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  • M.A. in English Literature

    Expand your horizons with a master's in English Literature
    A leading online literary program, Mercy's is one of the first master's in English literature to be offered fully online.
    School of Liberal Arts
    Dobbs Ferry & Online

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English Literature M.A. Curriculum

The MA degree requires thirty credits, or 10 three-credit courses. All students must take the program's core theory course (ENGL 500) and the final thesis tutorial (ENGL 599). Beyond those two courses students have a great deal of freedom to chart a personal path toward the MA degree. 

Students must take at least one course from 505 - 510 or 517; one course from 521 - 540; one course from 541 - 560; another course from 521 - 560; and then four electives of any number from 505 - 598. Each of these number-groups tends toward a particular emphasis. Courses in the 505 - 510 range focus on a particular type of writing, a literary form. 517 is a creative writing course for those who wish to explore that option. The 521 - 540 courses have something of a British emphasis. The 541 - 560 have something of an American emphasis. And courses from 561 - 598 are those which aren't meaningfully grouped into the other fields. The program usually runs six courses each fall and spring semester, and between two and four courses during the summer. 

A full list of our catalog courses can be found by accessing the Mercy College Graduate Catalog available here. We also have a number of newer "topic" courses running on a trial basis and which have not yet been added to the Graduate Catalog. Applicants interested in learning more about these topic courses can look through recent course schedules on the program blog and/or can contact the Program Head for more information. 


Academic Program Sequence Map

Download a copy of the sequence map for:


Whom should I contact for more information about the MA program?
Contact the Program Head, Christopher Loots, at
Does Mercy accept credits in transfer?
Yes, up to six credits in graduate English.
How do I apply?
You will need to complete the online application and submit two letters of recommendation and a writing sample. The writing sample can be either a term paper written for a previous literature course or an essay on the topic of why you want to pursue graduate literature study. Finally you will need to submit official transcripts. The GRE is not required. Contact the Program Head at any time to discuss these requirements further.
When is the application deadline?
Students can begin the program in the fall, spring, or summer semester. We accept applications all year and prospective students can apply for whatever is the next upcoming starting point, or can indicate a future starting point. Applicants seeking consideration for the next starting point need to have all of their paperwork (application form, two letters of recommendation, writing sample and transcripts) into our Admissions Department before the start of that semester. Or in other words, technically speaking, the ultimate deadline for any application is the start of the semester for which the applicant hopes to enter the program. But applicants should keep in mind several factors: (1) it often takes several weeks for institutions to process and mail transcript requests; (2) it often takes several weeks for your letter writers to provide you a letter; (3) registration for any semester opens many months before that semester begins, and popular classes often fill up quickly, so the closer we get to the start of any semester the less course selection there will be for incoming students. The best advice, then, is to apply now and begin securing your application materials now if you hope to begin the program at any time over the next year. The sooner you apply, the sooner you will have a decision, and the more course selection you will have should your application gain you admittance.
Can I earn the degree fully online?
Yes. When the student population on campus reaches an appropriate number we also run courses here on campus. But, the full spectrum of our offerings are offered online and will always be. A student can complete the other requirements for the degree (a comprehensive examination and a thesis paper) remotely too. Over the past fifteen years we have awarded the MA to local students and students as far away as Europe and Latin America.
Is Mercy College a nonsectarian institution?
Yes. Qualified applicants are admitted without regard to race, religion, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age or physical disability.
How do I prepare?
The curriculum is academically rigorous. Majoring in English at the undergraduate level is the traditional preparation. Minoring in English while majoring in a related field such as history, philosophy or psychology also provides a solid preparation. The program considers a diverse and eclectic student body to be a strength and so applicants from other academic preparations - such as from the sciences or from business or students returning to study after years or decades out of college - are also welcome to apply. Applicants in this last group are encouraged to submit both a representative writing sample and the personal essay on the topic of why you are pursuing graduate literary study. Contact the program head with any questions.
How long does it take to earn the degree?
It depends on how many courses you take each semester, and whether or not you opt to take courses during the summer. 3 graduate courses per semester is officially full-time at Mercy College. Anything less is officially part-time. So if for some reason you must be a full-time student, as is sometimes the case if a person's tuition is being funded by an employer, then you will need to take 3 courses per semester. The MA program recommends 2 courses per semester, though, in all other cases. For further information please reach out to the Program Head.
Celia Reissig-Vasile Professor, English
David Kilpatrick Professor, English
Miriam Gogol Professor, English
Sean Dugan Professor, English
Kristen Keckler Professor, Chair, Literature and Language
Christopher Loots Associate Professor, English
Jessica Ward Assistant Professor, English, British Literature
David Fritz Adjunct, Humanities/English
Boria Sax Adjunct Faculty

