Strong Undergraduate English Departments

<p>CC and the Parents Forum have been invaluable to our family over the past couple of years. D-1, the math/science one, was awarded an academic scholarship and is now thoroughly enjoying her freshman year at WUSTL. D-2, the writing wunderkind, will be getting applications in NEXT fall and is almost assuredly an English (literature) major (although second majors or minors in biology, psychology, and theatre are possible).</p>

<p>I'm not asking about "chances," but, briefly, D-2 is in the top 1-3% of her class (top school in suburban Detroit), 1520 SAT (760V; 760M), ACT to come (estimating 32-34), SAT-II's (Chem - 740, others to come), with good to very good EC's, very good to excellent rec's, and (likely) very good to excellent essays.</p>

<p>What I AM asking about is the perceived strength of some UNDERGRADUATE English Departments. I was an undergraduate English major (revisions are tough with stone and chisel), so I have some opinions (perhaps outdated) and additional anecdotal information. Graduate school in English with a career in teaching is her LIKELY future and I have a much better handle on the relative strength of GRADUATE English departments and the specialty areas of different schools (or, at least I know where to obtain this information). But, D-2 is not yet a graduate student, she's an undergraduate, and I'm having some difficulty getting a handle on undergraduate English departments known for their overall strength and quality teaching (I'm told Gourmann is worthless, Rugg seems very general, USNews is very general and of debatable import).</p>

<p>Ultimately, the plan will be to apply to perhaps 8-10 schools, but currently, the sweet-16 of schools she likes (with estimated admittance chances) are as follows:</p>

<p>Reaches: Amherst; Brown; Dartmouth; Duke; Pomona; Princeton; Swarthmore.</p>

<p>Match/Reaches: Emory; Northwestern; Rice; Tufts; Vanderbilt; Virgina; WUSTL.</p>

<p>Safeties: Iowa; Michigan (in-state).</p>

<p>So much for the windup, here are the questions:</p>

<p>1 -- Can anyone rank all or some of these undergraduate English departments in relationship to each other?</p>

<p>2 -- Apart from a rank, words of wisdom, pro or con, about any of these 16 schools are appreciated.</p>

<p>3 -- Are any of these undergraduate English departments ALSO well-known for creative writing (I know that Iowa is)?</p>

<p>4 -- Are there other stellar undergraduate English departments that you'd suggest (we know of many others at various types of schools, e.g., Yale and Kenyon, but for one reason or another she's not interested in those schools)?</p>

<p>Thanks for your time and input.</p>

<p>I think you already know most of what there is to be known. The best colleges are drawing their faculty from the same pool. Those at the smaller places (the LACs) usually have a very strong interest in teaching (though they publish, too); the larger places may have some famous faculty, and wider course offerings, but the quality of the teaching may (or may not) be more haphazard. I think you'll have to rank the schools based on criteria other than the quality of the English departments.</p>

<p>The caveat is the creative writing part. The list is fine, but there are some major names missing. Bard immediately comes to mind - Achebe, Bellow, Ashberry and a slew of others, all teaching undergraduates - not even Harvard could match it. Mount Holyoke with Mary Jo Salter and Sven Birkert, again with undergrads getting all the attention. I think you could probably do due diligence on all the schools you listed based on creative writing and come to very different conclusions about each of them.</p>

<p>I agree with Mini:</p>

<p>Your list is good, and the breakdown into reach/match/safety seems sound. Your D could trim the list down to a more manageable size by cutting down on each category. For example, she may not need 7 reach schools.</p>

<p>Just as great scholars may not be great teachers, great writers may not be great teachers, either. So it is wise to investigate the reputation of individual programs and even teachers, if possible. Your D will be spending 4 years in one college and taking more than just creative writing classes. She needs to consider where she would be happy spending these four years; size, location, climate (both social and thermal), all these are factors to consider, not just the English Dept. or the creative writing program.</p>

<p>Mini and Marite:</p>

<p>Thanks for your quick replies. Perhaps I wasn't very clear. We've got a pretty good sense about the relative pros and cons of these schools from an overall perspective -- we have personal and direct experience with perhaps half.</p>

