Each RSEA student is assigned a Faculty Academic Advisor. All RSEA Faculty Academic Advisors are Harvard faculty with a specialty in East Asia whose academic interests are matched as closely as possible to those expressed in the student's application.  All students should arrange to meet with their Faculty Academic Advisor in the first week of classes to discuss the academic aspects of their study plan, their course selection, and to have their courses approved in

The Faculty Academic Advisor may or may not also be the student’s Thesis Advisor, depending on the choice of thesis topic. The Thesis Advisor is generally a faculty member whose academic field or area of interest coincides with that of the student’s thesis topic. Thesis Advisors are chosen by mutual agreement between the student and faculty members. 

Degree Requirements

To receive the A.M. in Regional Studies—East Asia, a student must satisfy the requirements established by GSAS for all master's degree candidates as well as those additionally determined by the RSEA Committee. The RSEA A.M. degree requirements consist of:  

  1. Residence: RSEA is designed to be a two-year program. Students register and pay tuition as a full-time student for two academic years (or for at least one year, the minimum GSAS requirement).
  2. Courses: Ordinarily, students must satisfactorily complete 16 courses (4 credits each) of instruction, of which at least eight courses must satisfy the RSEA course requirements, as defined by the Committee.
  3. Language: Students must achieve proficiency in an East Asian language at least to the level of a completed third-year Harvard language course or the equivalent.
  4. Thesis: Students must also submit an approved thesis that meets the RSEA Committee’s standards for a master’s thesis.

Satisfactory Progress towards a Degree

As required by GSAS, the RSEA Committee reviews the progress of all students each semester. Students whose academic progress is deemed unsatisfactory for more than one semester may be asked to withdraw from the program.  In order to be eligible for financial aid, students must remain in satisfactory standing. 

  1. Residence Requirement:

The RSEA program ordinarily entails two full academic years in residence.  The minimum GSAS requirement for A.M. candidates is one year of full-time residence at the full tuition rate.  During the year(s) of full-time residence, students must follow an RSEA-approved plan of study, consisting of at least eight courses that satisfy the basic RSEA course requirements (as defined below); pay the required tuition costs; and make satisfactory academic progress by maintaining at least a minimum grade “B” average in each of the two years of study. (In rare cases a student may complete the RSEA degree requirements in less than two years. See below for more on the One-Year A.M. Degree)

After the first year of residence, some RSEA students may choose — with the prior approval of their faculty academic advisor and the RSEA Committee — to spend time away from campus as a Traveling Scholar to do primary research for their thesis or to study language (see the GSAS website and GSAS Policies for details and the required form 

Please note that Massachusetts Law requires medical insurance coverage for all Massachusetts residents, including students, and Traveling Scholars are charged for health insurance each semester unless they submit a waiver request.

2. Courses Requirement

The RSEA program is designed to be flexible and to allow students the opportunity to pursue their own particular East Asia-related interests, whether wide-ranging or relatively focused, within the guidelines of the RSEA requirements. In the normal two-year program of study, students take a total of sixteen four-credit courses. Some students may choose to take some of their courses in subjects related to their academic interests but outside the East Asian studies field. All students must graduate with at least eight RSEA-approved four-credit courses. These eight approved courses must meet the following conditions:

  • All eight courses must receive a minimum grade of B or better in compliance with GSAS policy.
  • At least six courses must be Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) courses, even though RSEA students are permitted, within GSAS guidelines, to take up to two courses per semester (no more than half their enrollment each term) through cross-registration at other Harvard schools or allied universities.
  • At least six courses used to count towards RSEA course requirements must be courses on East Asian topics, as indicated by course descriptions or approved by the RSEA Committee.  Courses that deal with East Asia as part of a broader context or courses that provide the theoretical underpinnings of a disciplinary approach may be approved if the student’s final paper or project primarily deals with East Asia. If the East Asian studies content of a course is not clearly stated in the course title, students must submit a petition (a template is available at to the RSEA Program Administrator at the end of the semester that the course is taken, for approval by the RSEA Committee.
  • Only two East Asian language courses may be used to fulfill the RSEA course requirement (however, they cannot be counted among the six East Asian content courses). Such language courses must be at or above the fourth-year level in the case of a primary East Asian language, or in the case of a second language, at least at the second-year level. Note: First-year Classical Chinese (Literary Chinese), 106a and 106b, cannot be used, but the second-year Classical Chinese (107a and 107b) can.
  • All first-year RSEA students are required to take “RSEA 200: Topics in Regional Studies East Asia: Proseminar.” This course is graded SAT/UNSAT.
  • Beyond RSEA 200, only one other course with SAT/UNSAT grading option and graded SAT may be used to fulfill RSEA course requirements.  Only one RSEA 300: Thesis Research and Writing course, satisfactorily completed, may be used to fulfill RSEA course requirements.   
  • RSEA G1 (first-year) students are not allowed to take the RSEA 390 (aka TIME) course. (More information below)

