Human Rights Studies

Program Category: MA Programs
Director of Graduate Studies: Jacqueline Dugard
Email Address: [email protected]

Columbia University has a unique international reputation for human rights education and research, earned through decades of highly respected training of human rights professionals and a commitment to the interdisciplinary study and practice of human rights. As a focal point for the study of human rights at Columbia, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) is committed to providing exceptional education programs that draw on these strengths. 

The Human Rights Studies MA is an interdisciplinary program that focuses on the academic study of human rights theory and practice. Students take courses offered by ISHR, as well as human rights courses offered by other departments, such as Anthropology, History, Political Science, Religion, and Sociology. Students may also take courses offered by other schools at Columbia, including the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia Law School, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

The 30-credit degree program can be completed part-time or full-time and requires the completion of a thesis. Detailed information about the degree structure can be found under the degree requirements page of the HRSMA website.

Students interested in applying to the program are also encouraged to review the information on the Prospective Students page. Specific questions about the program that are not addressed on the website may be directed to [email protected].

Special Admissions Requirements

Statement of Academic Purpose

The statement of purpose should address your motivations for applying to the program and your plans for graduate study in relation to your academic and professional goals.  

Students are encouraged to consider the following questions when writing their statement of purpose:

  • Why do you want to study human rights?
  • Why are you interested in this particular program?
  • What are your human rights research interests/what is your anticipated concentration? Applicants are welcome to indicate a potential thesis topic, but not required to do so.
  • What do you hope to achieve as a student in this program?
  • How has your professional or academic experience prepared you for graduate-level study?
  • How does graduate study relate to your future academic and/or professional plans?

Length of statement: 800-1,000 words (3-4 pages double spaced)

Academic Writing Sample

The academic writing sample helps the admissions committee evaluate an applicant’s research, analysis, and writing skills, and should demonstrate your ability to meet the expectations of graduate-level work. The writing sample should be a short academic paper (approximately 8-10 pages double-spaced). Students who wish to submit a coherent excerpt from a longer piece should include a brief abstract (100-150 words) to contextualize the excerpt submitted. The writing sample does not need to address a human rights issue.

Letters of Recommendation

A minimum of two academic references are required for all applicants to the Human Rights Studies MA program. Applicants who wish to submit a third, professional reference, are welcome to do so.


Students must submit electronic copies of transcripts or records of academic work from each university-level institution attended. Transcripts that are in a language other than English should be translated into English and both the original and translation should be uploaded. If academic marks are not expressed as letter grades, students should submit information on the evaluation system of the school if it is not otherwise explained on the transcript. Students should consult the Transcripts page of the GSAS website for additional information.

English Proficiency Requirement

International students whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country whose official language is not English must submit scores of the TOEFL or IELTS exams. International applicants may also take the Columbia American Language Program’s ALP Essay Exam. For more information, see the Information for International Students page on the GSAS website.

Personal Statement

The personal statement should explain how your personal experiences and history will allow you to contribute to the wealth of perspectives in the entering class of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and in the Columbia community at large.


*GSAS will accept up to four recommendations, regardless of the number required by your program of interest. However, to be eligible for admission at GSAS, at least TWO letters must be submitted by academic recommenders.

Application Deadlines

Applicants who wish to be considered for funding are strongly encouraged to apply by January 18, 2024.

All applications are reviewed using the same guidelines. However, applicants who apply by the early application deadline will receive an admissions decision earlier. This may be an advantage for those applying for fellowships with early deadlines that require proof of admission.

All students admitted during a given year must begin the program in the fall. The HRSMA program does not have a spring-start admissions cycle.

Early Application Deadline for Fall Admission

Early applicants will be notified that their application has been accepted, denied, or waitlisted by late February or early March.

Applicants who receive a wait list decision during the first evaluation round will be automatically considered during the regular decision evaluation process and do not need to reapply.

Applicants who are denied admission during the first evaluation round cannot reapply for consideration during the regular decision evaluation process, but are welcome to apply again the following year (subject to the GSAS policy on reapplying).

Regular Deadline for Fall Admission

All applications received after January 18, as well as applicants that were waitlisted during the first round, will be reviewed during the second admissions review process. 

Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships

FLAS Fellowships are available for students entering in the fall. If you are applying for the FLAS Fellowship you must submit your admission application, including the FLAS essay, by the fellowship application deadline.