Area Studies Course and Degree Program Information

Programs in area studies are often interdisciplinary, and combine international studies, social sciences, arts, geography and cultural studies. Degree programs in area studies are available at bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels.

Essential Information

Area studies is the comprehensive study of geographic, cultural, and territorial regions. Programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Students beginning their education at the bachelor's level focus on a particular geographic region and tailor their course selection accordingly. Students may have opportunities to learn or gain practical experience abroad.

Master's degree programs focus more on research, and address the economics, culture, and literature of a given area of the world. For a comprehensive educational experience, students complete a thesis project, a practicum, or an international internship.

A doctoral program in area studies prepares learners to become scholars. Programs allow learners to expand their knowledge of their specialties. Participants also develop foreign language skills and complete a required dissertation.

Along with a bachelor's degree, master's degree programs require prior coursework in economics, social sciences, and the region of interest. Also, proof of proficiency in a foreign language relevant to the region is needed.

Admission to a doctorate program is very competitive, so applicants should have a strong academic record. For many programs, education prerequisites are the same as for an M.A. program. Some programs require that applicants earn a relevant master's degree before being accepted into the doctorate program.

Bachelor's Degree in Area Studies

A bachelor's degree program in area studies provides immersion into, and a broad understanding of, a selected region of the world, such as Asia, Africa, or the Middle East. While some colleges and universities have separate area studies departments, many more offer area studies programs within other departments, such as international studies, social sciences, or region-specific departments. For example, at schools with no area studies department, a student focusing on Colombia might work in a Latin American Studies or International Studies Department.

Area studies program coursework is determined by the concentration. Students take an interdisciplinary range of courses, such as film, economics, art, anthropology, history, political science, religion, philosophy, and sociology. They also take classes in a foreign language appropriate for their area of study. Many programs require students to work or study abroad.

Areas of concentration are offered for these regions:

  • Europe (Western, Eastern, Russia)
  • Asia
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Africa

Master's Degree in Area Studies

A master's degree in area studies is a research-oriented program providing a deeper perspective of issues surrounding a region. This includes cultural, social, political, and economic attributes of a country, or broader issues such as international security, global health, and the distribution of natural resources. Other topics covered are diplomatic relations, humanitarian aid, and global studies.

Students design their studies around a topic relevant to their chosen region. For example, ethnicity in Eastern Europe or dance forms in South America. Students take courses in research methods to prepare for their thesis work and language requirements.

Additional classes on a region include:

  • Literature and visual arts
  • Music and ethnicity
  • Politics and international relations
  • Religion and religion
  • Anthropology and archaeology
  • Geography and economics

Doctorate in Area Studies

Individuals with a graduate degree and experience seek a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Area Studies. A doctoral degree program allows individuals to attain a high level of expertise in a field or region and to make a scholarly contribution to the field. Students are required to attain proficiency in two foreign languages. Other coursework depends on the program and area of focus. The 3-year program is followed by exams designed to evaluate a candidate's thorough knowledge of their field and area of emphasis.

Popular Careers and Continuing Education

People who hold a bachelor's degree in area studies are qualified to work in government or for private organizations that operate internationally. Fields of occupation in these sectors include the following:

  • Foreign service
  • Foreign trade
  • International affairs
  • Economic development
  • Public service

Individuals with a master's degree in area studies have similar employment opportunities as those with a bachelor's degree in this major. Students may increase their marketability for jobs by combining a master's degree in area studies with a professional degree program. For example, those interested in international law might combine a law degree with an area studies master's degree. Joint degree programs are available at some schools.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

In addition to pursuing the occupations available to those holding bachelor's or master's degrees, individuals with a doctorate degree in area studies may teach at colleges or universities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), post-secondary teachers in the area, ethnic and cultural studies field had a median salary of $72,300 as of May 2015. The BLS expected job opportunities for these specific post-secondary teachers to increase by 15% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average.

Area studies programs involve a combination of interdisciplinary coursework, language training, and international internships. Graduates are well prepared to pursue work abroad or for organizations that operate internationally.

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