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First-Year Focus

Welcome to Northwestern! We are glad that you have an interest in the Asian Studies Program (ASP)! To help you make all of the important decisions that face you right now, we try below to answer some questions you may have about Asian Studies at Northwestern.

Exam Credit

AP exam credits and high scores on language placement exams do not count toward program majors and minors. Exam results can, however, allow you to pursue more advanced coursework.

What can I study at Northwestern?

ASP offers an interdisciplinary major, Asian Studies, which combines substantial training in a relevant language – Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, or Korean – and a stimulating, well-rounded mix of History, Humanities, and Social Science courses related to Asia. “History” classes are offered by the department of History; “Humanities” classes are offered by the departments of Art History, English, Radio/TV/Film (School of Communications), Religious Studies, and Asian Languages and Cultures and the Program of Comparative Literature; “Social Science” classes are offered by the departments of Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, and Sociology. ASP fields some courses of its own in each of these rubrics, as well. Not all classes in these disciplines count toward the Asian Studies major and minor; only courses that focus on Asia count for ASP credit. Lists of relevant courses can be found on our website. (Asian Studies majors must choose to focus on one of three culturally differentiated areas: East, South, or Southeast Asia. They may, however, also take Asia-related courses outside their concentration.)

Other students decide to take a varied but smaller roster of courses and complete the Asian Studies minor. 

As a “program” and not a “department,” ASP does not have its own faculty. Rather, the program draws on faculty housed in several different departments in WCAS or other schools, such the School of Communications. The curriculum at Northwestern is always changing, but you can get a sense of the breadth of NU’s course offerings on Asia by looking at lists of Asia related courses by clicking the “Courses” tab on this website. The intellectual richness of these classes is vast, as are the talents and interests of our students and faculty. As such, students work in conjunction with a program advisor and consult with their professors to create their own plans of study. More information on program requirements can be found by clicking the “Undergraduate” tab on this website. 

In addition to the Asian Studies major, it is possible to focus on Asia-related courses of study in various departments, such as History, Art History, Religious Studies, Political Science, and Asian Languages and Cultures. These departments emphasize particular disciplinary perspectives, while ASP, as an interdisciplinary program, allows students to explore and combine different disciplines. Some students wonder how ASP compares to the Asian Languages and Cultures Department. Those of you whose interests are focused on literary studies may wish to become an Asian Languages and Cultures major. If your interests extend across the humanities and social sciences, the Asian Studies major or minor may be best for you.

What can I do after I graduate?

What can’t one do with an Asian Studies major or minor? The Asian Studies major and minor enable students to gain a sophisticated critical understanding of Asia and the exchange of people, goods, and ideas between Asia and the rest of the globe. At the same time, ASP students learn to interrogate the world and themselves through the lens of another language and culture. Like all Northwestern students, ASP students hone their aptitude for asking good questions and analyzing problems, conducting research, and effectively presenting ideas in writing or in speech. Such skills, knowledge, and habits of mind are the hallmarks of a rigorous liberal arts education at a great university like Northwestern. These abilities provide a foundation for success in a wide range of careers. Some of our graduates go on to law, management, or medical schools with the intention of practicing their professions abroad where they can make use of their specialized area knowledge. Others move directly into jobs with schools, businesses, media, government, or non-profit organizations. Some go on to graduate study in the humanities, social sciences, or the natural or life sciences—perhaps with a continuing focus on Asian society, culture, and/or politics—with the aim of working in academe or of pursuing one of a myriad of possible career paths. Some graduates work primarily in Asia or elsewhere overseas, while others remain in North America or live and work in a variety of places. On the whole, our graduates enjoy career success in an array of professions.

What are good classes for first-year students?

Advanced proficiency in an Asian language requires several years of study. If you suspect that you would like to study Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, or Korean while at Northwestern, it would be best to try it out as a first-year student. If you studied one of these languages in high school, it is important that you continue your language study.

Departments have different expectations regarding course pre-requisites. Some require that students take introductory courses or strongly recommend that you take 200-level courses. Others, such as the history department, encourage first-year students to take 200- or 300-level lecture classes. Some recommended courses include ASIAN ST 274, “Introduction to Chinese Literature”; ASIAN ST 271, “Japanese Literature in Translation”; History 281, “Chinese Civilization”; History 385, “History of Modern India”; Religion 210, “Introduction to Buddhism”; and Religion 250, “Introduction to Islam”. Many others are appropriate as well, so please do look at the lists of ASP courses on our website. (The lists of relevant classes include courses offered by ASP itself, which are listed as “ASIAN ST”, and courses offered by disciplinary departments such as Asian Languages and Cultures, History, Political Science, Religious Studies, and Art History.) You may also want to look at the websites of faculty members’ home departments for more information on required or suggested course sequences or simply ask the professor or other faculty members whether a particular course would be appropriate for first-year students. In any case, do jump in and begin exploring Asia-related classes in different disciplines. A world and lifetime of learning awaits!

If you still have questions about the major and minor in Asian Studies, feel free to contact the ASP director, Professor Rajeev Kinra.

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