Students should consult their Faculty Academic Advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies regarding their proposed course of study. Any exception to the above rules must be approved in advance of taking the course by the Faculty Academic Advisor in writing, then approved by the DGS and filed in the RSEA office.  This petition will be noted in the student’s online record.

Course Selection

Normally, no more than four courses should be taken during any semester.  RSEA students are required to enroll in “RSEA 200. Topics in Regional Studies East Asia: Proseminar” in the Fall term of their first year in the program.

RSEA students may choose their courses from among the many varied offerings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the other schools at Harvard, MIT, and the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. Many FAS departments offer courses in East Asian studies, as does the undergraduate General Education program (GenEd). 

Graduate students may take undergraduate General Education (GenEd) courses only if they have special section meetings devoted to graduate students and/or separate requirements, including more substantial paper(s) and separately graded examinations. Students must discuss their intentions with their RSEA Faculty Academic Advisor and ensure that the course instructor is aware they are taking the course for graduate credit. While there is no formal limit on the number of undergraduate courses that may be taken, students are discouraged from taking more than one undergraduate course per semester.

Students' course selection is not limited solely to courses on East Asia, and they are encouraged, where appropriate, to take courses outside the East Asian field that are relevant to their intellectual interest and contribute to their academic and professional purposes.  For example, a student interested in Japanese emigration to South America might study Spanish or Portuguese, or a student working on Chinese poetry might take a seminar on European poetics in the Department of Comparative Literature.  Although such courses may not count toward the six East Asian content courses required by the program, they are a common aspect of the RSEA experience. 

Students have a five-day “shopping” period at the beginning of each semester. This is an opportunity for students to visit classes to help decide on the courses they propose to take.  The online registration system requires students to have an advising discussion with their Faculty Academic Advisor prior to the advisor releasing the “registration hold” on the student‘s selected courses. 

The Harvard Course Catalog lists two RSEA Independent Study Courses: RSEA 300: Thesis Research and Writing; and RSEA 320: Independent Reading and Research. 

Students who plan to use RSEA 300 to count toward the RSEA Program’s eight-course requirement are expected to complete at least one new thesis chapter and achieve a SAT grade.  Students planning to enroll in RSEA 320 or a department’s Independent Study Course should have a well-defined course of study that has been approved by an appropriate faculty member, either the RSEA Chair or Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

RSEA 390 (formerly TIME Course) is a placeholder course designed to ensure graduate students are registered properly. While TIME courses are primarily designed for doctoral students, the RSEA 390 course can provide G2 students with time for writing their thesis and applying for graduate schools and/or jobs. Should a G2 student wish to take RSEA 390, the student must obtain a written note from their Faculty Academic Advisor that states the reason for it and expressly gives approval. The note can be sent electronically to the RSEA Director of Graduate Studies, who signs off on the taking of RSEA 390. RSEA G1 students are not allowed to take RSEA 390.

Policy on Incompletes 

An RSEA student is not allowed to carry more than one Incomplete (INC) grade at any given time, but G1 students are not allowed to carry the INC into their G2 year (see below). Students who receive a second Incomplete grade at any point during graduate studies will be placed into unsatisfactory status, which may compromise their funding.

If a student has an Incomplete from their first (G1) year, it must be completed by the end of the summer before the fall term of the G2 year begins; otherwise the student will not be allowed to register for the fall term. Should the student turn in the work for the course but the Course Instructor has not yet sent in the grade change, an email note from the Instructor to the RSEA Program Administrator and the Director of Graduate Studies is required in order for the program to inform the student’s Faculty Academic Advisor and to ask the Faculty Academic Advisor to lift the ‘hold’ for the student to register.

