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Frequently Asked Questions

Have you wondered what is "comparative" about Comparative Literary Studies? Or what you can do with a Comp Lit degree? Please use the FAQ resource below to learn more about the Comparative Literary Studies major and World Literature minor!

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What is “comparative” about Comparative Literary Studies?

Comparative Literature is the interdisciplinary study of literatures and cultures — plural. Many departments at Northwestern are dedicated to the study of national literary traditions, or literatures written in a single language; by contrast, students in Comp Lit Studies take courses that make accessible a wider range of literatures between, among, and across traditions and languages. CLS courses also tend to highlight the theoretical questions that make this kind of comparison possible — for example, questions about race and ethnicity, language and translation, gender and sexuality, media and technology, or nature and the environment.

What’s the difference between the Comp Lit Studies major and minor?

The minor in CLS is called the “World Literature Minor”; minors do not have to fulfill the program’s “language requirement,” or read non-English texts in the original language. While students in the minor still acquire a grounding in the study of literatures of the world, they may do all their coursework in English translation.

Do I have to know another language to major in Comp Lit?

Comp Lit Studies majors do have a “language requirement,” which means before you graduate you must know or have studied a second language long enough to take literature courses offered through the department in question (this might be French & Italian, Spanish & Portuguese, German, Classics for Latin or Greek, ALC for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or Hindi-Urdu, MENA for Arabic, and so on). Many students arrive at Northwestern with some knowledge of a second language, and within a few years are ready to take courses in which they read and talk about literature in that language; others are prepared to take these courses as soon as they arrive. To complete the Minor in World Literature, you do not need to know another language.

What kinds of requirements are there?

Majors complete 12 distinct courses toward the major in their four years at Northwestern. Among required courses are two literature courses in a foreign literature, as well as one introductory course about literary theory (Comp Lit 200) and, for seniors, one small seminar on comparative methods of literary research (Comp Lit 398). However, most courses for the major are essentially electives, chosen by the student in discussion with the Director of Undergraduate Studies so as to cover several basic “breadth” requirements: non-Western literatures and cultures, pre-modern and contemporary literary periods, and different literary genres.

Will I need to write a thesis for this major?

You do not need to write a thesis to complete the major, but many students opt to do so. In the Senior Seminar (Comp Lit 398), students write a “senior essay,” before deciding whether they want to pursue Honors in the major by writing a thesis (usually 30-50pp). The thesis topic is chosen and designed by each student in conversation with a faculty advisor, and is a great opportunity to build a mentoring relationship with a professor teaching in the program. Northwestern CLS majors have won national prizes for Honors Theses in three out of the last four years.

How easy is it to fit the required courses alongside requirements for another major?

Very easy. Because there are relatively few core course requirements for CLS, and the “sequence” of courses is decided upon by the student, the student’s course path through the major is extremely flexible. Most CLS majors are double-majoring in CLS and another department or program — recent “pairings” among our majors have included music, journalism, art history, psychology, environmental science, French, and ALC.

Can I satisfy requirements for the Comp Lit Studies major while studying abroad?

Yes, in consultation with the Program’s director of undergraduate studies (DUS). Students in the major are strongly encouraged to consider studying abroad in a country where they can practice their language skills in a foreign language. Any credits for courses taken abroad must be proposed by the student prior to studying abroad, then resubmitted and approved by the DUS afterward.

What would I do with a Comp Lit Studies degree?

Our graduates go on to pursue a wide variety of rewarding post-graduate opportunities and careers: recent graduates have taken jobs as teachers and musicians; at a Chicago-area consulting firm, a tech start-up in Philadelphia, and an NGO in Rwanda. They have won competitive national fellowships to teach or study in Colombia, Mongolia, England, and China. And they have pursued post-graduate studies at Harvard, UC Berkeley, and UCLA.