroll in these courses. If not familiar with your work, the instructor may require samples of your writing. One of these courses will typically be taught every fall and spring semester, often with participation of creative writers on guest appointments through the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts.

If your Program of Study is a traditional English M.A. with either a thesis or non-thesis option, you are encouraged to include within your course selection either English 508A or English 508B.  We particularly stress the importance of completing one of these courses if you are intending to apply to Ph.D. programs.


This is an important decision within our English M.A. program, and it will be your decision.  You will be expected to make this decision early in your program when you fill out your formal "Program of Study" forms, although it is possible to change your mind and revise your "Program of Study" forms at a later date.

If you choose the non-thesis option, you will take two additional graduate classes. If you choose the thesis option, then, usually, the last six hours in your program will be thesis hours (ENGL 5990).  The thesis, as approved by your graduate committee, must be submitted to the Dean of Graduate Studies for review and approval at least three weeks before the end of the semester in which you expect to complete your degree requirements.  If you do not complete your thesis during the term when you enroll in ENGL 5990, you will receive an IP (In Progress). If you have not completed the thesis within a year of first receiving the IP, you will be assessed tuition and fees for one credit hour for each subsequent semester until you complete the thesis. (For the purposes of this policy, summer terms are not considered semesters.)

We would like you to decide whether you are likely to benefit more from the experience of two more graduate classes or from the experience of writing a thesis. The amount of work associated with both options is comparable; you may write more pages while taking two classes, but we expect even higher quality work in a thesis.  The process of working on a more in-depth project can be an important developmental experience, and we do encourage you to think carefully about the thesis option if you are thinking about applying to Ph.D. programs.  On the other hand, some students work best within the more structured expectations of graduate classes and may benefit more from taking two more classes.


It is not unusual for students who have attained a bachelor's degree in another field to pursue a master's degree in English.  In the past, some of our best graduate students have come to us from other fields of study.  We have had nursing, music, history, and biology majors who have done very well in our English program.

When students come to us from undergraduate programs that have included very limited experience in upper-division English classes, we do encourage these students to take a couple of upper-division survey classes in British and American literature to enhance their literary background and to expose them to our expectations for literary essays and research papers.  It is also sometimes the case that students enter our M.A. program with an undergraduate English major, but with little or no experience in creative writing.  Students with undergraduate English majors (but without creative writing backgrounds) may wish to enroll in graduate creative writing classes, and they may wish to write creative theses.  These students may be asked to take one or more undergraduate creative writing classes before they enroll in the graduate writing seminars.

If the students are motivated, they are typically able to overcome a deficiency of undergraduate English courses.  Any disadvantages these students may encounter because of their limited exposure to English classes is often compensated for by their ability to bring to their graduate English classes what they have learned in another field.  For example, a music student's knowledge of symphonic structure or a biology student's knowledge of Darwin often gives them unique insights into literature that can be used in their papers and oral reports.


Class times: Most of our graduate classes meet once a week, Monday through Thursday, from 4:30-7:30. We have used these time slots so that school teachers will be able to participate in our program.  Occasionally classes meet on Saturday mornings or early Friday afternoons.  Our concern is always picking a time that is convenient to the most students, and we are receptive to suggestions from our students.  The creative writing classes, which mix graduate and selected undergraduate students, are sometimes taught at an earlier time, again for the convenience of our students.  The five-week summer sessions are typically scheduled to meet daily throughout the week like the undergraduate classes.

Class size: One of the strengths of our graduate program is our small seminar classes.  We do not wish to place our graduate students in a situation in which they are mixed with undergraduates in classes of twenty-five or thirty.  Our graduate classes are true seminars, ranging in size from five to fifteen.  We consider ten students the ideal class size.  The classes are generally taught in a seminar room intended to encourage class discussion.  We want our graduate students to express themselves, and we attempt to create an environment that is conducive to that end.  We encourage you to come into our graduate courses ready to talk as well as listen.

Course expectations: Class participation is important in our seminars and for that reason our courses often include oral reports.  We also rely upon the seminar structure because we wish to emphasize writing skills.  The writing expectation for our courses is generally 25-30 pages.  One of our goals is to move our graduate students closer to the expectations of publishable essays.  (Student poets and fiction writers are encouraged to submit their work to literary journals.)  We encourage our students to submit seminar papers to conferences and to journals as a way of working toward this goal.  Students intending to apply to Ph.D. programs are especially encouraged to be receptive to this encouragement from their professors.  If your professor says that you might consider revising your seminar paper for oral presentation at a conference or for publication, we encourage you to take this advice to heart and seek guidance for your revisions.

