Current Student Resources
- New Student FAQs
- Completing the M.A.: Current Student Checklist
- ATC Checklist for M.A. Literature Students
- Two-Year Plan Timeline
- Procedures and Timeline for CE Exam (ENG 896) (PDF)
- Thesis Guidelines (ENG 898)
- Prospectus Guidelines for CE Thesis
Commonly Used Forms
- Proposal for Culminating Experience (CE) (PDF)
- Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) (PDF)
- Add form for ENG 898 (Thesis) (DOC)
- Prospectus (Oral) Exam Form (DOC)
The English department would like to learn more about your experiences in the M.A. Literature program and what you have gone on to do after completing your degree. Please take a moment to provide us some information about yourself and some feedback on the program by following the link below to a short survey. All information will be kept confidential.
Thank you for your help!
Completing the M.A.: Current Student Checklist
Obtaining Classified Status
Submit Report of Completion of Specified Graduate Program Requirements
Students who were given Conditionally Classified status upon admission must petition for Classified status once they have satisfied the requirements outlined in their admission letter. Request the Report of Completion form in the department office; enter your information and check the first box under "Graduate Program Requirements"; obtain your advisor's signature and return the form to the department office.
Semester Before Taking English 898
Submit your Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) -- formerly Graduate Approved Program (GAP)
- The usual deadline for submission of this form to the department is in early October or early March, depending on the semester.
- Use this form to describe how you will fulfill the requirements of your degree.
- Prepare the ATC (formerly GAP) online before printing. If necessary, print out a blank copy and type in the information. If the form is handwritten, it will be rejected by Graduate Division.
- Bring your completed ATC (formerly GAP) form and a printout of your current unofficial transcript to an advisor for review and signature.
Submit your Proposal for Culminating Experience
- The usual deadline for submission of this form to the department is in early October or early March, depending on the semester.
- Use this form to present the title of your thesis and a brief abstract, and to list the members of your thesis committee, all of whom must sign the form. Your “committee chair” is your first reader.
- Prepare your Proposal form online before printing. If necessary, print out a blank copy and type in the information. If your Proposal is handwritten, it will be rejected by Graduate Division.
- Do you have questions about the ATC (formerly GAP) or the Proposal for Culminating Experience? Ask in your department office, consult with your advisor, or visit the Graduate Division website. Note that we prefer that you submit your ATC (formerly GAP) and your Proposal forms to the department office at the same time.
Semester of Graduation
Enroll in ENG 898
- Submit the SF State ADD Form to the department office as soon as possible after the start of the semester.
- Enter your name, phone number, SF State ID# on the ADD form. Also, enter “ENG 898” in the designated field, and then obtain the signature of your first reader.
- The permit number will be sent to your email address.
Apply for graduation
- The deadline to apply for graduation is the 4th Friday of the semester.
- The graduation application is available on the Division of Graduate Studies website.
Check your transcript
- Complete any necessary paperwork to change Incomplete grades.
Submit your thesis to Graduate Division
- The usual deadline is the last day of classes.
- Check the requirements for thesis formatting and submission in advance.
When Graduation is Delayed
Re-apply for graduation
- If you do not graduate during the semester in which you initially enroll in 898, you must re-apply for graduation in the semester in which you will complete your requirements.
Maintain enrollment status
Students admitted before Fall 2008
- If you do not submit your thesis by the deadline, your instructor will assign you a grade of ‘RP’ (report in progress).
- You do not need to re-register for 898 in subsequent semesters.
- You do not need to pay fees for subsequent semesters.
Students admitted beginning Fall 2008
- Graduate students who earn RP in ENG 898 have an additional “grace semester” after the posting of the RP grade to continue writing the thesis. To maintain current status during this grace semester, students do not have to pay fees or register for courses.
- If students do not graduate at the end of the grace semester, they must enroll in a 0-unit Culminating Experience course via the College of Extended Learning for each subsequent semester.
- See the Graduate Division website for further information on the policy and an instructional slideshow.
Check your transcript
- When you submit your thesis to your readers, you must also provide your 898 instructor (your first reader) with a Petition for Grade Change.
- Fill in your name, SF State ID#, and the semester of enrollment in ENG 898; your professor will note that the RP grade should be changed to CR and will submit the petition to the department.
