Summary of Overall Program Requirements & Structure*:

  • Minimum 18 credits for candidacy (including French 596); see course requirements below.
  • Minimum 13 credits in French Department; up to 5 courses may be taken outside the department.
  • All students are required to take French 495, Practicum in Scholarly Writing and Research, in the 2nd year or 3rd year.
  • First Year Review, end of the first year.
  • First Year Exam, taken in the fall of the 2nd year, based on a reading list.
  • Second Year Exam, taken in the spring of the 2nd year, based on a reading list, followed by the Second Year Review.
  • Prospectus Exam taken in the winter of the 3rd year.
  • Prospectus written and defended in the spring of the 3rd year.

Note: Students entering the Ph.D. program with an MA in French or a related discipline are eligible to petition the faculty for a two-course reduction in the total number of required courses, so as to proceed to the exam as early as the fall quarter of the third year. The faculty will make the final determination in this regard at the time of first and/or second year review.

*See specific program requirements for CLS students with a home department in French at the bottom of this page.


Students take eighteen courses during their first three years, including at least thirteen courses in the Department of French and Italian. The remaining five elective courses may be selected from offerings in other departments and programs according to individual interests. (French 403: French and Italian Language Teaching, counts as an elective under the program’s course requirements). The available French courses cover a variety of periods, media (print and visual cultures) and genres comprising French and Francophone literary and cultural traditions, and expose students to a range of critical and theoretical methodologies.

Students may tailor their coursework outside the French department so as to take advantage of special concentrations such as the Certificate in Italian Studies and concentrations in African StudiesGender & Sexuality Studies, Critical Theory, and other fields offered through the Graduate School’s Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative.

Summary of Courses:
  • Summary of courses in the First Year:
    • 9 courses, 3 per quarter
    • Fall: 1 of 3 courses may be taken outside the department
    • Winter: 1st required theory course. 1 of 3 courses may be taken outside the department.
    • Spring: 2nd required theory course. 1 of 3 courses may be taken outside the department.
  • Summary of Courses in the Second Year:
    • 6 courses, 2 per quarter
    • Must take 4 seminars offered by the department not in the theory sequence. If the Practicum for Scholarly Writing and Research is offered during the student's second year, s/he must take it.
    • Remaining 2 courses may be taken outside the French Department
  • Summary of Courses in the Third Year:
    • 3 courses
    • Fall: 2 French courses
    • Winter: Exam
    • Spring: Prospectus (French 596)

Two iterations of French 493 (introductory theory course) taken in the first year

French 493, our introductory theory course, is taught twice (with different content) annually. It is generally offered in the winter and spring quarters, and is conducted in English.The fields of emphasis covered on a rotating basis by this course are: French Post-structuralist Theory, French Feminist Theory, French Post-colonial Theory, French Materialist/Marxist Theory, and French Media Theory. The choice of five fields from which two courses will be drawn each year takes into account faculty leaves and diverse expertise. While the focus of these courses will be on the French and Francophone traditions, they may include relevant texts from non-French and Francophone traditions to provide context and lineage. While students will be required to take the two units of French 493 offered in their first year, in subsequent years they will have the option of taking additional iterations of this introductory course with different content as electives.

French 495, Practicum in Scholarly Writing and Research

This course, which will be taught every other year, trains students in writing in an academic style by allowing them to develop a term paper and/or in specific research methodologies necessary for their future research. Students who have taken it in their second year, will take a second French course in the 3rd year.

French 596, Thesis Tutorial

All students who have advanced to candidacy must enroll in this course with their dissertation advisors in order to write the dissertation prospectus.

FIRST & SECOND YEARS: Progress Reviews and Exams

First Year Review, end of spring quarter of first year

In the spring quarter of the first year, all students will undergo a first year review by the department. All faculty members will review the student’s dossier consisting of professor evaluations collected by the DGS, a self-evaluation statement and a seminar paper submitted by the student. The review aims at identifying areas of strength and weakness, as well as making recommendations for the summer and the second year. At this stage, the faculty will make a determination based on the student’s performance whether s/he should continue into the second year. The DGS will provide the student with an oral and written summary of the department’s assessment and recommendations.

First Year Exam, based on a reading list, taken in the fall of second year

The reading list for this exam will be structured to reflect the five fields of emphasis listed above. The list will include books, essays, and chapters taught in the theory courses (about thirty titles). Students can opt out of ten titles from the list. Students will study the list and prepare for the exam during the summer of their first year.

Students take an exam (take-home) at the end of the summer that would address a problem linking a number of the texts they have read. They will be allowed to choose one of two questions provided by the faculty and will be given two days to complete this task (10-15 pages double spaced).

