M.A. Degree in Chinese (San Francisco State University)

Enter the only Chinese Masters Program in the California State University (CSU) system. Take graduate level classes and learn from top experts in literature, linguistics, pedagogy, research methodology, and translation/interpretation. Enjoy the multicultural buzz of the San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Silicon Valley. Earn a degree that will entitle you to teach at the college level (see the Teaching Credential pathway for additional authorization to teach at the K-12 level) and empower you to pursue advanced research and language-related careers. Low tuition; teaching assistantships for matriculated students; State University Grant available for California residents.

Learn more about the Chinese M.A. Program at San Francisco State University.

Admission to the Program

QUALIFICATIONS (1): Bachelor's Degree and Academic Training

A prerequisite for admission to the Masters Program in Chinese is a Bachelor's Degree in Chinese or a related subject, with a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 (which is equivalent to a "B" average in letter grade terms). Applicants are expected to demonstrate advanced level skills in the following areas:

  • Advanced proficiency in spoken Mandarin and standard written Chinese
  • Familiarity with major literary/cultural figures and texts
  • Training in the fundamentals of linguistic analysis
  • Basic reading proficiency in classical Chinese

In exceptional circumstances, applicants who are lacking in one or more of these areas may be admitted conditionally after developing, through consultation with advisers, a program of studies to establish equivalency. Courses prescribed for equivalency may not be credited toward the M.A. degree.

QUALIFICATIONS (2): English Language Proficiency

Applicants ARE NOT required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or other standardized academic proficiency tests. However applicants whose native language is not English, who did not complete their Bachelor's Degree at a college or university in an English-speaking country (English-speaking countries include the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Belize), must demonstrate proficiency in English language by taking and passing a standardized English test recognized by San Francisco State University, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination. For a full list of recognized tests and passing scores, visit the Division of Graduate Studies’ English language requirements page. Note that these English language requirements are required of all non-native speakers and international students applying to San Francisco State University, and cannot be waived. The requirement holds regardless of citizenship or residency status -- non-native speakers who are U.S. citizens or Green Card holders still must take and pass the required English language exams. The requirement, however, is normally waived for applicants who have completed a bachelor's or master's degree in the United States.

Application Process

In order to assess whether applicants meet acceptable standards and have fulfilled prerequisites, both the Division of Graduate Studies and the Chinese Program are involved in the application review process. Applications are processed through the CalState Apply (https://www2.calstate.edu/apply/graduate) portal.


Application materials required by the Division of Graduate Studies are described at the Division of Graduate Studies website. To complete this portion of the application, you will need to fill out an online admissions form. In addition, you may need to upload a number of different documents, including:

  • Statements of purpose in Chinese and English (details below)
  • Transcripts for all colleges and universities attended
  • Two (2) letters of recommendation
  • [International students/non-native speakers of English] English language testing scores (explained above)

The Statements of Purpose in Chinese and English do not have to be identical translations of each other, but should cover similar content. The two essays will be used to gauge written proficiency in English and Chinese, and to evaluate writing skills and the capacity for organization and analysis. In the Statement of Purpose, we require you to explain the following:

  • Why do you want to pursue graduate studies in Chinese?
  • What kind of prior training and/or work experience do you have that qualifies you for the program? (See “Qualifications” section above for applicant requirements)
  • Why did you choose the Chinese Program at San Francisco State University?
  • What courses do you plan to take if admitted into San Francisco State, and why? What research do you plan to undertake?
  • How does masters level coursework figure in your long-term career planning?

In addition, let the Statement reflect your motivation, your background knowledge, and your level of linguistic sophistication. Statements must be in the form of a coherent essay divided into paragraphs arranged according to theme and topic. Treat the Statement of Purpose as an essay, not a question and answer form. Do not submit bullet point answers to the questions posed above.

Also required for upload are two (2) letters of recommendation from persons familiar your academic and/or professional qualifications.

Faculty on the Program Graduate Admissions Committee meet year round to consider applications. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until program slots are full. Also check the Division of Graduate Studies website for specifics. International students are encouraged to apply well before the closing date, as the issuance of U.S. visas at overseas consulates may be a time-consuming process.


After you have submitted your online application, you will be issued a Student Identification Number and a Password, using which you can access your application file online and check the status of your application.

Be sure to log in and check on your status frequently, to see if your application materials have arrived and to see if you are missing any documentation. When all of the documents required by the Division of Graduate Studies have been received, your file will be sent to the Chinese Program for Department Review.

Note that the Chinese Program will not begin review of your application until all of the required documents are in place -- the Chinese Program will not consider applications that are only partially complete. However, a complete application packet does not guarantee admission -- admission into the Chinese M.A. Program is competitive, and the Program reserves the right to select only the best candidates out of the pool of applicants.

The whole process, from completion of file to department admissions decision, normally takes about one to two weeks. If more than two weeks has elapsed since you submitted your complete application and your file still has not been sent for Department Review, contact the Chinese Program graduate adviser to see why it is being held up.

