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 15, mainly during January. By early February applicants who have been offered admission with funding will be invited to visit the campus. Some remaining students will be placed on a short wait list; other applicants will be declined.

Deadlines and fees

The application deadline is December 15th, 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.

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, 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.

You can also submit recommendations via Interfolio.

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.

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. For Fall 2020, the annual stipend for a 10-month period is $30,940. In addition, students are provided with three summers of support, starting at $5,085 in 2021. Please see the Graduate Division for more details.


As noted above, the deadline for applications is December 15th. 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 early in 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: 215-898-5720

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