Note your seven-year deadline
If you do not graduate during the semester of your initial enrollment in your culminating experience course, we recommend that you remain mindful of your seven-year deadline. Your degree must be awarded within 7 years from the start of the term of the earliest course listed on your ATC (formerly GAP). EXAMPLE: if the earliest course listed on your ATC (formerly GAP) was taken in the Spring 2008 semester, you must graduate no later than the January, 2015. Students whose deadline has expired must petition for an extension of the seven-year limit; such an extension may be granted only once.
Two-Year Plan Timeline
741—Theory of literature (3 units)
Undergrad or grad seminar (3 units)
Pre-1800 (3 units)
Undergrad or grad seminar (3 units)
Literary History (3 units)
Literary Theories and Methods (3 units)
[Apply to be a Teaching Assistant]
803—TA practicum or grad seminar (3 units)
2 additional grad seminars (6 units)
Submit ATC & CE form; take prospectus exam if choosing CE thesis option
[Take GRE; apply to PhD programs]
896-—CE Exam OR 898—CE Thesis (3 units)
[If you need to be a full-time student for Financial Aid, take 5 more units)
Thesis Guidelines for M.A. Students in English Literature
1. Where do thesis ideas come from?
From your study of literature and your special interests. Ideally, the thesis ought to, though not necessarily, develop out of a seminar paper or an independent study. Your papers and/or the suggestions of professors may help you frame and develop your topic. You may consult bound copies of theses in the Library. You should undertake considerable primary and secondary reading in order to convince yourself that your project has worth. The range of possibilities for an M.A. thesis is immense; areas include (but are not limited to) literary theory, literary criticism, literary history, biography, textual studies and editions, and translations.
2. How long should a thesis be?
Long enough to develop in detail a focused and structured literary argument. The thesis should extend in scope and conception beyond the range of a seminar paper and be more concise than a dissertation or book-length study. The number of pages depends entirely upon the individual project, but, generally speaking, the range is between 50 and 75 pages.
3. How do I find my readers?
You will choose a first and second reader for your thesis project at the beginning of the semester before you begin your thesis project. Your thesis committee must include a first and second reader from the English department faculty. Depending on your topic, you may wish to have third reader from outside the department. Initially, you must find a first reader who is interested in your general topic and responsive to you and your approach. Your first reader should have some specialization, or at least interested experience, in one or more of the areas of your topic. (For a list of faculty interests and specializations, see the department website, or the list in the main office.) To find such a reader, you must appear with a fairly clear idea and some enthusiasm as well as flexibility. Bring a short description of your project to present to prospective readers. This description should articulate your research questions, list some of the texts you wish to examine, and what you think you might find. Once you have found a first reader, you should discuss who might serve as second reader on the committee. If, for any reason, you experience difficulty finding readers, you should consult the Program Coordinator for advice.
4. What’s the difference between the proposal and the prospectus?
The “Proposal” is the paragraph summary of your project that you submit on the “Proposal for Culminating Experience Form.” This form is due, with your ATC form, the semester before you plan to graduate (see #8 below). The prospectus is not a form but a written statement that establishes the main lines of argument and organization for the thesis. As part of your prospectus, you must submit a timetable, developed with your advisor, demonstrating that the thesis will be completed within two semesters. The prospectus is also the basis for the Prospectus (or “Oral”) Exam. The prospectus should be written in consultation with your committee. As described in the department’s Blue Handout, the prospectus presents “the controlling purpose of the thesis; the selection of literary sources; an overview of relevant scholarship and criticism; and the value and interest of the study.” The format might well look like this (but there is no absolute standard for organization):
- Statement of controlling idea and its significance
- Chapter outline
- Working bibliography of major primary and secondary sources
- A finished prospectus tends to be about 15 pp. in length (including bibliography)
See the “Prospectus Guidelines for M.A. Literature Students” (see below) for more information.
Consult with your committee members well in advance of your Prospectus Exam. Plan on sharing your prospectus with your committee at least two weeks before the meeting. (A draft is usually submitted to your first reader for commentary and revision before going to the full committee.) Some faculty members may ask to see materials earlier or later.
5. What is the Prospectus (Oral) Exam?
The Prospectus Exam is less an “exam” per se than it is a conference with your committee discussing your project (based upon the completed prospectus) and evaluating your readiness to start writing. The exam should be scheduled at the end of the semester before you intend to begin writing. Upon successful completion of the exam, your committee members will sign a “Prospectus Form” for your file. Expect the prospectus exam to last about an hour. First, you’ll be given a chance to explain how you chose your topic and your approach to it. You must be prepared to present and argue the case for a well-delineated plan of research. You will defend or modify your plan of study in response to questions and suggestions from your readers. Take copious notes during the exam! This is the only time you will have all of your committee members together in a room, so it is also your opportunity to ask them as many questions about the project as you like.
