What Is the Senior Essay Option?
Students in the fourth year of an English Major or Medial plan may include English 590/3.0, the Senior Essay, as a half- course option in their Plan if they meet the prerequisites specified below. This option, designed to provide students with the opportunity to pursue a specific interest (e.g., in a particular author, work, or group of works) under the supervision of two faculty members who share that interest, can be the crowning achievement of a student’s final year.
However, the Senior Essay is a difficult undertaking: successful completion requires many hours of work over a period of several months, and there is no guarantee that the work will result in a good grade.
The following rules apply to the Senior Essay.
To be eligible to write the Senior Essay, a student must:
- be registered in an English Major or Medial Plan,
- have permission of the Undergraduate Chair, and
- have a minimum GPA of 3.5 in 24 ENGL units.
How and When to Begin
Registration for ENGL 590/3.0 is ordinarily for the winter term of a student’s final year. A student planning to write the Senior Essay must therefore leave space in his or her course selections for a winter-term course. However, to enrol, the student must first develop a plan and secure approvals. It is therefore important to begin planning early.
Ideally, the student should meet with the Undergraduate Chair to discuss the option of a Senior Essay (including a proposed topic) in the spring of his or her third academic year. At the very latest, this meeting should take place by the second week of the fall term of his or her fourth year. At this meeting, the Undergraduate Chair should confirm the student’s eligibility, suggest possible supervisors, and make sure that the student has a copy of the present document. The student should then secure the consent of a faculty member to supervise the Essay, agree with the supervisor on a specific topic, and arrange for the supervisor to communicate his or her agreement to the Undergraduate Chair. The Undergraduate Chair will then enrol the student in ENGL 590/3.0. No student may enrol in ENGL 590/3.0 without having secured the express, written agreement of a supervisor and the permission of the Undergraduate Chair.
The Department’s Official Statement on Academic Integrity applies to all courses, including ENGL 590/3.0. The student should review this document (which is ordinarily attached to all course syllabi) upon successful enrolment in ENGL 590/3.0.
Once the student has enrolled, the supervisor and the student should confer about possible second readers. The supervisor should obtain the agreement of a second reader. The supervisor and the second reader should agree at this stage about the nature of the second reader’s involvement. A second reader may advise the student periodically and read drafts of the thesis, or may do as little as evaluate the thesis when it is submitted for marking. In any case, the arrangement should be explicit, and the student should be informed at the outset of its terms.
As soon as possible, but in any case before the ENGL 590/3.0 term begins (i.e., the winter term of the student’s final year), the student must write a prospectus, one to two pages in length, including a title, a thesis statement, a brief description or outline, and a list of the major primary and secondary works to be used in the Essay. The supervisor and second reader must approve and sign a copy of the prospectus, and the supervisor must file this copy with the Undergraduate Chair by the beginning of the student’s ENGL 590/3.0 term.
The students and the supervisor will ordinarily meet at regular intervals during the fall term, but the number and nature of those meetings is up to them to negotiate. The student should use this time to develop and work through the reading lists. Some supervisors ask students to produce short pieces of writing based on the readings, while others prefer simply to discuss them.
In the winter term, the student should be ready to start writing the Essay. The supervisor and the student may continue to hold regular meetings during the writing process, or they may prefer to meet only after the student has submitted a draft for commentary.
The supervisor will normally expect to see a draft of the entire Essay at some point before the due date; the same may apply to a second reader who has opted to be involved in this stage of the process. Some supervisors and second readers may prefer not to read an entire draft of the Essay before final submission. Whatever the arrangement, it should be explicitly agreed upon by the student, the supervisor, and the second reader at the beginning of the process.
The final version of the Senior Essay must be between 7,500 and 10,000 words in length, including notes but not including the list of works cited.
The final version of the Senior Essay must be typed, with one- inch margins on standard letter-sized white paper, and printed one side of the page only. It must include a complete list of works cited, and it may include a list of works consulted.
In all matters of format and documentation, the Essay should conform to the guidelines established in the latest edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. The supervisor may refuse to accept an Essay that does not satisfy these requirements.
The deadline for submission of the Senior Essay is ordinarily on or about 10 March of the student’s ENGL 590/3.0 term. The student should submit two identical copies of the Essay, one to the supervisor and one to the second reader. The supervisor may refuse to accept an Essay submitted after this date unless it is accompanied by a valid documented excuse.
The supervisor may agree at the outset upon a later due date, provided he or she leaves sufficient time for the evaluation process (see below) and keeps in view that all grades for ENGL 590/3.0 must be submitted to the Registrar by the relevant term deadline for all other courses.
If the due date has passed, or if the Essay has been submitted to both readers for marking, it may not be returned to the student for further revision. The supervisor and the second reader should first assess the Essay independently and then agree upon a final grade. It must not be presumed that a Senior Essay will receive a high or even a passing grade; the grading standard should be consistent with that for written work by students in 400-level courses.
If, after consultation, the supervisor and the second reader continue to disagree on the grade, the final grade shall ordinarily be the average of their proposed grades. If their proposed grades differ by more than two letter grades, or if they disagree whether the Essay should receive a passing grade, the supervisor should ask the Undergraduate Chair to arrange for a third opinion. The final grade in such a case shall be one agreed upon by all three readers or, in cases of continuing disagreement, the average of all three readers’ proposed grades.
Once the grade has been determined, the supervisor should inform the student and the Undergraduate Chair of the final grade, and both readers should return the Essay with comments to the student.
The student should then submit a clean copy of the Essay to the Undergraduate Chair for the Department’s files. This copy may incorporate any minor corrections indicated by the supervisor and the second reader, but it must otherwise be identical to the copies originally submitted for evaluation.
If, at any stage, the student decides not to complete the Senior Essay, he or she should notify the supervisor immediately and drop the course. A student considering this option should be advised that the Arts and Science Calendar specifies a “last date to drop” for all courses, which is ordinarily about two weeks after the first day of term (to drop without financial penalty) or about two months after the first day (to drop with financial penalty).
If you have any questions about the Senior Essay option, please contact the Undergraduate Chair via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.