V. Coursework and Language Requirements

The department offers an extremely wide array of courses and students are encouraged and expected to familiarize themselves with the range of the curriculum and the opportunities it presents, even as they prepare to specialize in one or more areas. A creative and flexible approach to planning is best: there is no “orthodox” set of courses that everyone takes nor, with the exception of language requirements, are there many prerequisites to be satisfied. This means there is usually room in most programs of study for some judicious experimentation. At a minimum, you should discuss with your advisor the courses you plan to take before signing up for anything; some advisors will ask you to rough out a plan for the entire year, or beyond. Remember to plan ahead to take faculty leaves or certain course sequences into account. Within the limits of your program requirements, you should try to take advantage of the extraordinary range of courses offered at Harvard. Students who do tend to find their overall program more fulfilling.

Coursework Requirements

The Department requires students to meet the following coursework requirements for the PhD in EALC and HEAL before being allowed to take the General (“qualifying”) Examinations:

Sixteen four credit courses in which the student has earned a grade of B- or better, of which at least eight should be content courses. Normally no more than six language courses should be used to count toward the required sixteen courses.  Of these 16 courses, no more than eight may be carried over from prior work in the RSEA program and no more than three may be taken SAT/UNSAT. A.

Two research seminar papers that make use of texts written in the student’s primary research language(s), i.e. one or more of the East Asian languages; draw upon significant, relevant secondary sources; and receive a grade of A or A- from the instructor of the course for which the paper was written. One of the two seminar papers must be in the student’s primary field. Seminar papers are usually 20-25 pages in length and frequently longer. Transfer students from RSEA may submit up to one research paper from the AM program in satisfaction of this requirement. In choosing seminars and in researching and writing seminar papers, it is the responsibility of the student to ensure that s/he makes sufficient use of primary sources in one or more East Asian languages.

Note that, depending on one’s field, some specific seminars may be required of EALC PhD candidates. Your advisor can inform you of these requirements. Candidates for the HEAL degree must satisfactorily complete History 3900, The Writing of History. This introductory seminar on historical methodology is offered every fall in the History Department. First-year HEAL students will be contacted directly by the History Graduate Coordinator with enrollment details.

At present there is no minimum number of courses that must be taken within the department. You are free to enroll in courses outside EALC, and even outside FAS, provided you and your advisor agree that such courses make sense within the context of your overall curriculum and eventual dissertation plans.

Choosing Courses

Deciding which courses to take is one of the great pleasures of graduate study, in EALC as in other departments. The challenge is to find a combination of courses that will provide you the knowledge and the tools needed to become a good scholar and teacher. When planning courses, students should keep in mind the usefulness of a given class with respect to research and teaching plans and also the field distribution requirements for the General Examinations and the eventual make-up of the examination committee. More on General Examinations is found in Section VI.

Depending upon your field, there may be one or more courses or sequence of courses that students typically are advised to take; it is recommended that students confer carefully with their advisors early in their graduate careers to learn of any such expectations.

Types of Courses

Broadly speaking, there are five types of courses offered in the Department:

Language courses, ranging from elementary to advanced levels; emphases may vary (conversation, reading, writing, translation). Note that many language courses continue to meet during Reading Period.

Conference courses, small lecture courses, often with mixed undergraduate and graduate enrollment; involve both discussion and writing short papers.

Proseminars, reading seminars aimed mainly to introduce a body of knowledge and its pertinent scholarly literature; useful for preparing examination fields.

Research seminars, focusing on the introduction of primary sources and research methodology; intended to guide students in producing original scholarship.

Independent study, ungraded, supervised reading and/or writing; meetings may be irregularly scheduled.

How best to combine different types of courses is largely up to you. Though they are often valuable, the department discourages students from relying on independent studies to fulfill course requirements and regards participation in graduate seminars as an important aspect of intellectual development.

In making decisions about courses, keep in mind Add/Drop deadlines for adding and withdrawing from courses or for changing grading status to SAT/UNSAT.

Language Requirements

Apart from coursework requirements, the department sets specific language requirements for the degree that are intended to ensure that all students are proficient in the primary language(s) needed for professional scholarly research in the field. These requirements are the same for EALC and HEAL PhD candidates.

The minimal language requirements for the PhD involve mastery of one East Asian language and advanced work in a second East Asian language. What those languages are depends upon a student’s regional and disciplinary specialization, and there is variation across the department. Standard requirements are defined for the different regional specializations as follows:

China: Fourth-year level in modern Chinese; second-year level in literary Chinese; third-year level in modern Japanese or, in exceptional cases, equivalent ability in another East Asian language, or another research language.

