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University of Pennsylvania Course/Program Name
Application closes on
National :15 Dec 
International :15 Dec 

PhD Linguistics

 Course Level
Full Time

5 Years
 Start month

 Tuition fee

32476 USD
32476 USD

Application fee

International 80 USD
National 80 USD
Department of Lingustics
Scores accepted
IELTS (min)7
TOEFL-IBT (min)100
TOEFL-PBT (min)600
GRE (avg)307
GMAT (avg)732

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About this course

The Graduate Group in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania is an interdisciplinary team of faculty from the Department of Linguistics and related departments. Our program has strong concentrations in several areas and a tradition of collaboration among its faculty. Founded by Zellig Harris in 1947, the Penn Linguistics Department is the oldest modern linguistics department in the United States. We have outstanding programs in the core disciplines of syntax and phonology, as well as in semantics, discourse, historical linguistics, phonetics, sociolinguistics, and several other areas of cognitive science; we are rapidly developing a state-of-the-art program in psycholinguistics.

The broad range of its faculty allows the graduate program at Penn to offer students a wide range of opportunities for study. The core of our program is in the generative tradition; our strengths in that and other areas make us particularly attractive to students interested in the cross-fertilization that results from the confrontation of empirical and theoretical perspectives on language structure. By our close collaboration with other programs (especially IRCS, which provides a valuable institutional framework for interdisciplinary research in linguistics, computer science, and psychology) we promote an awareness of the broad view of language that interdisciplinary study induces. Despite the breadth of our program, however, students are offered and expected to master the methods and results of their chosen areas of concentration in linguistics as a prerequisite to fruitful engagement in dialogue with others, both within and outside the program.

Although the interests of our faculty and students cover virtually the entire field of linguistics, the graduate group functions as a unit. A number of our faculty work together on joint projects of shared interest, and students often develop their own research in conjunction with these projects. For example, a student may pursue an interest in the interaction of syntactic and semantic constraints on sentence form or in the discourse functions of a particular syntactic construction; or a student might study quantitatively the impact of sociolinguistic factors on language change or the interplay of grammar and drift in historical syntax. Since intellectual collaboration among us is the norm and the program is small in size, the active participation of a student in research with close attention from the faculty is possible from early on in his or her career.

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Eligibility Criteria

Eng lang – On the TOEFL-iBT exam (Internet-Based Test), competitive applicants tend to have a composite score of 100 and above (the exam is scaled from 0-120, with 120 being a perfect score) with demonstrated consistency on each section of the exam (reading, listening, speaking, and writing). On the Paper- Based TOEFL, Penn tends to admit students with a score of 600 and above (the exam is scaled from 310 to 677, with 677 being a perfect score).

  • IELTS - 7.0
  • GRE - 307
  • GMAT - 732


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Course Modules

Foundational Courses

Students satisfy the University requirement called the Qualifications Evaluation by passing four foundational exams by the end of the second year. The University requirement known as theCandidacy Examination (previously called the "Preliminary Examination") is satisfied by additionally completing the qualifying papers by the end of the third year.

Language Requirement

Students are expected to explore diverse languages as part of their education. To that end, all students must demonstrate meaningful engagement with the structure of a language other than English and (if different) their native language before the end of the third year. This requirement can be satisfied in any of the following three ways. 

  • Ling 502: Linguistic Field Methods.
  • A graduate course on the structure of a specific language, approved by the graduate chair.
  • A qualifying paper or other work that involves independent analysis of language data, approved by the graduate chair and the student’s advisor.

For the last two options, the student should seek approval in advance to ensure that a proposed course or paper topic will qualify, but work that is already completed can also be considered. A minimum grade of B applies to any course used to satisfy the requirement.

Qualifying Papers
The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that students have reached the point of doing independent research, as well as to encourage them on the road to publishing their work. The result should be comparable to a paper at a conference such as NELS or a squib in Linguistic Inquiry. A length of 25 to 30 double-spaced pages is considered reasonable, but the specific nature of the research will affect the appropriate length. Students writing papers for courses are advised to consider in each case if the paper is one that could be revised into a qualifying paper. This strategy is considerably less burdensome than writing an entirely new paper. A student who has completed most of the work for a qualifying paper in advance of the third year is free to satisfy the requirement early, simply by submitting the abstract and choosing a committee when ready. The exam can be scheduled at any time, as long as it is before the relevant deadline (December for the first QP, May for the second).

Because the qualifying papers are a graduate group requirement and function as an exam, they cannot be treated in the same way as research papers for a course; the members of the committee function as representatives of the graduate group in assessing whether the student has demonstrated the abilities necessary to proceed to the dissertation stage. This also means that Amy and the graduate chair must be copied on the email that submits the final paper (and any revision) to the committee members.

