Master of Arts in South Asia Studies

Program Description

The South Asia Institute (SAI) at Columbia University offers an interdisciplinary course of study leading to the award of the Master of Arts in South Asia Studies. With a rich and diverse linguistic, cultural, and political history, South Asia has moved to the center of the global stage due to its dramatic economic growth and strategic importance. Our MA program in South Asia Studies provides an opportunity to engage with critical issues in a region that includes Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in an academic environment that includes many of the most distinguished South Asia Studies faculty in the U.S. Students can deepen their knowledge of the cultural, economic, political, and social processes shaping the region. Ideal for both professionals seeking regional knowledge and students intending to pursue a Ph.D. in the future, the South Asia Studies program prepares graduates for careers in government, public policy, non-profit organizations, journalism, education, the private sector, and academia.

The curriculum combines integrative core seminars with the opportunity to take South Asia Studies courses in a variety of disciplines across Columbia University. Core courses address key issues and approaches to South Asia Studies. The program includes training in research methodologies and the critical use of scholarship as a foundation for developing the M.A. thesis. To complement the core curriculum, students choose from a variety of courses offered regularly by South Asia Studies faculty in anthropology, art history, history, international affairs, literature, politics, and religion. Although there is no language requirement for the M.A., Columbia offers elementary through advanced levels of training in Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Tibetan, and Urdu.

The Institute provides resources and guidance for students to develop both a broad interdisciplinary expertise in South Asia Studies and an area of specialization to be chosen by the student across a range of disciplines in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As a capstone project, student completes a master's thesis in consultation with an advisor from the student's field of specialization.

All students meet regularly with the M.A. Coordinator, Professor Katherine Pratt Ewing, who is a member of the South Asia Studies faculty at Columbia, for advisement and assistance in developing a coherent program of study to meet their individual goals and interests.

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Requirements for the M.A. in South Asia Studies

South Asian Studies students must complete 36 credit points, including the thesis, to graduate. Of the 36 points, 30 must be at the graduate level (4000 or higher). Specific degree requirements are:

  • An introductory course addressing the history, culture, religion, or politics of South Asia
  • Three courses in one of the following areas: history (including art history); literature; religion and philosophy; or social sciences (anthropology, economics, political science, sociology)
  • Two courses in a second area not selected above
  • One course in a third area not selected above
  • Four elective courses in subjects related to South Asian Studies
  • Final master's thesis completed in the final term and registered under RSRH G4990 Research Seminar or SASS G4999 Supervised Individual Research

There is no language requirement for the South Asian Studies M.A. degree. Students may take up to six credit points of language courses at the 3000-level (advanced or higher) in Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, or Urdu.

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To apply to the M.A. Program in South Asia Studies, please use the Standard Application to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which can be found on-line at The complete application includes transcripts of all previous post-secondary education, a statement of academic purpose, a CV or resume, three letters of evaluation from academic sources, GRE scores (general test only), a writing sample, and an application fee. Applicants whose primary language of undergraduate education was not English must submit scores from a TOEFL examination. For information about the GRE or TOEFL, see the website of the Educational Testing Service, at

Deadline for Fall admission: March 15
Deadline for Spring admission: November 1

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Early Admission for Undergraduates (BA-MA Program)

Students enrolled at Columbia College, SEAS, Barnard, and the School of General Studies may apply for early admission to the MA program in South Asia Studies and begin their MA coursework in their senior year while completing their undergraduate degree. The department encourages applications from students in a variety of majors who have excellent academic records.

Early Admissions Process: Students seeking early admission into the MA program should contact the MA Coordinator, Professor Katherine Pratt Ewing during the second semester of the junior year or at the beginning of the first semester of the senior year before submitting an application. Applications for early admission should be submitted no later than March 15th of the student's junior year for admission in the following fall semester or November 1st of the student's senior year for admission in the following spring semester. Decisions will be announced no later than one month after the application deadline.

The application for Columbia and Barnard undergraduates seeking early admission is otherwise the same as the regular admissions requirements for non-Columbia applicants to the M.A. program, as above, with the exception that a GRE test is not required.

