According to the Quacquarelli Symonds World University rankings, which are used by the well-known publication “U.S. News & World Report," the top four graduate programs for linguistics are all at U.S. schools. These rankings consider the academic reputation, citations of faculty publications, employment conditions and international presence of programs across the world. Students applying to master’s or doctoral degree programs in linguistics should consider their own specific research interests as well as overall rankings when evaluating schools, since linguistics is a diverse discipline.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Established in 1961 by Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle and ranked no. 1 by QS in 2012, MIT’s graduate program in linguistics has been a world leader for decades. The program grants only doctoral degrees, which take students four years to complete. After they have completed their general exams in the four-year program, students can choose to apply for a fifth year of study in which they focus on one of four specialties: phonology and phonetics, semantics, psycholinguistics or syntax. Students must also teach for two semesters. MIT’s program has an extremely strong placement rate, with graduates securing jobs at many of the leading linguistics departments around the world.

Harvard University

The 2012 QS rankings put Harvard's linguistics graduate program in second place. Like MIT, Harvard’s program only enrolls doctoral students; although students may petition to be granted a master’s degree after their second year of study, that degree is not intended to be terminal. Students choose major and minor fields of study during their first year in the program. Major fields are broad, such as syntax, semantics or historical linguistics, while minor fields can be similarly broad or much more specific, such as the historical grammar of Hittite. In the five-year program, students generally receive fellowships for years one, two and five, and they work as teaching assistants in years three and four.

University of California at Los Angeles

UCLA’s department of linguistics is no. 3 in the world, according to the 2012 QS rankings. Although the department grants both master’s and doctoral degrees, it normally only admits students whose ultimate objective is a Ph.D. The five-year support package for doctoral students usually includes at least one fellowship year. In addition to supervising students in the linguistics degree program, department faculty members collaborate with other departments in the university to grant doctorates in applied linguistics, biomedical engineering, American Indian studies and African studies.

Stanford University

Stanford’s linguistics graduate program, ranked fourth in the world by QS in 2012, boasts a high level of collaboration among its faculty and graduate students. With faculty who cover all major areas of linguistic research, the department is on the forefront of computational research, linguistic theory and experimental methodologies. Like UCLA, Stanford grants an Master of Arts and a Ph.D. in linguistics, but it rarely admits master’s students. Admission is highly competitive, with about 4 percent of applicants accepted each year, and almost all admitted students hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in linguistics.

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