Asian Studies

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

UC Berkeley has long been noted for its outstanding scholarship in the area of Asian Studies. A faculty group and an interdisciplinary graduate program on Asia was first established in 1949 under the name Asiatic Studies. The name was changed to Asian Studies in 1959. An interdisciplinary undergraduate major in Asian Studies was established in 1975. More than seventy faculty members and fifteen departments are presently engaged in teaching and research concerning Asia. These resources are supplemented by extensive library facilities and by the programs of five major area centers that offer lecture series and colloquia throughout the year. The Bay Area itself, with its Asian ethnic communities, museums, performing arts, monasteries, and trade centers provides unlimited cultural opportunities for the student interested in reaching beyond the confines of the university. The Group in Asian Studies offers a MA degree program in Asian Studies. Students in the program emphasize one of four areas of Asia: East Asia (China), Northeast Asia (Japan/Korea), Southeast Asia, or South Asia.

The group also offers an interdisciplinary PhD degree in Asian Studies. Only students who first complete the MA program at UC Berkeley can be considered for the PhD program. Students in the PhD program must be intellectually focused and must master the methodological aspects of the humanities and/or social sciences in pursuing their studies. Applicants with specific disciplinary interests should apply to a departmental PhD program rather than to this interdisciplinary group.

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Admission to the University

Minimum Requirements for Admission

The following minimum requirements apply to all graduate programs and will be verified by the Graduate Division:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;
  2. A grade point average of B or better (3.0);
  3. If the applicant comes from a country or political entity (e.g., Quebec) where English is not the official language, adequate proficiency in English to do graduate work, as evidenced by a TOEFL score of at least 90 on the iBT test, 570 on the paper-and-pencil test, or an IELTS Band score of at least 7 (note that individual programs may set higher levels for any of these); and
  4. Sufficient undergraduate training to do graduate work in the given field.

Applicants Who Already Hold a Graduate Degree

The Graduate Council views academic degrees not as vocational training certificates, but as evidence of broad training in research methods, independent study, and articulation of learning. Therefore, applicants who already have academic graduate degrees should be able to pursue new subject matter at an advanced level without need to enroll in a related or similar graduate program.

Programs may consider students for an additional academic master’s or professional master’s degree only if the additional degree is in a distinctly different field.

Applicants admitted to a doctoral program that requires a master’s degree to be earned at Berkeley as a prerequisite (even though the applicant already has a master’s degree from another institution in the same or a closely allied field of study) will be permitted to undertake the second master’s degree, despite the overlap in field.

The Graduate Division will admit students for a second doctoral degree only if they meet the following guidelines:

  1. Applicants with doctoral degrees may be admitted for an additional doctoral degree only if that degree program is in a general area of knowledge distinctly different from the field in which they earned their original degree. For example, a physics PhD could be admitted to a doctoral degree program in music or history; however, a student with a doctoral degree in mathematics would not be permitted to add a PhD in statistics.
  2. Applicants who hold the PhD degree may be admitted to a professional doctorate or professional master’s degree program if there is no duplication of training involved.

Applicants may apply only to one single degree program or one concurrent degree program per admission cycle.

Required Documents for Applications

  1. Transcripts: Applicants may upload unofficial transcripts with your application for the departmental initial review. If the applicant is admitted, then official transcripts of all college-level work will be required. Official transcripts must be in sealed envelopes as issued by the school(s) attended. If you have attended Berkeley, upload your unofficial transcript with your application for the departmental initial review. If you are admitted, an official transcript with evidence of degree conferral will not be required.
  2. Letters of recommendation: Applicants may request online letters of recommendation through the online application system. Hard copies of recommendation letters must be sent directly to the program, not the Graduate Division.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants from countries or political entities in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to applicants from Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Latin America, the Middle East, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, most European countries, and Quebec (Canada). However, applicants who, at the time of application, have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a US university may submit an official transcript from the US university to fulfill this requirement. The following courses will not fulfill this requirement:
    • courses in English as a Second Language,
    • courses conducted in a language other than English,
    • courses that will be completed after the application is submitted, and
    • courses of a non-academic nature.

If applicants have previously been denied admission to Berkeley on the basis of their English language proficiency, they must submit new test scores that meet the current minimum from one of the standardized tests.

Where to Apply

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page

Admission to the Program

MA Program

  1. Online Application: Fill out the graduate admissions application available on the Graduate Division website.
  2. Transcripts:
    1. Domestic Applicants: Upload unofficial transcripts with the online application for the departmental initial review. Upload a transcript from every post-secondary school you have attended, including community college. You do not need to send the department paper copies. Official transcripts of all college-level work will be required only if admitted. Official transcripts must be in sealed envelopes as issued by the school(s) you have attended. Request a current transcript from every post-secondary school that you have attended, including community colleges, summer sessions, and extension programs.
    2. International Applicants: Upload unofficial transcripts with the application for the departmental initial review. In addition to this, you must mail to the department, official paper transcripts or academic records for all university-level studies you have completed, at US institutions and abroad. Note that this is a departmental requirement, and we require paper transcripts from international students even though the Graduate Admissions Office does not. If your academic records do not include official evidence of the award of your degree, you must also submit additional documents that verify its award. Academic records should be issued in their original languages accompanied by English translations (usually prepared by your university or governmental agency, unless the institution issues original documents in English). In general, records or transcripts must be issued by the school and include the school’s stamp or embossed seal and the signature of the authorizing official. For more detailed information on acceptable documents, please contact Graduate Admissions. Send the transcripts to the department at Group in Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley,1995 University Avenue, Suite 510E, Berkeley, CA 94720-2318, USA.
  3. Letters of Recommendation: Send three letters of recommendation from three recommenders familiar with your work, preferably in an academic setting. We will accept online letters of recommendation only. Extra letters, CV/resumes, or photos will be discarded.  Instructions on how to submit letters are included in the Graduate Admissions application.
  4. Academic Writing Sample: Writing samples must be 5-7 pages in length (spacing does not matter) and in English. Examples include an essay or book review. You can upload the writing sample as part of the online application. Do not send or email writing samples to the department. Writing samples that are longer than the stated length will not be read so please modify your document accordingly.
  5. GRE Test Scores: Submit GRE scores of the general test (Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical components). Scores must be sent directly by ETS to UC Berkeley (institution code 4833). Do not send test scores directly to our department. Current scores are preferred, however, scores up to five years back will be accepted. For more information on when test scores are mailed out by ETS, see the ETS website. Note that for the computer test, scores are sent to institutions approximately 10-15 days after the test date. For the paper-based test, please arrange to take the test in late October or before. This will ensure timely delivery of your scores.
  6. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants from countries in which English is not the official language are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency through the TOEFL exam. If you have completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better in residence at a US university, you do not need to take this test. For a list of countries and minimum scores, see info on this section above. Scores must be sent directly by ETS to UC Berkeley (institution code 4833). Do not send test scores directly to our department.
Profile of a successful applicant

