The Graduate Program in English Language and Literature offers three degree options for the prospective applicant: the Ph.D., the M.F.A., and the Joint M.F.A./Ph.D.
The department enrolls about twelve Ph.D. students each year, including a small number of students pursuing the joint Ph.D./M.F.A. program. The Ph.D. program, for which five years of support is guaranteed, is extremely flexible in regard to such matters as course selection, the design of examinations, and the election of minor subjects of concentration outside the department. Degree requirements include a Qualifying Examination in the second year, an Advancement to Candidacy Examination in the third year, and a final thesis examination.
The Creative Writing program is a two-year, full-time program that awards an M.F.A. degree, concentrating in either poetry or fiction. Each year the department enrolls only eight students, four in each genre. The most significant requirement of the program is the completion of a book-length manuscript in the form of a collection of poems, short stories, or a novel.
Every graduate student selects a Special Committee of faculty advisors. This system allows students to design their own courses of study within a broad framework laid down by the department, and it encourages a close working relationship between professors and students, promoting freedom and flexibility in the pursuit of the graduate degree. Teaching is also considered an integral part of training for the profession. The department offers a carefully supervised teaching experience of at least one year for every doctoral and M.F.A. candidate.
Outside the classroom, graduate students in English often create forums or informal reading groups. Some are established gatherings and others are created and changed from year to year. In addition, the Department of English, as well as related fields, brings scholars and writers to Cornell for readings, talks, and seminars.