M.A. in Asian Studies

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This program is designed for students who did not major in Asian Studies as undergraduates or who want more work in language and area studies before entering the professional, business, or Ph.D. fields. One to two years of study is required, depending on language proficiency. Although formal requirements are identical, the concentrations offered in EastSouth, and Southeast Asian Studies vary slightly in interpretation; click on the links to view the specific requirements for each area concentration. The M.A. Field in Asian Studies is described at greater length below.


All applicants are required to submit GRE scores, and most students who are admitted score above 319 in the combined Verbal and Quantitative sections; the Verbal score should be 153 or above. GRE scores are valid for five years only. For the Fall 2018 admission cycle, any exams taken before 2013 will not be accepted. (Low GRE scores for non-native speakers of English may be overlooked, but taking the test is required for all applicants.) The Field of Asian Studies does not require any advanced subject tests.

Foreign nationals, whose native language is not English, must take the TOEFL exam and score at least as follows: Writing 20; Listening 15; Reading 20; Speaking 22. TOEFL scores are valid for only two years. For the Fall 2018 admission cycle, we will only accept exams taken 2015 and later. Any application where the TOEFL scores do not meet the minimums listed here will not be eligible for review. Please note: as of January 8, 2010, if you are a citizen of Singapore, or if you have received a degree from a university in Singapore, you must now submit TOEFL scores.

Cornell now accepts the IELTS for proof of English proficiency. The Graduate School requires an overall band score of 7.0 or higher and does not set minimum sub-scores, however the speaking portion of the exam should be at least 7.0. Cornell's Graduate School downloads IELTS scores that have been transmitted to our e-download account. Please contact your test center and request that your scores be sent to the following IELTS e-download account: Cornell University Graduate Admissions, 143 Caldwell Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. We will not accept paper IELTS test report forms unless a test center is unable to transmit your scores electronically.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) will send results of the TOEFL and the GRE directly to the Graduate School if the applicant indicates Cornell's institutional code on the exam. Cornell's institutional code for all versions of the TOEFL and GRE is 2098. There is no need for a department code. Scores must be submitted directly to the Graduate School by ETS to be considered official.

Exemption from TOEFL or IELTS: The TOEFL/IELTS is not required of applicants who have studied full-time for two or more years in a college or university where English is the language of instruction AND the college or university is located in a country where English is the native language.

Each applicant must submit an on-line application, which includes a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and college transcripts. It is not necessary to mail a hard copy of these materials to the field office. All foreign transcripts must be translated to English by the institution or university that issues them before they are scanned. The Selection Committee will weigh all of these materials in addition to the student's academic background in making decisions on admission to the field. Please do not submit any additional materials, such as a cv or resume, writing sample, or extra recommendation letters beyond the three required. If the Selection Committee needs additional information or materials, the applicant will be contacted.

All fields of graduate study at Cornell are competitive, so you are advised to write a clear thoughtful statement of purpose, select your referees carefully and inform them of your specific goals, request your undergraduate records early, and complete your application as soon as possible.

Requirements for China concentration

All promising applicants for the M.A. degree who are planning to pursue course work and research on China are asked to participate in a placement interview. The goal of the interview is to make sure the applicant will be able to succeed in fulfilling the language requirement of the program. M.A. students need to test past the third-year level, or complete our Chinese 3301-3302 course sequence, in order to obtain their degrees. This interview will be set up by a member of the Chinese language teaching staff once the admissions committee has reviewed applications.


The deadline for applications for the MA program in Asian Studies is February 1, but applicants are encouraged to send in their application materials as soon as possible. The selection committee will begin reviewing applications for Fall admission in early February. No applications for Fall admission will be accepted after February 1. We do not accept Spring admission applications.


Financial Aid

Normally, admission to a Ph.D. field includes a commitment from the Graduate School of five years of financial support, with the expectation that the student would work as a teaching assistant for three of those years. However, there is no funding available for M.A. students through the field. The area programs (East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia) may have information available about outside funding sources, or one can contact the Financial Aid and Fellowship Office at the Graduate School.

Applicants may be eligible to apply for a Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) award if they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The FLAS awards are administered by the area program offices listed above. This is an academic year award which covers tuition, health insurance, and a living stipend. The deadline for the FLAS awards is usually early February. Please visit the area program web sites (listed below) for the exact deadline.

For more information about the FLAS awards, other funding opportunities, or for a FLAS application, please see the area programs' web pages.


Further Information

The Field of Asian Studies offers admission to graduate students working toward the Master of Arts degree in the study of East, South, or Southeast Asia. Students are admitted to the Field, which is administered by the Department of Asian Studies, with applications and student questions handled by the Director of Graduate Studies and several Graduate Advisers. The role of the Special Committee is explained at the beginning of the Graduate School Catalog; note that students in Asian Studies are required to select the chair of their Special Committees from the Field faculty, while any University faculty member may function as a minor Special Committee member.

The Cornell system of Fields and Special Committees makes for great flexibility, since the student can design a program that is not limited by departmental boundaries. This very flexibility can, however, be potentially disconcerting to newcomers and those used to greater programmatic structure. Selecting members of the Special Committee is one of the most important tasks of incoming students, since these faculty will be the readers/advisers for one's thesis (described below). The Field/Special Committee structure even informs our decisions regarding applicants, since it forces us to pay very close attention to the "fit" between the student's interests and current faculty strengths.

