General Information (FAQ)

The Slavic Department offers a variety of majors and concentrations designed to give you maximum flexibility in choosing the focus of your studies. Note that the structure of the majors, concentrations (CC/GS), and minor (BC) is different for Columbia and Barnard students, even though in practice you will end up taking many classes together and being taught by faculty from both institutions.

If you are a Columbia undergraduate and...

  • ...your main goal is to become as fluent as you can in the Russian language, then Russian Language and Culture is probably the major (or concentration) for you. It combines the maximum possible amount of language training with courses designed to make you culturally literate as well.
  • ...your main goal is to read great works of literature in the original, and/or you're considering graduate study in literature, then the major (or concentration) in Russian Literature and Culture is for you. It provides language training with a focus on the critical study of literature.
  •'re interested in a language and culture other than Russian, OR you want to pursue an interdisciplinary degree with a non-literary focus (such as history, film, religion, or the social sciences) then Slavic Studies is the major (or concentration) for you.
  •'d like to study Russian literature seriously but you don't have time to learn Russian, our new Concentration in Russian Literature (non-language track) is ideal for you -- all the courses are offered in English.
  • ...your main goal is to become as fluent as possible in a language other than Russian, take a look at our concentration in Slavic Language and Culture. It combines three full years of language training with courses in culture and/or linguistics to deepen your knowledge.

If you are a Barnard undergraduate and...

  • ...your main goal is to read Russian literature in the original, and/or you're considering graduate study in literature, then the major in Russian Language and Literature is for you. It combines extensive language training with a focus on the critical study of literature.
  • ...your main goal is to learn more about Russia and former Soviet Union, from an interdisciplinary perspective, then the major in Russian Regional Studies is for you. It combines extensive language training with courses in culture, history, and politics, plus electives.
  •'re interested in a Slavic literature other than Russian, you should major in Slavic and East European Literature and Culture, combining extensive language training with a focus on the critical study of literature.
  •'re interested in a language and culture other than Russian, AND you want to pursue an interdisciplinary degree with an emphasis on the social sciences, then Slavic and East European Regional Studies is the major for you.
  •'re already majoring in something else but would like to include some Russian in your degree, consider adding a Russian minor. The requirements are not onerous, and it's a great way to formalize your study of Russian without taking time away from your major studies.

The Department is also a leader and co-sponsor of the Linguistics program, through which Columbia (CC/GS) students can pursue a special concentration in Linguistics, and Barnard students can pursue a special major or minor in Linguistics (or "Linguistics and..."). Click here for more details.

For a first taste of what it would be like to major in a Slavic language and culture, you should, of course, sign up for a language course! If you'd rather find out what the culture has to offer first, there are a number of courses taught in English that survey some of the highlights of Russian and other Slavic literatures and cultures. We recommend that you try one of the following (no language knowledge required):

  • RUSS UN3220, Literature and Empire: The Reign of the Novel in Russia (19th Century)
  • RUSS UN3221, Literature and Revolution: Tradition, Innovation, and Politics in Russian Culture (20th Century)
  • RUSS UN3223, Magical Mystery Tour: The Legacy of Old Rus'
  • RUSS UN3227, The Making of Modern Russian Culture
  • CLSS GU4025, Literature and Ideology: Balkan Modernism
  • CLSS GU4028, In the Shadow of Empires: Literatures of the South Slavs
  • CLCZ GU4035, The Writers of Prague
  • POLI GU4042, Bestsellers of Polish Literature
  • UKRN GU4069, Cinema and the Emergence of Modern Ukraine

If literature is your thing, you might consider taking one of our more specialized literature courses in English, such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (RUSS UN3222), Nabokov (RUSS UN3224), or a comparative course such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and the English Novel (CLRS GU4011) or the Russian, French, and American Novels of Adultery (CLRS GU4012).

Columbia students should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies about courses in Russian literature and area studies, or about the structure of the program as a whole. If you are a Barnard student, consult your academic adviser, or any Barnard Slavic Department faculty member.

For information about language placement exams, language courses (either at Columbia or outside the University), and related questions, please click here.

For information about the Special Concentration in Linguistics, please contact Dr. Meredith Landman.

For information about senior thesis advising, consult the faculty member teaching the senior seminar. Both Barnard and Columbia Slavic majors take the seminar (it is required for Barnard students, optional for Columbia students).

The deadline for declaring a major falls in the spring of your sophomore year, and all our majors are designed to be feasible for students who wait until the last moment to decide. That said, it takes time to learn a foreign language, so if you're begining your Slavic language study from scratch, it pays to plan ahead! That doesn't mean you need to declare your major early, though -- just give some thought to how you want to plan your language study. If you already know you're interested in a Slavic major or concentration, talk to your advisor (Barnard) or the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Columbia) about how best to plan out your coursework. You can also look at the sample courses of study below for ideas.