English Literature Overview

Will you pen the next great American novel? Or write a critically-acclaimed study of Danticat, Dante, or Hemingway? Or become a dedicated professor who inspires the next generation of college students? Mercy College’s Master of Arts (MA) in English Literature program provides a strong foundation for students interested in these and other pursuits. Some of our MA graduates have gone on to PhD programs, have continued into college teaching positions, or have gone on to earn advanced creative writing degrees. Numerous English teachers have earned the MA or graduate content credits through our program for purposes of (re)licensing, promotion, or simply to increase knowledge of their field. Some of our MA students have no such professional goals or needs and simply love literature, and join our program to study and experience with others the tremendous power, mystery, and meaning that moves through and emerges from literature. Our program includes students of practically all ages located throughout the U.S. and across the globe.

Students in the program learn theory and advanced methodologies of literary criticism, while engaging with British, American, and some world literature. Attention is paid both to traditional authors, genres and eras, as well as to literature of diverse cultural and historic traditions. Students will find courses ranging from standards in the field to courses unique to our program and designed by Mercy professors. All courses are taught by Mercy College faculty who are experts in their fields.

The MA degree can be earned fully online through Mercy College's virtual Blackboard environment. This allows students from across the country and the globe an accessible and convenient way to learn and to earn the MA degree from a fully accredited college.  

English Literature FAQS

How do I apply?
You will need to complete the online application and submit two letters of recommendation and a writing sample. The writing sample can be either a term paper written for a previous literature course or an essay on the topic of why you want to pursue graduate literature study. Finally you will need to submit official transcripts. The GRE is not required. Contact the Program Head at any time to discuss these requirements further.
Is Mercy College a nonsectarian institution?
Yes. Qualified applicants are admitted without regard to race, religion, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age or physical disability.

English Literature Fast Facts

  • Enriches one's intellectual and creative life
  • Qualifies you to teach college-level English
  • May be a stepping stone to a PH.D
  • May provide content credits for teachers
  • May open doors to fields such as: Publishing, Editing, Writing, Media and Advertising

Career Opportunities

Graduates are qualified to apply for most full-time community college English professorships, and to teach composition and literature as an adjunct at most community and senior colleges. The MA may be the stepping stone to the PhD—some Mercy MA graduates have gone on to the PhD. The degree may also lead to non-academic careers in fields which require writing, critical thinking, and research skills, such as publishing, editing, advertising, technical writing, journalism, and other media. Secondary-school teachers can earn graduate English content credits for such things as (re)licensing, promotion, and retention.

Program Blog

Visit the program blog at for more regularly updated news, course schedules and information about the Mercy MA English program. 

Our Experience & Liberal Arts Tradition

The Mercy College MA English program was among the first in the world to offer the MA degree fully online; and we were the first program licensed in New York State to do so. So we have been involved and invested in online learning since the start, and have been growing and developing our program, our curriculum, our delivery methods, and our ability to run meaningful, substantive, challenging and effective online graduate coursework for longer than practically any other MA English program.

