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Required Materials

Preparing YOUR ACADEMIC Statement

The statement of purpose that accompanies your application is very important to the admissions committee and is often a crucial factor in the decision to admit. A clear, well-focused statement reveals your potential for graduate work and may compensate for average grades and test scores.

Writing tips for success:

  1. Your writing should show a commitment to a compatibility with the goals of the Northwestern program. Review the Linguistics department’s list of research advisors and Program Handbook to make sure that your interests in graduate work can be met in an area of study offered at Northwestern.
  2. Be as specific as possible about (1) the direction you wish to pursue in the area of your interest, and (2) your educational objectives. Provide details about the types of research that interest you, the kinds of methodologies and approaches you want to learn more about, and what parts of the field you want to study, etc. If you want to work with specific people in the Linguistics Department (or even elsewhere in the university) you should mention this in your essay.
  3. Provide information about relevant experience that has prepared you for graduate study. This can be a description of your research or academic experience, and/or other experience that you see relevant to pursuing a graduate degree in our department. Explain what you learned from these experiences and how they led you to your pursuit of graduate study in Linguistics.
  4. Explain your trajectory. If you’d like, you may use the statement of purpose to explain or clarify any unique aspects of your academic trajectory that may not be apparent from your CV or transcripts. 
  5. Write clearly and persuasively. Your paper should demonstrate the clearest and most persuasive effort of which you are capable of. The admissions committee needs to be able to evaluate your ability to analyze problems and organize your thoughts on research interests or problems in Linguistics and your ability to perform in a research setting.
  6. Proofread. It’s a good idea to have a friend or faculty member at your undergraduate institution look over your paper before you submit the final copy. Remember, the admissions committee is looking for people who have focused interests, are self-sufficient, and are strongly motivated. Our ultimate goal is to train people as scholars who can define and solve problems on their own.

Writing Sample

The Linguistics Department requires applicants to submit a writing sample. The length of this writing sample is highly variable, but typically it is at least 3-5 pages long with a highly variable upper limit. Some applicants submit an entire MA thesis, while others send in just a 3-5 page paper written for a class at their undergraduate institution. As for the topic, anything that is related to Linguistics is fine, it certainly doesn't have to be in the area of Linguistics that the applicant is hoping to specialize in. The main purpose of the writing sample is to give us an idea of the applicant's written expression ability.


While completing your online application, you will be required to submit one scanned copy of your transcript or academic record from each school you have attended. For more details on transcript requirements, visit The Graduate School’s Transcripts webpage.

TOEFL or IELTS scores

Students whose first language is not English must take the TOEFL or IELTS examination. (The program will waive the TOEFL/IELTS requirements for students that receive bachelor or graduate degrees from certified institutions where the primary language is English. Most accredited American universities will meet this requirement.)

Applicants to our PhD program must have the following minimum scores on either TOEFL or IELTS: Ph.D. applicants: 90 Internet Based Test (IBT), 233 Computer Based Test (CBT), and 577 Paper Based Test (PBT); 8.0 IELTS. In addition, because all Linguistics PhD students will have teaching assistant (TA) or graduate assistant (GA) positions at some time during their PhD study, all applicants must meet The Graduate School's requirements for English proficiency for GA/TA funding, as described here. Note that Northwestern offers linguistic and cultural support for international students through the new ELP Foundations program and our Graduate English Language Program (ELP). We do not offer conditional admission, so all applicants must meet foreign language requirements at the time of admission.

To submit your score:

Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation should be written by anyone in a position to evaluate your potential for graduate study in Linguistics. There are no requirements regarding the position of the letter writer, however, it is highly recommended that at least one letter come from a former or current professor. In the case of an applicant who has been out of school for some time, a letter from a recent or current supervisor is also very helpful. We require a minimum of 2 letters of recommendation, and the online application system will accept 3. In the event that a student wishes to submit more than 3 letters, he or she should arrange to have the additional letters sent directly to Linguistics Department.

Please note: All materials submitted in support of an application become the property of The Graduate School and cannot be released for other purposes or returned.