10 Universities With Kickass South Asian Programs you Never Thought Existed

The following post is in partnership with MassMutual—a leading mutual life insurance company that offers practical tips for Asian Indians to better plan and help pay for college.

I want to begin this narrative by qualifying all of the below with that fact that I am every brown parent’s dream. I was a “good” daughter. I did the dishes. I cleaned my room. I babysat my little brother and my cousins. And when it came to school: I went to college and later went to law school, making mom and dad very proud.  

With that said, it should come as no surprise that I would be the voice to speak about the values of a college education. Culturally, though deriving from a South Asian diasporic community not directly from the subcontinent, the significance of education is something that was infused into my worldview after years of hearing the same from my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and family friends. “Study that book,” is something I heard all my life, and now find myself saying to my five-year-old niece when I notice she hasn’t opened a book for the day.

It is no secret that South Asian parents not only value higher education, but that they disproportionately value professional careers in fields like medicine, law, and engineering. I depart with many of my peers who are conclusively angered by this, as I recognize that this flawed system of valuation does not exist in a vacuum: it comes from parents who remember lives where certain careers constituted the only way out of poverty, and from communities, for example, with little to no access to quality and affordable medical care or legal counsel.

Despite my ability to understand this, I nonetheless depart with our elders in this respect. A college education is only as valuable as the passions of the student pursuing it. The arts, social sciences, and academia are all valuable and worthwhile and, above all, they are fields in need of more South Asian representation.

[Read Related: Give your Kids the Bright Future they Deserve With College Savings]

In the spirit of deviating from traditional metrics of educational valuation, here are ten often overlooked universities and colleges throughout the United States with great programs for college students seeking to pursue educational environments that promote South Asian academic interests.

1. University of Pennsylvania

  • Home of the South Asia Studies Department, which offers both undergraduate and graduate course selections. The department makes the University of Pennsylvania one of the most distinguished places in the United States to study and examine South Asia through an academic lens.
  • Over a dozen South Asian student affinity groups on campus, including the famed a cappella group, Penn Masala.
  • Study abroad and internship opportunities in India and Nepal.

2. University of Texas Austin

  • Launched the South Asia Institute in 2003, which was established to promote South Asian programs relating to contemporary social and institutional issues existing within the cultural community and the smaller university community.
  • While on-campus student groups seem to be limited to those related to either Hindu and Indian identity, Sagar, the campus’ annually published research journal focusing on innovative academic writing in relation to South Asia offers a terrain of discourse that encompasses the entirety of South Asia’s layered peoples and identities.
  • Numerous diversity scholarship and fellowship opportunities available.
  • Study abroad and exchange opportunities in India available.

3. Arizona State University

  • ASU’s Center for Asian Research offers both on-campus and overseas degree programs, earning awards and grants from an acclaimed organization such as the Guggenheim Foundation and Fulbright.  
  • Student organizations that could be of interest for South Asian students in terms of cultural identity and/or religion include the Bangladesh Students Association, the Indian Students Association, the Muslim Students Association, the Nepalese Student’s Association, the Pakistani Student’s Association, and the Unified Society of South Asians.
  • Diversity and minority scholarship opportunities available.

4. Wesleyan University

  • Contains a South Asian Studies department, which largely focuses on India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
  • Study abroad opportunities in India and Nepal.
  • Home to the student organization Shakti, which is devoted to the promotion of cultural awareness in South Asian spaces.

5. Indiana University

  • The Madhusudan and Kiran C. Dhar India Studies Program for original research and teaching India across a spectrum of concentrations, including the humanities and social sciences. This program offers both undergraduate and graduate level courses and regularly hosts academic lectures.
  • Semester-long study abroad opportunities in India.
  • Scholarship opportunities for international students.

6. Stony Brook University

  • Offers an undergraduate minor in South Asian Studies, which includes courses in language, religion, philosophy, history, politics, literature, and the performing arts.
  • Study abroad opportunities with the India Institute of Technology.
  • Diversity scholarship and Asian Studies scholarship opportunities available.

7. University of Michigan

  • Home to the Center for South Asian Studies with both undergraduate and graduate courses offerings.
  • Study abroad fellowship opportunities in South Asia available.
  • Over a dozen South Asian student organizations, including the South Asian Awareness Network, which aims to increase awareness surrounding the issues suffered by South Asian communities.

8. City University of New York

  • A public university of the City of New York, with diverse campuses throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
  • Abundant diversity scholarship opportunities.
  • Asian studies programs offered at The City College of New York and Hunter College.

9. Rutgers University

  • Offers a minor in South Asian Studies through the South Asian Studies Program.
  • Study abroad opportunities in India.
  • An extensive list of student organizations focusing on South Asian related issues and interests.  

10. Ohio State University

  • Offers a minor in South Asia Studies, including courses related to language, religion, history, and social science.
  • Home to eight South Asian focused student organizations, including the activism driven group Students for South Asian Service.  
  • A number of diversity-driven scholarship opportunities.

These colleges and programs represent some of the most revered opportunities for cultural advancement through academia for South Asian students seeking to pursue careers through which they can benefit the communities from which they derive. Unconventional academic paths are viable academic paths if they lead you to the realization and materialization of your life’s work. And as viable academic paths, they are paths are worth the investment—both temporally and financially.    

Choosing a school will be complicated enough. Planning financially for your family’s education is of paramount importance but undoubtedly stressful. Sit down with a MassMutual financial advisor for advice on how to streamline your process and alleviate a few of those stressors.


To learn more about establishing financial goals for your child’s education, visit the MassMutual College Planning and Savings study page and sign up to connect with a financial advisor.

Asian Indian parents prepare in advance for their children’s college education, but can they always afford it?

When it comes to saving and funding their children’s education, Asian Indians are among the best prepared, according to MassMutual’s College Planning & Saving Study. Almost half (49 percent) of Indian parents started saving for college before their children turned five, the earliest compared to all other multicultural groups in the survey. In fact, by the time a child is ten, 79 percent of Indian parents are saving for college, and one in five has saved $50,000 or more.

MassMutual offers five practical tips for Asian Indians to better plan and helps pay for college:

1. Start early. Start saving what you can at birth, and for parents with child care expenses, increase the savings rate at age 5 by putting child care money towards saving for college.

2. Make it automatic. Set up an automatic checking account or payroll deductions to an interest-earning savings account earmarked for higher education.

3. Encourage monetary gifts (including 529 plan gift cards) from family members and friends for college savings at Diwali and other gift-giving events.

4. Know how much you need to save. Estimate college costs by using free online tools such as MassMutual’s college savings calculator.

5. Protect your loved ones from unexpected events. Life and disability income insurance are solid considerations for parents.

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Elizabeth JaikaranElizabeth Jaikaran is a freelance writer based in New York. She graduated from The City College of New York with her B.A. in 2012, and from New York University School of Law in 2016. She is interested in theories of gender politics and enjoys exploring the intersection of international law and social consciousness. When she’s not writing, she enjoys celebrating small joys with her friends and binge-watching juicy serial dramas with her husband. Her first book, “Trauma,” was published by Shanti Arts in 2017.

By Elizabeth Jaikaran

Elizabeth Jaikaran is a freelance writer based in New York. She graduated from The City College of New York with … Read more ›