Frequently Asked Questions

Majors and Minors


Opportunities for Current Students


Credits and Approvals


Senior Seminar and Thesis




How do I declare the Africana Major?

Traditionally students declare their major during the second semester of the sophomore year. Any students considering the Africana major before that time are welcome to make an appointment with the director to discuss the major and how best to fulfill the requirements. Students may of course declare or add the major at any point after the sophomore year.

To officially declare the major, pick up the Major Form from the Registrar's Office in Milbank Hall and bring it to the Africana Studies Director to obtain an approval signature. (Please make an appointment or come to the Directors office hours, which can be found here.) At that time, the Director will ask you to fill out a major profile form, which helps us keep track of your courses and distribution requirements. That form can be seen here.



How do I declare a double, combined or special major?

The Double Major
A double major means that you intend to complete the major requirements in two departments with no overlapping courses. However, there are two options for completing the thesis requirement for the double major. Your choice of option affects which senior seminars you will take, so please consult both departments and go to the students page on this site for complete information.

Double major with one thesis
In this option you will write one essay that satisfies the requirements for both majors. You must have an essay sponsor for both departments and both departments must agree on your essay grade, including possible Distinction. For this option, you must fill out the "Double Major-One Integrating Senior Project" form available from the Registrars Office. For more details on the senior thesis, go to the students page.

Double major with two theses
You can choose to write two distinct senior essays, one for each of the two major departments. You use the traditional Major form to declare the double major.

You declare a double major any time during or after the second semester of the sophomore year. The forms are available at the Registrar's Office in Milbank Hall: please make sure you pick up the correct form (see above).

Combined Major
For most combined majors you create your own major based on course offerings from two or more departments. A combined major integrates in-depth coursework - at least 7 coursesfrom each department or program. During the senior year, you will write an integrating senior essay that will have a sponsor from each department. Unless a particular course combination is listed in the Barnard Catalogue (e.g. a combined major with Human Rights, Jewish Studies or Women's Studies), you must petition the Committee on Programs and Academic Standing (CPAS) and receive the approval of the Chairs of the sponsoring departments.

Obtain forms and instructions from your Class Dean in the Dean of Studies Office. The departments must agree on your senior essay grade, including possible Distinction.

The petition form asks for a written rationale or proposal explaining your combined major: this proposal should not focus on perceived or real inadequacies of the existing majors (i.e., the Africana Studies does not do X and the Department does not provide Y); rather, it should provide a coherent argument of what the combined major will do for your intellectual and career goals that the double major cannot. Your petition should also mention any circumstances driving your desire for the combined major (i.e. you want to study at Spelman College and in Nigeria during your junior year and that will limit your ability to complete a full double major

Special Major
A special major is a major designed by a student because Barnard does not officially offer it. As with the combined major, you must submit a petition to the Committee on Programs and Academic Standing (CPAS). The form asks for a written rationale or proposal explaining the special major and a list of courses that satisfy the special major. If at a later date, you need to substitute or drop one of these courses you MUST submit a petition in advance to CPAS giving your rationale for the drop or substitution. All involved departments (see below) must approve these changes.

A special major does not necessarily involve more than one department. If it does, both departments must agree on your senior essay grade, including possible Distinction, and on your potential Departmental Honors nomination. Obtain forms and instructions from your Class Dean in the Dean of Studies Office.



Who advises Africana majors?

In most cases Africana Studies majors are advised by the Program Director until their senior year. The Director will indicate this on the Major Declaration Form. A senior advisor, chosen from the Africana Committee, advises seniors.



Is there a minor in Africana Studies?

The Africana minor consists of six (6) courses to be distributed as follows:

1.    AFRS BC 2004 Introduction to Africana Studies

2.    AFRS BC 2006 Introduction to the African Diaspora

3.    One course on Harlem to be chosen from electives offered at Barnard/Columbia

4-5. Two electives chosen by the students in consultation with the Director/minor advisor. 

Although the college requires students to declare the minor formally after they have completed course work for the minor, the Africana Studies Program strongly encourages students to meet with the Africana Studies Director (or the minor advisor) to plan a course of study and fill out an "intent to minor" form. To learn more about the Africana Studies major and minor, please go to this link:



What are the Africana Studies Requirements?

The Africana Studies major requires 10 courses exclusive of the foreign language requirement. For the specific courses see the Major page on this website. The program rarely allows exceptions to or exemptions from these requirements. Any such change must be approved by the Director and, in the case of Special or Combined Majors, the Committee on Programs and Academic Standing (CPAS).



What grants and awards are available to Africana Majors?

Tow Foundation Travel Fellowship
The Committee on Honors offers several travel awards to rising seniors for travel expenses related to research for their senior essay. Applications are usually due before March 1st of the junior year for travel that will take place during the summer between the junior and senior years. Interested students should contact Dean James Runsdorf.

