Can master’s students take language classes?

Date: September 2019


Dear Deans,

I was looking at language courses at Cornell but, unfortunately, none of the language classes fit into my schedule last year. This semester I was finally able to make it work, so you can imagine my surprise and disappointment to hear from the languages dean/administrator/director that as per Cornell University policy, graduate students—specifically those in a master’s program—were not allowed to take for credit or audit or sit in any language courses, with the reason being that “the course load is a lot.”

This does not make sense to me and was really disappointing since learning a language was an integral part of my career strategy coming back to grad school. As Cornell preaches “any course of study,” I can’t understand being denied such a course that has so much relevance across any discipline, especially as our world is increasingly global. Also, the university has already established a credit maximum to protect students from overloading. If I fit under that criteria of 22 credits, then why can’t I make the graduate/professional/adult decision to take the class? I wonder what is it about master’s students that indicates inability to manage a language class? The over managing seems unfairly or inexplicably targeted.

It doesn’t seem fair to deny access to learning opportunities and, truly, I don’t understand the reasoning. But I really hope to learn more. This is my last year at Cornell and I would be incredibly sad to graduate knowing I was not allowed to learn all that I sought out to learn here. In case this decision cannot be reconsidered, I would like to work with the Grad School figure out how to provide access to language learning opportunities for graduate students in a manner that the graduate school would deem fair. Honestly there are so many Cornell graduate student professionals focused on international careers so a language program seems like a great opportunity for the Graduate School to consider.

Thankful for your time,

“Potential polyglot”


Dear Potential Polyglot,

I recall from my own time as a Cornell student that the sheer number of interesting language courses available here is both inspiring and daunting. I learned a little Russian, and lot about humility!

There is no blanket policy that prevents graduate or professional students from enrolling in language courses. In fact, we offer many graduate degrees in language studies and it’s common for graduate students in other fields of study to take language courses before beginning their thesis or dissertation research.  Some professional master’s programs may not allow students to take certain electives if doing so conflicts with required courses or extends the overall length of the program. Language courses are often time-intensive so it’s important to have realistic expectations about whether you can successfully manage the workload while also meeting the demands of your program.

After getting a little more info from you I reached out to the departmental course coordinator for the course you are interested in. She clarified that they welcome graduate students in their language courses but these courses cannot be audited so students must enroll for a grade. That requirement is not uncommon – many courses do not permit auditors. If you’d like to enroll in the course please feel free to contact her directly and she can assist. If you encounter any difficulties please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Have a great semester!


Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration