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University of Pennsylvania Course/Program Name
Application closes on
National :15 Dec 
International :15 Dec 

PhD Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

 Course Level
Full Time

5 Years
 Start month

 Tuition fee

32476 USD
32476 USD

Application fee

International 80 USD
National 80 USD
Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations
Scores accepted
IELTS (min)7
TOEFL-IBT (min)100
TOEFL-PBT (min)600
GRE (avg)307
GMAT (avg)732

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About this course

 The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) offers PhD and MA degrees in five distinct fields. 

However, individual fields of study may have their own additional specific requirements. These fields are:

  •  Mesopotamian Civilizations
  •  Egyptology
  •  Biblical Studies
  •  Hebrew Literature & Jewish Tradition
  •  Arabic and Islamic Studies

Graduate students in NELC, whether at the MA or PhD level, will work closely with the faculty of the NELC Graduate Group, whose members include not just NELC departmental faculty but also faculty from across the University whose interests and specialties involve the advanced study of the Near East and its cultures.

Check further details on University website

Eligibility Criteria

Eng lang – On the TOEFL-iBT exam (Internet-Based Test), competitive applicants tend to have a composite score of 100 and above (the exam is scaled from 0-120, with 120 being a perfect score) with demonstrated consistency on each section of the exam (reading, listening, speaking, and writing). On the Paper- Based TOEFL, Penn tends to admit students with a score of 600 and above (the exam is scaled from 310 to 677, with 677 being a perfect score).

  • IELTS - 7.0
  • GRE - 307
  • GMAT - 732



Check further details on University website

Course Modules

 Graduate Programs - PhD Procedures
Students entering the PhD program will be assigned a faculty Adviser who will supervise the student's program until the Candidacy Examinations in the 4th year of study have been completed. Sometimes a student's developing interests may recommend a change of Adviser, but for the most part students will work with their Advisers until recruiting a dissertation Supervisor. Students should consult their Adviser as often as necessary, but at least once per semester. A detailed discussion of the general procedures of the PhD Program follows, which are also summarized in a preferred timeline.  Please note, however, that specific programs may have additional requirements not described here. 


Students in the PhD program are required to take twenty course units (20 c.u.). Students usually take four graded courses a semester, but may audit or register for five courses, with permission of the Graduate Group Chair and the School of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. During the second and third years, when students are teaching (see below), they typically take three graded courses a semester. Students should complete course work by the end of their third year of study, but may do so earlier if transferring courses from a previous MA program of study, or later, if they go abroad for field work or advanced language study. 

 Qualifying examinations 

Qualifying Examinations determine whether students may proceed with the PhD. They are administered in the 4th semester at a fixed time for all students in a cohort. Qualifying Exams in most fields (Mesopotamian Civilization, Egyptology, Biblical Studies, Hebrew Literature & Jewish Tradition, and Arabic & Hebrew Literatures) will consist of no more than four exams, with at least one being a language exam. 

 Qualifying Exams in Arabic and Islamic Studies will 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 draw up their reading lists in consultation with their Advisers. Results of the Qualifying Examinations will be conveyed to students within two weeks. Qualifying Exams are PASS or FAIL. 

 MA degree 

If a student passes the Qualifying Exams, he/she may continue on to the PhD and will be required to take an MA, with a thesis or two revised class papers. Students will have 12 cu’s by the end of the 4th semester and can be awarded the MA in May.  Students are required to complete the MA no later than the summer between their 4th and 5th semesters. 

If a student fails the Qualifying Exams, he/she may take a terminal MA. The terminal MA requires that a student pass one foreign language examination and submit a thesis or two revised class papers. Students may register for MA Thesis Preparation for two semesters at substantially reduced tuition. 

 Research language requirement 

In addition to mastering the languages in which the primary sources of NELC's PhD programs are written, students are required to pass examinations demonstrating competence in reading scholarly research in two modern languages. Competence is defined as the ability to sight-translate a previously unseen passage(s), with the help of a dictionary, into acceptable English within a specified time. The length of the passage and the time limit may vary according to the language involved. The languages are typically French and German, but the specific languages required are determined by NELC’s individual programs. The examinations must be administered by the Graduate Group or, for certain languages, under other auspices approved by the Graduate Group. 

Incoming students who do not yet know the modern languages required by their program are encouraged to use the summer before matriculating to study at least one of them. For PhD students who have completed a year of study, the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences (GAS) offers reading comprehension courses at no cost in French, German and several other languages during the first summer session. Enrollment is limited and students must sign up by a late Spring deadline. However, it is NELC's exam, not the final exam in those courses, that determines whether the student has met the requirement. 