Some applicants might be pleased to know that the Mercy College MA program is not specifically an online program. We do offer all aspects of the program online, offer 100 percent of our coursework online, and at this point all of our program’s students are earning the degree through distance learning. But our MA program originated decades ago as a traditional graduate English program run out of our brick-and-mortar Dobbs Ferry campus here on the Hudson River, just north of New York City, as well as in our Yorktown campus further upstate. We are, technically then, a traditional graduate English program that also provides the MA degree online. This contrasts with some institutions that offer graduate degrees online but really only exist virtually and don’t have any physical campus or liberal arts tradition on which their program is built or in which it is housed such as we do. 

Our Faculty

Other online MA programs might outsource many of their teaching assignments to part-time teachers who are otherwise unaffiliated with that institution, and/or who possess a wide variety of degree-levels and professional/scholarly experience. In contrast, all of Mercy’s MA coursework is taught by doctoral faculty with significant teaching and scholarly experience. And the majority (currently 80%) of the Mercy MA faculty are full-time core faculty, with the other 20% consisting of PhD’s each of whom has over a decade of experience teaching graduate coursework online in the Mercy MA program, and each of whom has many more years of experience in education and scholarship overall. All of our MA faculty are therefore closely associated with Mercy College. All are professional scholars who are experts in their fields, are invested in the MA program and its students, and are trusted by the program and college to deliver an online MA education the quality of which students simply will not find elsewhere. To put it another way: the Mercy MA faculty care about the program and its students, which is something not every online MA English program can honestly say.

One of the reasons we know this is because each year we have a number of students transferring into our program from other online MA English programs, programs that left those students feeling neglected, isolated, poorly-served. (Refer to the “Student Testimonial” section of our website for more thoughts on our program from some of our graduates). Our program rather works in each online class to build up a sense of community, to infuse each course with the sense of connectivity and professorial presence.

Consider that each semester the Mercy MA program holds a faculty meeting—in a physical room on our Dobbs Ferry campus—to discuss ideas and issues: how we might yet improve various aspects of our coursework and teaching; how we can connect even better with our students; how we can make sure that we’re providing a top-quality graduate English education for our students. This type of regular meeting held among the graduate faculty is easy to do at Mercy College where faculty are local and see each other frequently in the halls and offices. Such a meeting is less easy if not impossible to convene at other institutions whose graduate courses are not taught by a faculty of dedicated doctoral-level scholars, each of whom is an expert in her or his field, as happens at Mercy College. 

Our Advising & Mentors

Although students in the Mercy MA program are connected to staff advisors and are provided contacts in our Student Services office—practices typical to just about any college—here at Mercy the Program Head serves as the personal faculty advisor to every student in the program. This means that our MA students always have a clear point-person sitting right in the center of the program to whom they can turn at any time with questions, issues, or other needs. One of the most frustrating things that students report encountering at other institutions is a lack of response, a lack of communication, a lack of any sense that anyone cares about answering their questions or helping them figure their way to the MA degree. That is not going to happen here in the Mercy MA program. The MA Program Head works to make clear to all our students that he is there to help, to answer questions, to be a resource of information throughout each student’s time in the program; and he follows through on this commitment by providing prompt communication and by never letting any student’s need or concern slip out of sight. 

Our Students

Finally, one of the greatest strengths of the Mercy MA program is its students. Our student body is a diverse group of thinkers, readers, and writers all of various ages, academic preparations, personal backgrounds, and life-experiences.

Many students in the program come from traditional preparations (e.g., a BA in English or closely related field like journalism, philosophy or history). But many of our students come from other undergraduate preparations such as psychology, sociology, the natural sciences, even business. We welcome this difference when reading applications, as we consider such difference to be a strength of our program—it makes for a more interesting and eclectic discussion in each classroom, informed as that discussion is by a rich variety of perspectives, preparations, and ways of seeing. And it makes for a fascinating diversity of scholarship produced by the students for their various courses.

As well, though we have many students who come to us straight out of their undergraduate studies or within a few years of completing such, we also have many students returning to us at other points in their life, often many years or decades after having completed their undergraduate work. This diversity in age informs each class as well as the overall student body of our MA program with (again) a valuable diversity of life-experiences, career experiences, and ways of seeing. 