Reading expectations are greater in graduate courses than they are in undergraduate courses and may include more reading of secondary sources along with primary works of literature.  This is the reason graduate students are full-time students at nine hours rather than twelve hours.  Because of the demands of graduate courses, you are not encouraged to take more than twelve hours and should not take more than fifteen hours per term. 

Although significant reading and writing are part of every graduate class, other expectations will vary.  For example, some of your professors may require extensive computer involvement; others may expect very little.  Some may lecture frequently while others may rely entirely upon collaborative learning.  Some will give exams, while others will not.  Some may demand numerous references to secondary sources within your graduate papers while others may eschew secondary sources altogether.  We consider this diversity a healthy mix because it exposes our students to a range of learning experiences.

Grading expectations: Within all graduate programs at APSU, students are expected to maintain a 3.00 GPA and risk probation and suspension if they are unable to do so (see Bulletin for specific grade requirements).  This means that if you receive a C in one of your classes, you will need an A in another class to counterbalance it.  You cannot receive your M.A. degree with a cumulative GPA below 3.00.  No credit will be given for the grade of D or F, nor will students be allowed to receive a graduate degree with these grades on their record.  Students may repeat one course in which a grade of less than B was made.  (Permission of the Dean of Graduate Studies is required.)  If you have personal difficulties that put you at risk in a course, it is imperative to follow the proper procedure for a Withdrawal (W) or an Incomplete (I).  An I or a W will not adversely affect your GPA, although it is important to remember that an I, if not completed within a year, becomes an F. Please note that although online transcripts will calculate the GPA of all graduate courses taken, only courses contributing to the English graduate students' program of study and degree completion are factored in the official GPA. 

Please recognize that A's are reserved for truly excellent performance and B's are to indicate that you are doing well or have done well in a course.  When you are at risk of receiving a C or below, talk to your professor and use her or his assistance in considering ways to improve your performance before the end of the term.

Attendance expectations: Although we do not have a uniform policy on attendance, we do want to warn students that since seminar classes meet only once a week, missing just one class is the same as an undergraduate missing three classes on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.  Therefore, you should make every effort to attend class regularly.  In addition, the seminar or workshop system of our graduate classes places more responsibility on our graduate students to participate within each session.  Therefore, poor attendance by a student is perceived as poor performance and weakens the performance of the entire class.  Attendance becomes most important on those dates when you are scheduled to participate in an oral presentation.  Please refer to each professor's syllabus for more specific policies on attendance and always talk to your professor in advance if you anticipate the need to miss a class.


English 5000: Bibliography and Methods of Research.  This is the only required course within the English M.A. program and is offered every fall semester.  We encourage you to take English 5000 as early as possible within your graduate program.  This course is intended to prepare you for our graduate program and for work within our field of study.  It provides an introduction and overview of research methods, an introduction to critical approaches, and guidance in assessing the expectations of practitioners within our field.


English 508A and 508B: Criticism and Theory.  We encourage you to take one of these "Criticism and Theory" courses during your program of study.  These courses are intended to survey either important critical approaches to the study of language and literature (508A) or to examine in much greater depth one critical approach to the study of language and literature (508B).  These courses are particularly important for students who intend to enroll  in a Ph.D. program after completion of their master's degree.


The department approves independent study courses only when they are necessary to achieve the aims of the graduate program.  An independent study must be arranged with a member of the English graduate faculty and must be approved by the department chair.  Bear in mind that the thesis offers the opportunity for intensive study of a special topic. If you wish to study a special topic intensively, you should write a thesis rather than take an independent study.


We suggest three models for completion of your graduate program.  These models are dependent upon the time you can devote to your graduate studies.

One Year Plan: This model assumes that you are able to devote full time to your pursuit of a graduate degree; it is not a viable option if you are committed to full-time or half-time employment.  Within the 33-hour program, you would take four classes fall semester and five classes spring semester. (If you are not a student in the creative writing program and do not desire a creative writing class, one of these classes will be an independent study.)  Your last two classes or your thesis hours will be taken during the summer sessions.  Your comprehensive examinations will be taken in Spring.

Two Year Plan: This model assumes that you are able to devote at least half-time to your graduate program.  This is the most common model since this is the model that applies to GAs who are committed to half-time work within the University.  GAs typically follow a schedule that includes three classes during fall and spring semesters through the first and second year (sometimes dropping to two classes in the last semester).  GAs often do not take classes during summer sessions since their stipends are for fall and spring, but they may use part of the summer to prepare for the comprehensive exam or to work on their thesis. 