Students must pass one foreign language proficiency examination by the beginning of the 3rd semester and one by the beginning of the 5th semester. If they fail to do so, they could be prohibited from registering and their Fellowship support can be suspended. If a student repeatedly fails to pass research language examinations, the Graduate Group may drop him/her from the program for insufficient progress to degree. 


Teaching is integral to the PhD program. Students typically get training and practice in pedagogy in a four-semester rotation during their second and third years. In most cases students will be assigned as Teaching Assistants in large lecture classes, but may on occasion serve as Research Assistants for a maximum of two semesters. The four semester teaching rotation may be interrupted or shifted if, for example, students go abroad for fieldwork or programs of language-study. 

Students teaching for the first time are required to participate in a three-day workshop on teaching and learning, normally held in the Fall just before classes begin. Penn’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), which supports teaching with a wide variety of programs and resources, conducts the workshop.

Candidacy examinations

Upon completion of twenty course-units students must pass Candidacy Examinations, demonstrating a broad knowledge of the history, languages, literatures and culture of their area(s) of concentration. 

The Graduate Group’s different subfields have different exam formats and expectations. For example, in most fields, the Candidacy Exams are tailored to individual students, but normally consist of 3-5 exams (and preliminary dissertation proposal) administered over a period not to exceed two weeks. 

In Arabic and Islamic studies, Candidacy Exams consist of three fields: two to be set in conjunction with the graduate adviser, and one with another member of the Graduate Group in NELC. Reading lists will be available for each of the fields selected. Exams are "open-book," and are administered individually and electronically. The time allowed for completion of each of the exams is a period between a Thursday evening and a Tuesday morning, with all three exams to be completed within a two month period. 

Students should meet with their Adviser to determine the subjects in which they will be examined and who will write the exams. Once these are set, students must submit a Candidacy Examinations Application to the Graduate Group Chair to take the Candidacy Exams. 

One week after the results of the Candidacy Exams have been announced students will meet with their examiners for an oral continuation of the examination. The oral exam will last an hour or so and is intended to give examiners the opportunity to probe responses to the written questions or clarify any problems raised. Examiners will convey the final results of the Candidacy Exams to the student at the conclusion of the oral exam. Candidacy Exams are PASS or FAIL. If a student fails the Candidacy Exams, the Graduate Group will determine whether he/she may retake the Exams or will be dropped from the program. 

Check further details on University website

How to Apply

 NELC offers both a Master's Program and a Ph.D. Program. You may apply directly to either program. (It is not necessary to apply for the Master's Program before going on to the Ph.D.)

There are no minimum requirements to apply. It is expected, however, that the applicant will have at least majored as an undergraduate in the field for which he/she is applying and so would have had a minimum of six semesters of their primary language as well as some literature, history or religion courses. Applicants not having this background may, in some circumstances, be admitted provisionally. Provisional courses do not count toward the graduate program and are taken at the student's expense regardless of fellowships awarded.

The fee to apply to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is $80.00, payable by major credit card.

 A complete application consists of:


  • Personal Statement. Your statement should include your career/research goals, how NELC's program can help you achieve those goals and which faculty members, if any, with whom you'd like to work.
  • Three (3) Letters of Recommendation. Unfortunately, letters submitted through Interfolio cannot be uploaded into the application at this time. If you wish to use Interfolio for your recommendation letters, Interfolio MUST email the letters to [email protected]
  • All academic transcripts of undergraduate courses and graduate courses, if any. These may be unofficial until admitted.
  • GRE scores. There is no minimum sscore to apply. The average scores of admitted students are 165/160/5.0. Scores should not be older than 5 years and tests should be taken by December 15, 2016. Report scores to Institution Code 2926; Department Code 9999.
  • TOEFL score or IELTS score for non-native speakers of English. There is no minimum score to apply. However, most admitted students achieve an average score of 100 or above on the TOEFL exam and 6.0 on the IELTS. Applicants who have received a BA or MA degree in the United States may request a waiver of the TOEFL requirement by emailing [email protected] Scores should not be older than 2 years and tests should be taken by December 15, 2016. Report scores to Institution Code 2926; Department Code 9999.
  • Writing Sample. A writing sample is not required  for any concentration but is strongly encouraged for all applicants. It may be of any length on any topic and should be indicative of your ability to research and write on a graduate level. Please submit only papers written in English.

Check further details on University website

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