General MA Procedures

In addition to the MA awarded within the PhD program, NELC offers an independent (terminal) MA degree. Students admitted to the MA program are assigned a faculty Advisor to guide their studies. Twelve courses (12 c.u.) are required for the degree. These courses, selected in consultation with the Advisor, will normally be completed in three semesters. All students, regardless of their concentration, must master at least one of the languages in which the primary sources of NELC's subfields are written. Standards vary by subfields.

In addition to twelve courses, students in the MA program must pass a reading proficiency examination in one modern language of scholarly research. Proficiency is defined as the ability to translate a previously unseen passage, with the help of a dictionary, into acceptable English within a specified time. The language is usually French or German, but another language may be approved by the student’s faculty Advisor. The proficiency exam must be administered by the Graduate Group or under auspices approved by the Graduate Group. Ideally, students should pass the exam by the beginning of their second year of study. 

Students in the MA program take AM Final Exams at the end of course work. These exams vary. In most fields (Mesopotamian Civilization, Egyptology, Biblical Studies, Hebrew Literature & Jewish Tradition, and Arabic & Hebrew Literatures) these will consist of no more than four exams, with at least one being a language exam. 

However, AM Finals in Arabic and Islamic Studies consist of three parts. One exam will focus on Arabic Language and Its History. The two remaining exams will be selected from two of the following three groups:

Group 1

  • Pre-modern Arabic Literature

  • Modern Arabic Literature

Group 2

  • Pre-modern Middle East History

  • Modern Middle East History

Group 3

  • Islamic Thought

Students must select their exam fields and confirm their reading lists in consultation with their Advisors. Test results will be conveyed to students within two weeks. AM Final Exams are PASS or FAIL. 

Once the MA student has passed the exams, they must complete a thesis or submit two research papers in partial fulfillment of the degree. A thesis is a work that constitutes an original and recognizable contribution to knowledge. It is submitted to Arts and Sciences Graduate Division like a PhD dissertation and will be deposited in the University’s library. See the Master’s Thesis Style Guide. Research papers are revised and/or expanded versions of papers originally written for a course that demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct research, not necessarily an original contribution to knowledge. The research papers are deposited in the student’s permanent file. 

The University of Pennsylvania does not provide financial support to students in the MA program. Most MA students are self-funded, though some studying modern Middle Eastern languages are eligible for support through the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS). Once MA students have completed their coursework, they may register for Thesis Preparation for two semesters at substantially reduced tuition. 

Some MA students apply for NELC’s PhD program. However, admission to the MA program or successful completion of the MA does not provide a guarantee of admission to the PhD program.