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. The M.A. Field in Asian Studies is described at greater length below.
Requirements for completion of the M.A. degree
Graduate study at Cornell is centered around a close working relationship between the student and his or her committee, and especially the principal advisor (the chair of the committee). Thus students admitted to the Asian Studies field are strongly encouraged to meet with their advisor/chair very early in their first semester of matriculation to develop a cogent plan for attaining their academic goals.
The Graduate School requires that students fulfill two "residence units," i.e., two semesters of on-campus study. The Field requires proof of language competency, completion of certain coursework with satisfactory grades, and submission of a thesis.
The Field of Asian Studies has three concentrations, and each student will choose one: East Asian studies, South Asian studies, or Southeast Asian studies. Students are, however, welcome to work between these geographical boundaries as they attain mastery of the language(s) and culture of one.
Language competency: Language expertise is considered a prerequisite for doing competent research in any area of Asian Studies. Thus students should come to Cornell with that expertise or work toward it in the course of their academic training here. The Field expects all students to attain to a minimum of a second-year level competency by the completion of the M.A. degree. Most students will go beyond that level.
Coursework: A plan for appropriate coursework should be developed in consultation with one’s committee chair. All students must do at least two full-time semesters of coursework that usually includes 6–8 courses, and can consist of language classes, specialized courses in Asian Studies, disciplinary work outside of Asian Studies, seminars, and independent studies. Students must receive a grade of B or above in courses counted toward the degree.
The Field has the following minimal expectations:
5 courses must have at least 50% Asia content
3 courses must be at the 4000-level or above (i.e., advanced seminars or independent studies)
these two requirements may overlap.
Thesis: All students will submit a final thesis on a project developed in consultation with their committees. The thesis may be a more developed version of a seminar paper or papers that has been expanded and subjected to additional revision and review. Theses are typically 40-50 pages or more in length.
The Graduate School requirements for the thesis are described on the “Thesis and Dissertation” web site at https://gradschool.cornell.edu/academic-progress/thesis-dissertation/. Students should consult the web site for guidelines regarding format, procedures, and deadlines regarding the online submission of the thesis and its defense.
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. 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.
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. Due to the disruption of services caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the GRE is optional for the 2021-2022 admission cycle. However, if you have GRE scores from a previous exam that are less than five years old, please submit those scores. The Field of Asian Studies does not require any advanced subject tests, such as the GMAT.
Foreign nationals, whose native language is not English, must take the TOEFL or IELTS exam. If the TOEFL exam is taken, the following minimum scores in each component are required by the Graduate School: Writing 20; Listening 15; Reading 20; Speaking 22. TOEFL scores are valid for only two years. For the Fall 2020 admission cycle, we will only accept exams taken 2017 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.
Deadline: The deadline for applications for the M.A. program in Asian Studies is February 1, but applicants are encouraged to submit their online application 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 admissions.
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.
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. 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.
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!
Graduate Field Faculty
Click here for a list of faculty in the graduate field for the M.A. in Asian Studies.
Asian Area Programs
Students in the Graduate Field of Asian Studies are members of the relevant area program(s) at Cornell, which provide a wide range of programs, opportunities for research and training, and competitive fellowships for travel, language training and research.