Be sure to print out and bring the Prospectus Form to the exam.
6. May I change my mind?
Yes, if you mean that your thesis takes different twists and turns as you write. If you simply wish to change the title (but not the content) of your thesis, you simply need to fill out a new CE form and have it signed by your first reader. But, if you move completely away from the original proposed topic—say, from women in Shakespeare to Melville’s short fiction—you must write a new proposal, develop a new prospectus, and take a new oral exam. (Not to worry, this is a rarity.)
7. How does the writing process work? What are the roles of the first and second readers?
Working backwards from your intended filing date, consult with your readers to develop a timeline with individual chapters or sections and due dates. As you develop this timeline, note that you are not obliged to write the chapters of your thesis in any particular order. Students often find it is helpful to write their introduction last. At some early stage—perhaps at the end of your oral—readers’ responsibilities will be clarified for your particular project. Often it is helpful for the first reader to proceed through the complete manuscript before submitting it to the second reader; sometimes the second reader will want to see drafts of chapters immediately after the first reader has perused them. Check with your committee to formulate the most appropriate plan of submission. It is important to allow sufficient time for your readers to read and respond to your chapters, and to apportion time for your revisions and modifications. Plan on giving your readers the full thesis, with all suggestions incorporated, at least four weeks before the Graduate Studies Deadline. (Some faculty members might ask for it earlier or later.) Readers need this time to read the full project and give feedback, and you need this time to make revisions, check formatting and printing requirements with Graduate Studies, and get signatures. What all this means is that in a sixteen-week semester, allowing for research and revision time, you will typically have only a few weeks to write each chapter of your project, allowing for research and revision time. Work with your committee to set a flexible but serious and realistic set of deadlines to guide you though your process.
If it is taking longer than you anticipated to complete your thesis, it your responsibility to talk to your advisors about your situation and develop a new timeline for completion.
8. What is the schedule for the submission of various forms?
In the semester before your last 6 units in the program, complete the ATC form, have it signed by your graduate advisor, and submit to the graduate secretary by the announced deadline. This and other deadline dates can be found online at the Graduate Division website, click on “Current Students” and open “Deadlines for Completing a Master’s Degree.” Complete the “Proposal for Culminating Experience” form and show it to your first and second readers for their approval and signature; submit by the announced deadline. Both forms are only available online through the Graduate Division’s website and should be submitted together. After your ATC and “Culminating Experience” forms have been filed, you may sign up for ENG 898 (Master’s Thesis) in the first two weeks of your final semester. You can only do so the old-fashioned way: by hand. Fill out the add form, have your first reader sign it, and return it to the English Office so that the graduate secretary can e-mail you the permit number. You will also need to apply for graduation in your final semester. The application form is available on the Graduate Studies website.
9. How do I submit my thesis?
Be sure you know the thesis submission deadline for the semester you intend to graduate (check Graduate Division website). As noted above, you will need to submit the final draft to your committee members with enough time for them to read it and for you to make any last minute changes (usually 4 weeks before the published deadline). English department Literature theses should follow the latest MLA Style Manual (available in the Library). Graduate Division guidelines for formatting and submission can be downloaded from their website (look for “Thesis Guidelines” under “Graduate Forms”). You will need to take the final approved copy of your thesis to both your first and second readers for signature; you are now ready to file it!
10. What if I don't make the deadline for completing thesis at the end of the semester that I signed up for ENG 898?
You will be issued a grade of “RP,” which indicates satisfactory progress. You have one “grace” semester to complete your thesis; you do not need to re-register or pay any extra fees during the grace semester. However, students who do not complete their thesis within two semesters must enroll in a zero-unit College of Extended Learning CE (“Cumulating Experience”) course every subsequent semester until your thesis is completed. You will also be subject to a fee (to be set annually and not to exceed the Open University laboratory unit fee). Students will be assumed to have withdrawn from their degree program if they fail to maintain continuous enrollment status after the grace semester. (For the purpose of this policy, only the fall and spring semesters are counted as semesters.) Please see the Culminating Experience Continuous Enrollment Policy for full details.
