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African Studies

The Department of African Studies trains both scholars and practitioners with in an interdisciplinary approach to Africa, with an emphasis on language and culture, public policy and development in Africa, and Africa in World Affairs.

The mission of the Department of African Studies is to create, nurture and promote an educational and intellectual culture that provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to acquire knowledge and develop interdisciplinary skills that enable deeper and more productive understandings of Africa and Africans in both an historical and contemporary context and their role in and contribution to humanity and the global community. Our mission, furthermore, is to produce a cadre of African American, American, international and other minority graduates equipped with knowledge and interdisciplinary skills to engage in problem solving, teaching, research and professional careers in African and international affairs and development.

The main objective of graduate studies in the Department is to train scholars in the field of African Studies with emphasis on contemporary issues of public policy and development in Africa. The program cultivates and promotes interdisciplinary approaches to studying African historical, political, economic, social and cultural issues and provides necessary skills for critically understanding, analyzing and addressing problems and potential solutions. The department prepares undergraduate majors to undertake graduate studies and prepares all graduate as well as undergraduate majors for careers and service in local, national and international private, public and non-profit institutions and organizations.

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Admission Requirements

Admission and residency in the graduate program in African Studies are guided by the General Admission Requirement and Rules and Regulations for the Pursuit of Academic Degrees in the Graduate School. Students are strongly encouraged to consult and familiarize themselves with these rules and regulations.

Applications to the Department of African Studies are evaluated on the following considerations:

  • The applicant’s official transcripts.
  • Applicants with a B.A. or B.Sc. from an accredited university and a minimum average of 3.0 are eligible for admission into the M.A. degree program. Applicants with a B.A. or B.Sc. degree who wish to do a Ph.D. must first complete the M.A. degree program prior to applying for the Ph.D.
  • Applicants with an M.A. degree from an accredited university and a minimum average of 3.5 are eligible for admission into the Ph.D. degree program.
  • Three letters of recommendation, preferably from members of the academic community familiar with the applicant’s academic performance.
  • An autobiographical sketch and statement of purpose indicating his/her desire to join the graduate program in the Department of African Studies. The Department concentrates in the following three areas (1) Development and Public Policy (2) Africa in World Affairs (3) Language, Literature and the Arts.
  • For Ph.D. applicants a short scholarly writing sample
  • The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score.

Categories of Admission

  • Regular Degree Student: Student who holds the required University degree(s) and who meets the department’s admission criteria.
  • Provisional Student: A student who does not meet the requirements for regular student, but, who, on other grounds, the Committee concludes, is capable of completing a graduate program, may be accepted on a provisional basis. The student shall be limited to take 6 credits. It is recommended that most credits be taken from the core courses of the program. After completing these courses, the Graduate Studies Committee shall review the student’s academic performance. The student will be notified of the final decision within four weeks. If a student is admitted as a regular student, the 6 credit hours will be applied to the student’s course requirements.

To apply, click HERE for information on deadlines, procedures and forms.

Degree Requirements
  1. Master of Arts

    Students must complete a minimum of 36 credit hours, with 30 hours devoted to course work and 6 to a thesis on an African topic. Twenty-four of the thirty hours of course work must be taken within the Department of African Studies. Six hours may be taken in other disciplines. Students are also required to complete all the appropriate courses of the core program, to pass a comprehensive examination, and to demonstrate proficiency in an African language.
  2. Doctor of Philosophy 

    Students must complete a minimum of 48 credit hours beyond the Master's degree or 78 hours beyond the baccalaureate degree, including 12 hours devoted to a dissertation topic based on original research. Thirty hours of the thirty-six hours of post-M.A. work must be taken within the department. Students are also required to complete all the appropriate courses of the core program, and to demonstrate proficiency in basic computer literacy (statistics) and an African language or in two foreign languages, one of them an African language.

For both programs, the M.A. and the Ph.D. program, students are required to take two mandatory Howard University seminars. The first is the English Language Proficiency and Expository Writing Program, which is an examination of writing skills. Students who pass the initial examination are not required to take the seminar. However, students who fail the exam are required to participate in further workshops. Additionally, each student must attend the Responsible Conduct of Research Workshop and submit the Certificate of Attendance in order to complete the M.A. or Ph.D. program.

