MARSLAC Degree Requirements

To complete the Master of Arts Degree in Regional Studies—Latin America and the Caribbean, students take a minimum of 30 points of graduate course credit, fulfill two concentrations, and submit a thesis.

In order for courses to count toward the 30-credit requirement for completion of the degree, courses must be taken for a letter grade; courses taken pass/fail or for R credit do not count toward the degree. Students must also satisfy two residence units (RUs) and maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.00 (B). Students should become familiar with the graduation requirements and policies of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences found in the graduate student policy handbook.

Students may complete the program on a part-time basis by registering for half RUs (up to three courses per semester) or quarter RUs (one to two courses per semester) in order to complete the program in four academic years (up to eight semesters, including summer).


During the first semester of the core seminar (LCRS G6400) students explore approaches to Latin American studies and develop a thesis topic. In the second semester (LCRS G6401), they undertake the writing of their theses in a workshop-style seminar. Students are free to pace their coursework according to their own needs and interests, although most complete the degree in two or three semesters. Students can start in the fall or spring semesters but must complete the required core seminar in a fall-spring sequence, preferably in consecutive semesters. Students typically finish in two semesters, with some students opting to complete their thesis over the summer.

See all graduate classes offered by ILAS.


The primary advisor for practical questions concerning coursework and degree requirements is Director of Graduate Studies Gustavo Azenha. Students should meet in person with the director at the beginning of each semester to discuss course selection. They are also encouraged to meet with the director throughout the semester to discuss degree progress and any issues or problems. Besides providing overall academic advisement for MARSLAC students, the director of graduate studies serves as the primary thesis supervisor, with students working with a faculty co-advisor with relevant expertise as a mentor for their thesis project. The MARSLAC Thesis Guidelines for Co-Advisors and Students provide additional guidance.

Course Requirements

Use the MARSLAC degree checklist to keep track of your credits and grades for the program.

The two-semester core course sequence—LCRS G6400 and LCRS G6401, Scholarly Literature and Research on Latin American and Caribbean Studies I and II—must be taken in sequence starting in the fall. Each is four points.

The first semester gives students a critical understanding of the major theoretical approaches, principal research methods, and current trends in Latin American and Caribbean studies. Class meetings are organized around discussion of key texts or approaches, structured through the historical evolution of recent interpretive and research models. Latin Americanist and Caribbeanist faculty at Columbia participate as guest lecturers to introduce students to their research. During the first semester, students develop a proposal for a master’s thesis in consultation with the director of graduate studies and a faculty member from the student’s field of interest.

The second semester is a seminar in which students conduct research on sources and methods necessary to write the thesis. The two-semester core course sequence culminates with the presentation of the completed thesis. Students who require more than two semesters to complete a satisfactory thesis will receive a grade for LCRS G6401 based on their work during the second part of the seminar, including substantive advancement toward the thesis.

Written in conjunction with the core seminars and under the supervision of the director of graduate studies and a faculty co-advisor, the thesis will deal with a historical or contemporary topic that focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean. The director of graduate studies serves as the primary thesis supervisor, while students also work with a co-advisor with relevant expertise as an additional mentor.

The M.A. thesis is meant to demonstrate the student’s ability to apply formal training in Latin American and Caribbean studies toward a specific and original research problem. The thesis must be an original piece of research, interpretation, or analysis based, at least in part, on primary source materials. Students may take a comparative, critical approach to extant research and scholarship; analyze data already collected by others; or test established theories in new situations. Master’s students who conduct research involving human subjects for a thesis are required to apply to the Institutional Review Board for exemption or approval prior to engaging in the human subjects component of their research.

If students require more than two semesters to complete a satisfactory thesis, they can do so in consultation with the director of graduate studies and their faculty co-advisor. The deadline to submit the final thesis is September 15 for October graduation and November 15 for February graduation.

The MARSLAC Thesis Guidelines for Co-Advisors and Students contain complete information on requirements, formatting, deadlines, and advisement.

Upon entering the program, students select two concentrations, or main areas of study; these can be a country or group of countries, discipline, topic, or problem. Students must take two classes on each concentration.

The institute compiles a list of designated or eligible courses on Latin America in anthropology, economics, history, business, political science, and other Arts and Sciences departments as well as Columbia’s graduate schools of business, international affairs, and law, and Teachers College. Students can also take methodological courses to help develop their thesis research as long as they produce papers or reports focused on Latin American themes. To ensure that the depth of training is balanced with a breadth of courses in different topics, students should consult with the director of graduate studies to select a combination of concentration courses that together cover multiple countries, regions, and time periods.

With the approval of the director of graduate studies, up to two 4000-level undergraduate courses may be counted as designated or elective courses if they produce a graduate-level research paper or literature review at the end of the course. Language courses under 4000 level can be counted as one of the two undergraduate courses in some circumstances, such as Comprehensive Elementary Portuguese, if that language will fulfill their second language requirement. History department 4000-level seminars can be counted as graduate courses.

In cases where there is a lack of relevant courses to fulfill specialization requirements, the program advisor can approve individual reading courses. Students can take any Latin American or Caribbean course in addition to the concentration courses to complete the 30 credits required for graduation, with the exceptions noted below.

Up to two elective courses that do not pertain specifically to Latin America and the Caribbean may be taken with the prior approval of the director of graduate studies. Any graduate-level course in any department or school of the University may qualify as an elective. In those courses, the student must produce a research paper of direct relevance to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Students must demonstrate intermediate or advanced proficiency (in accordance with ACTFL standards) in either Spanish or Portuguese through a proficiency test administered by the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures; or by completing a 4000-level Spanish or Portuguese class with a grade of B or above. Only 4000-level language courses count toward the 30-point requirement, and no more than two language classes may be counted toward the degree requirement.

MARSLAC students are not required to take the undergraduate placement examination, but it is helpful if a graduate student wants to determine their level prior to the reading exam. Students must score higher than 625 points to demonstrate an intermediate-advanced level in Spanish or Portuguese. Students scoring below 625 will be placed in the appropriate elementary or intermediate course.

With prior approval from the director of graduate studies, native speakers and those with demonstrable extensive prior language experience may place out of this requirement. Other hemispheric languages may be used if they are directly relevant to the student’s research, i.e., French for French-speaking Caribbean countries.

All students must register for the appropriate residence unit every semester. All students must satisfy two RUs in order to graduate. Details can be found on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website.

Application Form

Application forms are available through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences application portal here.