M.A. Program

M.A. Program

The Graduate School defines the degree in terms of credits earned. Conceived in this manner, the M.A. in Comparative Literature is a 30-credit degree. The M.A. program requires a minimum of one year to complete, though students with graduate assistantships usually take two years, which is the department’s limit on assistantship funding at the M.A. level. According to Graduate School regulations, all requirements must be met within eight years, though the department reserves the right to stipulate that a student fulfill remaining requirements within a shorter period.

  • A total of 30 credits (10 courses), including CMLIT 501 (3 credits), 502 (3), and 503 (3).
  • 21 further credits in literature courses or other courses relevant to the field of study; in general at least six credits in non-Anglophone literature
  • Proficiency in two foreign languages (one at the level that permits thorough analysis of literary texts, the other at the level of reading proficiency)
  • A master’s paper

The University requires graduate assistants to register for a minimum of 9 credits a semester. Credits may be earned during the summer.

Graduate Assistants who teach in Comparative Literature are required to take CMLIT 602 (1 credit), usually in the fall of their second year. Graduate Assistants teaching in other departments may be required to take the equivalent 602 course for those units.

Upper-level undergraduate courses (400-level) may serve to introduce students to new areas of study or to substitute for graduate courses when the latter are not available. With the approval of the department’s Graduate Committee, M.A. candidates may apply two 3-credit 400-level courses toward the fulfillment of the ten-course requirement. M.A. students considering the Ph.D. are advised that admission to the Ph.D. will be based primarily on their performance in Comparative Literature graduate seminars.

Transfer courses: According to Graduate School regulations, a maximum of 10 credits earned in residence at another graduate institution may be used toward fulfillment of degree requirements. The transfer of credits must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Students may register for courses in other departments. In general registering for more than two courses outside Comparative Literature requires approval of the Graduate Committee.

Under ordinary circumstances, the one 3-credit independent study that may be applied to the ten-course requirement culminates in the submission of an M.A. essay (approximately 25-30 pages). Students who wish to pursue this option must find a member of the graduate faculty to supervise it and submit a proposal to the Graduate Studies Committee. After the proposal has been approved, the student may register for a 3-credit independent study. A final draft of the master’s essay should be submitted to the Graduate Office. Other requests for 3-credit independent study require approval by the Director of Graduate Studies

Our M.A. students demonstrate advanced proficiency in at least two languages (one may be English). The department does not require any specific languages for the M.A. The choice of languages depends on the student’s intellectual development and program of study, and is made in consultation with the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

The foreign language requirement can be fulfilled in three ways:

  1. A grade of B or better in an intermediate- or advanced-level foreign language or literature course at Penn State.
  2. Successful performance on an examination administered by a Comparative Literature department faculty (or faculty in other Liberal Arts departments) with competence in the language.
  3. A waiver granted by the Graduate Committee for bilingual students, native speakers, or students whose academic records otherwise demonstrate competence (e.g., an undergraduate major or minor).

Working with their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, students should in their first year establish a clear plan for fulfilling the foreign language requirement during their time of study.

The Writing Project is a Graduate School requirement for a final project that will demonstrate mastery of the field.

Students normally fulfill the requirement in one of two ways: either by substantially revising an existing seminar paper into article form, or by writing a new paper that is the product of sustained research in their field. In both cases it is common for students to pursue an independent study with their advisor or another faculty member, who will help guide the paper into its final form. Students interested in continuing for the Ph.D. are strongly recommended to revise a paper into an article, rather than begin a new seminar paper project.

The final paper or article must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee. The deadline to submit the essay or paper is the last day of classes the semester of graduation.  

M.A. Guidelines

The Graduate School allows M.A. students to obtain official recognition of an M.A. minor by taking 6-9 credits of integrated and articulated work in a field related to, but different from, the major (this last clause excludes other literature fields, but not such fields as History, Art History, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, and so on). Official requests to add a master’s minor to a student’s academic record must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services at least one semester prior to the semster the student intends to graduate.

Students admitted only to the M.A. program only must apply to the Ph.D. program separately; there is no automatic transition to the Ph.D. program, even for successful M.A. students. The department discourages students who have obtained a combined B.A./ M.A. at Penn State from continuing at Penn State for the Ph.D.

Admission to graduate study in Comparative Literature at Penn State is based on a number of considerations. Above all we seek intellectually curious, highly motivated students whose interests suggest a good fit with our departmental strengths. We welcome well-qualified applicants from diverse backgrounds.

We are often asked what our committee looks for and the truth is that there is no standard formula. Above all we look for intellectual engagement and scholarly commitment. The graduate committee that evaluates applicants seeks evidence of intellectual promise, openness to new ideas and methods, capacity for original scholarship, the ability to think critically and to write clearly, and potential for professional success. Of obvious importance for scholars who will work across cultures is appropriate language preparation. Research plans that are in synch with our areas of expertise are also of importance. We do not consider GRE scores.

For full funding consideration, completed applications should be submitted by January 5. We will continue to accept applications on rolling basis thereafter; however, those who apply by January 5 will have the best opportunity for support.

We recognize that the vast majority of graduate students require financial assistance to complete their studies. We admit students with multi-year funding packages that include both a stipend and a tuition grant-in-aid. No separate application for financial aid or graduate assistantship is required.

Your application to Comparative Literature at Penn State consists of two groups of items:

A. Items that are provided through the on-line Graduate School Application Portal.

If you are ready to proceed to the application but have NOT read the Graduate School requirements (included application fee information) please visit that website at http://www.gradschool.psu.edu/index.cfm/prospective-students/requirements/.

If you have read the Graduate School and program requirements and are ready to apply, you may proceed to the application at http://www.gradschool.psu.edu/index.cfm/apply/.

This on-line process includes the following items which you will input or upload:

  1. Self-reporting of ETS ScoresTOEFL scores are required of applicants who do not hold prior degrees from institutions where the language of instruction is English. These are self-reported in your online application, with official scores submitted to the department of Comparative Literature at Penn State through the normal mechanisms of the agencies that administer these tests. Use institution code 2660. We do not consider GRE scores.
  2. Sample of your written work, preferably an essay on literature.
  3. Statement of purpose.  The statement of purpose should include information on a) your education and other relevant background, including teaching experience or other activities that have prepared you for graduate work in Comparative Literature; b) your research interests; c) your language skills and their application to your research interests; d) your reasons for considering graduate work in Comparative Literature, especially your interest in our specific program.
  4. A C.V. or resumé.
  5. Three Letters of Reference. We do not require a specific form for recommenders. You input your recommenders’ information on the application and they will be sent an email asking them to upload their letter directly.

B. Items sent directly to our department:

  1. Official transcripts of all relevant university education.
  2. Official ETS ScoresTOEFL scores are required of applicants who do not hold prior degrees from institutions where the language of instruction is English. These are self-reported in your online application, with official scores submitted to the department of Comparative Literature at Penn State through the normal mechanisms of the agencies that administer these tests.

Applicants are instructed to request that TOEFL scores be sent to Penn State electronically.  MAT scores are only available in hard copy, so those scores should be sent by postal mail directly from Pearson to Penn State.

IELTS and MAT scores should be mailed to:

The Pennsylvania State University
Graduate Enrollment Services
114 Kern Building
University Park, PA  16802

We encourage you to get to know our faculty, graduate student cohort, and program thoroughly before applying.