Three to Six Year Plan:  This model assumes that you are committed to full-time obligations with either your job or with personal commitments.  This is the most common model for full-time teachers who wish to pursue a master's degree.  Given such full-time commitments, it is very difficult to take more than one graduate course each term.  A good pace for a graduate student in this situation is to take three classes each year (usually one in the fall, one in the spring, and one in the summer).  This pace will permit you to complete your required 33 hours and study for your comprehensive exam in four years.  Do remember that the University requirement is completion of the M.A. program in six years.  If special difficulties occur which prevent completion of the degree program, this regulation can be appealed before the Graduate Council (see Bulletin).


The department policy is to approve as much as six graduate hours from another program or from another university if deemed reputable.  Note the procedure in the Bulletin for approval of transfer credit.  Only in exceptional cases will the department accept nine hours and only if from another reputable English graduate program.


During or before the last semester in residence, the candidate must pass a written examination based upon a reading list for the  Comprehensive Exam in English and American literature. This list  (revised in 2005)  from the English Graduate Coordinator or from the Languages and Literature web page.  This examination is a test of the candidate's ability to integrate knowledge based upon key texts within the history of English and American literature.  If the performance is unsatisfactory, the candidate may be reexamined after a minimum of three months and before a maximum of twelve months, unless an extension is approved by the Graduate Dean.  The result of the second examination will be final.

The Comprehensive Exam is generally given late in the Spring semester. The exam lasts four hours.  Students are encouraged to organize study groups and invite professors to speak on their areas of specialization. A Sample Comprehensive exam is available from the Languages and Literature web page or the Graduate Coordinator.


The thesis in literary criticism should have three parts:

1.      A 2-5 page statement of critical principles and influences.

2.      A polished 20-30 page critical essay.

3.      A 5-10 page annotated bibliography of major works that pertain to the subject of the critical essay.

Writing a scholarly thesis should be seen as an opportunity to delve into a subject which greatly interests you and to test your ability to write an in-depth, original study on that subject.  The First Reader or Major Professor on your thesis committee should be a professor with whom you are able to work closely and who is knowledgeable and shares an interest in that subject.  Your Major Professor should be involved in the planning as well as the actual writing stages of your thesis.  The Second and Third Readers on your committee should also approve your plan, although it is not assumed that they will be as involved in the stages of revision during the writing process.  The coordinator of the graduate program will help you pick out your three-person committee.


Like a scholarly thesis, a creative thesis is an opportunity to take your work beyond the level that is possible in the classroom.  A creative thesis will be composed of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or a combination of these genres.  Your First Reader should be a professor with whom you have a good working relationship, and who shares your interest in the kind of writing you wish to do.  You will work closely with this professor, taking your thesis through several drafts.  Your Second and Third Readers can be literature professors rather than creative writing faculty in the Languages and Literature Department.  The length of a creative thesis will vary, of course, due to the genre and other considerations.  Generally speaking, a poetry thesis should contain a minimum of 25-30 pages of poetry (not less than 20 poems), and a short fiction thesis or a creative nonfiction thesis should contain a minimum of 50-60 pages of prose (not less than four stories or essays).


Application to Graduate: Students must file formal written application for degree with the Office of the Registrar according to the published University Calendar during the term prior to the semester of completion.  After the application for degree is filed, the student's record is audited against his/her Program of Study.  Students will be notified by the Office of the Registrar of their graduation status.  All applicants for the degree must notify the Office of the Registrar in writing whether they will or will not participate in Commencement.  Students currently enrolled in courses that are completed prior to graduation exercises or who have only one course to complete in the Summer term can participate in May or December Commencement.

Thesis deadline: The thesis, as approved by the student's graduate committee, must be submitted to the Dean of Graduate Studies for review and approval at least three weeks before the end of the semester the student expects to complete degree requirements.


Like other liberal arts programs, the English M.A. program is not a training ground for a specific profession, but rather may serve as a preparatory stage for a variety of careers.  Generally, our students fall into four categories: (1) middle school and high school teachers who desire greater expertise in their teaching field; (2) students who aspire to college teaching; (3) students who will seek positions in the business or managerial world, including positions in office management, editing, proofreading, technical writing, or other jobs in the publishing industry; and (4) students who simply wish to enrich their lives through the advanced study of literature.  Your English M.A. degree should be seen as aiding you with any position that emphasizes analytical skills and finesse with language and will be viewed favorably by any employer who desires employees with proven communication skills. The advanced study of literature should also sharpen your perceptions and deepen your understanding in any occupation.