<p>D has been making great strides in "ranking" the relative characteristics of these 16 schools on factors OTHER than the undergraduate English Dept. She still has almost a year to let things percolate. Of course, things may change dramatically as a part of spring and summer campus visits. And the goal is to most definitely eliminate 4-8 of these schools so that the final application list is approximately 8-12.</p>

<p>My post is really limited to gathering ANY information about the perceived quality of the UNDERGRADUATE English Department (particularly the perceived teaching strength) relative to the other schools.</p>

<p>Also, the creative writing part of my question was really an after-thought. D isn't interested in a creative writing program as the focal point of her undergraduate degree, although she'll undoubtedly take at least a couple of creative writing courses. Stated differently, a top creative writing program, within a top English program, is a bonus, but by no means a prerequisite (her thought being that ANY of these schools will have decent enough creative writing classes for someone who isn't focusing on creative writing as an academic discipline -- interestingly, she has some writing credits, will continue to write, but is only minimally interested in classes in this area).</p>

<p>Thanks again for your replies and sorry for any confusion.</p>

<p>Don't know much about them, except Amherst and Pomona, which are essentially clones of each other (one warm water, one cold.) My d. preferred Amherst (and then preferred Smith to both of them), among other things because of the added strength of the 5-college system in the northeast. (This could be a big thing for an English/writing major, as it provides access to Julius Lester, Paula Giddings, William Oram and the Smith Poetry Center <a href=""&gt;;/a> (Seamus Heaney was there last week), Sven Birkert, Mary Jo Salter, as well as the excellent department at Amherst.)</p>

<p>Dude, Since Williams is conspicuously absent from a your mix there's probably a reason for it, but I would say that the Williams' English department is one of the best among the top LACs. </p>

<p>The faculty are demanding but accessible and enthusiastic and include several well known writers as well. (If you're a short story reader you'll know Jim Shepard and Andrea Barrett.) There are over 36 instructors, most of whom are PhDs. For 04/05 they offer some 90 classes in English plus a substantial offering in Comparative Literature as well. It is a well funded and supported area.</p>

<p>Williams also offers a tutorial program whereby two students study with a one professor. "At these weekly meetings, one student delivers a prepared essay or presentation (e.g., an analysis of a text or work of art, a discussion of a problem set, a report on laboratory exercises, etc.) pertaining to the assignment for that week, while the other student-and then the instructor-offer a critique. In the following week, students switch roles. Typically, students write five or six essays (usually in the range of 4-7 pages) during the term, and offer five or six critiques of their partners' work." Other colleges have tutorials, but only Williams has made them a hallmark of their curriculum. For 04/05 there are 38 tutorials, 6 in English and Comparative Lit. </p>

<p>Biology, psychology, and theatre are also all strong at Williams. Many students double major in disparate areas. Many students change their minds midway.</p>

<p>I think reading course catalogs is a good way to get a feel of a department. Although my son is not majoring in English, a strong department -- including creative writing -- was a requirement for him. For some reason, many English departments have been highjacked by the PC gang and the course lean heavily toward feminist and minority topics. Nothing wrong with feminist or minority topics, it's just a matter of degree. ( I accept that Shakespeare, Dickens, Conrad and Melville are all dead white males but still see the value in studying them.)</p>

<p>Just as an observation, your daughter may want to add a safety or two that's in the same "feel" as her top choices. There's certainly nothing wrong with an UMich education (my almamater!) but if she prefers the medium to small, Michigan would be a disappointment. I'm not saying that your daughter won't get into many of her reaches and matches, it's just that a wonderful safety will help you all sleep at night between December and April. Some ideas would be Skidmore, Hamilton, Connecticut College.</p>

<p>I was a Williams English and comp. lit. major! :) (But I'd still prefer Amherst.)</p>

<p>Hey, I once gave a reading at Michigan with Jim Shepard! (I'm sure he doesn't remember that, though :) )</p>


