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Finding Your Concentration as an English Major: Real Students’ Stories

This article is based on first-person accounts from Brooke Elkjer, a junior at the University of Southern California; Katie DiFrancesco, a senior at Princeton University; and Moriah Kofsky, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


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Majoring in English can look different across institutions, particularly in terms of concentrations within the major. More so than many other majors, English can be customized and personalized according to each student’s specific interests and goals. In this post, we discuss the various concentrations that students can pursue within the major. If you’re interested in applying to an English program, check out this article on the 15 best colleges for English majors


English Concentrations at USC


At USC, the English major is split into three distinct branches. The major code ENGL is the English literature major, which is my major. It focuses on critical studies of literature and traditional, thesis-driven writing. Major code CWT is the creative writing major. There’s heavy overlap between these two, with many requiring the same courses, but the creative writing major involves more writing workshops, while the literature major involves more critical study. There’s also a narrative studies major (code NAS) that falls under the English branch. It studies narratives in all forms, so it includes film and music classes in addition to English ones. USC also offers minors in English, creative writing, and narrative studies.


English Concentrations at Princeton


Princeton offers one English major, focusing on English literature. It encompasses many time periods and subjects, but there are class requirements within the major that you can tailor to your interests. For example, I take more classes focusing on contemporary literature than on older literature because that’s what I like more. 


Rather than concentrations, there are specific tracks within the English major at Princeton, which operate somewhat like minors at other schools. One is the creative writing track, which is what I’m taking. Senior theses are required at Princeton, so pursuing the creative writing track means possibly committing to writing another senior thesis in addition to the one for your major.


English Concentrations at Penn


The University of Pennsylvania’s structure is a bit different than the one at Princeton and USC, and it might be something that students will see at more of the schools that they’re applying to. Penn offers an overarching English major with a variety of major concentrations. My gender, sexuality, and women’s studies courses happened to overlap with my English major, for example. English majors can concentrate on certain subjects, specific time periods of literature, creative writing, creative nonfiction writing, health and disabilities, and more. You can even design your own concentration if you have a specific area of interest, which is a flexible option available at many colleges and universities.

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