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School of Oriental and African Studies
London

Oxford, SOAS or Harvard?

Guys, I got into SOAS, Oxford and Harvard for Languages, Cultures and International Relations relating to South and South East Asia. I’m planning to choose SOAS (obv cause it’s the best and the specialist in the field) over Oxford and Harvard but how about Harvard giving me a full fin aid with a year abroad option? I mean, I’m confused. The subject at Oxford isn’t at all rewarding (Religion and Oriental Studies) so let’s eliminate Oxford. How about Harvard vs SOAS? SOAS is number 1 in South Asian studies while Harvard comes 2nd. What should I choose? I’m confused.
Reply 1
Why are you obsessing over 1st vs 2nd place in a ranking? These change every year. One year Oxford might be at the top, another year it might be Harvard.
School of Oriental and African Studies
London
Reply 2
Original post by Sinnoh
Why are you obsessing over 1st vs 2nd place in a ranking? These change every year. One year Oxford might be at the top, another year it might be Harvard.


Hi, I just meant that SOAS being a specialist institution in the field has my attraction. Harvard is okay but I’m from India so I’m more into studying in London.
Reply 3
Yep haha what do you mean?
Original post by Anonymous
Guys, I got into SOAS, Oxford and Harvard for Languages, Cultures and International Relations relating to South and South East Asia. I’m planning to choose SOAS (obv cause it’s the best and the specialist in the field) over Oxford and Harvard but how about Harvard giving me a full fin aid with a year abroad option? I mean, I’m confused. The subject at Oxford isn’t at all rewarding (Religion and Oriental Studies) so let’s eliminate Oxford. How about Harvard vs SOAS? SOAS is number 1 in South Asian studies while Harvard comes 2nd. What should I choose? I’m confused.


What exactly is it you want to study? Depending on that one may be better/worse. As noted league table rankings mean next to nothing, especially when it's differences of 1 vs 2 as they are just as likely to swap places in next year's ranking (or suddenly collapse in the rankings).

For example for Sanskrit (which I currently study at SOAS), Oxford is by far the stronger option as SOAS doesn't even have a Sanskrit degree anymore and only offers 2 levels of Sanskrit (i.e. 2x 30 credit modules). Oxford allows you to do a full 3 year degree in Sanskrit. It also has pretty extensive offerings in classical South Asia so there is really no comparison between them for that general area (although I do enjoy my studies at SOAS and our Sanskrit lecturer is great, it's also telling that there is ONE Sanskrit lecturer at SOAS vs 5 or 6 at Oxford - before you start counting the philosophers, archaeologists, historians, art historians, religious studies people etc).

Harvard is probably between SOAS and Oxford for Sanskri, it might have more options than SOAS and you have more flexibility to also potentially study e.g. Greek, Latin, Hittite, and other Indo-European language topics, or range more broadly among modern social science approaches, but for Sanskrit I don't think they're as strong as Oxford. Yale used to be the big place for Sanskrit in the US I think but I don't believe they have replaced their Sanskrit professor after he retired (likewise with Brown).

If you were more interested in Modern South Asia then SOAS may have slightly more offerings at the undergraduate level (I believe Oxford has a masters in the area though). Harvard is likely better for international relations/politics in general (I'm not sure about South Asian region stuff specifically) with HKS.
(edited 2 years ago)
Reply 5
Original post by artful_lounger
What exactly is it you want to study? Depending on that one may be better/worse. As noted league table rankings mean next to nothing, especially when it's differences of 1 vs 2 as they are just as likely to swap places in next year's ranking (or suddenly collapse in the rankings).

For example for Sanskrit (which I currently study at SOAS), Oxford is by far the stronger option as SOAS doesn't even have a Sanskrit degree anymore and only offers 2 levels of Sanskrit (i.e. 2x 30 credit modules). Oxford allows you to do a full 3 year degree in Sanskrit. It also has pretty extensive offerings in classical South Asia so there is really no comparison between them for that general area (although I do enjoy my studies at SOAS and our Sanskrit lecturer is great, it's also telling that there is ONE Sanskrit lecturer at SOAS vs 5 or 6 at Oxford - before you start counting the philosophers, archaeologists, historians, art historians, religious studies people etc).