Dissertation Committee
As students complete their coursework, they should be moving toward a well-defined dissertation topic and deciding on the appropriate faculty to serve on the dissertation committee. This committee normally consists of three faculty members; four members is not uncommon, but more than that tends to be unwieldy. At least two members of the committee, including the chair, must be members of the standing faculty in the graduate group. (This excludes retired Penn faculty.) On approval of the graduate chair, one member of the committee may come from outside the graduate group, or from an institution other than Penn. Students must, of course, invite each person to serve on the committee and notify the graduate chair only after the faculty have agreed.

In paperwork related to the dissertation committee, Penn uses the term "dissertation supervisor" for the person corresponding to the advisor: that is, the faculty member who takes the lead role as advisor in guiding the research. This is also the name that appears on the transcript as the instructor of LING 995, Dissertation registration, and as the supervisor listed on the transcript once the degree is granted. Usually the same individual serves as "chair" of the committee. A student wishing to have co-supervisors must designate one as the supervisor and the other as the chair; other members of the committee are termed "readers". This terminology need not have much effect on interactions with the committee, but knowing the terms will make it easier to understand the constraints imposed by various official policies. Normally the supervisor and the graduate chair are the only faculty who sign the title page of the dissertation, but if the graduate chair has approved co-supervisors, then both can be included on the title page. In that less constrained context, the term "co-supervisor" can be used for both individuals. However, only the official supervisor's name will appear on the academic transcript. If the supervisor is not a member of the Penn standing faculty, the chair must be a different person who is on the standing faculty.

Dissertation Proposal
Students must defend a dissertation proposal by the end of the the fourth year, which is one year after the completion of coursework. This event should be treated as an exam to determine that the student is prepared to embark on work for the dissertation. To accomplish this goal, the student should begin regular meetings with the advisor no later than the beginning of the fourth year, and a topic for the proposal should be determined by the end of the fall semester. At this point other faculty should be approached to serve as additional members of the dissertation committee.

In consultation with the dissertation supervisor (i.e. the advisor), the student should develop a written proposal of about 20 pages in length. This document normally includes a discussion of the basic issues of interest; what work the student has already done; and how these interim results bear on the likely course of the dissertation research. It should give a clear idea of the questions to be addressed in the dissertation and the research methods that will be used. It is not expected that the proposal will contain definitive conclusions. Rather, it should be written at an early enough stage in the investigation to allow for changes and additions based on feedback from graduate group faculty through the approval process.

A student ready to schedule a proposal defense must contact the graduate chair and provide the (tentative) title of the dissertation, a brief abstract, and the names of the faculty who have agreed to serve on the dissertation committee. (Like all such communications, it is sensible to copy Amy on email messages.) The graduate chair will appoint a proposal defense committee consisting of three faculty members: this committee examines the student, and is distinct from the dissertation committee that is chosen by the student. For this reason, the external members of the proposal committee are not expected to participate in the preparation of the proposal, but simply to evaluate the result.

Several restrictions hold for the proposal defense committee: at least one of the members must be "external", i.e. from outside the dissertation committee; the dissertation supervisor cannot serve on the proposal defense committee; and all members of the proposal committee will normally be members of the linguistics department. The graduate chair will appoint one member to serve as chair of the committee to facilitate the conduct of the proposal defense.


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How to Apply

Deadlines and fees
The application deadline is December 15th, for matriculation in the fall semester of the following year. Ph.D. applications are considered only on this schedule. As noted above, applications should not be initiated before October 1st.

Applicants must ensure that their complete materials — including transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and supporting documents — are submitted by this date in order to be considered for financial aid from or through the university. Please do not telephone the Graduate Division or the Linguistics Department to confirm their arrival; we will contact you if any materials are missing.

The application fee is $80.00. Payments must be made by credit card, check, or international postal money order written in U.S. currency and made payable to the "Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania."

Required Materials
The Graduate Group in Linguistics requires the following materials as part of the applications. Each is discussed in more detail below.

  • Academic transcripts of undergraduate courses and grades, and any previous graduate work.
  • GRE score for the general test of the Graduate Record Exam.
  • TOEFL score for non-native speakers of English.
  • A personal statement of your academic goals.
  • Recommendations from at least three professors or others familiar with your academic abilities.
  • A writing sample and other supporting materials.
  • Please note that the transcript and writing sample will not automatically be labeled as "received" by the system when they are uploaded. These must be handled manually, and this will take some time. You will be notified in January if there are any materials missing from your application.

The same application is used by applicants from either the U.S. or abroad. An admissions committee within the Graduate Group makes decisions regarding admission and financial aid, with the approval of the Graduate Dean. The Office of the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences generates the official acceptance letter.

