The English major involves reading, understanding, and responding to the most significant works of literature from ancient Greece, Renaissance England, early and modern America, and English-speaking countries in Africa and elsewhere. The basic structure of the major is historical, as study moves from a 200-level survey of periods and types of literature to a more detailed examination of literary periods, with a required course in Shakespeare mixed in. The major culminates in a capstone seminar on one of a variety of topics ranging from a literary problem or period or to an author or genre. Through their choice of courses and the opportunity for independent study, English majors can build upon these basic requirements and tailor their course of study so as to emphasize genre, literary periods, or creative and professional writing. Students who have excelled in the major may pursue an honors degree, which replaces the capstone seminar with two focused seminar courses in advanced topics, one involving an interdisciplinary approach to a topic in literature and the arts (The First World War in British Art and Fiction, for instance) and the second offering specialized study of a particular literary figure, period, or problem (The Age of Mark Twain is a recent example). Class sessions in the English major unfold primarily as directed discussions that build connections between the author’s life and culture on the one hand and the individual experience of the midshipman reader on the other.
English majors often call on the expertise of faculty members to direct them in independent studies focused on an area of special interest; they are also heavily involved in essay, poetry, and playwriting competitions, as well as writing for, editing, and publishing Labyrinth, the USNA Literary magazine. Those who enjoy acting and other aspects of theatre can take advantage of the Masqueraders, a highly regarded drama group that offers a major production each year, along with spring one-act plays, which are written, directed and produced by midshipmen. Some English majors in every class volunteer to serve as tutors in the Writing Center, a service through which the English Department offers individual help to students who have writing problems. English majors participate in the Trident Scholarship and study abroad programs, and they are successful in earning scholarships for graduate education in various disciplines. On commissioning, English majors become Medical Corps officers, pilots, SEALs, submariners, surface warfare officers (both conventional and nuclear), and all manner of Marines. They can advise leaders on matters of public affairs or educate an entire squadron on the intricacies of the mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, and weapons systems of its helicopter. In civilian life, English majors end up as, among others, business men and women, stock brokers, governors, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, doctors, lawyers, teachers, defense contractors, government workers, writers, members of the clergy, marketing directors, non-profit institute research directors, and organic farmers.
All types of personalities succeed at the English major. However, those who like to read actively and write persuasively and are fascinated by the various dynamics of human behavior end up getting the most out of the major, performing well in it, and successfully carrying their interests over to their Navy and civilian careers. While learning the discipline of English, majors write lots of papers and read lots of pages, and do so more carefully and critically than they might have imagined.