Altogether our student body tends to be a thoughtful, kind, and supportive one, an assembly of diverse thinkers, writers, and scholars eager to discuss ideas and texts with those of similar mind—if only similar in the sense that we share a love of literature, share a joy of exploring the power of words and writing. But enough of us here in the program talking about this. Refer to the "Student Testimonial" section on this page for thoughts on the Mercy College MA program from some of our MA students and alumni.

"I ended up getting an adjunct position with my local community college and I absolutely love it. I truly appreciate the guidance and direction [the MA faculty] gave me years ago. Your suggestions worked out. I am now applying for a full-time faculty position in my department and while I know those are difficult to get, I'm very, very pleased with the position I have now. I can honestly tell you the education and experience I received through the MA program at Mercy helped guide me to where I am now and I will always be grateful."

- Sarah Nanan, M.A. in English '15

"Being a student in this online program has changed my life in so many ways. I have enjoyed the conversation and debates, the professors are fabulous and I love having school at my finger tips."

- Erin Katrina, M.A. in English '18

"Having experienced other online colleges, I have to say that Mercy's MA program has really gotten the 'online experience' right! This degree program has really been everything I could have hoped for - extraordinary professors, meaningful and thought-provoking coursework, coupled with an intelligent, stunningly warm, welcoming and diverse cohort."

- Cheryl Kennedy, M.A. in English '17

"I was a bit leery about doing an online program, but I really couldn't have asked for a better start to my graduate studies."

- Jennifer Fiore, M.A. in English '18

"My experience at Mercy has been amazing and I feel like I would have NEVER received an education like this [anywhere else]. I love this school. You guys always follow through and are always on it. I'm so glad I went here!!"

- David Mannino, M.A. in English '17

"I just want to take a moment to say thank you for helping me. I have been offered a place in some great PhD programs. It would not be possible without Mercy first providing me with a wonderful MA program and education. I appreciate everything you have done to help me prepare for a PhD program and receive an offer to join."

- Angie Still, M.A. in English '14

"I appreciate all of your help and consider the two years I spent with Mercy College easily the best experience I've had with a college."

- Christina Covey, M.A. in English '17

"I want to express how much I feel I've personally benefited from my education at Mercy. I really treasure my degree and the expansion of my craft and spirit that got me there. I definitely got more than I paid for, even though I don't think you can really put a price on the things we examined together."

- Bernard Sell, M.A. in English '15

"I love my new job and I feel that my MA has helped me in so many ways, not the least of which is giving me the confidence to know that anything can be accomplished with a lot of hard work."

- Raissa Fitzgerald, M.A. in English '15

"This is an amazing online program."

- Jevon Bolden, M.A. in English '18

Admission Requirements

A completed application, two letters of recommendation, transcripts and a writing sample are required. The writing sample can be either a scholarly paper written for a previous literature course, or an essay on the topic of why you want to pursue graduate-level literature study. Applicants who are concerned about whether or not their academic preparation is adequate for the MA program are encouraged to submit both a sample term paper and a personal essay (2 - 6 pages); however only one or the other is required of any applicant. The GRE is not required. Contact the Program Head at any time to discuss these requirements further.

Course Requirements for the MA English Program

The degree requires 30 credits in the form of ten 3-credit courses. The chart below shows the outline of the ten courses required for the degree. 

ENGL 500 Theory/Pract of Lit Criticism
One course, Writing and Literacy Forms Group (ENGL 505 - 510, 517)
One course, Literature Group I (ENGL 521 - 540)
One course, Literature Group II (ENGL 541-560)
One additional course, Literature Group I or II (521 - 560)
Four elective courses, (ENGL 505 - 598)
Master's Thesis Tutorial (ENGL 599)


Transfer Credits

Graduate courses taken at other institutions prior to admission at Mercy College may, if pertinent to the plan of study, be credited to the graduate degree. Permission to transfer credits must be requested at the time of admission and official transcripts and course descriptions must be submitted to the program director for evaluation. Transfer credit is normally limited to six semester hours of credit for courses taken within the last five years in which the student has received a grade of B or better and is not recorded as part of the GPA.

