The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations accepts applications only for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Students normally enter the PhD program after completing a first graduate degree, though there are exceptions. The department grants the PhD degree either in East Asian Languages and Civilizations (EALC) or in History and East Asian Languages (HEAL). The distinction between these degrees is explained below. The Department does not offer a Master of Arts degree. Students interested in the Master of Arts degree should apply to the AM program administered by the Committee on Regional Studies-East Asia.

Admission to the PhD program in EALC is handled jointly by GSAS and by the Department. Prospective students are encouraged to direct inquiries to individual faculty members, but they do not apply directly to the Department. All applicants must submit a formal application to the Graduate School, which collates all required materials and forwards the student’s dossier to the Department, where it is evaluated by the faculty. Final decisions on admissions are made by an Admissions Committee, made up of a representative group of EALC faculty, in consultation with the GSAS dean. Notification of decisions is normally made in mid-March. Admitted students have approximately one month to accept or decline an offer. During that time, students are strongly encouraged to plan a visit to campus; some resources are usually available to help defray travel costs.


In addition to the degree in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Department also accepts applications from students who wish to study for the PhD in History and East Asian Languages. The requirements for the degree are similar to those for the EALC PhD (spelled out in later sections). The principal difference is that HEAL students are required to take one of the first-year colloquia offered in the History Department, usually History 3910.

Admission to the HEAL PhD is handled in identical fashion to admissions to the EALC PhD, save that the initial screening of applicants is made by the Joint Committee on History and East Asian Languages, made up of faculty drawn from both the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Department of History.

There are no hard and fast distinctions between the EALC and HEAL degrees. Which degree program to apply to is largely up to the student. One rule of thumb is that if you believe you are likely to seek a position later on in a Department of History (as opposed to a Department of East Asian Studies or a Department of Languages and Literatures), then you may find the HEAL degree an advantage in the job market, especially if your chronological focus is toward the period after ca. 1500 CE.

As for the distinction between the HEAL degree and the History PhD, generally speaking, students who desire more time for language training prefer the HEAL program, which runs on a three-years-to-generals schedule, in contrast to History’s two-year time frame. Also, HEAL students, like EALC students, are examined in only three fields, whereas History PhD students must present four fields.

Deadlines and Requirements

The current application deadline for September 2017 admission is December 15, 2016. The following materials will be required of each applicant:

  • application form
  • statement of purpose
  • three letters of recommendation
  • writing sample (20 pp. max.)
  • official copies of transcripts from previous degree-granting institutions
  • official report of GRE scores
  • official report of TOEFL scores (for some applicants) 

Full details on the admissions process are available directly from the Graduate School.

The application process is now completely electronic. You can begin your application for fall 2017 admission here.

On your application, you are asked to use the code numbers provided to indicate not just the degree, but also your planned field of study. This is to ensure that faculty members with whom you would like to work are informed when your file becomes available for review.

Under GSAS rules, a student may, for an additional fee, elect to apply to two departments or PhD programs simultaneously. If the individual does so, two separate and complete applications must be submitted. In cases where an application is rejected, GSAS permits re-application up to two more times. Full details of the admissions procedures and requirements are available on the GSAS website, which all prospective applicants should consult.

Getting In

Admission to the EALC and HEAL degree programs is extremely competitive. In an average year, the Department receives close to one hundred and fifty applications from all over the world, whereas the typical entering PhD cohort consists of no more than ten or eleven students. Each admitted student is awarded a generous financial package (see next section). In evaluating applications, faculty consider proven academic excellence, the extent of appropriate language training and prior experience in East Asia, letters of recommendation, writing ability, and GRE scores, together with the student’s own statement of purpose and proposed subject of study. No student can be admitted unless it is felt there is a faculty member who can provide adequate training and supervision. Normally that faculty member will become the student’s main advisor. Typically no more than one student can be admitted in any given year to work with a particular faculty member.

Students considering applying to the program may find it beneficial to establish direct contact with faculty prior to applying. Prospective applicants are also welcome to make a visit to Cambridge to see the campus, its resources, and to meet with EALC and other faculty. Questions about the application process should be directed either to Mr. James Zigo, the Graduate Program Coordinator in EALC (, or to the Admissions Office of GSAS.