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.

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.

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.

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.

Area Requirements

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

Students may elect either pre-1900 or REGS credit for English 226, which covers material from the latter half of the nineteenth century and deals substantively with literary modernism. Students may elect either pre-1800 or pre-1900 credit for English 225 (American Literature, Origins to pre-1900).

Can area requirements be covered by courses taken studying abroad 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.

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 11 credits you need to complete the English major. However, it does count towards your total college credits (1 of 32 needed to graduate).

My English study abroad credits appear in my transcript as ungraded work. Will they count towards the major, even though the departmental requirements state that 10 of the 11 required units must be graded units?

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

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

These credits must be taken for a grade, though they appear on the transcript as ungraded work. We suggest asking the associate chair of the department to review the course description and syllabus (if available) ahead of time, to give you a sense of whether the course will be accepted for credit. Once you’ve finished the course, send a transcript to the registrar and an electronic copy of the syllabus and your written work to the associate chair.  Note: courses that give exams and ask you to produce fewer than 20 pages of written work (we are looking for essays not posts) may not qualify for credit.

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

Generally speaking, no.  However, Oxford and Cambridge University offer coursework that is comparable to that undertaken in a 300-level English class at Vassar. If you attend one of these universities, you may ask the associate chair to consider one course for seminar credit (300-level work). Only one unit of 300-level work may be taken at another institution. You will need to share a syllabus and all written work to qualify for credit, once you return to Vassar.  There is no pre-approval process.

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


Yes, but only under the following circumstances:  You can count any course that has been cross-listed with the English department. You may petition to count a course taught by an English professor that is not cross-listed; however, you must obtain the approval of the instructor and associate chair in such a case.

If you have a correlate in a related discipline, you are entitled to count one course towards your English major with the approval of the associate chair; however, no breadth, historical, or 300-level seminar credit will be granted. We will consider counting 1 unit intensives towards your English major in lieu of a course. 

If you have a double major in a related discipline, you may count two courses towards your English major with the approval of the associate chair. Once again, no breadth, historical, or 300-level seminar credit will be granted. We will consider counting intensives towards your English major in lieu of a course.


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-recording 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.  During the pandemic, spring 2020-fall 2020, the cap on NROs was lifted by the college. We will count courses NRO’d during that period.

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.

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

The first step is to consult the Office of Community Engaged Learning (OCEL). There is a formal process for undertaking fieldwork or an internship for English credit (as an intensive, usually .5 units), but this work must be pre-authorized by OCEL. The project must fall clearly within the scope of our concerns as an English Department; however, we will countenance projects involving a student’s work in television, theater, radio, or advertising, for example, if they involve reading, evaluating, and writing. 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. You need a supervisor from English.

Creative Writing Program

Is there a Creative Writing Program at Vassar?

While there is no separate program for creative writing within the Vassar English Department, we offer a pathway for English majors and a correlate for non-majors in Creative Writing and Literary Forms. We also 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 fiction, literary nonfiction, experimental writing, and poetry. English 205 is open to first-years only in “b” term of their first year.

The department also offers English 207, Literary Nonfiction, English 209, Advanced Creative Writing: Narrative, and English 211, Advanced Creative Writing: Verse, which are open to both majors and non-majors.

English 205 (or 206 when offered) is a prerequisite for admission to both English 207 and English 209. These courses are not available to first-year students. English 207, 209, and/or 211 are prerequisites for English 304, a one-semester Creative Writing Seminar open to Juniors and Seniors.

A writing portfolio, due before preregistration, is required for students wishing to take English 305–306, the year-long Senior Creative Writing Seminar. As of January 2023, you must be an English major or have a correlate to apply.

Creative Writing Seminar

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

Senior Composition is a year-long creative writing course aimed at refining craft repertoire, developing a practice of rigorous revision, and producing a written project of style and substance, which may range from a collection of poetry, a sequence of stories, to a short novel.

This course is open to English majors and Creative Writing correlates. 

If you wish to be considered for admission to this yearlong course, English 305-306, please submit your application no later than 5:00 pm on March 31st to tsoneill@vassar.edu. Your application will consist of:

  1. 15 pages of double-spaced creative prose or poetry max
  2. A list of 5 books you love
  3. A written critique completed for another workshop or a short craft essay (1-2 pages) on a published work

Please send the materials as one attachment, subject line: English 305-306, 2023/24.  You will be notified of admission by April 7th.

The class is limited to twelve students.

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.