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Master of Arts - English

Acquiring the M.A. degree is arguably the most intellectually transformative experience you will ever have. You will learn not only new materials and perspectives, but more importantly how to produce new knowledges yourself. You should strive to transform yourself as a reader and a writer.

As a graduate student, you are committed to contributing to the culture of the English department with your professors and fellow graduate students by attending readings, lectures, colloquia, and presenting your own work along with your professors at regional and national conferences as well as at events organized by the English Graduate Organization (EGO). View our upcoming events .

English Graduate Program Highlights

The Department of English offers the Master of Arts in English. Our program emphasizes literature, writing studies, and cultural studies. Students in the graduate program in English collaborate with our graduate faculty to develop an individualized plan of study which suits their scholarly and professional goals.

View the Graduate Catalog for a listing of Graduate Professors, program details, and course descriptions.

Download the English Graduate Program Brochure (pdf)

Graduate Students

English Grads End of the Semester Party

  • Small classes
  • Individual, one-on-one mentorship
  • Face-to-Face, online, evenings and hybrid classes
  • Full-time or part-time options
  • A rich, diverse department culture of conferences, colloquiums, roundtables, and talks
  • Funding packages available (teaching assistantships), with tuition waivers and living stipends for full-time students
  • Two campuses: Macomb and Quad Cities
Career Opportunities

Our graduate students find sucess in many fields including:

  • Careers in professional writing and publishing
  • Community college teaching
  • Satisfying continuing education requirements in secondary education
  • Scholarly accomplishment leading to admission in top doctoral programs around the nation

Learn about what recent English graduate students are doing now .

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for the English Graduate Program can be viewed in The Graduate Catalog . Three of the requirements include a 1-2 page personal statement, a 10-15 page scholarly writing sample, and three confidential letters of recommendation. Below you will find tips to assist in the completion of these application materials.

Application Preparation

The best materials provide clear evidence of:

  • excellent communication skills;
  • ability to conduct sustained inquiry into a single academic subject;
  • research skills, including academic citation and documentation;
  • established ability to teach, and desire to improve one’s teaching;
  • earnest desire to engage in the academic community;
  • ability to work collaboratively with others.

We strongly suggest that you work with professionals in English studies as you prepare your application--current or former professors or advisors. Don't underestimate the difficulty of writing materials which meet all of these criteria! Start early, write multiple drafts, and revise them carefully.

Personal Statement

The personal statement describes your reasons for seeking an MA in English. Ideally, it will provide a brief intellectual history, your academic interests, and your anticipated field of study. Perhaps you are looking to improve your writing and communication skills so you can better perform at your current job. You might see the MA as a step toward a doctorate. Maybe you are a high school teacher seeking credentials for promotion or retention. Or you might only have general ideas about your future goals. No matter what category you fit into, there is no need to hide the truth. Speak honestly and frankly about your reasons for wanting to study in English and your reasons for considering the program at Western.

Please keep the statement of purpose under 2 pages if double-spaced.

Further reading: Graduate School - Statement, from the UC-Berkeley Career Center.

Scholarly Writing Sample

The scholarly writing sample is very important. It provides the most direct evidence of your ability to perform the work of English studies. To that end, your sample should be your best work. Ideally, you will submit an academic essay such as a literary analysis, a theoretical argument, or work in cultural studies. If you don’t have a recent sample of scholarly writing, consider writing one, or submit writing which shows the skills and abilities noted above.

If you wrote an honors thesis or completed a senior project at your undergraduate institution, consider using that work as your writing sample.

We suggest writing samples no longer than 15 double-spaced pages. You may submit several shorter texts in lieu of one large document.

Three Letters of Recommendation

The best letters of recommendation connect specific things you’ve done with the general skills and abilities the Program is seeking. Ideally, these letters will come from professors or instructors who have worked with you and can speak with authority regarding your potential for graduate study. If you cannot contact former professors, find co-workers, supervisors, or others who can do the same. Letters which do not address this potential will not strengthen your application and may in fact weaken it.