Language Requirement

The student, in consultation with his/her advisor, should select an African language relevant to the student’s geographical or cultural area of concentration. The language, for African students, may be the student’s first language, though coursework in other African languages is encouraged. Languages are offered in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Students may demonstrate proficiency in an African language in the following ways:

  1. If a student is a native speaker of an African language, he/she must demonstrate proficiency to a faculty member at Howard University who is a speaker of that language. If the student shows proficiency, the faculty member will write a letter to the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of African Studies that will be placed in the student’s file. The student will consult the Director of Graduate Studies about an appropriate faculty member who speaks the language. If there is not a Howard faculty member who speaks that language, then the student will consult with the Director of Graduate Studies about another appropriate person who can test the student’s proficiency.

  2.  Students do not have to take an African language at Howard University to fulfill this requirement. They may take courses at other institutions (either before or while registered for a graduate degree at Howard) and submit transcripts with grades or study through private tutors. In the case of the latter, the tutor will submit an evaluation of the student’s proficiency, but the Department of African Studies maintains the right to certify a student’s proficiency independently.
  3. Students who take the equivalent of two semesters of courses in an African language and maintained a B average will have shown proficiency in that language. At the Ph.D. level, students are required to demonstrate proficiency in research methods and an African language OR in two languages (besides English), a world language (such as Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, or German) and an African language.

In the case of the world language, the student may show proficiency through a transcript of coursework in the language or through passing an examination administered by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Howard University. The Department accepts languages spoken on the African continent, but the students should consult the Director of Graduate Studies about the appropriateness of a language before proceeding with learning a language.

The Research Methods requirement can be met by taking an additional research methods course in another department, or by taking the School of Education’s Qualitative or Quantitative Methods workshops that are held at the end of the school year, in May. Students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies about the appropriate documentation for fulfilling this requirement.

Transfer of Credit

The Department of African Studies may approve transfer of credits for graduate courses earned in other graduate programs, where the grade is B or better. However, it must be the considered judgment of the Department of African Studies that the work is relevant and meets the objectives of comparable courses. In no case may transfer credit hours exceed the limit specified in Article V., Section 5 (Master’s degree) and Article VI, Section 5 (doctoral degrees) of the Graduate School’s regulations. Such transfer may not be used to satisfy the residency requirement specified in Article V, Section 1A and Article VI, Section 1A and must be approved by the Graduate School.

Program of Study/Areas of Concentration/Course Clusters

Graduate-level courses in the Department are grouped into four clusters consisting of the core program and three areas of concentration: Language, Culture and Development; Africa in World Affairs; Development and Public Policy

Core / Required Courses

  1. Scope and Methods Of African Studies (230-211)
  2.  Theory in African Studies (230-212)
  3. Public Policy and Development (230-225)
  4. Africa in World Affairs (230-304)
  5. Language, Literature and Arts (230-322)
  6. Gender Theory and Practice in Africa (230-232)
  7. Thesis Research (M.A. only) *
  8. Dissertation Research (Ph.D. only) **

NOTE: * Thesis Research can be taken ONLY AFTER ADMISSION TO CANDIDACY. Since M.A. students can graduate in the same semester that they are admitted to candidacy, exceptions may be granted. A maximum of 6 credit hours of Thesis Research can be credited toward the degree. Students should register as AUDITOR for any credits hours beyond the maximum six. ** Dissertation Research can be taken ONLY AFTER ADMISSION TO CANDIDACY. No exceptions. A maximum of 12 credit hours of Dissertation Research can be credited toward the degree. Students should register as AUDITOR for any credits hours beyond the maximum twelve.

Academic Advising Policies

By the end of the first semester of admission to a graduate degree program in the department, the student, in consultation with the faculty member and the Director of Graduate Studies, will select his/her academic advisor.

The advisor is responsible for counseling and assisting the student in the development of a program of study. The plan shall be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies for filing with the Graduate School no later than the end of the first semester in residence. The responsibility of submitting the individualized Program of Study is that of the student. Failure to do so in a timely manner may result in suspension of enrollment privileges at the University.

Any changes will require a written notification to the Director of Graduate Studies. Any student who wishes to change advisors must consult first with the Director of Graduate Studies or the Chairperson of the department. The Director of Graduate Studies or the Chairperson will inform the advisor in writing if the student concludes that he/she would be better served by selecting a different advisor.