China/Inner Asia: The same as for China, with the addition of two years’ study of one or more of the spoken or literary languages of Inner Asia (Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Chaghatay).

Japan: Fourth-year level in modern Japanese; first-year level in classical Japanese; 
For students of pre-modern Japan: One year of literary Chinese and other appropriate language study (e.g. kanbun, komonjo, more classical Japanese) as determined by adviser.
For students of modern Japan: One year of literary Chinese or advanced proficiency (2nd year level) in another modern East Asian language.

Korea: Fourth-year level in modern Korean; third-year level in modern Japanese; first-year level in literary Chinese for students of modern Korea (Note: May be waived in certain circumstances with written permission of the faculty advisor.); second-year level in literary Chinese for students of pre-modern Korea.

Tibet: Third-year level in literary Tibetan; first-year level in modern Tibetan;combined two years of study of literary and/or modern Chinese depending on specialty. One year of Sanskrit.  Note: In some cases, the equivalent background in either Manchu or Mongolian may be substituted for Chinese.

These are minimal requirements. In some fields, students may be expected to gain a greater level of proficiency than is indicated here or may be advised to learn additional languages.

As of 2006, the department no longer requires students to demonstrate proficiency in a European language other than English. However, in formulating a program of study, the student is strongly encouraged to discuss the desirability of acquiring such proficiency (e.g., in French, German, Russian) with his/her advisor. In some cases, students may find it worthwhile signing up for courses such as French Ax and German S, which focus on improving reading ability.

Substitutions and exceptions to the above requirements must be approved by both the advisor and the DGS. All language requirements must be completed prior to taking the General Examinations. There are no exceptions to this policy.

Satisfying the Language Requirement

Language requirements may be satisfied by coursework, examination, or by otherwise demonstrating (e.g., by writing a seminar paper in which sources in the primary language are successfully employed) the necessary level of ability. Bear in mind that in some examination fields professors set other specific requirements that must be met before proceeding to generals. Details on these requirements are found in the listings for each field in the Description of Fields (Section XII).


Most students satisfy at least some language requirements through coursework after enrolling at Harvard, whether in regular term courses or in summer courses. These latter may be taken at Harvard or at accredited programs elsewhere in the US or abroad. A minimum grade of B- is required in any language course to be applied toward language requirements.

Note that students must apply to have Harvard Summer School credit transferred to their FAS transcripts. This is a 2-step process. First, students must submit to the Registrar the "Application for Academic Credit for Graduate Work Done Elsewhere" form.

The second step is to request a transfer of the summer school transcript to the GSAS Registrar's Office.

Note also that only language courses taken at Harvard (including the Summer School) may be counted toward satisfying the departmental 16-course requirement. This includes language courses taken at the Harvard Beijing Academy.


Students with significant study experience prior to enrolling at Harvard, whether inside or outside a formal language program, may demonstrate that they have reached the appropriate minimum level of proficiency in a language by passing an examination. Arrangements for such examinations are made specially with the directors of the respective language programs in EALC after consultation with the advisor and the DGS. Under exceptional circumstances, degree candidates whose coursework has been mainly at Harvard may request that an examination be administered to confirm that their language proficiency meets the department’s requirements.

Seminar Paper

Upon agreement of the advisor and the DGS, students may sometimes demonstrate the required level of linguistic proficiency by producing a research seminar paper that demonstrates mastery of sources in an East Asian language. Usually this will be limited to the literary (pre-modern) form of a language.

English Language Proficiency

Students whose native language is not English should be aware that the Department holds all students to a high standard of proficiency in both spoken and written English. Students who are unable to meet this standard are liable to dismissal from the PhD program. The Graduate School offers considerable resources to all students, native and non-native speakers alike, who desire assistance in improving their oral, aural, and written skills in English.

Students who have concerns in this regard should consult early with the advisor and the DGS. Most new international students are required to sit an English language proficiency assessment before the start of the term.


A graduate student may, at the discretion of the instructor, receive a grade of “INC” (Incomplete) in order to gain more time to complete the requirements for a course. In such cases, unless s/he is given an earlier deadline by the instructor, the student must turn in all outstanding work no later than the end of the term following that in which the course was taken. This is true even if the student is on leave of absence during that term.

Note that an Incomplete grade that is not made up by the end of one semester will automatically convert to a permanent Incomplete. Requests for an extension beyond the one-term deadline must be submitted in writing to GSAS and require the approval of the instructor. This form can be obtained from the Graduate Program Coordinator.

The department allows students to carry only three active incompletes at one time. If more are carried, it may jeopardize the student’s satisfactory standing, and further registration may not be permitted. Students with active incompletes on the transcript held over more than one term may receive a letter from the DGS reminding them of the need to complete work as soon as possible.