Lucyle Hook Travel Grants
The Committee on Honors awards grants for travel and other research expenses connected to the senior thesis to promising Barnard rising or current seniors with enriching, eclectic senior projects who demonstrate originality and self-direction. Expenses may be incurred during the summer prior to the senior year as well as during the senior year, i.e. the rising or current senior may apply in November for either the previous or the following summer. The application requires a proposal (a full description of the senior project with a detailed estimate of expenses) and a letter of recommendation from her (prospective) senior essay advisor. The nomination deadline is usually in early November. The Committee on Honors will award grants of $100-$500 to 4-5 seniors. Interested students should see Dean Karen Blank and her senior essay sponsor.



How do I get study-abroad approval and credit?

The office of Dean for Study Abroad has materials and information needed to make the decision on where to study abroad. You might also check the students page of this website to see programs attended by Africana majors.

Once you have decided on a study abroad program, you should make an appointment with the Director to go over your projected program. The Director will need to know the following: course descriptions, the number of course hours per week, course requirements. After consulting with the director, you must fill out the Dean of Studies' Study Leave Course Approval Form, listing the courses you plan to take. The Director will then pre-approve your courses through e-bear. While abroad, please keep all supporting documents (a course description, syllabus, transcript, and, when possible, course work such as papers or exams) to bring back to Barnard; this is particularly crucial if you decide to drop or add a new course.

Please visit the Study Abroad page in the Dean of Studies office for more information.



How do I get courses approved if I am a transfer student?

You must take at least six of your major credits here at Barnard. The college evaluates transfer courses after a complete official transcript is received by the Office of the Registrar.



How do I get approval for courses taken during the summer?

Please see the Registrar's Summer Course Approval Page



How do I get credit for courses taken at Spelman College?

The Spelman-Barnard exchange is handled in much the same way as courses taken abroad. Students should make an appointment with the Director to go over the projected program. The Director will need to know the following: course descriptions, the number of course hours per week and course requirements.



Can I get credit for an internship?

Barnard College does not allow students to receive credits for internships.



Can I do an independent study project?

The Africana Studies program accepts independent study projects. Please consult with advisor and/or department Chair. 

Remember that Barnard students have many avenues for pursuing independent research interests. Your advisor or department Chair will discuss with you whether you can work on your topic. If your propsal is accepted and approved by a  full-time Africana Studies faculty member who is willing to serve as sponsor, you will then fill out a request. This form is available on the Registrar's Forms Page and you will need signatures from the sponsor and the program director. Submit the completed signed form to the Registrar's Office for approval. 



How do I get into a seminar or colloquium?

Each professor sets her/his own procedures for admitting students to an Africana seminar or colloquium. For the junior colloquium, the college privileges junior and senior Africana majors. For seminars offered through other departments, you must find contact the individual instructor. In general the Director will e-mail on how to get into Africana-affiliated seminars during program planning. Generally, you should plan to attend the first day of a seminar and give any special reasons that would encourage the Professor to admit you to the seminar (i.e. previous coursework, special experiences, thesis topic related to the course).

Please note that Columbia seminars, particularly in History and English, require an application that often falls due before program planning. In the weeks before program planning, you should check the department websites for application procedures and deadlines.


What is the Africana Senior Seminar?

The senior seminar is a yearlong, eight-credit research course. During the fall the seniors meet regularly to discuss research protocols, evaluate sources and craft a thesis proposal: if you fulfill the course requirements, the grade will be a Y for the fall semester. During the spring, the students will meet regularly with their thesis sponsor/adviser and periodically with the seminar leader and the other majors. Two faculty members (the thesis sponsor and the seminar director) will read and evaluate the thesis at the end of the spring semester.

Thesis grades are Distinction, Pass and Fail. Your final course grade, given at the end of the year, will be based on your performance in the seminaryour contributions to class, your success as a peer evaluator and editor, the timely and thoughtful completion of assignmentsand the thesis. The seminar director assigns the course grade after reading the thesis and consulting with your thesis adviser. You must complete a satisfactory thesis to earn credit for this seminar.


Can I take the Africana senior seminar in the spring of my senior year?

No. The Africana senior seminar is offered in the fall semester only.



Do I take the Africana senior seminar if I am a double or combined major?

All majors must take at least one semester of the thesis seminar. Double, combined or special majors have several options for fulfilling the requirement; these majors should read the recommendations below and consult with the Africana director during spring program planning of their junior year.

If you are a double major planning to write two theses, you may take the yearlong seminar in Africana Studies AND any seminars offered in your other major (up to four senior seminars over the year).

If you declared a double major with one thesis, a combined or a special major, you may only take two senior seminars during the senior year; generally this means that you will take one seminar with Africana Studies and one seminar with your other major. You may take one course in the fall and one course in the Spring OR you may take them both in the fall. Consider the following when deciding your course program:

  • How much structure do you need to get research and writing done? This is a significant project and if you tend not to be good at deadlines, think about spreading the seminars out across the year.
  • How good are you at self-editing? Can you achieve the distance from your work necessary to produce a good final project?

