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M.A. Field in Asian Studies

There are numerous opportunities for graduate work in Asian Studies at Cornell University, so it is important that applicants understand the options and choose the course of study that will help you meet your individual goals. Please read this description and the material you receive directly from the Graduate School carefully before applying.

M. A./Ph.D. study in various fields:

Please note that the term "field" has a special meaning at Cornell, since graduate study here is organized into Fields that are only loosely related to Departments and Programs. Students who wish to work toward a doctorate and have had undergraduate training in Asian studies and in a discipline should apply to the M.A./Ph.D. program in the appropriate field (i.e., anthropology or history.) A complete list of the fields of study offered at Cornell is provided in the Guide to Graduate Study published by the Graduate School, or on their web site at http://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/. Some fields have concentrations dealing directly with Asia (i.e., Chinese history), others allow students to create an individualized Asian Studies minor. Most of Cornell's financial support goes to students in these programs.

M.A. Field in Asian Studies:

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 professions, business, or Ph.D. fields. One to two years of study is required, depending on language proficiency. Although formal requirements are identical, the programs offered in East, South, and Southeast Asian Studies vary slightly in interpretation. The M.A. Field in Asian Studies is described at greater length below.

Admissions Requirements:

These vary somewhat by concentration. All students are required to submit GRE scores, and most students who are admitted score above 1200 in the combined Verbal and Quantitative sections. (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.

All applicants must take the Graduate Records Exam (GRE), 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 only five years. Any exams taken before 2008 will not be accepted. Please note: effective in August 2011, ETS began to use a different scoring system for the GRE. If you took your GRE before August 2011 and have the old scores (200-800) our minimum requirement would be a combined total of 1200 for the verbal and quantitative scores, the verbal score should be 500 or above.

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 2014 admission cycle, we will only accept exams taken 2012 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 does not accept the IELTS. It cannot be used to substitute the TOEFL.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) will send results of the TOEFL and the GRE directly to the Graduate School so long as 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: The TOEFL 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, along with an on-line application; a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and college transcripts. The letters of recommendation should include the recommendation form as a cover sheet. We do prefer that the statement of purpose and recommendation letters also be submitted on-line. If they are submitted on-line, it is not necessary to mail a hard copy of these materials to the field office. Starting fall 2010, applicants will scan their transcripts (see below for instructions and tips) and upload the documents into the online application themselves as part of the submission process. 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 that are not expressly requested here. This would include CV's or resumes; additional recommendation letters beyond the three required; and writing samples. If the Selection Committee needs additional information or materials, we will contact the applicant.

Transcripts: Upload a PDF copy of transcripts (either official or unofficial) from the institution at which you are currently enrolled and/or from any institution from which you have received or will receive a degree. All transcripts must be combined into one document and uploaded. If it is against an institution's policy to send official transcripts to you, please request an unofficial copy for yourself and scan that document. Paper copies will be accepted only if the first two options are not available to you. If you are subsequently admitted and accept the offer of admission, we will require a formal and official paper transcript prior to matriculation.

Tips for uploading transcripts that may also be helpful:

  • Scan at the lowest dpi that results in a legible document (we recommend to use under 200 dpi whenever possible)
  • Ensure that the institution name and other identifying marks are not missed during the scanning process and that your scanned copy is clearly legible and can print on letter size paper (8 ∏" x 11")
  • Save your document as a PDF file
  • Scanning in "gray scale" or black and white may produce the best results
  • If the scanned file is too large then make a photocopy first (experiment with different settings until you find one that results in the most legible output) then scan the photocopy

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

Additional application requirement for those concentrating on China:

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 chiefly 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 our third-year level, or complete our Chinese 301-302 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.

Application Deadline:

The Field of Asian Studies does not have a formal deadline date, but applicants are encouraged to send in their application materials as soon as possible. The selection committee also reserves the right to defer applications received later in the decision process to the next academic year. If you are applying for Fall admission, please have all of your application materials to the graduate field assistant by the end of January. The selection committee will begin reviewing applications for Fall admission sometime in early February. However, we will not accept any applications for Fall admission after March. We discourage 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 contact the Financial Aid and Fellowship Office at the Graduate School.

If the applicant is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident he/she may be eligible to apply for a Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) award. The FLAS awards are administered by the area program offices listed above, East, South, and Southeast. This is an academic year award which covers tuition, health insurance, and a living stipend. The deadline for the FLAS awards for 2014 - 2015 is February 3, 2014

For more information about the FLAS awards, other funding opportunities, or for a FLAS application please see the area programs web pages, (East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia).

Further information on the M.A. Field In Asian Studies

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 thesis is 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. Thus rejection for admission is not necessarily based on aptitude alone.

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 third option will not be available for all languages. Please note that the second 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. Each semester, the Graduate Field Assistant compiles and distributes lists of courses with sufficient East, South, and Southeast Asian Studies content to qualify 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 (such as comparative literature, political science, etc.)

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

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.'s, career opportunities for M.A. degree-holders include jobs in business, government, journalism, and translation/interpreting.

Because of 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!

Further Information:

If you have specific questions not covered here, please contact us by e-mail: asian@cornell.edu


Updated 11/01/2013