Once a semester, particularly prior to registration, the student will meet with his/her advisor to review current academic record. The advisor shall serve on every committee pertaining to a student’s program of study. In most cases, he/she will serve as the chairperson of the student’s comprehensive examination, as well as the advisor on the thesis/dissertation.

Comprehensive Exam Guidelines/Comprehensive Exam General Info

Both M.A. and Ph.D. students are required to take a comprehensive examination. The comprehensive examination should be taken after all core courses and a majority of related area of specialization courses have been completed. The requests should be made only after the completion of twenty—four (24) credits hours at the M.A. level taken within the Department and thirty (30) credits at Ph.D. level again taken within the Department. All required courses must be completed in order to be able to take the comprehensive examination. The G.P.A. should be at least 3.00. The examination is divided into two parts, each part consisting of four questions from which the student will select two.

Part One concentrates on the core courses and Part Two concentrates on the student’s area of specialization. Part Two will be administered one week after Part One. The Graduate Studies Committee is responsible for selecting the examination questions. Faculty evaluate essays only in their area of specialization. All students taking the comprehensive examination in a chosen semester will take the exam on the same day.

Exceptions will not be made. Evaluation is based on the following criteria:

  1. Clear and effective statement of problems/issues involved in the topics.
  2. Strong evidence of knowledge of theories, concepts and empirical literature on the topics.
  3. Accuracy of facts.
  4. Organization of ideas. A pass in all four questions is required to pass the comprehensive examination. In the event of failure, the student may repeat the examination once and only in the specific area in which the failure occurred. A retest must take place the semester following the failure. Results of a comprehensive examination shall be reported to students within one month of taking the examination. Copies of samples of questions from past exams may be requested from the Director of Graduate Studies.

The examination will be administered twice during the academic year.

  1. September in the Fall Semester
  2. January in the Spring Semester

Requests must be made in writing , using the Graduate School’s “Application to Schedule a Comprehensive Examination” form. The request should also include a copy of the students transcript, and requires your adivsor’s signature

Requests will be considered by the Graduate Studies committee. Notification of the committee’s decision and the specific date of examination will be sent to the student within one (1) month after the official request has been received.

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to the graduate program in African Studies does not automatically admit a student to candidacy for the M.A. or Ph.D. degree. A student shall be admitted to candidacy upon completion of most requirements for the M.A. or Ph.D. degree, except the thesis or dissertation, respectively. A student will be admitted to candidacy upon meeting the following requirements:

Satisfactory completion of all required course work Pass the comprehensive examination

Pass all language requirements Secure the expository writing certificate Secure the Responsible Conduct of Research certificate An approved thesis/dissertation proposal. The proposal must be defended orally before the thesis or dissertation committee

Secure the approval of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the thesis or dissertation research project (

Receive the endorsement of the Graduate Studies Committee of the department Submit a complete admission to candidacy form to the department to be transmitted to the Graduate School. It must include a list of graduate courses completed, those in process, and those courses in the field yet to be completed.

Receive the approval of the Graduate School

Admission to Ph.D. candidacy must be achieved at least one semester prior to that in which the student expects to receive the degree. M.A. candidacy can be achieved in the same semester in which the student expects to receive the degree. In both cases, the deadline set by the Graduate School for candidacy is SIX WEEKS prior to the end of the semester.

Candidacy for the M.A. degree shall be valid for no more than TWO academic years. Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree shall be valid for no more than FIVE academic years. Any student seeking renewal of candidacy must apply to the Graduate School through the department for readmission. The department shall determine the conditions under which the student may be reinstated, subject to approval of the Graduate School.

The responsibility for fulfilling these requirements is that of the student. Students should consult their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies if in doubt as to any of the requirements.

The Graduate School has strict deadlines for submitting completed application packages for candidacy, oral defense and other fellowships such as the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship. Students are urged very strongly to keep these deadlines in mind and plan appropriately for comprehensive examinations, candidacy application and submission of thesis and dissertation for departmental approval and scheduling of oral examination defense.

Caution to Prospective Students

All credentials must be sent to:

Howard University Graduate School 
Office of Graduate Recruitment and Admissions
2400 Sixth Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20059

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