If your application is successful, you will receive an official notice from San Francisco State University informing you of your admission into the Master Program in Chinese. You should receive this notice two to three weeks after submission of your completed application. If your application is unsuccessful, you will receive an official letter to that effect within the same timeframe.

Once admitted, you should contact the Chinese Program Graduate Adviser to seek mandatory advising on courses to take in the following semester. During advising, you will be asked about your prior training, desired course load, preferred length of study, and available hours. Prior to advising, read the "Advancement to Candidacy" section of this website to familiarize yourself with course offerings and required paperwork.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)?
A: No, the GRE is not required for admission to the Master’s program in Chinese.

Q: Can native speakers of Chinese from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong apply to your program?
A: Yes, as long as you have the required academic credentials (see description of prerequisites above). We do not discriminate against applicants based on race or national origin.

Q: What do you mean by B.A. in Chinese or related subject? If my undergraduate major is Business, but I am a native speaker of Chinese, can I apply?
A: We do not set limits on which majors can apply and which cannot, but we do require that students admitted to the Master’s program in Chinese possess the following skills:

  • Advanced proficiency in standard spoken and written modern Chinese
  • Training in Classical Chinese
  • Training in linguistics

The closer to Chinese your major is, the more of the requirements you will have satisfied in the process of studying for a Bachelor’s degree in your subject. If you are a native speaker of Chinese, it is assumed you have advanced proficiency in standard spoken and written modern Chinese. Mention this in your Statement of Purpose, and in the Chinese version of your Statement of Purpose, show us that you are indeed capable of sophisticated essay writing in Standard Chinese. If you were educated to high-school level in a Chinese-speaking country, you will most likely have studied Classical Chinese in school — again, mention this in your Statement of Purpose, so that we have a better understanding of your background.

As for linguistics, we require that you have taken a course such as Chinese Historical Phonology in a Chinese department or English linguistics (e.g. phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics) in an English or foreign languages department. If you have not taken linguistics, but satisfy the first two conditions, we may grant you conditional admission and require that you complete MLL 325 Foreign Language Linguistics in your first year of study.

Q: When I was an undergraduate in China, I took English-language courses such as pronunciation and grammar. Would any of these count as a “linguistics” course that is required for admission?
A: No. A linguistics course is not a language course. A linguistics course should provide training in the scientific analysis of language data. Most linguistics courses have the word “linguistics” or a subdiscipline of linguistics (e.g., phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics) in their course title.

Q: My TOEFL score is just a few points shy of your requirement. I have taken the TOEFL exam many, many times, and this is the best I can do. I am so, so close! I really want to study in your program. Can you waive the TOEFL requirement for me?
A: If your other qualifications are strong, we may be able to offer you conditional admission, with the condition that you take additional English language courses through the American Language Institute (ALI) at San Francisco State University and/or retake and pass the required English language examination after matriculation.

Q: I took the TOEFL back in 1985, and scored well above your required threshold. Can you waive the University requirement that TOEFL grades must be no more than two years old?
A: No. TOEFL validy periods are set by the university as a whole. The Chinese Program does not support petitions to waive this requirement.

Q: I am a U.S. citizen, but I was born in China and Chinese is my native language. Do I need to take the TOEFL?
A: If your native language is not English, and you have not completed a Bachelor’s degree in an English-speaking country (i.e., USA, Canada, Jamaica, Australia, The United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Belize), then you need to take the required English language proficiency exam — even if you are a U.S. citizen. In other words, the determination of English language proficiency is based not on citizenship, but on native language and education. U.S. citizenship or residency does not exempt you from the requirement.

Q: I have a B.A. degree in Chinese from China, and I have been teaching Chinese language in the United States for more than 20 years. Can you waive any of the courses required for the M.A. in Chinese based on my past training and work experience.
A: No – the Chinese M.A. Program is an educational framework that provides training in literature, linguistics and pedagogy for people who are in need training in these subject areas. It is not set up as a certification body to issue diplomas to people who already possess expertise in these areas. 

Q: Do the letters of recommendation have to be from my college professors? Or can they be from a friend or someone at work? 
A: Letters of reference should be from qualified individuals who are familiar with your academic and/or professional abilities. College professors are in the best position to comment on this aspect of your performance, and as such, we recommend that at least one of your letters be from a former college instructor. If you are a recent graduate, you may want to have all of your letters come from college instructors. If you have been working for a while, you may want to ask your superior at work or someone who can testify to your professional knowledge and work ethic to write a letter for you.

Q: Do you have scholarships or teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA) positions available to help offset the cost of tuition and living?
A: Not for incoming students. Incoming international students, in particular, will need to demonstrate that they have the financial means to cover the cost of tuition and living, without receiving any aid from the University. For students who have completed at least one semester of study in the Chinese Master’s program, there are a few scholarships for variable amounts awarded on a competitive basis. There are regular openings for graduate teaching associate (GTA) positions also, which provide valuable job training, but unfortunately, do not offset tuition and living costs. Keep in mind, however, that tuition at San Francisco State is fairly low compared to other schools, especially for California residents, who may also qualify for California's State University Grant.