Make sure to ask prospective references if they can write strong, positive letters. If any prospective recommender seems tentative, best to find another. Provide your recommenders with the background they need to write a good letter. For example, remind them what courses you took and when, provide a copy of your resume and/or statement of purpose if possible, and share the criteria we've provided you.

PLEASE NOTE: Confidential letters of recommendation must be sent directly to the School of Graduate Studies by their recommenders.


If you have questions about your application, please contact the Graduate Program Advisor.


After you have been accepted to the program, you must make an appointment to speak to English Graduate Program Director. Try to schedule this meeting via email during the first week of the semester. The Director will help you understand program requirements and help you develop choices of courses and options that will most help meet your goals for the degree. Throughout your time in the program, the Director is a resource to help you understand any aspect of your program. Feel free to email anytime, or to drop by the office as you have questions and concerns.

The Master of Arts degree in English requires individual focus. Students will write a “Plan of Study” when accepted to the program and will work with the Program Director and their mentors to keep their plans up-to-date. The departmental Plan of Study will supplement other forms required by the School of Graduate Studies. A sample Plan of Study can be found in the Appendix in the Graduate Student Handbook .

Roberta DiCarmine


Roberta Di Carmine, Ph.D.
Professor of Film Studies, Coordinator of Film Minor

Degree Requirements

View the Graduate Catalog for program details and course descriptions.

I. Core Course: 3 s.h.
  • ENG 500 Theory and the Practice of English Studies (3)
II. Electives: 21 s.h.
  • Approved coursework in English to complement undergraduate courses taken, to cultivate the focus outlined in the Plan of Study, and to total at least 30 s.h.
  • It is recommended that no more than six hours of coursework be taken at the 400G level.
  • Up to six hours may be taken from ENG 620, 622, and graduate courses in other departments.
III. Exit option: 6 s.h.
  • A. Option I: ENG 670 Applied Research Project (6)
  • B. Option II: ENG 680 Comprehensive Exam (6)
  • C. Option III: ENG 690 Thesis (6)


The Exit Options represent the final and arguably most important part of your degree. They comprise the final 6 s.h. you will take as a student in the program, and they demand all the skills you have learned in your coursework. The exit option can take three forms: Applied Research Project; Comprehensive Exam; or Thesis.

In consultation with your director, you will need to write and file a proposal before you can register for hours in the exit-option you have chosen. This document will define your topic, timeline, expectations, and more. Samples can be found in the Appendix in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Applied Research Project

The Applied Research Project is often tied to a professional situation. Past students have produced varied projects including: creating a comprehensive writing style manual for a business; reviewing, redesigning and implementing new assessment practices in a high school; creating a website devoted to the history of animation; working with digital media or film to produce a research-content project. The applied research project includes a research-based content part with a paper of 25-30 pages, with a reading list of at least 20 secondary sources and it may also include an annotated bibliography.

Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Exam consists of an oral and written examination. It is directed by your committee who establishes your expertise in your area and decides the parameters of the exam. It includes annotated bibliography.


The thesis is a sustained work of scholarly research and argument on a specific topic. Typically, thesis projects are between 40-60 pages, often divided into two or three chapters. Especially for those considering further graduate work, the thesis grounds your scholarly identity in a document that can serve as a writing sample, mainly for academic jobs.


The Graduate Program in English awards several sources of financial aid. All students who apply to the program can be considered for these awards. Assistantships include a stipend and tuition waiver. Active training, mentoring, and other support is provided for all assistants. All students who apply to the program are considered candidates for assistantships unless they decline consideration. Assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis. Selections are made by the Graduate Committee, in consultation with the Director of Writing and the Director of the Writing Center. Most openings occur in Fall. However, openings do occur during the Spring semester.

Teaching Support Assistantships (TSA)

Students work 15 hrs per week as writing consultants in the University Writing Center.