The exam takes place during the week prior to the beginning of classes so that students can benefit from feedback as they choose their courses for the second year. The written exam will be followed by an "oral defense" before a committee of three faculty appointed by the DGS. Students must perform to the satisfaction of the department in order to continue into the second year.

Second Year Exam, based on a reading list, taken in the spring of second year

The purpose of this exam it so prepare students for their teaching career since they might be required to teach a broad range of periods and topics. The reading list will consist of works of French and Francophone literature and visual media provided by the department. Students will choose 25-30 works from the list in consultation with their committee. The exam will consist of three questions that will cross multiple time periods and genres. These questions will be solicited from the faculty by the student's advisor. The student will respond to two questions in four days allowed for this exam, which is to be completed by the first day of reading week in spring quarter.

Second year review, spring of second year

The exam described above will be part of the second year review conducted by the end of reading week. An oral defense will take place before the entire faculty. Students will receive oral feedback at this time followed by a written letter from the DGS outlining the recommendations and judgments of the faculty. In addition to the exam, the second year review will be based on evaluations collected by the DGS from professors with whom the student has studied in the second year. At this stage, the faculty will make a determination based on the student’s performance whether s/he should continue to the third year. A terminal MA maybe granted based on work to date and at the discretion of the faculty.

THIRD YEAR: Qualifying/Prospectus Exam and Prospectus:

Qualifying/Prospectus Exam reading list development

After their second year exam and review, students assemble a committee whose members will advise them on research for their prospectus and preparation for their candidacy exam.

During the summer following the second year, students begin reading extensively in order to devise, in consultation with their advisors, a list of possible topics and problems for the dissertation.
By the beginning of fall quarter of the third year, students are expected to have compiled a working expanded bibliography of primary and secondary works to share with the committee. This preliminary bibliography will allow the committee members to help students refine and develop their list in preparation for the exam.

Qualifying/Prospectus Exam, taken in the winter of 3rd year

Students will take their Third Year Qualifying/Prospectus exam at the end of winter quarter. They will be asked to respond to three questions, one from each member of the committee. The exam committee must consist of no fewer than three Northwestern graduate faculty. Each exam question is to be answered in approximately ten pages double-spaced in the language of the student’s choice. The entire written exam should therefore amount to approximately thirty pages. A follow-up oral exam takes place after the written part is completed, usually within one week. This exam consists of questions and discussion on topics including but not necessarily limited to those explored in the written exam. The oral exam should not exceed two hours. Students will have one week to complete the exam. If the student is teaching at the time of the exam, then s/he is allowed ten days to complete the written part of the exam. The written exam may be taken during spring break if the student so chooses and receives the consent of his/her committee members. In this case, the oral exam will be scheduled during the first week of the spring quarter.

There are three possible outcomes of the Qualifying/Prospectus Exam. If the student does not pass the exam on the first try, s/he will be given the opportunity, during the following quarter, to rewrite the section(s) of the exam deemed unsatisfactory. If, however, on the second attempt the results are still unsatisfactory, the student will not pass and may be granted a terminal master’s degree based on work to date and at the discretion of the faculty.

  1. The Student sets up dates for the written and oral exams in consultation with the committee. Once dates are determined, the student contacts the Graduate Program Assistant (GPA) who will reserve a room and complete the paperwork for the Graduate School.
  2. The chair of the exam committee solicits questions, gathers them and sends copies to all members of the committee. Once the chair has all the questions, s/he sends them to the student, giving him/her instructions about time and date of completion.
  3. The student sends via email his/her answers to the exam committee chair, who forwards them to the other committee members.
  4. The oral exam must take place within a week of the written exam so that the student does not get too far removed from the mind-set of the exam. Only when exceptional circumstances arise might the oral exam be postponed beyond this time-frame. The oral exam must be scheduled during the quarter (between first and last day of a given quarter; never over breaks). It is the task of the exam committee chair to pick up the necessary form from the GPA and have it signed by the members of the committee at the end of the exam before returning it to the GPA.
The Prospectus: Definition and Guidelines

Following the successful completion of the Qualifying/Prospectus Exam in the winter quarter, students advance to candidacy. In the spring quarter, each student registers for French 596 Thesis Tutorial with his/her dissertation director, to begin work on the Prospectus. The Prospectus must be written and defended by the end of the spring quarter.

The prospectus (15-25 pages double spaced) is a preliminary description and "road map" of the dissertation. In defining the scope, aims and parts of the project, it enables students to communicate their ideas to others and achieve the focus necessary to begin work on the dissertation itself.

