Graduate Curriculum and Requirements

The program is designed with three goals in mind: to orient students within American Studies as a field, to deepen their strengths in a related disciplinary practice, and to provide space for them to conceive an interdisciplinary research agenda.

The requirements are as follows:

• CSER 5000: Introduction to American Studies
• CSER 5001: Methods in American Studies
• 3 courses in a discipline traditionally associated with American Studies
• 3 courses centered on an interdisciplinary theme or idea
• CSER 4999: Supervised Individual Research (thesis)

CSER 5000 and CSER 5001 can vary in content and orientation depending on the professor. Some recent versions are visible here and here.

CSER 5000 and CSER 5001

The “Introduction to American Studies” course focuses on the interpretation of primary sources and how to write about the various genres of American culture and history. “Methods in American Studies” delves into the history of American and Ethnic Studies as areas of academic inquiry. In this course, students address issues within their own research practices in relation to the major debates in the field. With these two foundational courses, students design their own curriculum from courses across the university with consultation from the program director.

3 Courses in a Discipline Traditionally Associated with American Studies

The three courses in a “disciplinary concentration” are selected from one discipline related to American Studies, typically corresponding to a department at Columbia University. While American Studies initially emerged at the intersection of Literature and History, it is now practiced in various institutional contexts. Many of our students pursue Ph.D. programs in these fields, indicating the necessity of disciplinary competence for interdisciplinary M.A. students.

3 Courses Centered on an Interdisciplinary Theme or Idea

The three courses in an “interdisciplinary theme” enable students to explore an idea that will structure the basis for their thesis research across disciplines. This idea should be broad enough to be present in course listings across multiple departments. Interdisciplinary themes should also be chosen with the purpose to establish a framework for the thesis project. Previous themes have included “Public Housing in America,” “Drug Use and Drug Policy,” and “The U.S. and Globalization.”

Students must consult with the program director before registering for classes each term, and formulate their trajectory according to the course offerings. A minimum of 30 points and 2 full residence units are required to graduate.

Students must take at least one course at the 6000 level or above and may not take courses below the 4000 level. All of these courses must be taken for letter grades (grade option “L” in SSOL). For courses at the 6000 level and above, instructor permission may be required. Students should write the instructor an email in advance of enrolling with a brief narrative of their relevant prior experience and/or explain how the course fits into their intellectual trajectory.

Occasionally, students reach the required 30 points and 2 full residence units before having taken 3 classes in each of their elective distribution categories; in these instances, the requirement of 30 points and 2 full residence units supersedes the distribution requirements, and the student should graduate.

Follow your progress with the Degree Checklist for Masters in American Studies.

See this form for a visualization of how students meet the requirements to graduate in two, three, or four semesters.

Foreign language courses may not be counted toward the American Studies M.A. degree. However, given that important work in American Studies relies on research in foreign languages, students are welcome and encouraged to enroll in Columbia language courses.

Time-to-Degree and the Residence Unit System

To graduate, students must complete two full residence units and 30 points. It is possible to complete the M.A. degree within a single full-time academic year; however, this entails a heavy class schedule and leaves limited time for research. Most students take at least three terms. The additional time allows students to participate in and benefit from extracurricular and community activities around Columbia, which are central aspects in the life of a graduate student. However, the decision is yours and you choose how to approach your own path in the M.A. program. Be sure to consult the program director about your choices in terms of enrollment and course load.

The first step to plan and strategize your time as a student is understanding Columbia’s residence unit system. The relevant registration categories are as follows:

  • Residence Unit (less than or equal to 20 points)
  • Half Residence Unit (three or fewer courses)
  • Quarter Residence Unit (two or fewer courses)
  • Extended Residence Unit

Detailed information about the fees associated with full and fractional residence units can be found on the GSAS website here. Students register for the residence units as they would for a class. Each semester, the call numbers are located in the course listings under the department “Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.” Students must register for a full or partial residence unit in any semester during which they are taking courses intended to count towards graduation.

You may choose to approach the program at any reasonable pace in no more than three academic years. See this form for illustrations of how you might approach the degree requirements over two, three, or four semesters.

International students are required by U.S. law to maintain full-time status, and for this reason, they must enroll in full residence units for the whole of their time at Columbia, except during the final term when they conduct thesis research.

Internship Points

Some students choose to augment their studies with internships, either on campus or at institutions around the city. Since students are required (by law) to earn college credit for unpaid internships, the M.A. program offers a course through which students can receive credit towards their degrees for relevant internships. The course number is CSER 4997 “Internship,” and it is available through consultation with the director. A sample syllabus can be viewed here. Students have completed internships with documentary film companies, artists, and the Wallach Art Gallery here at Columbia. If you are interested in this opportunity, please see the director.

Academic Progress

Students must maintain an average of B (3.00 GPA) or higher to remain in good standing. Those who do not make satisfactory progress may be subject to academic probation or even dismissal from the program.

Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
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CSER continues to be Columbia's main interdisciplinary space for the study of ethnicity and race and their implications for thinking about culture, power, hierarchy, social identities, and political communities.
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