Developing A Curricular Pathway:
Majors, Minors, and Certificates

After considering which administrative model fits your institution best, the next step in the planning process will be to develop a curricular pathway. There are a variety of curricular pathways available, depending on your institution. While majors and minors are the most common, certificates can help build a smaller program and increase interest when there may not be enough faculty resources to create a sustainable major.

We will introduce five different curricular pathways here:

  • A major
  • A minor
  • An interdisciplinary studies major or minor such as International or Global Studies
  • An Asian Studies certificate
  • An Asian Studies program within the general education curriculum
The Asian Studies Major

Approaches to Asian Studies Majors

Asian Studies curricula attempt to provide an integrated approach to the study of societies and the region. Many Asian Studies majors have four components: a foreign language requirement, one or two required entry-level courses in history or interdisciplinary courses that focus on an Asian country or the region, elective courses that introduce various disciplines and different parts of Asia, and a capstone experience. Asian Studies major curricula attempt to expose students to variation within Asia by requiring coursework that includes different societies (or regions) of Asia, historical periods, or subjects, such as humanities and social sciences. Students may complete some of these elements on study abroad programs.

How “Asia” is defined is a key issue for any Asian Studies program and shapes the major curriculum. (See “How will you define “Asia?”) For example, most East Asian Studies programs began with a focus on Japan and China, with some incorporating Korea, but now more programs include  Southeast and South Asia as part of their major curricula. A more traditional approach to East Asian Studies might include: coursework in Japanese, Chinese, or Korean language; a capstone experience; and electives from various disciplines covering countries outside of the student’s concentration on Japan, China, or Korea. In other words, the major requires students to develop a deep understanding of a country and breadth in the region. A major may also contain curricular tracks that permit students to focus on Japan, China, or South Asia while maintaining the structure of language study, liberal arts approaches to cultural studies, and a capstone experience. Tracks may also allow majors to concentrate on one region of Asia if the curriculum allows.

The Asian Studies Minor

Approaches to Asian Studies Minors

Institutions that have Asian Studies majors typically also offer Asian Studies minors. In those cases, the minor curriculum is a less intensive version of the Asian Studies major and requires a reduced amount of language study and fewer elective courses, and may forego a capstone experience. Some institutions offer an Asian Studies minor but no major, so that students pair the interdisciplinary study of Asia with a traditional disciplinary major.

The development of a minor in Asian Studies is a very good pathway for institutions with a small number of faculty trained in Asian Studies or limited Asian language course offerings. Some institutions also emphasize traditional disciplinary majors and do not esteem interdisciplinary majors. Developing a successful Asian Studies minor is an excellent way to increase appreciation for interdisciplinary approaches and build momentum for expanding Asian Studies faculty appointments and course offerings.

International and Global Studies

Asian Studies within an Interdisciplinary Program

International and global studies programs are popular areas of many institutions’ undergraduate curricula. The important roles Asia has played in international affairs historically, and the central role it plays today, make it a key component to include in any international studies curriculum.

Most programs in international and global studies center foreign language, history, international relations, and economics as core elements of their major curricula, while others include humanities courses as fundamental. Institutions that already have Asia-related courses in foreign languages, history, and the social sciences are well-positioned to build an international or global studies program.

One pattern for constructing an international or  global studies major is a combination of courses that focus on global and international relations alongside the full range of courses focusing on one region of the world. For example, Elon University’s major in International & Global Studies offers broader exposure to critical studies of international and global affairs, interdisciplinary courses in one of several regions, including Asia, and study abroad and language training. 

A somewhat different approach to an international or  global studies curriculum entails requiring a single set of courses–often including a few core courses–all of which focus on international and global relations. In such a curriculum, courses that focus on Asian international relations, states, cultural production, and economics can play an important part in the major or minor requirements.

Faculty at institutions that are considering developing Asian studies to contribute to international or  global studies programs may wish to focus on developing courses that relate to the following themes:

  • Asia’s historical and contemporary roles in international affairs
  • Political economy of development in Asia
  • Asian religious and philosophical traditions
  • International economics, and
  • Asian film and literary studies
Certificate Programs

Asian Studies as Part of a Certificate

Some institutions offer a certificate in Asian studies, which is often an abbreviated interdisciplinary course of study that can complement or enrich a student’s major. In general, certificates focus on competencies, often explicitly applicable to vocations. Certificates that focus on Asian studies typically include a language requirement, coursework to develop cultural competency, and, in some cases, a practical training component. 

An alternative certificate model is one that curates Asian studies to a specific major, such as security and international relations, business, economics, or public health. Institutions that have strong pre-professional programs or robust internship and experiential components as part of their curriculum may wish to consider creating a certificate with an Asian focus.

General Education Requirements

Building Asian Studies into the General Education Curriculum

If your campus is not yet ready to create an Asian Studies department or program, there are still many ways to encourage the study of Asia by leveraging your general education requirements. A variety of requirements can lead to the study of Asia, including diversity or global education requirements, foreign language requirements, race and power requirements, and cross-cultural or ethnic studies requirements. Specific language about Asian or area studies may even be written into the requirement description. Consider collaborating with your registrar to make sure courses on Asia are being counted toward the Gen Ed requirements once the groundwork has been laid. See our Resources section for more ideas on building Asian Studies at your institution.

Even without a department or program, you can increase the visibility of Asian studies by advertising already existing Asian studies courses on your campus during student enrollment periods, at relevant campus events, and at study abroad information sessions.