Students are advised to include the following information in the prospectus (please note that in some cases these categories may provide a useful format for structuring the document itself):

  • A concise overview of the dissertation topic, including an account of the specific research questions motivating the inquiry (i.e. what the student wants to discover and why this is important), the corpus of materials chosen for analysis, and the preliminary argument(s) or hypothesis to be explored.
  • A statement of significance indicating the project’s anticipated contribution to scholarship. In what ways is it new or different from previous understandings of the topic? What gaps in knowledge does it seek to fill? In what fields or debates will it intervene and how? It may be useful to describe briefly the most important existing studies on the topic so as to specify the particular contribution of the projected research.
  • A statement of methodology, indicating the methodological principle(s) or theoretical approach that will be used, and why it is particularly well suited to the research questions or materials to be investigated. Students should also indicate any special research that will be required in order to complete the project, such as archival, field, or library research involving travel.
  • A breakdown of chapters, with a brief account of what each will accomplish in relation to the whole.
  • A bibliography of primary and secondary materials used to prepare the prospectus. The bibliography may also include major works the student expects to consult for the dissertation.

For additional resources concerning the writing of the prospectus and examples of past prospectuses from our department, see the Graduate Assistant for access to the graduate files.

The Prospectus Review:

No later than one quarter following their completion of French 596, students pass a Prospectus Review, which is a meeting with a committee comprised of three members of the faculty (presumably the qualifying exam committee, although exceptions may be allowed in cases in which the prospectus requires the expertise of another faculty member) in which the prospectus is discussed. The purpose of the meeting is to enable students to present their ideas orally, answer questions, and receive constructive criticism from the committee before work on the dissertation gets underway, as well as to allow for dialogue among committee members. The student will be expected to defend the ideas in the prospectus itself as well as to demonstrate familiarity with works on the bibliography.

The Graduate Committee recommends that the Prospectus Review be scheduled at the time of the qualifying exam. No later than two weeks in advance of the review, the student circulates to the committee members the prospectus, which is prepared according to the specific criteria provided by the department (see above) and includes a bibliography of primary and secondary works. Prior to the meeting, the student will consult with the members of the committee and make any requested revisions to the draft prospectus.

Note: The student is responsible for submitting the PhD Prospectus form through TGS in Caesar in advance of the meeting.
Each year a department colloquium will be organized, the express purpose of which will be to highlight the work of those students who successfully passed the Prospectus Review in the previous twelve months. All students are therefore expected to present their prospectus or subsequent dissertation work-in-progress in a department colloquium within one year of their Prospectus Review.
From Prospectus to Dissertation Committee:

While the prospectus committee may in many instances be the same as the dissertation committee, students are free to make changes to their committee as their dissertation takes shape. Students also have the option of including a non-Northwestern faculty member on the prospectus or dissertation committee, providing that professor consents in writing to serve in this capacity. In all cases committees must comprise at least three members of the NU graduate faculty. When the dissertation committee is finalized, prior to the defense of the dissertation, the student should submit the required Final Exam form to TGS through Caesar.

YEARS 4-6: Progress Assessment and Evaluation:

As students make progress on their writing, they are advised to communicate regularly with each member of the committee, seeking advice and feedback as needed. The department requires annual meetings with complete dissertation committee. Directors of committees must send progress reports from these meetings to the DGS by the end of the winter quarter during years 4-6.


Good academic standing is determined by the faculty and the DGS. To remain in good standing, in the first two years the student must pass the first and second year reviews; by the end of the third year, the student must pass the qualifying exam; and by the end of the quarter following the student’s completion of French 596 Thesis Tutorial, the student must pass the prospectus review. Subsequently, the student must make progress on the dissertation that is judged satisfactory by the dissertation director. While in coursework students must maintain a 3.7 (A-) grade average in all graduate courses and have no more than two outstanding incompletes on their transcript, unless by special dispensation of the graduate committee. All incomplete work must be completed prior to taking the qualifying exam.

Requirements for CLS students with a home department in French:

  • Students with a home department in French must take at minimum of 6 graduate seminars in French.
  • CLS students will go through the First and Second Year Reviews according to procedures listed above.
  • CLS students will take the Second Year Exam as outlined above.
  • CLS students will take the Prospectus Exam as outlined above.
  • Translation Exam (see below)

As a condition of candidacy, CLS students are required to take a Translation Exam consisting of one literary passage from French to English and one critical passage from English to French. This exam is administered by the chair of the qualifying/prospectus exam committee and is taken in the department. Students are allowed two hours to complete this exam.