The application and all materials submitted to the Admissions Office become the property of the University of Pennsylvania.

Your application must include an unofficial transcript from the institution(s) where you did previous academic work at the undergraduate or graduate level. The transcripts should be scanned and submitted electronically with your application. If you are admitted to the program, you will be required to confirm the information by sending an official copy of the transcript before matriculating.

After a year in the program, students may be eligible to transfer up to eight course credits completed prior to admission. Approval will be at the discretion of the Graduate Group.

Every applicant must send GRE scores. We accept any valid set of scores for the general test of the GRE. This includes both the computer-based test and the paper-based test. For more information on taking the GRE, testing dates and locations, score reporting, and frequently asked questions, visit http://www.gre.org/. The Graduate School requires that the scores be no more than five years old.

The GRE is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), telephone 609-921-9000. All scores must be officially submitted to the Graduate Division by the testing agency. The codes that you will need to know are University of Pennsylvania: 2926 and Linguistics: 2903.

Your chances for admission will be much better if you score at least 160 on the verbal and (more importantly) 155 on the quantitative sections of the test; if you score more than 5 points lower on either section, the rest of your application would have to be quite strong to be competitive. (Under the older scoring system, the desirable scores are 700 on both sections.) The verbal scores of non-native speakers are judged somewhat differently from those of native speakers, but the quantitative scores are not. For all applicants, a high quantitative score is considered evidence of ability to engage in the formal analysis required in our program.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required for non-native speakers of English. For details, see http://www.toefl.org. Anyone who has received a bachelor's degree or higher from an English-speaking university is exempt from this requirement.

The TOEFL is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), telephone 609-921-9000. All scores must be officially submitted to the Graduate Division by the testing agency. The codes that you will need to know are University of Pennsylvania: 2926 and Linguistics: 2903 (or, in the two-digit iBT system, 04). We do not accept scores older than two years.

Applicants are expected to have a score of at least 600 on the paper-based test (PBT), or 250 on the computer-based test (CBT) or 100 on the newer internet-based test (iBT). All these versions of the test are accepted, subject to the two-year limit.

We also accept the IELTS, but the University is not set up to receive the scores electronically. A score of 7.0 or better is expected.

Personal Statement
Your personal statement is an important part of your application. The admissions committee looks not only at the general background and qualifications of the applicants, but also at the fit between your specific goals and interests, and the kind of research conducted by the members of the graduate group. A length of two or three pages is usually appropriate.

The most successful statement will demonstrate that you understand the kinds of work conducted by members of the faculty with interests related to yours, and why Penn is a particularly appropriate place for you to study. You should be clear about your goals; it is acceptable to have wide interests or not to be entirely focused yet, but you should show that you understand what it means to pursue advanced study in the areas of interest that you identify. Personal anecdotes about how you became interested in linguistics, or childhood experiences with language, do not generally contribute to the effectiveness of the statement.

The personal statement is the place to describe your past training in linguistics or in related areas. We welcome applications from those with limited formal training in the field, but in such cases it is especially important to demonstrate your understanding of what graduate work in linguistics will entail, and to emphasize aspects of your educational background that will contribute to your success. We do not normally expect a resume or CV, but if your work or educational history is complicated, you might wish to include one.

When you are asked to specify your area of concentration, please choose from among these categories: syntax, semantics, pragmatics, phonology, phonetics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics. If you are interested in an interdisciplinary pursuit such as computational linguistics or psycholinguistics, specify that in addition to at least one core area of study, such as syntax, pragmatics, or phonetics.

In our program, applicants are not expected to work out arrangements with individual faculty members before applying. The application is made to the graduate group as a whole, and students who matriculate in the program are assigned appropriate advisors after they arrive. Nevertheless, it is entirely sensible to identify how your research interests relate to those of the faculty at Penn.

You will need letters of recommendation from three professors or others who are qualified to comment on your academic ability and background. The most effective letters come from those who have worked with you closely, especially on independent research, and who are familiar enough with the field of linguistics to understand what abilities are most relevant.

When you include the email addresses of your recommenders in the online application, each will automatically receive an email with an attached recommendation form. This email will allow the recommender to submit a letter electronically. Once the recommender submits the letter, it will be attached to the online application.

Writing Sample
A writing sample, such as a substantial term paper or thesis from previous undergraduate or graduate work, is necessary for the faculty to assess your research experience. If you only have work from another field, please select a paper that shows the sort of research skills relevant to linguistics. The document should be converted to pdf format and uploaded to the CollegeNet site.

That site limits the size of the files to 500 KB, so if necessary include an excerpt from a longer document. You may, in addition, provide in your personal statement a link to the full document (in pdf form) that you have posted elsewhere on the web.

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