South Asia Studies: Top 10 reasons to Major in the department



As you begin preparing to declare a major, focusing your interests, and researching and choosing a major can be daunting. You want to excel while in college, and also prepare to enter the workforce, once you graduate. It’s only natural that you will have questions relating to the level of support and study environment of each department, the financial support that you can qualify for while studying, and the future job market and your career prospects. 


These are real issues, and requires understanding all the options – and its only then that can you make an informed choice about which Major to declare. Here, we discuss one of Penn’s most renowned departments –South Asia Studies (SAST). It explains how a SAST Major can help you get the most out of your time in college and prepare for your next steps and work life.


1.  What is South Asia Studies and why study the topic?

2.  Majoring in SAST and Career prospects

3.  Benefits of declaring a Double Major

4.  A broad Liberal Arts Education

5.  Financial Support with Research Grants

6.  Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowships program (FLAS)

7.  Study Abroad opportunities in India

8.  In-class and in-department student experience

9.  A strong dynamic SAST Community

10. SAST Majors and Minors requirements




1.  What is South Asia Studies and why study the topic?

South Asia is a name for the region that refers to several countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Bhutan.  Collectively, these nations make up more than 1/6th of the globe's population.  It is a place of one of the world's oldest civilizations and also, currently, one of the most vibrant and important centers of global culture, from an economic, political and social point of view.  It's a region that is becoming increasingly prominent and will generate opportunities and careers world over.


Penn is proud of its South Asia Studies program, which is the oldest in America and, arguably, the most prestigious and diverse. Its resources include its distinguished faculty members, who teach a multi disciplinary curriculum; and a dedicated South Asia Studies library, which holds digital and print collection.

2.  Majoring in SAST and Career prospects

Having a deep knowledge of a region and its key languages, in an increasingly competitive global job market, gives graduates a competitive edge over others with more generic skills. For this reason, declaring a Major in a topic that will lead to a job or to Graduate School studies is essential and improves the chances of post -graduation success.


Our alumni statistics show that 132 students majored in SAST between 1998 -2013. The latest survey of alumni, conducted in December 2014, shows that over 90% of our alumni have secured jobs in career fields of their choice. We are proud of our alumni – they have been successful, and have entered exciting and high-flying careers in sectors as diverse as medicine and care, policy-making and diplomatic services, academia and research, and investment banking and international marketing.


Our alumni discuss how their SAST major helped fuel their academic interest in South Asia, and more importantly how it helped hone their skills --which contributed to them securing a job and their progression. Read more about the alumni’s profiles.


3.  Benefits of declaring a Double Major

Students can double major in SAST and another department.  A majority of our students choose to double major, as there are clear benefits to doing this. Possessing two majors’ topics broaden the number of jobs students are qualified for. In addition, students don’t necessarily need to have closely linked majors – the SAST courses are mainly in the humanities and can complement the other types of study fields. SAST courses will help develop specific types of skills through a broad liberal arts curriculum. The requirement for the major and double are the same


4.  A broad Liberal Arts Education

The time at college is a time when students are encouraged to develop intellectually curiosity and explore their academic interests, to experience a broad liberal arts education and to grow as individuals and as young adults. The South Asia Studies Department offers ample opportunities to allow students to achieve all of these. With its diverse range of courses which include among others, Modern Indian History, Caste and Class in South Asia, and Religions in South Asia, -- students are guaranteed to develop key life skills including critical thinking, analysis and reasoning, and discussion and communication skills.


Prospective students do not need any previous knowledge of the region of study, the subject, or the languages. We look for a willingness to learn and to engage intellectually with the course content.  The classroom instruction is in English --as are the written assignments.  If students have an inkling that they may want to develop a career with an international aspect, then a country language will stand them in good stead for their work life. In this vein, the department offers nine South Asian languages which students can enroll into. The levels include beginners, intermediate and advanced – and their instruction is tailored to meet the students’ individual needs and abilities.


