If you like LitHum, consider an English major.

Though I applied to Columbia as a Neuroscience major, I could not be happier pursuing the exact opposite: a major in English Language and Literature. Most English classes take place in Hamilton Hall. With its small classrooms, wooden chairs, and dusty chalkboards, discussions feel intimate and magical. It’s ‘Dead Poets Society-esque,’ one might say. Even if you don’t major in English, there’s always the concentration. If that’s too much, at least take a few English courses. There’s definitely something for everyone!


The English major is so amazing for a variety of reasons. For one, in comparison to other majors, it’s relatively easy to complete. This means you can double major or concentrate in something else, but the knowledge and writing skills you will learn as an English major will translate over into anything you choose to do!


Literary Texts and Critical Methods

  • The English major doesn’t have a core. The closest you’ll get is the course “Literary Texts and Critical Methods,” which is the Introduction to the major course. There are roughly three units to this class: poetry, novels, and plays, so you cover a lot of ground. If you’re on the fence about becoming an English major, take this class. Hopefully, it’ll change your mind.

Period Distribution

Three courses on pre-1800 periods fulfill this requirement. Limited to one Shakespeare course.

  • These will be designated with an ‘A’ on the semester course distribution lists.
  • Barnard courses count as well, but you want to reach out to Columbia’s English Department to be sure.

Genre Distribution

Taking one course that covers poetry, one that covers prose fiction/narrative, and one that covers drama/film/new media fulfill this requirement.

  • Poetry courses will be designated with a ‘B,’ prose fiction/narrative with a ‘C,’ and drama/film/new media with a ‘D’ on the semester course distribution lists.
  • Barnard courses count as well, but you want to reach out to Columbia’s English Department to be sure.

Geography Distribution

Taking one British course, one American course, and one Global course fulfill this requirement.

  • British courses are designated with an ‘F,’ American ones with a ‘G,’ and Global with an ‘H’ on the semester course distribution lists.
  • Barnard courses count as well, but you want to reach out to Columbia’s English Department to be sure.

Overview of the classes:

  • All English classes are either lectures or seminars. In a lot of cases, courses listed as lectures are a hybrid of both lecture and discussion, and you will probably have a one-hour discussion section as well. Nearly all English seminar courses are four credits because they’re rooted in active engagement and participation, while lecture courses are typically three credits (though I think they should be four).
  • English courses, especially lectures, are taught by professors, but the TAs are often graduate students. They will lead your accompanying discussion section, grade your papers, and hold office hours. In some classes, the professor will grade half the papers and the TA will grade the other half. The professor may grade the midterm, while the TA may grade your first paper. When STEM majors are talking about exams, your exams will be essays.
  • There are a range of courses. “How Writers Think” by Professor Sue Mendelsohn, for example, attracts all majors and students because it is about writing and the process of writing: diaries, journals, plays, academic essays, blogs, personal poetry, writing on napkins, whatever! If you write anything at all, this class will illuminate the psychology behind writing and show you how to become better at it. It is a more advanced, but fun, UWriting course.
  • There’s a good mix of 3000 and 4000 level courses offered each semester. The Introduction course, for example, is a 3000, but don’t be afraid to take an upper level course early on! It’s not as scary as you might think.
  • I have pretty much loved every English professor I’ve had at Columbia. Special recs, though: Joseph Albernaz, Erik Gray, and Emily Foster (graduate student). At Barnard: Christopher Baswell and Achsah Guibbory. Turns out they’re actually working together on a project this semester! 

Department communications:

Once you declare, you’ll be on the department listserv, where you’ll get information about internships and upcoming courses. 

Applying for the major:

I’ll be doing this in less than a week through SSOL! If you want to email the English Department beforehand, though, they are all very prompt and thorough in their responses!

Last-minute tips:

  • Most of the English classes take place in Hamilton which is a pretty nice, easily accessible building, so no tips here.
  • English seminars are pretty chill and fun, so if you have the option not to take the midterm and instead do a discussion, I’d recommend that route.
  • Reach out to your professors with any questions and go to their office hours to discuss paper topics in advance. They really love what they teach, and they want to get to know you!

Hamilton via Bwarchives