<p>Thanks for your many thought provoking points.</p>

<p>You astutely noticed that Williams was conspicuously absent from D's list. I've known a handful of Williams English majors and they have been a very impressive group. I'm also aware of the department's fine reputation and was generally aware of their tutorials. Williams was considered at length. Its absence was due to the reality that one can only have so many reaches and she prefers some of the characteristics of some of the comparable schools a little more. Frankly, if I were going to school again, I'd absolutely apply to Williams, but, of course, it's her list, her choice (within reason), her life.</p>

<p>Regarding LAC safeties: another astute call. This is something we've kicked around a lot. I wouldn't call the LAC's on her list -- Amherst, Pomona, Swarthmore -- her top choices; instead, these are three LAC's that she would love to be able to consider along with her other favorites. I think she actually prefers medium (4000-7000, or so) over small, but Amherst and Pomona, while small, feel larger because of their consortium/neighbors, and Swarthmore is sort of a special case for her (and in an area near so many other colleges too). Yes, Michigan (especially) and Virginia are much larger than the others, but Michigan is a true safety for her (for instate admission and for financial reasons). I think the small within big concept is the case at the larger schools like Virginia and Northwestern. And NOBODY does BIG like Michigan. She loves that school and wouldn't have a problem going there. Plus, to some extent, the large vs. small personal attention and class size issue is not as much of an issue in a major like English (certainly not after the first year) as much as with other majors (understanding of course that even in English, professors might still be more research preoccupied than teaching oriented).</p>

<p>Anyway, bottom-line for her was to really try to get a handle on the "better" English undergraduate departments in her preferred schools, take a look at the course catalogs (couldn't agree more about the need to see some balance between traditional and "newer" courses), apply to her favorite 8-12, and then let the admissions and financial chips fall where they may.</p>

<p>Thanks again for your valuable insight.</p>

<p>Two other strong creative writing departments -Hollins College (really small and womens') and Middlebury College. Also Sewanee. These may well not fit for other reasons, could she pick a more well rounded college, and arrange a term away for creative writing?</p>

<p>Dude, since she'll be in the neighborhood, I'd suggest your daughter visit Williams. Along with Amherst, it has a lot of cultural overlap with Dartmouth and Princeton. Williams wasn't even on my son's list when we decided to stop by after being disappointed at Amherst. After visiting and talking to students, it leapt up to his ED choice. His short list was Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Brown, Yale, Hamilton, Skidmore, Kenyon -- similar in feel I think to your daughter's. </p>

<p>UMich is a wonderful school. My son was tempted but decided to concentrate on the small to medium size schools.</p>

<p>Stanford is also known for its English Department and creative writing. Notre Dame has a strong English Department and Hamilton is known for its creative writing. Suprisingly, Johns Hopkins also is known for creative writing.</p>


<p>Of the school's on your list, two make the top ten in per capita production of Ph.D.s in English literature: Amherst (#3) and Swarthmore (#5). I would assume this probably means both have strong English Lit departments, at least from an academia standpoint.</p>

<p>Frankly, I can't imagine that any of the schools on your list wouldn't have a good to excellent English Lit. departments.</p>

<p>1 - Someone might rank them, but then the next person would rank them differently. I'd let your D do the ranking based on her criteria, as all these schools have very good to excellent departments and her career will be dependent on her graduate school and specialty choice, not her undergrad degree.</p>

<p>2 - Some of the mid-size matches (Rice, Northwestern, Tufts, Vanderbilt) strike me as less attractive than the reaches, and less attractive than other LAC options like Middlebury, Vassar, Kenyon and maybe Carleton and Barnard. Unless your daughter already wants to specialize in a less-than-common area, I lean toward LACs for English. </p>

<p>3 - I've heard good things about the Johns Hopkins program, but have never talked with anyone that has gone there. Bard, Barnard and Middlebury are often mentioned in this context.</p>

<p>4 - per above Yale, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Vassar, Johns Hopkins, Vassar, Kenyon, Carleton, Bard and Barnard.</p>