If you received an “RP” grade for ENG 898 in a previous semester, you will need to file a Grade Change Petition form and have it signed by your first reader to get a CR for the course.
11. If I don't finish, do I need to reapply for graduation?
If your graduate application was approved but you did not finish your thesis, you will need to re-apply for graduation in the semester that you complete the thesis.
12. How long do I have to complete the thesis?
The university has a 7-year limit for completing post-graduate programs: you should endeavor to complete the thesis within 7 years of the date of the earliest course work listed on your ATC form. As indicated above, students are subject to fees if they do not complete their thesis in two semesters.
Prospectus Guidelines for Students Completing a CE Thesis
Timing the Prospectus: All students should plan to fulfill the oral exam component of their thesis process the semester before they plan to file their thesis. This is general departmental policy, and it exists for some very good reasons. First and foremost, you will need at least a full semester to complete your thesis. Students who attempt to go through the process of proposing their thesis topics in the same semester in which they wish to file are rarely able to complete their theses by the deadline.
The Prospectus Process: The prospectus is a strange genre, for in it you must describe a project that you have yet to actually do. For this reason, writing a prospectus can be frustrating. In order to produce a solid and useful prospectus (that is, for producing writing that you can actually use in the thesis itself), approach the prospectus as an occasion to start doing real thesis work. Think of the prospectus not as the provisional starting point of your project, but as a document that records your research and hypotheses about a project on which you have already substantially embarked. This is an effective way to conceptualize the prospectus; however, changes to your project may and will occur during the Prospectus Exam and during your committee’s revisions. Aim to avoid vague, place-marking language such as “I will look at” or “I will think about” or “I plan to examine/research” in your prospectus: instead, go ahead and do some looking, thinking, examining, and research, and then use what you find to articulate your project’s overarching, working argument as substantially, specifically, and concretely as possible. Always include a working bibliography. In addition, please plan to give your committee a draft of your prospectus at least two weeks before the scheduled date of your oral exam. (Some faculty members may ask to see it earlier or later.) Using the feedback you receive to revise the prospectus will make for an especially successful and useful exam.
The Prospectus (Oral) Exam: The prospectus exam is not really an exam; it is a serious conversation with your readers about your project and your plan for completing it. Your readers will want to use the meeting not to catechize you but rather to see how you present your project, what you want to do with it, and to offer you feedback about the underlying ideas and implications of your work. That said, it is fairly common for thesis committees to ask you for additional writing or an additional meeting at the end of the conversation (however, as mentioned above, giving your readers a prospectus draft well in advance of the exam can help the meeting go more smoothly and satisfyingly). If you are asked for additional writing or for an additional meeting, please understand that this is not punitive; your committee simply wants to help you approach the thesis from the best possible place, and to reach the highest level of achievement in your work.
Looking Ahead: When thinking about the logistics of completing the thesis, work backwards. Find the date by which you must submit the thesis in its final form, and prepare yourself in advance for the steps you must take to prepare and format your thesis for submission to the university (formatting info here at Graduate Studies. When thinking about your writing schedule, keep in mind that you must submit the full, revised, penultimate copy of your entire thesis to your readers at least three, ideally four weeks before the submission deadline. Additionally, you will want to give your readers chapter drafts as you complete them. Give your readers chapter drafts that are as polished and complete as possible.
ATC Checklist for M.A. Literature Students
The ATC must be submitted no later than the semester prior to enrollment for the final 6 units of graduate work. Use the questions below to ensure that you have filled out the ATC correctly.
You should bring the following materials with you to your advising appointment:
- Letter of Admission to the M.A. Literature Program (available in the ENG Dept Office)
- SF State transcript
- Completed ATC
- A copy of your “Report of Completion of Specified Graduate Program Requirements” form, if you were admitted with Conditionally Classified status
1. Check admission letter for any prerequisites
If you were admitted Conditionally Classified with a Subject Deficiency CC/SD, how did you fulfill your CC/SD requirements?
Check to make sure that you have correctly fulfilled these requirements as specified in your letter. These courses should also appear on your submitted Report of Completion of Specified Graduate Program Requirements form. Courses used to fulfill a CC/SD requirement should NOT appear on your ATC form.
2. Make sure that all courses you’ve listed on the ATC can apply to the English Literature M.A.
Are all the courses on the ATC taken within the 7-year limit for completing the M.A. degree?
No courses over 7-years old may be included on the ATC. Consult the Graduate Studies website under “ Procedures” for a 7-year-time-limit chart.
Does ENG 803 (Teaching Practicum) appear no more than once on the ATC?
You may take ENG 803 twice, but you can list it only once on the ATC.
Does ENG 899 appear no more than twice on the ATC?
List this course simply as "Special Study."
Have you repeated/double counted any other courses?
Although most literature courses cannot be repeated for credit, you can list a variable subject course more than once. Consult the Bulletin or Department Office (415-338-2264) if you are unsure about a course’s status.
Have you counted any courses taken for the Composition or Reading Certificate--such as English 700, 701, 704, 709, 710 and 715--to your Literature M.A.?
Such courses do NOT count towards the M.A. in Literature.
Have you listed any courses NOT taken in the English Department at SF State?
According to University policy, at least 18 of the 30 units of course work on the ATC must be taken within the department offering the degree program. These rules also apply:
With the approval of his or her advisor, a student following the “General Emphasis” may apply a maximum of 6 units taken outside of the English department.
A student following the “Special Studies” track may apply 12 units taken outside of the English department with the approval of an advisor.
A student may transfer—with the approval of an advisor—a maximum of 6 units from another institution. See “Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures” in the University Bulletin for a list of the University’s requirements for doing so. (Students taking courses through the UC Berkeley Cross Registration Program are not subject to this limit. If you have correctly followed the procedures to participate in this program, courses taken through it should appear as SF State credits on your transcript.)
Have you listed any courses taken before you obtained “classified” status in our program?
- If you were admitted as a conditionally classified student with a subject deficiency (CC/SD), you may NOT apply units required to fulfill the subject deficiency to the M.A. (Those requirements would have been specified in the admission letter.)
- Students admitted with a GPA deficiency (CC/P) usually may apply the units obtained during the period of their conditional admission to their M.A., unless otherwise stated in their admission letter. CC/P students can apply up to 12 units of credit to their M.A. degree before obtaining "Classified" status.
- With the approval of an advisor, you may apply up to 9 units of credit to the M.A. in Literature for classes taken at SF State as a non-matriculated student (this rule applies even if you were enrolled in another M.A. program when you took the courses).
- With the approval on an advisor, you may count 6 units of credit taken as part of Open University.
3. Check the ATC and SF State transcripts for the following grading standards
- A 3.0 GPA is required for course work listed on the ATC (formerly GAP) and must be maintained in all post-baccalaureate work taken at SF State.
- For the Literature M.A., the ATC may include only courses with grades of B or better (i.e. grades of B- and lower may not be included). If a student repeats a ATC-required course to improve the grade, the higher grade will be included on the ATC, and only those units will be counted toward the degree. However, the grades will be averaged for the SF State and overall GPA.
- Students cannot graduate if the ATC and overall SF State GPA's are below a 3.0.
4. Check core requirements
Have you listed 10 courses (30 units)?
You must list:
- ENG 741 Seminar: Theory of Literature (3 units)
- 3 courses in the following ranges: ENG 742-ENG 790, ENG 820 Graduate Seminars (9 units)
- 2 courses in the following ranges: ENG 711, ENG 712, ENG 742-790, ENG 820 (6 units)
3 electives to be taken with approval of an advisor. (9 units)
Electives may include upper-division English literature courses, graduate courses within the ranges outlined above, ENG 899, ENG 803 or any combination of the above with an advisor's approval.
- ENG 898 Master's Thesis or ENG 896 Master's Oral Examination Culminating Experience (3 units)
5. Check for special studies/general studies requirements
Is your emphasis "Special Studies"?
If you have chosen a “Special Studies” emphasis, make sure that you have met the conditions outlined in your proposal. (This proposal must have been submitted and approved before a student has completed 12 units of the M.A. program.)
If you pursued the General Studies emphasis (this will apply to most M.A. Literature students), have you taken at least one “Literary History” course (3 units)?
The following courses count as literary history:
ENG 711, 712, 750–789
If you pursued the General Studies emphasis, have you also taken at least one "Literary Theories and Methods" course in addition to English 741?
The following courses count as a literary theories and methods course:
ENG 742; 744; 745; 746; 747; 748; 790; 800
If you pursued the General Studies emphasis, have you also taken at least one graduate-level course (3 units) in literature before 1800?
The “early period” course may also fulfill another requirement, i.e. it might also count as the “Literary History” requirement or as an elective.