5.  Financial Support with Research Grants

The department has a mandate to support academic excellence, and has a generous research budget to help achieve this. This means that students can apply for grants to complete summer academic research projects in South Asia where the funds help offset some of the costs relating to fieldwork.  During summer 2014, several undergraduate students benefited from these grants. We have recorded their experiences about traveling abroad, doing the fieldwork and how this has helped them in their orientation towards research. Visit the SAST website for more information. Learn more.


6.  Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowships program (FLAS)

The FLAS fellowship assists students who are pursuing graduate and under graduate programs to undergo training in modern foreign languages, related topics and international studies. Students apply for these fellowships, which help to offset the cost associated with program fees, living and travel.  Learn more.


7.  Study Abroad opportunities in India

SAST students have the opportunity to study abroad for a period ranging from a summer to a whole year. The time abroad allows them to connect the disciplinary content and learning from the classroom –on the country’s language and culture, history and anthropology, and religion and society– with a full in-country immersion experience, all within a familiar classroom setting with full student support services. There are Penn administered and pre-approved programs that are overseen by Penn Abroad --the division with a purview over these programs—and students can apply for credit transfer.  In addition, there are also other programs, which students can petition for transfer credit. Learn more about these programs.


SAST students can also take a 2 credit unit (C.U) yearlong course which has class sessions in Penn during the Fall term, followed by a two week trip in India/ South Asia and finishing with class sessions during the spring semester. These faculty-led trips allow students first hand experience of life and travel in India. Learn more.


8.  In-class and in-department student experience

Classes are small with low teacher-student ratios, which allow for full student participation and interaction. The Faculty members are easy to access, and are able to support the students in their studies – which contributes to the best student experience and excellent learning outcomes. Visit our website to find out what SAST Majors students say about the department and its resources.


9.  A strong, dynamic SAST Community

The SAST community is unique. Out students are cosmopolitan and come from a diverse range of heritages and cultural backgrounds, different parts of the world and the States, and possess different academic interests. The department is small, and the faculty are trained in the best US and worldwide institutions. They are committed to supporting students to learn, engage and do well. The student organizations are dynamic and play an important part of student life.  Students can plug into a whole swath of cultural and social student organizations, communities and events – including the bi-weekly South Asia Colloquium. More recently we have begun developing our alumni network—which means that students can meet and be mentored by our alumni. This can be a critical first step to getting a foothold in a student’s career ladder.


Prospective majors should seek the advice of the Undergraduate Chair, Dr. Deven Patel, by the second semester of their sophomore year.

10.  Major Requirements

We have revised our Majors requirements, which means that it’s more straight-forward to achieve these. 

A Minimum of 12 c.u.* are required

i). Language - 2 c.u

A South Asian language with a grade of B or higher. Students may be exempted from this requirement by passing a language proficiency test administered by the department. Students who pass the proficiency test are required to fulfill the necessary credits with a distribution of other courses. While only 2 CUs in a South Asian language are required, 4 CUs in a language are encouraged.

ii). Foundational Courses - 2 c.u.

SAST 001-009 or Freshman Seminars

iii)  Major courses  - 8 c.u.

Courses from SAST disciplinary areas including courses cross-listed between SAST and other departments. Two c.u.s of a second language may be accepted. At least one course at the 300 level and above is recommended. 

iv) One-page

During the senior year, the student will have a half-hour meeting with faculty and submit a one-page rationale for the major concentration.

*All courses must be taken for a letter grade.


Prospective double-majors should consult the relevant concentration advisor for help in arranging their program and for coordinating the two majors. 

In total, four course units may be double-counted towards the SAST major and another major.  The total number of units for the SAST Major remains twelve.  

Transfer Credit

For the Major, up to four courses maybe transferred from other institutions, including study abroad.  

Independent Study Policy and Procedures

If you want to learn more about the program and department, you can contact us by:

Visiting our website:

Contacting the Undergraduate Chair, Professor Deven Patel, email address

Visiting the department:  820 Williams Hall, 255 S. 36th Street, PA 19104

Telephoning: Zoe Beckerman on 215-898-7475.


Independent Study Form -2012.doc25.5 KB