First-year Focus

Why study English?

Words and stories surround us. We’re immersed in them. Novels, poems, plays, films—but also tweets and facebook postings and websites and blogs. Studying English at Northwestern means figuring out how these words and images work, how they do the things they do, tell the stories they tell. It means getting “under the hood” to see how texts of all kinds are built.

Being an English Literature major at Northwestern means reading literature that’s been circulating across more than 1000 years of history and nearly all the continents of the globe. It means learning whole new ways of critical thinking about the work that literature does in the world, since it’s clear that writing doesn’t merely reflect the worlds it comes from, but also helps to shape those worlds. Even when you re-read familiar works, you’ll ask a whole new set of questions about them, and write about them in a whole new way. Clearly, this isn’t going to be your high school English teacher’s class anymore.

Being a Creative Writing major at Northwestern means gaining not only a deep background in the literary tradition—since every good writer is also a good reader—but also learning the ins and outs of peer critique and work-shopping, finding ways to accept and give constructive criticism and sharing the insights of your reading. That mystery—was I taught? did I learn?—may not be solved by you right now; you may not solve it until you have gone off into the world and worked in it for many years. After all, if you already know what you’re doing before you do it, why bother doing it? The Creative Writing major stresses craft and technique, with the understanding that the discovery in writing creatively is similar to the discovery in reading.

Being an English major is preparation for virtually any career you can imagine. Our graduates have gone on to every kind of professional school—law, medicine, journalism, public policy—and have pursued graduate studies in literature at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. The critical thinking, reading, and writing that every English major learns is preparation for work in the world everywhere. After all, being able to read closely, think creatively, and write clearly and effectively are skills that are applicable to jobs anywhere words are at work, whether those words are in the pages of a book or flashing by on a screen.

Welcome. The words await.


AP Exam Credit Not Applicable
Placement Exam Credit Not Applicable
Contact with Questions

Katharine Breen, Director of Undergraduate Studies


Good Classes for First-year Students


If you are considering a major or minor in English literature, think about taking one of our two-quarter survey courses. English majors and minors must take either English Literary Traditions (210-1 and 210-2) or American Literary Traditions (270-1 and 270-2) – though it’s not necessary to take the parts of the survey in chronological order. After you’ve taken at least one quarter of one of these surveys, your next step should be to enroll in English 298, the Introductory Seminar in Reading and Interpretation. These small seminars offer an opportunity to dive into the nuts and bolts of close reading, careful literary analysis, and critical thinking; they will also prepare you to tackle the challenges of our 300-level courses.

If you’d simply like to explore literary studies, you should also consider:

211 Introduction to Poetry
212 Introduction to Drama
213 Introduction to Fiction
234 Introduction to Film and Its Literatures
273 Introduction to Shakespeare
273 Introduction to 20th-Century American Literature
275 Introduction to Asian American Literature
277 Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature

Creative Writing

The recommended first year schedule for prospective creative writing majors is English Literary Traditions (210-1 and 210-2) or American Literary Traditions (270-1 and 270-2). While not required for the creative writing major, these are excellent background courses for writing students, and also serve as prerequisites for the English literature major. Students may take the first creative writing pre-requisite, English 206, in the spring of their first year, or in the fall or winter quarter of their sophomore year.


You can take a look at requirements for the Literature major, the Literature minor, the Creative Writing major, the sequence-based Creative Writing minor, and the cross-genre Creative Writing minor on our website. If you still have questions, please contact Prof. Katharine Breen (for literature) or Jennifer Britton (for creative writing).

For general information about Weinberg College, go to:

April 23, 2015