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Columbia University Course/Program Name
Application closes on
National :05 May 
International :05 May 

MA Human Rights Studies

 Course Level
Masters / PG
Full Time

1 Year
 Start month

 Tuition fee

54360 USD
54360 USD

Application fee

International 105 USD
National 105 USD
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Scores accepted
IELTS (min)7.5
TOEFL-IBT (min)100
TOEFL-PBT (min)600
GRE (avg)315

World University Ranking

About this course

The Human Rights Studies M.A. is an interdisciplinary program at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) that focuses on the academic study of human rights theory and practice. The program was established in 1998 under the umbrella of the Liberal Studies M.A. program and was transferred to the Institute for the Study of Human Rights in 2011.

As an interdisciplinary program, students take courses offered by ISHR as well as human rights courses offered by other departments and schools at Columbia University. The 30-credit degree program can be completed part-time or full-time and requires the completion of an M.A. thesis. Detailed information about the degree structure can be found under the degree requirements page of this website.

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Eligibility Criteria

BA in any field within the humanities or the social sciences. Two years of college French or proficiency at the equivalent level (ability to read primary and secondary sources in French and to take part in class discussions conducted in French). N.B.: Written work is normally done in English.

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Course Modules

The overall degree structure is as follows:

Core Courses – 9 credits
All students enroll in Introduction to Human Rights in their first fall semester of study. The other two core courses are offered in the fall and spring semesters.

Introduction to Human Rights

This course provides a wide-ranging survey of conceptual foundations and issues in contemporary human rights. The course examines the philosophical origins of human rights, their explication in the evolving series of international documents, questions of enforcement, and current debates. It also explores topics such as women's rights, development and human rights, the use of torture, humanitarian intervention, and the horrors of genocide. The broad range of subjects covered in the course is intended to assist students in honing their interests and making future course selections in the human rights field.

International Human Rights Law

This course introduces the fundamental concepts and problems of public international law. What are the origins of international law? Is international law really law? Who is governed by it? How are treaties interpreted? What is the relationship between international law and domestic law? We examine the interplay between law and international politics, in particular with reference to international human rights, humanitarian law, the use of force, and international criminal prosecutions. No prior knowledge of international law is required. While the topics are necessarily law-related, the course will assume no prior exposure to legal studies.

Human Rights Research Seminar

This course prepares students to engage in human rights. The course aims to give students a common, basic foundation in the main research methods and approaches relevant to human rights, with additional attention paid to research design and selected primary source material. The knowledge and skills developed in this course will help prepare students for the M.A. thesis research and will also be useful to those wishing to engage in further graduate study or research-oriented jobs. The course introduces students to multiple tools and approaches, but students will be able to tailor their work in the course to the needs of their intended thesis research to the extent possible.

Concentration Courses – 12 credits
The concentration is self-defined by the student in consultation with the program. Concentration courses provide students the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge in a particular area of human rights; expose them to key texts, discussions, questions, and debates that are relevant to their human rights research interests; and facilitate the identification of the specific research question that they will address in their thesis. The range of student concentrations and research interests is reflected in the diversity of theses completed by graduate students. To obtain a copy of the HRSMA thesis titles, please email [email protected]

While some students enter the program with a specific research question in mind, others begin their first semester with a more general concentration and refine their research interests as they engage with key issues and debates through their coursework, extracurricular activities, and discussions with professors, fellow students, and practitioners. However, students who enroll full-time and plan to complete the degree within three semesters will need to take at least one, if not two, concentration courses in their first semester of study.

Elective Human Rights Courses – 6 credits
Some students choose to focus all of their coursework on their chosen research topic. However, students have the option of taking two elective human rights courses. Courses included on the list of pre-approved courses automatically count as electives.

Thesis – 3 credits
The thesis is a substantive text of original research and analysis that requires the critical examination of a human rights research question, related to the student’s selected concentration.

Thesis forms and information:

  • Thesis Overview and Deadlines
  • Thesis Guidelines
  • Fact Sheet for Thesis Supervisors
  • Thesis Checklist
  • Thesis Forms
  • Example Thesis of HRSMA Graduates
  • IRB Information

For a complete list of thesis titles, please email [email protected]

The thesis should demonstrate knowledge of specific human rights principles, debates, and contextual issues (social, economic, political, etc.) relevant to the chosen topic, demonstrate a mastery of the current literature, present findings that are objectively defensible, and make an original contribution to knowledge in the field.

Students write their theses in their final semester of study while enrolled in one of two possible thesis courses:

Supervised Individual Research (GR9990) The traditional method of writing the thesis as an independent study under the supervision of a faculty member.

Human Rights Thesis Colloquium (GR9020) A class-like structure to the research and writing process of the thesis and aims to ground the student’s thesis in current human rights research by exploring relevant methodologies.

All students must submit an approved thesis proposal prior to enrollment. Students should consult the thesis guidelines and the links above for additional information, guidelines, and examples.

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How to Apply

Admission Requirements

  • A CV along with official transcripts showing courses and grades from all post-secondary schools attended.
  • A statement of purpose.
  • A writing sample (can be an excerpt, 10-20pp.)
  • Three letters of recommendation. Those who have not been enrolled in an academic program for some time may submit letters from supervisors or colleagues in positions of responsibility.
  • TOEFL. Required for all international students whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country whose official language is not English. IELTS scores are also acceptable to fill this requirement.
  • GRE general exam.

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