To be honest, we find that students tend to underestimate the time the thesis takes as well as their need for structure during the writing process. We would advise most of you to take one seminar each semester.


What's the difference between the Africana Senior essay and the senior thesis?

All Barnard students are required to complete a senior project. Most Africana seniors will fulfill this requirement by taking the senior seminar and writing a 20-25 page senior essay. Seniors who wish to write a senior thesis must begin the thesis while taking the senior seminar; upon receiving a B+ or better in the fall (and with approval of the instructor), they can then continue that paper as thesis research during the Spring semester.


How do I get a faculty member to agree to serve as a second reader or sponsor for my senior thesis?

In addition to the seminar director, each Africana thesis must be read and evaluated by another faculty member who has some expertise in the field. We require that the senior and the sponsor/advisor sign a Sponsor contract to be turned in by mid November of the senior year. That form can be downloaded here.

Your nature of the collaboration with that sponsor is up to the student and the professor. Ideally, the sponsor would meet with the senior regularly during the spring semester, read a draft thesis and then grade the final version. However, you may encounter a professor who has important expertise in the field, but who does not have time for a full collaboration. In this situation, the senior should negotiate with the professor on a schedule that takes into account the demands on the professor.

Here are some tips on the best way to get a professor to agree to sponsor your thesis:

Ask Early
Although it is the job of faculty to advise students, please remember that most faculty are already advising many students in their home departments, so you cannot assume that they will immediately agree to work with you. Ask as early in the thesis process as you can. Although the Africana program requires a signed contract in November, you should plan to ask the professor much earlier than that.

Display Independence
When you approach a potential sponsor, make an appointment if necessary and come with some specific thoughts on the thesis, a rationale for the project and some preliminary research. If possible, bring something in writing. You dont have to have to know all of the directions or implications of the project, but you should be able to explain what you want to get out of doing the project. Let the professor know what research you have already done.

Do Your Homework
Learn what you can about that professors teaching and research projects and make sure that the faculty persons interests do in fact connect with yours. Most of that information is available on department and program websites.

Do some preliminary research on your topic. Given the proliferation of scholarly databases and the availability of reference librarians, there is no excuse for approaching a faculty member uninformed. Do at least a preliminary search of the books and articles on the topic. Then the professor can give you an informed opinion on the most influential books or writings in the field as well as more specific sources

Go With Specific Questions
The professor will be more impressed if you seem ready to take control of your own topic and have a clear sense of what you will need from a sponsor. Be prepared to engage a prospective sponsor in a dialogue on the topic. You might ask: Who do you think does the best work on this topic? Do you think my topic makes a contribution to your field? What am I overlooking in my thinking on this topic?



How do I get a recommendation for graduate school or a job?

It should go without saying that the best recommendations come from faculty who know you well through course work or through collaboration on a program or college project. If for some reason you need a letter from a faculty member you do not know, you need to take steps to help that person know you well enough to write a letter. Each Professor has her/his own rules for writing recommendations. Some faculty will only write for students they know well, others will write for any student who has taken a course with them, still others will only write for students who have earned high grades in class. Do not assume that faculty will write a letter: consult with the faculty about her/his policies in a timely fashion. Be aware that faculty will be least likely to write a recommendation during exam periods.

To ensure the best possible recommendation, you should approach the faculty member at least two weeks before the earliest due date. Make an appointment with the faculty member and bring the materials listed below. Once a Professor has agreed to write for you, ask her/him for identifying information and bring the appropriate forms completely filled out (see #5 below).



How do I apply to graduate school?

Answer will be posted shortly!


  1. A resume: This should include your academic activities, work experience at school and during summers, extra-curricular activities and internships. It should also include your academic and non-academic awards and recognition. Make sure it has your contact information (address, telephone, E-mail).
  2. Personal statement: This is not a recapitulation of your resume, but a statement describing your educational attainments, your goals for the future and how the program/job/internship will help you attain those goals. For more on the personal statement, please see Applying to Graduate School on the student page
  3. A transcript or a list of courses taken with the professor (with grade received). If you bring a transcript, highlight courses taken with the professors.
  4. A brief description of the papers you wrote and the presentations you made in each course. If this is a recommendation for graduate school, the professor may want to have a copy of the best paper you wrote for him/her or a piece of your best writing related to the field in which you wish to do graduate work.
  5. Recommendation forms: If you are asking for many recommendations, give them to the faculty person all at once or make an agreement with the Professor for when you will turn them in. It is best to have faculty proclaiming your distinctive qualities rather than filling out the same information on endless forms, so please fill out all forms legibly for the faculty member. Most recommendation forms ask for the following information about the recommender:
    Recommenders name:
    Rank or Position:
    Address: Barnard College/3009 Broadway/New York, NY 10027

    If you forget to ask the Professor, this information can usually be found on faculty pages of the Africana website.
  6. Names of the programs to which you are applying and the application deadlines. List the earliest deadline first.