Opportunities for Columbia and Barnard students to perform research in Slavic-related fields are exceptionally rich. The faculty boasts major scholars in Russian, Soviet, and East European history, economics, politics, language and linguistics, Russian literature of all periods, and Russian music. Extensive offerings in Czech, Polish, Balkan (Serbian /Croatian /Bosnian), and Ukrainian language, literature, and culture are also available.

The library of Columbia University and the New York Public Library each have an extensive Russian and Slavic collection; together, they offer a source of materials that is undoubtedly one of the largest in the world. The Bakhmeteff Archive at Columbia is renowned for its collection of archival materials and rare editions related to the history of Russian emigration.

Undergraduates at Columbia and Barnard can apply for the Harriman Institute Undergraduate Fellowships, which provide funding for undergraduates to conduct research in Russia, the former Soviet Bloc, or East Central Europe. The fellowships are awarded twice a year, to fund research trips over the winter and summer vacations. In addition, students may be eligible for other fellowships, such as the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship of the U.S. Dept. of State, or the Tow Research Fellowship (Barnard only; see Dean Runsdorf for information).

You can pursue your research interests, and make the most of the resources outlined above, by taking advanced seminars, working one-on-one with a member of the faculty (Supervised Individual Research), and/or writing a senior thesis.

Depending on how early you decide to pursue a Slavic major, the area of focus you choose, and the courses that are offered in any given year, your individual program could organize itself in a few different ways. Below, we've charted out just a couple of possibilities for each major we offer. You should mix, match, and invent to come up with the program that works for you.

Russian Language and Culture

Russian Literature and Culture

Slavic Studies

To be recommended for Departmental Honors in your Senior Year to the College Committee on Honors, Awards, and Prizes, which makes the final determinate on honors recipients, you must have an average of at least 3.6 in the major courses and be nominated to the Department by the faculty member supervising your senior thesis. To find out more, speak to the Director of Undergraduate Studies (no later than the fall of your senior year).

Students who have excelled in Russian or Slavic studies (a GPA of 3.5 or better) are elected to the Slavic honor society, Dobro Slovo (“The Laudable Discourse”).

The department awards the Pushkin Prize for the best original translation of a Russian poem or poems. Submissions are solicited during the spring semester, and the winner is announced at the end of term.

The department also awards the Robert A. Maguire Prize in Slavic Studies. The Maguire Prize is a cash prize awarded annually to an undergraduate of high academic distinction and promise in an area of study concerned with Russian or another Slavic culture, including literature, music, art, religion or cultural history. All Columbia, Barnard and General Studies students are eligible for nomination. Established in honor of Professor Robert A. Maguire.

In addition, students who have excelled (a GPA of 3.5 or better) in Russian or Slavic studies are elected to the Slavic honor society, Dobro Slovo (“The Laudable Discourse”).

Our majors put on an annual theatrical production in Russian, enjoy the department’s holiday events (typically a celebration of Slavic gastronomy and culture), and regularly attend the wide range of activities organized by the department, especially films, lectures, poetry readings, and musical performances. Instructors also organize trips to Brighton Beach, where students can experience Russian émigré culture first hand.

Undergraduates with an interest in things Slavic (no major required!) are welcome to join the Russian International Association of Columbia and the Ukrainian Film Club. You can also contribute original writing or photographs to The Birch -- the nation's first undergraduate journal devoted to Slavic and Eurasian culture, run by C.U. undergraduates -- or join its editorial board. Except for the Ukrainian Film Club, these organizations are student-run and operate independently from the Department.

An advanced knowledge of Russian (or Czech, Polish, Bosnian/Croatian /Serbian, or Ukrainian) language and culture, coupled with the Columbia general education, can become a big bonus in pursuing your career, and, at the same time, may help you to focus your career goals. Columbia graduates who were involved in Russian studies are working in banks, law firms, international businesses, and any number of related careers in which they can distinguish themselves by their expertise in Russian and East European affairs. Our graduating majors are also in big demand in non-governmental organizations connecting to this region, such as the George Soros foundation, for example. A few of our Russian studies graduates are currently working as journalists in Russia.

Practically every year a Russian major wins a fellowship for graduate studies in Russian and Slavic literatures at the country's top universities. In recent years, our graduating majors have pursued PhD studies in the Slavic Departments at Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, UC Berkeley, and UCLA, among other places.

Generally, the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Columbia) can provide you with useful information about graduate study, as can your academic adviser (Barnard). However, you should also consult the faculty mentor who supervises your senior thesis.

The American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) maintains a useful list of graduate programs in Slavic Studies, both within the U.S. and abroad. You can access it here: