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FAQ

Rumors & Questions

Area Requirements

Credit Questions

Independent Study / Field Work

Creative Writing Program

Creative Writing Seminar

Rumors & Questions

Do professors in the department keep secret grade books?

Some do and some don’t.  But even if a professor keeps a private entry of grades for papers, exams, oral reports, participation, and so forth, it functions more as a memory aid than an official record.  Since your final grade will be determined by your performance over the course of the semester—taking into account factors like effort and improvement—the professor’s written comments on papers probably provide a more accurate index of how you are doing. 

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Why don’t professors in the English department put grades on papers?

This long-standing practice in the English department is based on the theory that an English course is a conversation.  The conversation takes place in class among students and teachers; it takes place in conferences and e-mail; and it takes place in the dialogue between a student’s paper and a teacher’s response.  The placement of a grade on the paper puts an end to this part of the conversation.  A student paper is not an exam but is rather an opportunity for the student to speak on a particular subject.  The instructor’s response is not a grade, but it is an informed response to what the student has said.

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Why doesn’t the department offer courses on literature in translation?

Because we are an English department, not a comparative literature department, foreign literatures in translation fall outside of our field.  We do not prohibit some translations from being taught in our regular course offerings.  On the contrary, several of us use translations in our classes in order to ramify historical and cultural understandings of the literature in question.

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Whom should one ask about graduate study in English?

The chair of the department and the associate chair are available by appointment to discuss graduate school plans and applications for post-graduate grants.

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Area Requirements

Does English 226 (American Literature, 1865-1925) count as a pre-1900 course?

No.  Although the course covers material from the latter half of the nineteenth century, it deals substantially with literary modernism.  English 225 (American Literature, Origins to pre-1900) does satisfy the pre-1900 requirement. 

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Can area requirements be covered by courses taken JYA or during summer session?

Yes, with approval from the associate chair.  In order to receive approval, make an appointment with the associate chair; bring with you a course description from the university catalogue and a copy of the syllabus.

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Credit Questions

I received an AP credit in English. Does this count towards my English major?

No.  Your AP English credit does not count as 1 of the 12 credits you need to complete the English major.  However, it does count towards your total college credits (1 of 34 needed to graduate).

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My English JYA credits appear in my transcript as ungraded work. Will they count towards the major, even though the departmental requirements state that 11 of the 12 required units must be graded units?

Yes.  As long as your JYA credits are approved English credits, they will count towards your English major.

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What about English credits taken over the summer at another institution? Do they also transfer as ungraded work; do they count towards my major?

Yes.  But this work must be approved by the associate chair of the department.  In order to get approval make an appointment to see the associate chair; be sure to bring the catalogue course description and a copy of the syllabus.

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Can any of the English credits I have earned at other schools, either JYA or during summer session, count as a 300-level credit?

Generally speaking, no.  However, the associate chair will take into consideration certain cases where the student can demonstrate that the coursework in question was comparable to that undertaken in a 300-level English class at Vassar. 

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Can a Vassar course I have taken outside of the English department count towards my major?

Yes, under the following circumstances:

  1. You can count any course that has been cross-listed with the English department or if it has been approved by the associate chair to count as an English credit. The quickest way to find out if such a course will count towards your major is to ask the instructor, since she or he is responsible for petitioning the department for such approval.
  2. The department will accept one literature course from other departments or programs toward the English major.  Please note that these courses will not count toward any of the English department's distribution requirements.
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Before declaring my English major, I NRO’d an English course. I did well in the class and received a letter grade for it on my transcript. Can this course count towards the major?

Unfortunately, no.  Even if you received an “A” for the course, the non-recorded option counts towards the quota of your allowable nongraded units.  Your transcript may show a letter grade for the course, but our records will indicate it was elected as NRO.

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Independent Study / Field Work

How do I apply for English 298 (Independent Study), 399 (Senior Independent Study), or 290 (Field Work)?

Permission to elect Independent Study and Field Work is granted by the associate chair, but you first must find a faculty sponsor.  If you wish to do 298, 399, or 290 and you don’t know who would be an appropriate sponsor, consult the associate chair first.  Occasionally, a request for Independent Study or Field Work requires permission of the chair after consultation with the associate chair.

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What kinds of Field Work will the department sponsor to oversee?

The project must fall clearly within the scope of our concerns as an English Department.  Projects involving a student’s work in television, radio, or advertising, for example, are best referred to either the American Culture Program or the Department of Sociology (which offer courses in those fields). 

You are required to submit a written proposal.  The proposal should address the relevance of the project to your work as an English major (or work in English courses) as well as outline clearly and specifically your duties on the job.

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Creative Writing Program

Is there a Creative Writing Program at Vassar?

While there is not a separate program for creative writing within the Vassar English Department, we offer an array of creative writing courses.  Students usually begin with English 205:  Introductory Creative Writing, which may be taken in either "a" or "b" semester.  This course serves as an introduction to the writing of both fiction and poetry. English 206, also offered in both "a" and "b" semesters, is open to students who have taken 205.  One section of 206 is usually designated as a "poetry" section for those students who wish to work exclusively in that form.

The department has two year-long creative writing courses, English 209-210, Advanced Creative Writing: Narrative, and English 211-212, Advanced Creative Writing: Verse, that are open to both majors and non-majors.  Students who wish to be considered for these courses must submit a writing portfolio a week before spring break in the semester before the courses begin.  Please check with the English department for the exact due date.  A portfolio should consist of 15 to 20 pages of fiction or 6 to 8 poems. 

These courses are not available to Freshmen.

A writing portfolio is also required for students wishing to take English 305-306 the year-long Creative Writing Seminar.  This course is limited to senior English Majors, and entails the writing of a Senior Thesis--a collection of poems, short stories or a novel.

Independent study in creative writing is also available for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, subject to the ordinary rules for independent study in the English department.

All of our creative writing courses include study of established authors as well as in-class consideration of student work.

Vassar sends many graduates on to MFA Programs in Creative Writing.  Recent graduates have studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Columbia, NYU, University of Montana, University of Massachusetts, Washington University, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas, Brooklyn College and University of Arkansas.  Notable writers who have attended Vassar include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser, Mary Oliver, Jane Smiley, Erica Funkhauser, Elizabeth Spires, Carole Maso, Keith Scribner, Curtis Sittenfeld, Adam Ross, Amber Dermont, Jesse Ball, Aimee Friedmann, Joe Hill, and Owen King.

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Creative Writing Seminar

What exactly is the Creative Writing Seminar (English 305-06)?

The Creative Writing Seminar is a liberal arts course in reading and writing like all other courses in the department; it is not solely a “writing workshop.”  Reading is drawn for the most part from the twentieth century to provide examples of various types of writing: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction outside of literary criticism.  Class time is divided between discussion of this reading and discussion of student writing. The instructor of the course is also the supervisor of each student’s senior tutorial (English 300).  In other words, once you are registered in English 305-306, you do not have to seek out a separate tutorial advisor.  The creative work you do for the course will count toward your senior tutorial.  But in addition to creative work for the tutorial, students will be expected to write critical papers for the course.  You likely know already that admission to the Creative Writing Seminar is highly competitive (see below) and that many fine writers have gone on from Vassar to graduate schools and successful writing careers without taking English 305-306.

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Who can take Creative Writing Seminar and how can I apply?

This course is open only to senior English majors. To be considered for admission to English 305-306 (Creative Writing Seminar), you need to submit two copies of samples of your writing to the English department office before spring break (see the bulletin board outside the department office for the exact date).  Try to submit samples of the kind of writing that you think you may want to concentrate on in your senior project.  However it is more important that you submit writing that you feel best shows your abilities than to predict what you will write in the Creative Writing Seminar.  If you are interested in writing fiction, you should submit one or two completed stories; if poetry, a number of poems; if literary nonfiction, an extended prose piece, and so on.  You may also wish to submit a variety of pieces (poetry and prose).  You should not submit traditional critical essays (papers), although papers that veer toward literary nonfiction are a possibility.  Feel free to use samples of writing you have done for other courses; that is, you need not write something new for this process.  A committee of at least three faculty members reads the submissions and selects the members of this course. The course instructor is not necessarily a member of the committee. The names of students selected for English 305-306 will be posted outside the English Office.  Enrollment is limited to twelve students.

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