<p>I agree, that's why I'm reluctant to rank. As well, there's an issue of fit within departments. Some may be stronger in British lit, others in American lit; one may have a great specialist on Dante, another on Austen; some have developed strengths in diasporic literature. How is one to judge which of these various sub-areas of specialization is best?</p>

<p>Thanks to all for their opinions and counsel. Much obliged. </p>

<p>My D has considered some of the other schools mentioned, particularly Middlebury, Kenyon, Hamilton, and Yale. It's certainly possible some of these (or others) might make her final list before this marathon has been run. We certainly learned from our experience with D-1 (where a particular science program at WUSTL became a late favorite over supposedly bigger names) that this process is always in flux and it makes sense to keep eyes and ears open until you submit those apps (and even after, to help sort between the acceptances). D-2 has definitely not made final decisions; rather, she 's assembling information for due diligence. Who knows ... a visit to Williams very well might be in her future. The goal is to apply to her favorite 8-10 schools ... optimally 3-4 of her favorite LAC's, 3-4 of her favorite small mid sized universities, and Michigan and Iowa as safeties (family and financial reasons make these attractive safeties for her, particularly Michigan).</p>

<p>One spin of my question if I may:</p>

<p>I suppose we've always known the truly strong programs on her list and of course we also know that she's not applying to some other strong programs (particularly some LAC's), but does anyone have any information, anecdotal or otherwise, about the quality of the undergraduate English program at some of her match or near-match schools, namely -- Duke (admittedly more of a reach), Emory, Northwestern, Rice, Vanderbilt, or WUSTL? We know that these are more research oriented universities, but what about their undergraduate English? We can assume it's likely at least good, but might any of these be known to be a "tick" or two above good? Each of these schools has some overall attraction for my D (size, location, atmosphere) and many offer possible merit scholarship opportunities. At least a couple are likely to wind up on her final list.</p>

<p>Thank you.</p>

<p>Interested Dad:</p>

<p>Inquiring minds want to know -- apart from Amherst and Swarthmore, what are the other eight schools to make the top ten in per capita production of Ph.D.s in English literature?</p>


<p>St. Johns
Bryn Mawr
Simon's Rock

<p>You can look at the top 10 in many different departments at:</p>

<p><a href=""&gt;;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>Note that the absolute rankings change a bit depending on the time period being looked at, but the lists stay pretty consistent.</p>

<p>The numbers come from an ongoing National Science Foundation survey (going back more than 30 years) tabulating every PhD grad in the country each year. Their survey captures undergrad data on nearly 100% of all PhD grads and is broken down in many different ways: by gender, by race, etc. This data is then divided by the number of undergrads at each school to arrive at a "per capita" number. Obviously, an school with 5000 undergrads sometimes produce a higher absolute number of PhDs than a comparable school with 1500 undergrads, so the per capita correction is necessary for meaningful comparisons.</p>

<p>The data is a good direct measure of "academia" career paths and a reasonable indirect measure of "academic intensity" at particular schools, but it's still just a broad-brush indicator. I certainly think that a school at, say #12, on any of these lists would be an academically rigorous school! It's probably the best indicator in fields where there is no career path without a PhD, a less reliable indicator of how many English majors go on to be successful corporate attornies...</p>

<p>I recommend the following schools from her list:</p>

<h1>1 Princeton</h1>

<h1>2 Michigan</h1>

<h1>3 Amherst</h1>

<h1>4 Brown</h1>

<h1>5 Williams</h1>

<p>Why apply elsewhere? She is virtually guaranteed Michigan and they have an incredible English department, PARTICULARLY at the undergraduate level.</p>

<p>Of the 4 Southern schools listed, I would pick Vanderbilt, although admittedly, I don't know much about Rice and English at all. I think of Ole Miss when I think of English in the South, or some of the other schools I listed for creative writing.</p>

<p>I just read one of Momrath's posts about hijacking of the English dept - that is very true at Emory, and maybe at Duke (although for many years at Duke it was the history department that was hijacked). I'm not sure that's what you are asking about, but if getting a solid background in English plus the "trendy" stuff, then I would pick Vandy of those four.</p>