Q: I've already taken some of the courses required for the Master’s program in Chinese at another institution. Can you waive these courses, or can I transfer credit from another university?
A: The answer to this question is complicated, but involves basically three principles: (1) no double dipping; (2) time constraints; and (3) course level and institution.

“No double dipping” means that you cannot use a course that has counted towards your Bachelor’s degree or other degree or certificate for your Master’s degree at San Francisco State University. In other words, credits cannot be double-counted for multiple degrees. Exceptions to this rule exist only when San Francisco State University has signed a formal accord with your degree-granting body regarding shared credit.

Time constraints include (A) the fact that you can only count courses that have been taken after you received your Bachelor’s degree; and (B) only courses taken within seven years of the award of your Master’s degree in Chinese can count. In other words, any course that you took before you received your Bachelor’s degree  does not count (with the exception of final semester SFSU courses that were not used towards the bachelor's degree), and any course that was taken more than seven years from the date of your expected graduation will not count.

As for course level and institution, for any course to count, it needs to be a regular university course offered at an accredited university (courses from language schools and summer workshops that do not carry official university credit do not count), and the course has to be at a similar level and of similar content to the course you wish to replace. Level and content equivalence will be determined by the graduate adviser and the instructor of the course you wish to replace. If course replacement is approved, two forms will have to be filed with the University: the Request for Graduate Program Transfer Unit Evaluation form, and the ATC Substitution form.

Q: Can I participate in study abroad? If so, how and when do I apply?
A: Yes, study abroad is allowed and encouraged. Those interested should contact the Office of International Programs for information and application materials. A maximum of 12 units from a CSU or SFSU-approved study abroad program can be transferred toward the Master’s degree in Chinese (in other words, the remaining 18 units must be taken on the campus of San Francisco State University). 

Q: Can I become a teacher after getting a Masters Degree in Chinese?
A: The Master’s degree in Chinese will qualify you to teach as a lecturer in a college or university. Normally it will not allow you to teach as a professor in a university (with a few exceptions), or to work as a teacher in a public elementary school, middle school or high school (private schools are not subject to this rule). To become a university professor, you will most likely have to pursue doctoral level study and research after you complete your Master’s, and receive a Ph.D. or Ed.D. degree.

To work as a K-12 teacher in California, you will need to complete a teaching credential course with the Graduate College of Education, prior to which you must pass a number of tests, including the California Basic Educational Skills Test (C-BEST), and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (C-SET). The Chinese masters degree plus teaching credential pathway caters to students who wish to take this path.

Q: Do you teach traditional or simplified Chinese?
A: Knowledge of both traditional and simplified Chinese is encouraged in graduate-level study in Chinese at San Francisco State University. Traditional Chinese is needed to read primary texts in classical literature, and simplified Chinese is required for following contemporary scholarship from mainland China.

Q: How long does it take to finish? Is it possible to finish within one year?
A: For most students, it takes a minimum of 3 semesters (1.5 years) to complete the Master’s degree. You will be able to graduate after you have completed all 30 units. At a rate of 9-12 units per semester, which is the normal full time courseload for graduate students, you can finish in three semesters (one and a half years). But keep in mind that not every course that is required for graduation is offered every semester, so seek advising and choose courses judiciously if you wish to graduate in a tiely manner. 

Students in certain special programs may be able to complete the Master's degree in 2 semesters (1 year). This includes students in the SF State Scholars Program, which allows students to take graduate courses while still in undergraduate status, and students in the Teaching Credential Pathway coming from institutions with which SF State has formal agreements regarding transfer credit.

Q: What is CHIN 899 Special Study? 
A: CHIN 899 Special Study is an independent study course that is only rarely offered. When it is offered, it is offered only by instructors to students who have already studied with the instructor in a regular class, and who, during that class have demonstrated the ability to carry out independent research. As such, Special Study is not offered to new, incoming students -- students need to have studied with the instructor before in order to petition for Special Study. Also, Special Study is offered only when the instructor has time to supervise the student’s study or project, and when the proposed project matches the research interests of the instructor -- instructors have the right to say no if these two conditions are not met.

Q: My work schedule clashes with that of the graduate seminars that I need to take. Can I do a CHIN 899 Special Study instead? 
A: CHIN 899 Special Study is not designed to allow students to circumvent regular scheduled classes. 

Q: There is a partial overlap between my work schedule and the timing of certain classes. Is it okay if I miss the first half hour of a particular class? 
A: Most classes require full attendance and attendance for the full duration of the class. Study in a degree program requires commitment, an important part of which is arranging your schedule so that you can come to all classes that you are registered for. Most of our in-person graduate level classes are scheduled in the late afternoon, which allows most students to work for the greater part of the day. Some of our part-time students leave work early once a week to attend classes. We also offer a number of online classes.

Q: Do you have any sort of job placement after graduation?
A: From time to time, prospective employers email us with job vacancies, which we post on the Chinese Program Facebook Page.