M.A. Areas of Concentration

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East Asia

The Master of Arts in East Asian Studies is an interdisciplinary degree designed for those who wish to pursue careers in such fields as international banking, business, diplomacy, journalism, law, or secondary education, as well as for those who plan to seek admission to a Ph.D. program in a specific discipline but who lack the necessary background in language or area studies.

The M.A. candidate must demonstrate proficiency in Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, be registered for at least two semesters at Cornell as a full-time student, and complete the Masters of Arts thesis as described below. An individualized course of study is designed by the student in consultation with a Special Committee, selected by the student and composed of two members of the Graduate Faculty, one of whom (the Special Committee Chair) must be a member of the core faculty in Asian Studies.

Requirements for the Master of Arts in East Asian Studies


A minimum of two semesters in residence at Cornell is required. Entering students who do not demonstrate language proficiency as defined below may require up to four semesters to complete the requirements. All master's candidates must finish their degrees within four years from their first registration in Cornell's Graduate School. (What counts is total elapsed time, not just time in residence.)

Language Proficiency

Candidates for the M.A. degree must demonstrate a minimum of proficiency in an East Asian Language. This generally represents the equivalent of three years of non-intensive language study (both oral and written). Alternatively, students may satisfy the language proficiency requirement by achieving a satisfactory score on the appropriate language test. (Selection of appropriate tests and passing scores are now under consideration; fees for these tests, if any, will be the student's responsibility.) The level of proficiency of students who have studied their chosen East Asian language before entry into the field will be determined by examination before placement. Students with little language background (one or two years) should consider starting their language training in June of the year in which they plan to enter the M.A. program.

Course Work

In addition to satisfying the language requirement, the candidate for the M.A. must complete two semesters of full-time residence at Cornell. This usually means completing eight one-semester courses and a bibliography course. The minimal acceptable grade for course work is B-; these courses may not be taken S/U. Because the M.A. program is designed to provide balanced, interdisciplinary training, students should have at least two disciplines represented in their course of study. The student is guided in setting up a program by a Special Committee composed of two faculty members selected by the student. These are normally the professors for whom the M.A. research papers are written (see M.A. Thesis section below); the Chair of the Special Committee must be a member of the Asian Studies Field core faculty, while minor member(s) may be any permanent Cornell faculty member at the rank of assistant professor or above. Course work normally will conform to the guidelines spelled out below. however, if the candidate and faculty committee find valid reasons for establishing a variant course of study, they may petition the Director of Graduate Studies to do so.

Typical Course of Study

Regular course option

  • 1st year: Summer language work if necessary. Second-year Chinese/Japanese/Korean plus Asian Studies courses during year.
  • 2nd year: Third year Chinese/Japanese/Korean plus area studies courses.

Students entering with at least two years of language training (test required)

  • 1st year: Third-year Chinese/Japanese/Korean plus area studies courses.
  • 3rd sem.: Area studies courses plus advanced language if desired.

Students with language proficiency beyond the 3rd year (test required)

Such students may, with concentrated effort, find it possible to complete the M.A. program in one year. Courses must be carefully chosen so that one M.A. research paper is completed each semester.

Coursework Guidelines

In addition to the language and bibliography course requirements, a student must normally complete eight one-semester courses, achieving a B- grade or better. At least four courses should be "core courses," while the rest may be either core courses or electives, as described below.

Core Courses

A minimum of four courses (15 credits) should be Asian Studies or disciplinary courses (number 3000 or above; 2293 or above in the case of History Department courses) taught by faculty in the East Asia area and dealing primarily with the cultures of East Asia.


After fulfilling the language proficiency and core coursework requirements, students will have space left in their schedules for additional study. In order that students achieve both breadth of language skills and disciplinary diversity, we recommend that two or more courses be selected from each of the following groups, to serve as electives:

Advanced language courses in the student's primary East Asian language or beginning courses in a second East Asian language.

Disciplinary courses in the student's primary field of interest which do not deal primarily with East Asia (i.e., international affairs, comparative literature, etc.) These must be courses in which graduate students normally enroll (usually 3000-level courses and above), and they should be approved by the student's Special Committee Chair.