Teaching Assistantships (TA)

Students teach two sections of ENG 180 each semester, working closely with the director of the Writing Program. New TAs are required to take ENG 580, the Teaching Assistants' Practicum.

TSA/TA (Hybrids)

Students teach one section of ENG 180 each semester, working closely with the director of the Writing Program, and work 7 hrs per week as writing consultants in the University Writing Center.

Please visit the School of Graduate Studies Graduate Assistantship web page detailing the information listed below.

  • Application Process
  • Tuition Waiver Benefit
  • Tuition Waiver Taxation
  • Payroll Schedule
  • Eligibility Requirements
  • Selection of Assistants
  • Appointment Procedure
  • Administration of Assistantship Contracts
  • Employment Requirements
  • Lump Sum Payment Request – Graduate Assistant
  • Termination/Resignation
  • Evaluation of Performance
  • Time Reporting


Scholarship amounts vary each year. If you have questions about your application for any of these scholarships, contact the Director of Graduate Studies in English for clarification.

Syndy M. Conger Essay Award

All graduate students are encouraged to apply for the Syndy M. Conger Award, which recognizes the best academic writing in our Master of Arts program. This award was established in 2003 in honor of Syndy Conger, who was a professor in English & Journalism for many years. Drs. Syndy and James Conger hope this award will inspire recipients to value the many uses of language and to help them invest in their future with a major book purchase, an application fee or a research trip.

  • Criteria: The award is given to the best formal academic paper written by a WIU graduate student for a course in the English Department.
  • Selection Process: Award recipient is selected through the Department of English Graduate Committee.
  • Application: To apply, submit essay to the Department of English graduate office. The essay must have been written for a course taken in the Spring, Summer or Fall of the previous calendar year.
  • Deadline for Application: Submit your proposal to the English Graduate Office by April 1st every year.

John Mahoney Research Fellowship

John Mahoney Research Fellowship in English was established in April 2000. The fellowship award is to be used to support academic project(s) not easily facilitated on campus due to limitations of faculty, resources, setting, or other. Included within these broad parameters might be travel to academic conferences, workshops, or institutes in English or other field related to the recipient's program of study; travel costs associated with research; or other. John Mahoney passed away February 4, 2018.

  • Criteria: The recipient must be a student who has completed at least one semester of work in the Department of English. If the recipient is holding a teaching assistantship in the department he/she must have completed at least six hours. If the recipient is holding a graduate assistantship in the department he/she must have completed at least nine hours. The recipient must have a 3.5 or higher cumulative GPA.
  • Selection Process: Award recipient is selected through the Department of English Graduate Committee.
  • Application: To apply, submit a one or two page letter describing your project, your proposed research visit, and the importance of this travel to your research. Please be detailed and specific. Include an itemized budget which indicates anticipated expenses.
  • Deadline for Application: Submit your proposal to the English Graduate Office by (End of March/Early April) every year.

The Ron and Leslie Walker Graduate Fellowships

Thanks to the generosity of Ron and Leslie Walker, the Western Illinois University Foundation has established two graduate fellowships. The fellowships will serve to recognize outstanding academic achievement in the field of English studies and the potential for continued professional accomplishment in the future.

  • Criteria: Students are eligible for these fellowships if they have completed no fewer than 12 and no more than 18 semester hours in English at the graduate level by the end of the spring term. It is further required that the student who receives a fellowship will continue in the graduate program in the subsequent fall term. One award is intended for a student working in literary studies and one for a student working in the writing or composition studies area of the graduate program.
  • Selection Process: Awards will be determined by the English Graduate Committee, which will include a recommendation for the fellowship from the Director of Graduate Studies in English.
  • Application: Graduate students who meet these criteria may either apply to the Director of Graduate Studies in English or be nominated by a graduate faculty member. The application or nomination must include a brief letter explaining the plan of the student’s academic objectives during the summer months and a substantial written sample of the student’s work on the graduate level.
  • Deadline for Application: Submit your proposal to the English Graduate Office by (End of March/Early April) every year.