The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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How to Apply to the Ph.D. Program in Theoretical Linguistics

1. Complete Graduate School application prior to December 20 deadline.

Please visit the UMass Amherst Graduate School website for information on how to apply.

Note: Any discrepancy between the requirements as stated here and those found on the Graduate School website will be resolved in favor of the Graduate School.

Frequently Asked Questions about the graduate school application process »

Additional Requirements

2. Applicants must have a B.A., B.S., or M.A. degree.

3. Applicants must show evidence of ability to engage in serious study of a complex subject matter.

For example:

  • High quality academic work of theoretical analysis in the humanities, natural sciences, or social sciences.
  • Original research (publications, projects, etc.).
  • Mastery in depth of a language or a group of languages.

4. Applicants must submit a Writing Sample

Applicants should email a writing sample directly to the department. While most of your application will be submitted online, please send your writing sample by email to

The sample may be a copy of a term paper, research report, thesis, or a collection of linguistic problem sets. This writing sample should be representative of the applicant's ability to pursue serious scholarly inquiry. We read these submissions carefully and they greatly influence our admissions decisions. (Papers written in languages other than English, French, German, Spanish, or Italian should be accompanied by a summary in English.)

5. Some applicants must submit proof of proficiency in English

The Graduate School is now accepting the Pearson Test of English (PTE) for proof of proficiency in the English language, in addition to International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) and The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).  One of these three tests is required of all applicants who are not citizens of the United States and whose native language is not English. (In addition, applicants from India are required to submit English proficiency test scores.)  More information.

NOTE: The Linguistics Department no longer requires GRE scores as part of the application packet.

When to apply

The deadline for receipt of applications at the Department is December 20 for admission the following September. While most of your application will be submitted online, please send your writing sample by email to

When will I hear about my application?

The Admissions Committee makes its decisions during the months of January through March. You will be notified as soon as the Committee has made a decision about your application.

A special note

We do not accept applications for spring admission. We do not offer classes in TESL, translation, or specific languages.

Decision Process

Although we do not expect every applicant to have a substantial background in theoretical linguistics, we look for evidence that the decision to pursue a Ph.D. in this field is a thoughtful one, based on reading and consultation with advisers. Please keep in mind that this is a very competitive program, receiving over 130 applications per year from the best students from around the world, many of whom do have a strong background in theoretical Linguistics.

In making admissions decisions, we place greatest emphasis on the potential to carry out significant independent research. We therefore look most of all for an inquiring mind, for an ability to formulate precise questions and arguments, for a willingness to work in areas where sometimes little is known for certain and fundamental theoretical principles may be called into question, and for an interest in abstract problems. We look too for the character that will sustain a student through the hard work that is needed to acquire the intellectual tools of the trade.

No single factor (transcripts, recommendations, or writing sample) will exclude anyone from admission, nor will any single factor ensure admission. There are no quotas or formulas. In making our decisions, we look for evidence from any source of the potential to make a contribution in theoretical linguistics.