M.A. Thesis

The Master of Arts Thesis, which must be submitted by all candidates for the degree, normally consists of two 15- to 25- page research papers that have been written in two of the courses the candidate has taken during his or her period of residence. The two papers (each of which must have a bibliography) will be bound together (they may be edited into one integrated essay in the course of writing, but this is not required) and presented in the form prescribed by the Graduate School for the M.A. Thesis. Graduate School deadlines for May, August, and January degrees must be met.

Oral Examination

Upon completion of all other requirements, the candidate is responsible for scheduling an oral examination through the Graduate School in consultation with the members of his or her Special Committee. This committee consists of two faculty members, normally the instructors in the courses for which the research papers were written. They will conduct an informal review and discussion of the papers submitted by the candidate and may require some revision before final acceptance.

Financial Aid

Unfortunately, financial aid resources for M.A. students are at present extremely limited. One or two truly exceptional incoming students each year are nominated for a Sage Fellowship, but only one student in the last several years has been successful in these university-wide competitions. (And foreign students who typically receive low GRE scores do not fare well in these competitions.)

The Graduate School has strict rules prohibiting incoming graduate students from serving as teaching assistants, and the Field of Asian Studies has no teaching or research assistant positions to apportion to new students. Also, because of the very size-able population of gifted Asian scholars around Ithaca, it is unreasonable to expect teaching positions in the Department of Asian Studies for the instruction of Asian languages.

The result, unfortunately, is that students must be fully self-funded. To make matters worse, the Graduate School requires that foreign students fully document their financial resources prior to admission.

South Asia

The Master's program is designed for professionals who need specialized training in South Asia and for graduate students seeking area training before completing a disciplinary degree.During their period of residency, students will be expected to:

  • Develop depth in South Asia area studies, normally through courses offered by core program faculty and treating primarily the cultures and civilization of South Asia.
  • Demonstrate competence in more than one discipline, normally through course work in different departments.


The M.A. in South Asian Studies has three main requirements:

  • Residency at Cornell for at least one year (two semesters) and successful completion (with a minimum grade of B-; cannot be taken S/U) of eight one- semester courses. Note: One year fulfills the Graduate School minimum; many students will need a longer residency.
  • Language Proficiency equivalent to at least three years of normal study.
  • An M.A. thesis of 30 to 50 pages in length.

Students coming with little or no knowledge of a South Asian language will almost certainly need more than one year to complete the degree, but progress can be made during the summer. Those with an interest in Nepal should consider enrolling in the intensive summer program in Nepali (yearly) currently offered at Cornell.

Unfortunately, there is very little University aid to M.A. students at Cornell. Most have external funding or are self-supporting. Citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. are eligible for funding through U.S. Department of Education's Foreign Lanuage and Area Studies (FLAS) grants administered by the South Asia Program. Contact the fellowship coordinator for further details.

For further information contact:
Graduate Field Assistant
Department of Asian Studies
350 Rockefeller Hall
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 USA
e-mail: asian@cornell.edu

Southeast Asia

The M.A. in Asian Studies: Southeast Asia is an interdisciplinary degree program which emphasizes language and area studies on Southeast Asia in the social sciences, the humanities, and selected professional fields.

The program is designed for individuals who plan on, or who are already engaged in, professional careers -- business, diplomacy, journalism, banking, law -- that require a strong background in Southeast Asia, and for students who wish to acquire language/area studies proficiency before pursuing a disciplinary Ph.D. program.

The degree requirements are: proficiency in at least one Southeast Asian language (the equivalent of three years of non-intensive language study). This can be obtained in two academic years plus one summer or in two summers and one academic year. Students can also complete the equivalent of one year of language studies by attending the Southeast ASia Summer Studies Institute (SEASSI).

In addition to language study, each M.A. candidate is expected to successfully complete (with a grade no less than B-)a minimum of eight one-semester courses. While most of these courses are expected to be those taught by Southeast Asia Program faculty, it is also possible to enroll in other courses in the social sciences and humanities. A written thesis must be submitted by all candidates, 50 to 80 pages in length, on a topic approved by the thesis advisor. The M.A. thesis should be an independent contribution to scholarship on Southeast Asia.

The academic program of each M.A. candidate is supervised by a two or three person special committee comprised of faculty members of the Asian Studies: Southeast Asia graduate faculty. The candidate and his/her special committee plan all elements of graduate study, including course work and the M.A. thesis.