Maintenance of Matriculation

Students in the program must maintain matriculation during fall and spring semesters by either registering for courses or, if not taking courses during a semester, paying the Maintenance of Matriculation fee of $100. Summer registration is optional.

Students who have not maintained matriculation and wish to return to their program within one year after their last course will be charged the Maintaining Matriculation fee of $100 for each missed session. Maintenance of matriculation without attending classes is limited to one year. Activated U.S. Military Reservists are not required to pay the Maintenance of Matriculation fee.

Maintenance of Good Academic Standing

The cumulative GPA for both good academic standing and degree conferral is a 3.0. A student admitted as a Special Matriculant is required to achieve a 3.0 average or better after completing a certain number of credits as stipulated by their respective program. Grades are subject to review by the faculty advisor and program director at the end of each term. If the academic average falls below 3.0 the students will be placed on academic probation.

Academic Probation

All students who have a cumulative GPA of below 3.0 will be placed on academic probation. If a student will not be able to achieve a cumulative GPA of 3.0 within a reasonable time, the student will be dismissed from the program. If a student receives a grade of F or FW in any course the student may be subject to dismissal from the college. 

For all students on probation, future registrations must be reviewed and approved by the Director of the student's program as well as the school dean. 

In all subsequent terms in which the student is on probation the student is required to achieve a term GPA of 3.0 or better. If the 3.0 or higher is not achieved the student will be dismissed. Students who receive a grade of less than B may be required to repeat the course. Students will be allowed to repeat a course only once.

Time Limit

Students attending the program continuously from the date of their acceptance will be able to complete the degree requirements in as little as four semesters, or more typically in five semesters. This translates to anywhere between 1.5 and 2.5 years for most students. Students will be required to complete their degree requirements within six years of entering the program. 


Students requiring official full-time status must take nine credits (three courses) per semester. The MA program however recommends six credits (two courses) per semester as the preferred workload for most graduate students. Both of these credit loads qualify for financial aid. Students may also take one course per semester though this does not qualify for financial aid. Students must complete the degree within six years of beginning the program. The program offers courses in the fall, spring and summer.

The Comprehensive Exam

Between their penultimate and ultimate semester in the program students will be required to take a comprehensive written examination prepared and administered by the graduate faculty in English Literature. The examination will be based on the courses taken during each student's tenure in the program. The exam, like all elements of the Mercy MA degree, can be administered through distance learning. 

The Final Thesis Paper

The MA degree requires a final thesis paper of approximately 25 pages.Typically this takes the form of a work of literary scholarship. Creative writers, though, can design a hybrid thesis paper involving creative elements. And students who are teachers can design a hybrid thesis paper involving education elements. Students write the thesis paper during the final required course in the program, ENGL 599 Master's Thesis. Each student chooses a mentor from the graduate faculty to lead her or his thesis project. The mentor guides the student during the development of the thesis topic, and through the process of drafting the thesis paper over the course of the semester. Near the end of the semester a polished draft of the paper is reviewed by a panel comprised of the mentor and a second faculty reader, either of whom can request or require further revision. In order for a student to successfully pass ENGL 599 both members of the panel must finally approve the thesis paper.

Program Outcomes

By the end of this program, students should be able to: 

  • Demonstrate critical thinking and interpretive skills reflecting knowledge and comprehension of important British literary texts
  • Demonstrate critical thinking and interpretive skills reflecting knowledge and comprehension of important American literary texts
  • Demonstrate critical thinking and interpretive skills reflecting an awareness of theoretical trends and criticism
  • Demonstrate knowledge of some of the literary traditions, and/or cultural situations, and /or historical eras from which the literature referenced in the above learning outcomes emerged
  • Create original research topics, research primary and secondary sources on those topics using digital databases, and produce writings on those topics which demonstrate clear  grammatical prose and accurate style