Requirements for completion of the M.A. degree

The Graduate School requires that students fulfill two "residence units," i.e., two semesters of study. The Field requires proof of language competency, completion of certain coursework with satisfactory grades, and submission of a thesis.

Language competency: This requirement can be fulfilled in two ways, depending on the area concentration and the student's inclinations and background: first, by completing the third-year courses (both oral and written) in the given language, also with a grade of B- or better; or, second, by taking a written and oral test in the given language and receiving a satisfactory grade.

The specific tests and minimum scores required for the second option will be announced at a later date; this second option will not be available for all languages. Please note that the first option can be fulfilled by two academic years plus one summer, or two summers and one academic year of language study, and that a student's prior language training will be taken into consideration based on evaluation by Cornell language instructors.

Students are advised not to take any of their language courses on an S/U basis, since they will then be required to pass the appropriate language competency test. For languages without appropriate tests, students are absolutely disallowed from taking language courses S/U.

  • Coursework: The coursework requirements for the different foci in East, South, and Southeast Asian studies vary slightly. It is the student's Special Committee that has the final authority to determine whether the student has achieved the appropriate level of competence in the given area of study, and the various rules established by the Director of Graduate Studies and Graduate Advisers are merely guidelines for both students and Special Committee members to follow. In the following description, "core" courses refer to those in Asian Studies at the 3000 level or above (some History Department courses in the 2290s are also acceptable), with 75% or more Asian Studies content; equivalent coursework would involve the combination of, for example, two courses each with 50% Asian studies content to count as a single course. Language or literature courses past the third-year level (that is, those involving the reading of primary texts, not literature in translation) can be counted as core courses. Courses taken S/U may not be used as core courses.

In the East Asian concentration, each student must complete four 4-credit "core" courses, with grades of B- or above. In addition, it is expected that the student will complete other courses in language/literature (in the original language, not in English translation) and disciplinary subjects (outside of East Asian Studies per se) to achieve a suitable balance. In other words, we want students to pursue a plan of study that involves, first, reading and interpretive skills using the primary texts of the East Asian language involved and, second, the analytic skills of the student's chosen discipline (e.g., comparative literature, political science).

In the South Asian concentration, students work with their committee members to form a program of adequate depth and breadth, incorporating both necessary Asian content coursework alongside language/areal courses.

In the Southeast Asian concentration, each student must complete a minimum of eight one-semester courses, including at least one AS6601/6602 Southeast Asian Seminar, with grades of B or above. Two of the eight courses should be chosen in consultation with the student's Special Committee, to ensure some regional breadth.

Students in the East Asian concentration are alerted to what is known informally as the "two-paper option," in which they are encouraged to submit one course paper to each of the two members of their Special Committee with a request for extra criticism and suggestions. On the basis of this feedback the student then revises and expands the two papers and submits them together as a thesis, submitting and defending the two papers in the usual fashion. Students in all concentrations who wish to submit a single longer paper as the thesis are still encouraged to proceed according to the model of the two-paper option, working on separate papers that may or may not be edited into one integrated text in the final version of the thesis. Given the relatively short term of the M.A. program and the high expectations regarding quality of work that is shared by both students and faculty, this is the best way to proceed even if the final product is a single thesis in the conventional sense. Pending the approval of the members of the student's Special Committee in the East Asian concentration, either two completely unrelated papers or a single integrated essay are acceptable as the thesis.

  • Thesis: Students must submit a written thesis, 30-50 pages in length, on a topic approved by the Special Committee Chair. The thesis should be an independent contribution to scholarship on East, South, or Southeast Asia. The Graduate School requirements for the thesis are described in the booklet "Doctoral Dissertation, Master's Thesis, and Advanced Degree Requirements," which is published annually. Students should consult this handbook for guidelines regarding format, procedures, and deadlines regarding the submission of the thesis and its defense.

Moving on past the M.A. degree

The M.A. degree is for most students a transitional degree, although this term may be understood in many ways. Some students may have only discovered an interest in Asia relatively late in their undergraduate careers, or even after having finished their undergraduate degrees, and need to spend time to develop language and disciplinary competency prior to moving into a Ph.D. degree program. For these students the M.A. program is a valuable opportunity to gain general knowledge about Asia and to narrow their focus on a specific field or discipline, such as the study of Asian literature, history, government, or religion, etc.

Other students are interested in moving from the M.A. program into jobs in industry and government, and here the emphasis is often on language training and the study of economics and business, government and history, etc. Based on the achievements of previous Cornell Asian Studies M.A. alums, career opportunities for M.A. degree-holders include jobs in business, government, journalism, and translation/interpreting.

Due to the transitional nature of the M.A. degree, students are at Cornell for a year or two. Although this program is relatively brief, we encourage students to develop close ties with their advisers, their fellow students, and the entire Cornell community. We also encourage students of this program to keep in contact with the Field, the Department of Asian Studies, and the East, South, or Southeast Asia Program after their graduation. The community of Cornell Asian Studies alumni represents a diverse group of individuals pursuing an exciting variety of careers involving Asia, and we'd like everyone to keep in touch!


Click here for a list of faculty in the graduate field for the M.A. in Asian Studies.