3. Language Requirement:

In order to satisfy the RSEA language requirement, students must either satisfactorily complete at least a third-year level East Asian language course at Harvard, or demonstrate the equivalent proficiency through a language placement test administered by the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations (EALC) prior to the beginning of classes each fall. Language placement test information and schedule is typically posted during the summer at  

All students entering the RSEA program with some East Asian language background who have not previously taken language courses at Harvard are required to take the language placement tests. These tests are designed to assist the teachers of the language programs in placing students in the most appropriate course level. In the case of students who qualify to take courses at the fourth-year level or above, this placement may be used to demonstrate fulfillment of the RSEA language requirement. 

Native speakers of an East Asian language who have received a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree using their native language are exempt from the requirement to demonstrate proficiency, except in cases where the language of academic focus is not the student's native language (e.g., a native speaker of Japanese whose academic field is in Chinese studies should take the Chinese language placement test).

Students without prior background in a given East Asian language would ordinarily have to devote a total of six courses to mastering the East Asian language to the program-required third-year level.  However, in order to satisfy the language requirement and complete the AM degree within the standard two years, students often undertake an intensive second-year summer program between their first and second years, at the Harvard Summer School or another approved program.

4. Thesis Requirement:

All RSEA A.M. degree candidates must complete a thesis that meets the following minimum standards:  

  • The thesis should be composed under the guidance of and in close consultation with the student’s Thesis Advisor.
  • The thesis should demonstrate original research and fresh interpretation of a subject, significant use of primary sources in one (or more) East Asian language(s), and the candidate’s familiarity with previous scholarship related to the subject matter.
  • The body of the text (i.e., excluding bibliography and other supplementary material) is expected to be 60-80 pages in length (approx. 25,000-35,000 words), or of a length deemed appropriate by the student’s thesis advisor.
  • The thesis should follow the appropriate scholarly format and physical presentation, including title page, footnotes, and bibliography in accordance with RSEA thesis guidelines and GSAS Policies. Refer to Formatting Your Dissertation at and to RSEA thesis format and binding instructions on the RSEA website
  • The final version of the thesis submitted to the RSEA Program must be accompanied by a written note of approval from the Thesis Advisor; otherwise the thesis will not be accepted by the RSEA Program office.

The A.M. thesis often begins as a seminar paper, usually significantly further developed to meet the RSEA Committee's requirements for a thesis.  Students are encouraged to begin thinking about their thesis topic as early as possible and to discuss their choice of topic with their RSEA Faculty Academic Advisor and their Thesis Advisor (when the Thesis Advisor is not the Faculty Academic Advisor). Students should certainly have a clear idea about their thesis topic at the beginning of their second year or, if intending to complete the degree in one year, at the end of their first semester.

The RSEA program provides a series of thesis workshops to enable students to share progress on their thesis. All students are required to attend the RSEA thesis workshops and are expected to observe the Committee's specified deadline for completion of the thesis.  (Note that this deadline is different than the FAS PhD dissertation submission date).  Students are required to submit to the RSEA Program office one electronic (PDF) copy and one hard copy of the completed thesis accompanied by a written note of approval from the Thesis Advisor. A thesis submitted without the Thesis Advisor’s approval (or Grade Report) will not be accepted. Late submission of a thesis will result in a delay in graduation.

All A.M. theses are evaluated by at least two faculty readers. Eligibility for the degree depends on the final acceptance of the thesis by the two faculty readers. A formal grade for the A.M. thesis is not awarded; the thesis is simply deemed “acceptable” or “unacceptable” for degree purposes.  However, the RSEA Committee maintains its own internal grading system.  Outstanding theses may be nominated by their readers for the Joseph Fletcher Memorial Award, an annual prize given by the Committee for the best A.M. thesis or theses.

The RSEA A.M. thesis is a part of the academic record and as such will be deposited in the Harvard Archive.

One-Year A.M. Degree:

In rare cases, students with a substantial language and East Asian studies background may petition to complete the requirements for the A.M. degree in a single year or, more commonly, in three semesters. Students intending to complete the A.M. degree in one year must have the permission of the RSEA Committee; this permission is requested via a signed petition, submitted at the beginning of the academic year.  The petition can be found on the RSEA website and should be accompanied by a list of the eight courses the student plans to take during the academic year. The student must ensure that together the eight courses fulfill the RSEA course requirements.