The profile of a successful applicant admitted recently would include such attributes as:

  • Two or more years of relevant Asian language preparation.
  • An upper division grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher: In evaluating grade point average, particular emphasis is placed on the applicant's last two years of undergraduate study and on his or her work in the area in which he or she intends to specialize. 
  • A writing sample of high caliber.
  • A verbal GRE test score in the 90-99th percentile.
  • Excellent letters of recommendation from academic sources that can comment in detail on scholarly attributes.
  • A concise, mature, and directed statement of purpose that fits within the interdisciplinary Asian Studies program requirements and capabilities.
  • Some experience living, studying, or working in Asia.

PhD Program

Only for students who first complete the MA program at UC Berkeley can be considered for the PhD program.

  1. Students must complete the MA degree in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley prior to applying for the PhD.
  2. Five letters of recommendation from academic sources from pertinent units on the Berkeley campus.
  3. Formation of a three-member faculty committee (by the applicant) to supervise the work toward the advanced degree.
  4. A proposed academic plan leading toward qualifying examinations, including the types of courses the applicant plans to take.
  5. An academic writing sample such as an in-depth research paper or copy of the MA thesis.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Note: only students that have completed a MA in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley may apply to the PhD program. The program is not open to non-UC Berkeley students. 


Six Courses
Five Graduate Courses, distributed between three different departments; a maximum of two courses may be reading courses (numbered 299)
One Upper Division Course

The above course work must involve at least two major geographical or cultural areas of Asia, and must include substantial comparative analytical content. It must include as well the acquisition of a reading knowledge of two Asian languages. The PhD candidate must complete the course work proposed as set by a three-member faculty committee.

Qualifying Examinations

The PhD candidate must pass qualifying examinations as set by the three-member faculty committee, augmented by two additional faculty members for purposes of the examination.

Time in Candidacy


Upon completion of the qualifying exams, the student will advance to candidacy. At this stage, the student will write, under the supervision of the three-member committee, a dissertation that satisfies the requirements of the Graduate Division.

Dissertation Defense

At the committee's option, the dissertation may need an oral defense. The degree will be awarded upon successful completion of the dissertation.

Master's Degree Requirements

Unit Requirements

A minimum of 20 semester units (typically five courses) in the student's area of specialization, as determined in conference with the graduate adviser. All courses must be taken for a letter grade.

  • For the 20-unit minimum, at least 8 units must be in 200-series (graduate level) courses in two or more departments. The rest of the units may come from undergraduate upper division courses, or more graduate level courses.  
  • No more than 14 units of the 20-unit minimum can come from a single department.
  • Relevant language work beyond the three-year minimum requirement is encouraged and may be included among the program units upon approval of head graduate adviser.
  • The graduate proseminar, Asian Studies 201, is required for two semesters; however, the units do not count toward the 20-unit minimum.

Foreign Language

A minimum of three years of course work in an Asian language relevant to the student's regional specialization or evidence of equivalent preparation. For students who want to apply for PhD programs, it is advantageous to take more than one East Asian language.

Capstone/Thesis (Plan I)

A Master's thesis that will be supervised and approved by a three-member faculty committee.


Courses Required
ASIANST 201Asian Studies Proseminar (two semesters)1
Asian language coursework (6 semesters)
20 units of graduate or upper division courses, as per approved study list, for one of four area concentrations:20
East Asia (China)
Northeast Asia (Japan and Korea)
South Asia
Southeast Asia


Asian Studies

ASIANST 201 Asian Studies Proseminar 1 Unit

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016
This course is required of all first-year graduate students and supervised by a regular faculty member. The seminar will familiarize students with faculty, their Asian interests, research methods, and the courses they teach. It consists of presentations by faculty on their past, present, and future research.

Asian Studies Proseminar: Read More [+]

ASIANST 298 Directed Group Study 2 - 6 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Spring 2015
Group study of selected topics that vary from term to term.

Directed Group Study: Read More [+]

ASIANST 299 Independent Study 1 - 7 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2016, Fall 2015, Spring 2015
Directed reading in subject matter not covered in scheduled seminar offerings.

Independent Study: Read More [+]

Contact Information

Group in Asian Studies

1995 University Ave., Suite 510E

Phone: 510-642-0333

Visit Group Website

Chair of the Group in Asian Studies

Aihwa Ong, PhD (Anthropology)

314 Kroeber Hall

Graduate Student Affairs Officer

Dreux Montgomery

101 Stephens Hall

Phone: 510-643-4157

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