Students in the early admission program are eligible to apply for both Academic Year and Summer Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships, which provide tuition and stipend support. Applicants must plan to study a South Asia language during both terms of their fellowship, and must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. See the Financial Aid section, below.

Admission in the MA program may be revoked if after admission the student fails to make adequate progress toward either the undergraduate or graduate degree. Examples of failure to make adequate academic progress would include a severe decline in GPA, or evidence of academic dishonesty.

Transition from the BA program to the MA program: The curriculum and requirements for students who are admitted early are the same as those for all other students in the MA program (see above).

Coursework taken to satisfy any requirement of the undergraduate degree-i.e., courses taken to complete a major, a concentration, the science requirement, or the 124-point requirement-cannot be applied towards the requirements of the MA program.

After the senior year, an undergraduate dean will certify what specific courses did not count for the BA degree and therefore can be applied to the MA. A maximum of fifteen credits taken as an undergraduate may count toward the MA. Students should consult with respective undergraduate and graduate deans and advisors before the senior year when designing a course of study for completion of the BA and then the MA degree.

When students are enrolled in the MA program and have finished their fourth year, they officially become students of GSAS. As such, they will lose their rights to undergraduate housing and undergraduate financial aid once they are enrolled in the MA program and have finished their fourth year. However, at that point they will be eligible for MA housing and financial aid.

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Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships

The South Asia Institute is designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a South Asia National Resource Center and is authorized to award graduate Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. FLAS awards can be for Academic Year study at Columbia, or for intensive summer language study in the U.S. or abroad. SAI is authorized for Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, Tamil and Urdu FLAS, but other modern South Asia languages (Marathi, Sinhalese, Telugu, etc.) can be authorized for summer study with the approval of the Institute and the Department of Education. Academic Year awards consist of $18,000 tuition and a stipend of $15,000. Summer awards cover tuition up to $5,000 and a stipend of $2,500. The annual Academic Year FLAS competition at Columbia is open to students in GSAS, SIPA, and Teacher's College, and the Schools of Business, Journalism, and Law. All Academic Year fellows must enroll in one language class and one area studies class in both the fall and spring semesters. The annual Summer FLAS competition is open to all graduate students in all Columbia schools. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in order to apply. For information and general guidelines, please view our announcement guidelines. The Summer and Academic Year deadline is late February to early March. All applicants must apply on-line at

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Financial Aid

Students applying to the MA program may be eligible for both federal work-study and loan programs. Please visit the Graduate Financial Aid page on the Student Financial Services page for detailed information about eligibility, direct loans, work-study, etc. Work-study, and non-work study positions are available at the South Asia Institute and across the entire Columbia campus. Work-study policies and Job listings for campus employment can be found here.

International students who are enrolled in the MA Program and are citizens of India may be eligible to apply for funding from the Taraknath Das foundation. Applicants must have completed one year of graduate study and must hold an Indian passport. Incoming students are not eligible to apply - you must have completed the first year of study in the MA program to be eligible. The application deadline is August 1 for study in the subsequent Academic Year, September to May. About four awards of up to $3,500 are given out per year. Additional information about the Taraknath Foundation and an application form can be found on the South Asia Institute website.

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Contact Us

For additional information and questions about the Master of Arts in South Asia Studies, please contact Professor Katherine Pratt Ewing, at

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Current term courses for MA students

Each semester a list of classes that can be taken for credit toward the degree will be announced. The status date of the list will be recorded, and new courses will be added to the list as details become available for registration. The selection of your schedule in a given term needs to be approved by the MA Coordinator. A complete list of South Asia classes, including undergraduate area studies and language classes, will be posted on the South Asia Institute site (see links below). Students may want to consult the Directory of Classes from the main Columbia website as well (see link below).

Spring 2014 Course List
Fall 2013 Course List
Spring 2013 Course List
Fall 2012 Course List

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MA Checklist
MA Thesis Guidelines
MA Student Handbook

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