The Free-Standing M.A. Program

For students enrolled in the M.A. | M. Phil | Ph.D. program

For the M.A. degree: 

Courses: Thirty (30) points of courses at or above the 4000 level, taken for a letter grade, including MDES GR5000 (Theory and Methods 1), MDES GR5001 (Theory and Methods 2), and MDES GR6008 (MESAAS Research Colloquium). Students in the stand-alone MA program must include MDES GR5004 (Approaches to Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies), which can replace either GR5000 or GR5001.

Language: Proficiency in one MESAAS language, demonstrated by successfully completing a two-semester course at the intermediate (second-year) level or higher with a grade of at least a B, or by passing an equivalent examination.

Residence Units: Completion of two full residence units is required for granting the MA degree.

M.A. thesis: To be submitted no later than the twelfth week of the student's third semester and defended before two faculty readers (the advisor and one additional) before the end of the third semester (in the case of Ph.D. students). Students in the freestanding MA program may take an additional semester, if their academic goals warrant it. Students must submit an application to the department for the oral defense of their Master's thesis one month prior to scheduling the defense. In addition, students must fill out an application for the MA degree with the Registrar at the beginning of the term in which the MA will be defended.

There are no grades for the M.A. thesis. Students are awarded either a “pass” or a “fail” on the strength of the written work and an oral defense. For students in the Ph.D. program, a pass may be awarded either with or without permission to continue to the M.Phil. A truly exceptional MA thesis, one considered to be of publishable quality, may be recommended for “distinction”. A digital copy of the thesis is to be deposited in the department.


For the M.Phil. degree:

Courses: A second semester of MDES GR6008 and at least four MESAAS (or advisor-approved) courses at or above the 4000 level beyond the 30 points (obtained through course work or Advanced Standing) that are required for the M.A. degree. At least two-thirds of the courses required for the MA and M.Phil. must be MESAAS courses. Exceptions to this rule, which are rarely made, must be approved by both the advisor and DGS. Those awarded transfer credit must be sure to include MDES GR5000 and MDES GR5001 (Theory and Methods 1 and 2) and one semester of MDES GR6008 in their course work for the M.Phil.

Languages: The dissertation sponsor is free to set higher standards, depending on the student’s field and project, but the minimum language requirements are: High proficiency in a first MESAAS language (usually the one used to fulfill the M.A. language requirement), proficiency in a second MESAAS language, and reading competence in a third language (a research language, meaning a modern language other than English in which there is a substantial body of scholarship in the student's field of study). High proficiency is normally achieved by completing a fourth-year language course or the equivalent, and proficiency by completing coursework at the intermediate (second-year) level. Reading competence is demonstrated by taking a proficiency exam, or the rapid readings and translation course (or equivalent) offered by other Columbia language departments.

Oral Examination: The exam is held in three areas, which are determined by the student in consultation with a three-member M.Phil. committee (at least 2 members should be MESAAS faculty). Reading lists are prepared by the student and each normally covers about twenty-five books or a commensurate number of articles. An application must be filled out one month prior to the exam.

The MPhil exam is taken on a pass/fail basis. Students may not retake the exam and failure of the MPhil exam will result in the termination of candidacy in the PhD program.

Residence Units: Completion of six residence units (semesters of full-time study).


For the Ph.D. degree:

Dissertation Prospectus: Approximately 20-30 pages in length, the proposal is defended orally before at least three members of the candidate's Ph.D. committee (at least two should be MESAAS faculty). A Prospectus defense application and an electronic copy of the Prospectus must be submitted to the department at least three weeks prior to the exam. The dissertation is defended before a five-person committee (at least three members of which are MESAAS faculty), according to the procedures outlined on the GSAS website and in the Dissertation Rules published by the Dissertation Office.