Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about graduate degrees in the Linguistics program (PhD degree, MA degree, BA-MA degree). More detailed information about our admissions process and funding options are also available.
If you are looking for information about the MA or PhD programs in applied linguistics, please go to the websites of the Second Language Studies PhD program or the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program.
No, our graduate students come to us from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds. For the M.A. program, we welcome applications from people whose background in linguistics is relatively modest. The crucial requirements are, first, an introductory class in linguistics; and second, academic and personal statements that reveal that you understand what linguistic inquiry entails and that you’ve thought realistically about what you might do here. Unsure about what we mean by “linguistics”? Check out the Linguistic Society of America first. For the Ph.D. program, a more extensive background is expected, but you do not necessarily need to have a BA or MA degree specifically in linguistics.
We encourage you to apply even if the fee is not affordable for you. It’s possible to provide us with quite a lot of information before the fee is required. Please take note of the relevant information:
- If you are a US citizen or permanent resident, you might be eligible for a fee waiver through the Big Ten Academic Alliance. Please consult the MSU Graduate School’s information on application fee waivers.
- If you are an international applicant, please contact the Linguistics Graduate Program Director (see “Who can I ask additional questions?” below for contact details). In this case, the Linguistics program must pay the fee on your behalf, so we will want to see first if you are a strong applicant who is likely to be interviewed for a place. Please complete the online application as far as you can before you contact the Linguistics Graduate Program Director. They will ensure that your materials are reviewed early by the Linguistics program’s admissions committee, and they will notify you whether the committee has agreed to pay your application fee.
Yes, it is sometimes possible to waive the test requirement.
These conditions change from time to time, so please review the most up-to-date information from the MSU Graduate School on English language competency requirements and waivers.
We apply to the university for waivers only after we have reviewed applications and (where relevant) conducted a Zoom interview with the applicant. This gives us the fullest possible picture of your readiness to successfully complete an MA or PhD degree at a high level of academic English. If, after reading the MSU Graduate School’s information about requirements and waivers, you still have questions, please contact the Linguistics graduate program director. See Who can I ask additional questions? below.
The minimum TOEFL score for regular admission to the program is 100. The minimum IELTS score its designers characterize as acceptable for ‘linguistically demanding’ programs is 7.5. But anyone can have a bad day, so if you get an unexpectedly low score on either of these tests, you will want to explain in your personal statement (or ask a recommender to explain in their letter) why the score does not reflect your actual English competence.
The online application system will prompt you for documents. For your initial application, you are likely to only need to provide a PDF of an official or unofficial transcript. Later, if you are accepted to the Linguistics MA or PhD program, you will be asked to provide a physical copy of your official transcript following the instructions below.
Arrange for each college or university you have attended to send an official transcript to the department and an unofficial copy. If your previous institution(s) will only send a transcript to the MSU Admissions Office, this is also acceptable. A transcript is a record of all the courses you have taken at that institution, including the grade you obtained for each course.
Please note that “official transcript” means that the institution has sealed the transcript in a physical envelope and directly mailed it to the department and/or the institution has directly emailed the transcript to Michigan State University. An unsealed transcript submitted or uploaded by the student directly invalidates the “official” status of that transcript.
The personal statement should include a summary of your academic and personal background, with a special emphasis on aspects of it that might be relevant to graduate study in linguistics. Any previous study of the subject should be mentioned. You should indicate your reasons for wanting to pursue a graduate degree in linguistics.
The academic statement is a statement of purpose that characterizes your intellectual goals. If you are applying to the PhD program, it should indicate your specific area(s) of interest in linguistics and what you hope to focus on in the program. It’s entirely appropriate to speculate about potential topics of future research. (If admitted, you will not be required to do what you describe.) If you are applying to the MA program and you have little prior experience with the study of linguistics, it may be more difficult for you to identify areas of focus. Nonetheless, you should attempt to describe any aspects of language structure and use that you find especially interesting, perhaps giving us an example or two of something that you’ve observed or learned.
It is typically difficult to disentangle your background and personal intellectual history from your plans and goals, so the two statements may partly overlap.
For applicants to the M.A. program, each of these statements should be about 500–700 words; for applicants to the Ph.D. program, 700–1,000 words.
If you’re an M.A. applicant, no. You may not even be in a position to select a subfield, much less an advisor. Nevertheless, you should be in a position to speculate about the issue. Speculating about your possible choice of subfield would, with some research on the department’s website, also help you identify faculty members relevant to that specialization. If you’re a Ph.D. applicant, you don’t necessarily need to know who you’d like to work with, but it would help to have a general idea. Either way, these should be discussed in your academic statement.
Typically, all of the Linguistics faculty members are open to accepting new doctoral advisees. An up-to-date list is available within the online application system. You do not need to contact faculty directly to inquire whether they are taking on new advisees. We don’t necessarily expect applicants to contact individual faculty at all, although if you have specific questions, you may do so.
Technically, yes, but we strongly discourage it. Entering in spring deprives you of the opportunity to begin a multiple-semester series of courses from their intended starting point at the beginning of the first year. Promising applications for spring admission are typically transferred to the following fall. Spring admission is only considered in unusual circumstances, typically for students already at MSU. If you think your circumstances may be exceptional in a relevant sense, it’s advisable to contact us in advance.
No. We welcome students with their own funding, and it is definitely something that should be reported in the application. It will certainly not, however, guarantee admission into the program. Admission is based on intellectual merit.
Yes, we usually interview the top applicants in January, via a video call. All of the top PhD applicants are interviewed. Since we don’t expect MA applicants to have strong ideas yet about their areas of linguistic interest, we don’t always interview the top MA applicants.
The interview will last about 20 minutes. You’ll receive information in advance about the questions we’ll ask, and which faculty will be conducting the interview. Typically you can expect that at least one of the faculty members on the call is there because they think you might be a good fit for them as a potential MA or PhD advisee. We tend to ask questions that will help us to understand why you’re interested in graduate study in linguistics, what you do or don’t already know about generative linguistics, and how you think about language patterns and puzzles. You will also have plenty of opportunity to ask questions of us.
Yes. If you’d like to come, please contact the current Linguistics Graduate Program Director, Prof. Suzanne Wagner, to make arrangements. If possible, we’ll time your visit so that you can attend a Linguistics Colloquium, lab meeting, and/or graduate class. We can also set up appointments for you with specific faculty, and with current graduate students. Financial support for these visits is sometimes available to prospective PhD students who have already been offered a place in our program.
We do not hold a special event for prospective graduate students, since so many of our students are living overseas at the time of application. But we do everything we can to connect you to our community and to other prospective students using virtual means!
If you’d like to communicate with our current graduate students, check the Linguistics Student Organization website to find the name and email address of the president.