Here the answers to some frequently-asked questions about our graduate programs, particularly with respect to the admissions process.
What can I specialize in?
Phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, neurolinguistics, and first-language child language acquisition. To get a better sense of what we do, visit the faculty page and the websites for our groups and labs.
What kind of funding can I expect?
We offer 5-year funding packages to a maximum of 3-4 PhD students per year. Funding is contingent from year to year on satisfactory academic progress in the doctoral program. A typical funding package includes a complete tuition waiver, health insurance, and a stipend sufficient to live a graduate student lifestyle in the East Lansing area. To receive this support, students serve as Graduate Assistants in teaching, research or administrative roles for 20 hours per week during the fall and spring semesters. Teaching assistants usually teach courses in linguistics or in particular languages. We do not routinely offer funding to MA students, but we will do so if we happen to have an available assistantship.
My previous degree is not in linguistics. Does that make me ineligible to apply for graduate study?
No. 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. For the Ph.D. program, a more extensive background is expected.
I’m not a native speaker of English. Can I have the English-language test requirement waived?
In general, non-native speakers of English are required to take an English language test. This requirement is automatically waived if you have a bachelor’s degree from a four-year US university or if you have a master’s degree from one of the approximately 60 members of the Association of American Universities. It may be waived in certain other circumstances, including if you have received an M.A. from an English-speaking institution outside of the AAU.
Must I achieve a certain score on the TESOL or IELTS (tests of English-language competence)?
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.
How should I provide transcripts/documentation of my previous degrees?
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. (If you have a degree from a Chinese university, arrange for a verification report of your academic records with the China Academic Degree and Graduate Education Development Center. The report must be mailed directly to the department by the CDGDC, rather than by you or any third party.)
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 application requires a personal statement and a distinct academic statement. What’s the difference?
The personal statement should include a summary of your background, with a special emphasis on aspects of it that might be relevant to graduate work 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. 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.) 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.
Do I need to know who among the faculty I want to work with?
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.
Must I achieve a certain score on the GRE?
There is no fixed minimum score to be eligible for admission, but scoring below the 50th percentile on any section of the test may raise red flags with the admissions committee.
Which parts of the GRE are relevant?
All of them, including the quantitative.
What does a typical course of study entail, concretely? What steps are involved?
These calendars provide an informal guide, but for official information, consult the handbook.
Why are there multiple deadlines for admission?
First, there is a deadline after which you will be ineligible for to receive certain kinds of funding. This is November 30. However, the final deadline for application for the fall semester is December 15. If you would like to maximize the probability of receiving funding, you should apply before the earlier deadline. Second, there is a distinct deadline to apply to start in the spring semester, rather than in the fall as is customary. We discourage such applications, though, and promising applications for spring admission are generally transferred to the following fall. See below.
Can I apply for spring admission?
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.
My studies will be funded by my home country or other outside institution. Will this ensure my admission?
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.
What physical resources do you have?
We have modern and suitably equipped laboratories in sociolinguistics, phonetics and phonology, neuro- and psycholinguistics, and language acquisition. This includes an electroencephalography (EEG) lab and access to various other contemporary tools of neurolinguistic investigation. More generally, we’re located in a large recently-constructed building that affords comfortable facilities for everyday intellectual life.