Ph.D. Program Application

This page provides details about the procedure for applying to the graduate Linguistics program at the University of Pennsylvania. Please read it thoroughly before submitting an application. If any questions remain unanswered, contact

Note that the term "graduate group" at Penn refers to an entity that administers graduate study, and may or may not be tightly connected to a specific academic "department". The Graduate Group in Linguistics includes all the faculty of the Linguistics Department as well as many faculty who conduct linguistic research but are affiliated with other departments (such as psychology and computer science).

Degree Program

The Graduate Group in Linguistics normally admits only students intending to complete the requirements for the Ph.D. Strong applicants seeking an M.A. will be considered if they bring outside funding for their studies and are a good match to the interests of the faculty. We do not admit students for part-time or online study. Students are encouraged to complete the Ph.D. program in five years; for recent graduates, the time to completion is typically five or six years.

If your main research interest lies in applied linguistics, second language acquisition, or language teaching, contact the School of Education, especially under the category educational linguistics or TESOL; the Graduate Group in Linguistics at Penn does not consider applications from students with a primary focus in these areas.

Note that we do not offer any kind of "conditional acceptance", which some applicants ask about, and that the application process and financial aid offers are the same for domestic and international applicants. All applications are considered as a group after December 1st, mainly during January and early February.

Deadlines and fees

The application deadline is December 1st, for matriculation in the fall semester of the following year; you may begin an application after October 1st. Ph.D. applications are considered only on this schedule. We do not have admissions for the spring semester. 

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 email or telephone the Graduate Division or the Linguistics Department to confirm that your application is complete; we will contact you if any materials are missing.

The application fee is $90.00. Payments must be made by credit card.

The University is uses ApplyWeb for online applications, and all materials are handled electronically. Instructions, forms, and a link to the online application are located at

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.
  • 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.

You will be notified in early 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.


The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is no longer considered for admission to our program, so students should not send them as part of their applications.


The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required for non-native speakers of English. For details, see Anyone who has received a bachelor's degree or higher from an English-speaking university or who will receive their degree before starting graduate school is exempt from this requirement.

This year we are accepting four tests of English-language proficiency:

  • TOEFL iBT Test (in person)
  • TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition
  • TOEFL ITP Plus for China
  • Duolingo English Test [site]

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 100 on the internet-based test (iBT). The ITP Plus China test must have a score of at least 627. For the Duolingo exam, the minimum is 125.

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. Include a copy of your official scores as an upload in your application. Please do not send hard-copies to the department.

Personal Statement

In the personal statement, all Ph.D. applications within the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences should address the following:

  • Please describe how your background and academic experiences have influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree and led you to apply to Penn. Your essay should detail your specific research interests and intellectual goals within your chosen field. Please provide information about your educational trajectory, intellectual curiosity and academic ambitions. If you have overcome adversity and/or experienced limited access to resources or opportunities in your field of study, please feel free to share how that has affected the course of your education. We are interested in your lived experiences and how your particular perspective might contribute to the inclusive and dynamic learning community that Penn values and strives to create.

The personal statement prompt just given is standardized across the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences. Here is some additional guidance from our specific graduate program. 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 complex or multifaceted, you might wish to include one.

When you are asked to specify your area of concentration, please choose from among these categories: syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, phonology, phonetics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, historical linguistics, evolution. If you are interested in computational linguistics, you can specify that in your personal statement, but here you should indicate the field in which you would apply computational analysis.

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 specific 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.

Evaluation Criteria

We evaluate applicants holistically, taking into careful consideration the full picture of how each applicant’s unique experiences have prepared them for success in graduate school. Here are some skills and traits that we look for in highly competitive applications to our program:

Academic preparedness. The applicant demonstrates academic preparation and skills, including strong writing skills, that equip them well for graduate coursework and research in linguistics. Their academic work so far suggests potential for innovation and original thinking. 

Research experience. The applicant has taken advantage of relevant research opportunities available to them, given their background and previous opportunities. They have a realistic perspective on how to conduct a research project, along with a strong ability to work independently and problem-solve.

Fit with our department. The applicant understands what linguistics is and what kinds of research areas our department specializes in. The applicant's interests overlap with the interests of at least one, and ideally multiple, faculty members. Their research statement articulates why they are excited to join our unique intellectual community.

Commitment and adaptability. The applicant demonstrates resilience in overcoming obstacles and adapting creatively to new information and events. They demonstrate the ability and willingness to work hard and steadily towards long-term goals.

Contributions to inclusive community. The applicant stands to contribute to a diverse learning environment in linguistics through their life experiences, educational background (e.g. non-traditional paths) and/or the ability to articulate the barriers facing a variety of different groups in linguistics. They value making our department community inclusive and making linguistics accessible both within and outside the university.

Collaboration and organizational experience. The applicant demonstrates maturity through clear communication, ability to work collaboratively as part of a team, strong organizational skills, and ability to multitask. They will make positive contributions to the department’s community and activities.

Financial Aid

Under normal circumstances – when a student does not have outside funding – all students who are offered admission to the Ph.D. program are also offered a five-year Benjamin Franklin fellowship. The annual stipend for the 12-month period starting Fall 2023 is $40,500. Please see the Graduate Division for more details.


As noted above, the deadline for applications is December 1st. Students to whom the graduate group decides to offer admission will be invited to visit the University, usually on a day in late February; notifications of admission therefore can be expected by the middle of that month. Due to processing time, unsuccessful applicants may not receive official notice until late February or early March.

The Linguistics Ph.D. program begins in the Fall semester, which starts in late August (see the academic calendar). There is no provision for students to begin in the Spring semester.

The School of Arts and Sciences allows candidates to defer admission for up to one year. Fellowship awards may not, however, be deferred; the application must be reactivated the next year for new consideration for a fellowship.

Campus visits

If you would like to come and sit in on classes or meet Linguistics graduate students or faculty, please contact Visitors are encouraged to reach out directly to those faculty with whom they would like to meet.

See also the online map and directions.

Contact information

The Graduate Division oversees the application process:

Graduate Division
School of Arts and Sciences
University of Pennsylvania
3401 Walnut Street, Suite 322A
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6228

Telephone: 215-898-7444

The Linguistics Department administers the affairs of the Graduate Group in Linguistics:

Linguistics Department
University of Pennsylvania
3401-C Walnut Street, suite 300
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6228


Telephone: 215-898-6046