Harvard is probably between SOAS and Oxford for Sanskri, it might have more options than SOAS and you have more flexibility to also potentially study e.g. Greek, Latin, Hittite, and other Indo-European language topics, or range more broadly among modern social science approaches, but for Sanskrit I don't think they're as strong as Oxford. Yale used to be the big place for Sanskrit in the US I think but I don't believe they have replaced their Sanskrit professor after he retired (likewise with Brown).

If you were more interested in Modern South Asia then SOAS may have slightly more offerings at the undergraduate level (I believe Oxford has a masters in the area though). Harvard is likely better for international relations/politics in general (I'm not sure about South Asian region stuff specifically) with HKS.


Hey thanks a lot! This is extremely insightful. Also, I’m looking forward to study Hindi and not Sanskrit. Harvard is a great place as I’ve heard but they say, for SOAS is a specialist in the area, it’s a leading school in the field of Indic studies. Oxford is good but I’m not really interested to do a simple BA in Sanskrit (for the return on investment is not much and considering that I’m international, the fees is way too high). At SOAS, I received an offer to study Languages, Cultures and International relations which by the way is a very broad combination and at Harvard I received an admission for South Asian Studies (not so specific but that’s what i opted for). I also applied to Yale to study NE Cultures and Languages and I hope to get a decision on 31st march.
Original post by Anonymous
Hey thanks a lot! This is extremely insightful. Also, I’m looking forward to study Hindi and not Sanskrit. Harvard is a great place as I’ve heard but they say, for SOAS is a specialist in the area, it’s a leading school in the field of Indic studies. Oxford is good but I’m not really interested to do a simple BA in Sanskrit (for the return on investment is not much and considering that I’m international, the fees is way too high). At SOAS, I received an offer to study Languages, Cultures and International relations which by the way is a very broad combination and at Harvard I received an admission for South Asian Studies (not so specific but that’s what i opted for). I also applied to Yale to study NE Cultures and Languages and I hope to get a decision on 31st march.


In that case yeah, Oxford probably isn't a good fit as you can only do Hindi as a "minor" language alongside Sanskrit (starting from year 2). I'd agree with you in discounting it as such (at least for undergrad - their Modern South Asian Studies masters course might be of interest later). It would be good if your main interest was Sanskrit but if not, as you say there is somewhat limited return on investment in terms of the topics covered.

Note that for Harvard you are just admitted to Harvard College "in general". You can choose whatever as your major in the end but necessarily about a third of your studies will be across a wide range of subjects (sciences, social sciences, humanities) for general education requirements to earn the degree, and minus the ~half you'll study in your major the rest is free choice. So you have a lot of academic freedom there (and some of it is "imposed freedom" if that makes sense!). This will be the same at Yale.

I'm familiar with LCL at SOAS, it's a new programme and quite broad but unlike Harvard where you can take a broad range of courses that are quite specialist, in LCL you are stuck with a broad range of courses that are usually quite generalist. A lot of the core modules concern e.g. general world literature/history and such and you might only spend a week or two on South Asian topics in that. SOAS currently offers four levels (i.e. years' worth of language modules) of Hindi (and two levels of Urdu) but I don't know if that will continue.

Something you should be aware of is that SOAS has had a LOT of restructuring recently, due to their fairly dire financial situation. Thus a lot of courses got cut, LCL was the result of all the individual regional studies programmes except Middle Eastern Studies and East Asian Studies being cut and rolled into a single degree, and a lot of staff were let go (both academic and non-academic). While at any university it is possible a given module/class may not be offered in future years, at SOAS I would say things are quite tenuous for a lot of more "marginal" languages (i.e. not the really big departments like Chinese/Japanese/Arabic), which unfortunately despite being the cornerstone of SOAS's existence and reputation, are being pretty heavily sidelined due to cost cutting measures. Harvard, having a virtually limitless endowment, is likely to be a lot more stable both academically and administratively.

Overall while I have (and am) enjoying my experiences at SOAS academically, the admin side is a nightmare and it is important to understand the nature of SOAS's situation right now, given your alternatives. Especially if you are getting funded at Harvard, it feels hard to, in good faith, recommend SOAS over it in view of that and the very real possibility you might start your degree and find out next year they're dropping Hindi to 2 language levels (which has been the case for most languages that aren't the big ones) and Urdu might get cut altogether or something...
(edited 2 years ago)

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