French is a national language of twenty-eight countries, and spoken widely in at least eighteen more. The French brought the world the Bayeux Tapestry (arguably the world’s first comic strip), Versailles, Impressionism, Surrealism, New Wave cinema, Poststructuralist thought, and many other movements and works that have been influential for world culture. But France is also only the beginning of the story. And not even the beginning: before there was anything known as France, there were medieval documents written in “roman,” the new vernaculars derived from Latin that would become our romance languages. In the wake of French colonialism, creoles and other appropriations of French language and literary genres have sprung up around the world. Our French Programs are, in other words, not just for students interested in France, but also for students interested in the literatures and cultures of the pre-and post-Francophone world.   Students at Cornell who are interested in French may also want to view the offerings and programs at the Language Houses at Cornell.

Major Requirements

The French major prepares students to engage with the literatures and cultures of the French-speaking world. Along the way, students will develop proficiency in oral, aural, and written French, while becoming astute critical readers and thinkers in both French and English.

The major consists of nine courses at the FREN 2095-level and higher. Either FREN 2060 – [French Intermediate Reading and Writing] or  FREN 2090 – French Intermediate Composition and Conversation I may serve as the prerequisite. Students may declare the major anytime after completing one of these two courses or anytime after placing into a more advanced French course. Required for the major are:  FREN 2310 – Introduction to French and Francophone Literature and Culture (for students who have not already taken an equivalent course), at least one course at the 4000-level, and one course on the Francophone world beyond France.

Students are welcome to apply up to two Cornell University courses from outside the Department of Romance Studies (e.g., courses in Comparative Literature, History, History of Art) toward the French major, provided that 50% of the content of those courses deals directly with France or the Francophone world. Students are also encouraged to study abroad: up to three courses from an institution other than Cornell University (such as EDUCO in Paris) may be counted toward the French major, provided that 50% of the content of these courses, again, deals directly with France or the Francophone world. (Merely being taught in French is not, on its own, a sufficient criterion for a course taken abroad to count for the French major.) The minimum grade for a course to be applied to the French major is B-. None of the courses applied to the French major may be taken for S/U grades.


Inquiries of a general nature can first be directed to the Undergraduate Coordinator, Cal Hile.  Students who wish to major in French are advised to consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Cary Howie, who admits students into the major and assigns a faculty adviser after taking into account a student’s interest, preparation, and career goals.

Course Descriptions

Please refer to the French section of the Romance Studies Course Offerings list. See our departmental course roster here.

Minor Requirements

The French minor is designed to give students pursuing other majors the opportunity to engage with and reflect upon Francophone literary, philosophical, and visual culture. The prerequisite for the minor is any 2000-level course conducted in French. The minor then consists of five courses on French or Francophone topics, which in the Department of Romance Studies must be taken at the FREN 2095-level and higher. Students may apply up to two courses from abroad or from another institution toward a French minor. Only one of the five courses required for the French minor may be taken for S/U grades; the minimum grade is otherwise B-.


Inquiries of a general nature can first be directed to the Undergraduate Coordinator, Cal Hile.  Students interested in pursuing a French minor should make an appointment to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Cary Howie, during his weekly office hours.

Study Abroad

French majors or other interested students may study in France for one or two semesters during their junior year. Opting for one of several study-abroad plans recognized by the Department of Romance Studies facilitates the transfer of credit. Information about these plans is available from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Students must be Cornell undergraduates with a strong academic record. The minimum French preparation is the completion of FREN 2095 or its equivalent in advanced credit or placement by the Cornell CASE examination. Taking a 3000-level course in the Department of Romance Studies is, however, highly recommended. Students interested in studying in France are encouraged to consider the special benefits offered by EDUCO, the program in Paris cosponsored by Cornell, Emory, Tulane, and Duke Universities. EDUCO offers advanced students a challenging course of study and the experience of total immersion in French life and culture in Paris. Participants in this program may spend the year or the semester as fully matriculated students at the Universities of Paris VII or IV and other institutions of higher learning in Paris, including the possibility of study at the Institut d’Etudes des Sciences Politiques (Sciences Po), selecting courses in many fields from the regular university course offerings. Students begin the academic year with an intensive three-week orientation in French history, society, and daily life. While it is possible to enroll in the EDUCO Program for one semester, admission will be offered first to students planning to study abroad for the full academic year. Up to 3 courses taken abroad may count toward the French major.

EDUCO maintains a center in Paris with full support staff. The resident director, chosen annually from the Cornell, Emory, Tulane, and Duke faculties, teaches a special seminar each semester, provides academic advice, and helps ensure the quality of the courses. The center, which includes a small library and word-processing facilities, is regularly used by students for special tutorials, seminars, and lectures, as well as informal gatherings.

Students should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Romance Studies, Cary Howie, the Study Abroad advising dean, and Cornell Abroad, as well as with their faculty advisor before taking courses abroad to ensure they are appropriate.


The honors program encourages well-qualified students majoring in French literature and culture to do independent work in French beyond the required course work for the major. The preparation of the senior honors essay, generally spread over two semesters, provides a unique learning opportunity, since it allows for wide reading and extensive rewriting to a degree not possible in the case of course papers.

To be eligible for honors, students must have a general grade point average of at least 3.00 and a grade point average of at least 3.5 in the French major.

No special seminars or courses are required of honors students, but they will have regular meetings with the faculty advisors who have agreed to supervise their work. They may receive course credit by enrolling in FREN 4290–FREN 4300, but these independent study courses must be taken in addition to the courses that meet the minimum requirements for the major. At the end of the senior year, each honors student is examined orally on the honors essay by a jury consisting of his or her faculty advisor and two other faculty members. The senior essay is to be made available for reading by the jury on or before April 15. The awarding of honors is determined by the student’s grades in the major and the quality of the honors essay.