Strong linguistics schools?

Hi there! I need help to find a college/uni with a robust linguistics major/department. There are rankings on the internet, but it seems they were compiled haphazardly, because the criteria are not well-defined, and the results vary so wildly that sometimes a college deemed 1st in linguistics on a site doesn’t even make the list on another.

A bit background and why I chose linguistics

Several years ago, I first read about the idea of International Auxiliary Language (IAL) - the thing that Esperanto aspires to become - and became convinced that a good IAL will bring immense benefits to the world. The details are out of the scope of this topic, but I believe it’s many times bigger than, say, the benefits of the internet.
I figured that in order to succeed as an IAL, a tongue must be culturally-neutral, scientific and efficient - things that no existing natural ones satisfy. Even Esperanto fails in these aspects. Thus, we need to come up with a brand new language. The problem is, doing that requires a huge coordinated effort from experts in various disciplines, otherwise it’d repeat the flaws of Esperanto all over again.
But the core of the vast knowledge needed is still linguistics. That’s why my choice is pretty clear. But there’s a catch. I’m kind of a nontraditional student in that my age is almost doubling that of those entering college this year. The facts that I’m a non-US citizen and my previous school doesn’t have any semblance of GPA don’t help, either.

OK, here is some info:

  • I’m definitely low income by US standard. I can afford to pay max ~107k for total 4 years, all types of cost included. But that’d bleed dry my life’s saving, so 55k is a more realistic number.
  • My priorities are listed in descending order of importance:
    1. Linguistics (40%)
    2. Environment where it’s easy to make connections with talented people from different fields (30%)
    3. Reputation, the higher the better (20%)
    4. A policy favoring daring projects and research (10%)
    5. Warmer climate (actually, 0%, but still a factor if it comes down to 2 equal choices)
  • I tried ACT and got 33 in single sitting, which was a bit unfortunate since my practice scores included 34 & 35. If I take SAT, it’s likely the result will be better.

Could you provide me with 1 safe choice, 5-6 targets and 2-3 reaches? Also, in the perfect scenario where I were a flawless student with stellar record and got unlimited financial aid/merit scholarship, what is the highest reach you’d recommend, i.e. the very best linguistic college in the world? Thank you!

Are you an international student? You mention income by US standard.

What you can afford to pay - and what a school says you can afford to pay are two different things.

Please provide more of your background as well as your GPA and a list of ECs please.

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U Mass Amherst- not warm weather, but a fantastic linguistics program.

Agree with TSBNA- we need to know more about you in order to be helpful. And you actually don’t specify why you chose linguistics (despite saying you did) so knowing that would be an important datapoint… what type of linguistics, are you interested in the Cog Sci/Brain part of language acquisition, the cultural/geographic development of languages, something else? One of the reasons why the rankings may seem all over the board to you is that different U’s have different areas of strength.


UMass Amherst has possibly the best undergrad linguistics dep’t in the country. IF you are someone whom they want, they’d probably give you their highest merit award,which last I looked was 16K/yr, leaving you with an out of pocket cost in the low to mid 40’s per year, because you will also have to buy the student health insurance plan (unless you already have ins coverage).

One of the advantages of UMass’ program is that they also have a leading Comp Sci program, so if you’re interested in computational linguistics, there is a sideways route into their very selective Comp Sci program, if you do extremely well in the intro comp sci and math classes.

If you are not a US citizen or US permanent resident, you would not be eligible for financial aid. If you are, and have savings, the school will expect you to pay 1/4 of your savings towards tuition, each year.

From what you describe, it would probably be possible for you to get accepted there, and maybe with some merit money. You might be able to pay your own way through, by working (under the table) during the semesters and during the summers.

Assuming that you are not a US citizen or permanent resident, unless you are one of the absolute TOP students in your entire country, AND have something of particular interest to offer the school, you are extremely unlikely to be accepted to the most selective, prestigious private universities (Harvard, MIT, Penn, and a number of others have top linguistics dep’ts), plus you won’t be able to afford them (unless they’re one of the few schools that meet full need for international students).

Other schools that are public institutions with good linguistics, that might also offer you some merit money, depending upon your qualifications.

UCLA, UC Berkeley, U Maryland College Park, UConn, U Michigan Ann Arbor, U Indiana Bloomington, Michigan State U, Rutgers (NJ), U of Arizona, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, U Washington Seattle, Northern Arizona U Flagstaff, Penn State State College, Purdue, U of Oregon, Ohio State, Stony Brook SUNY, UC Irvine, U Illinois Chicago, U Wisconsin Madison, CUNY (but you’d have to be able to afford to live there), UT Austin, U Florida, U Southern Maine, U Kentucky, Arizona State, U South Carolina, SUNY Buffalo, UNC Chapel Hill, U Georgia, U Delaware, U Iowa, U Kansas, U Pittsburgh, U Oklahoma.

Some of these schools are offering great merit money to US citizens from out of state (ASU, U Arizona are two that come to mind), but I don’t know if they are offering that merit money to int’l students, plus you’d have to be a top student to get it.

I think that if you are a top student in your country, and can get a top ACT or SAT score, and have some evidence of an established interest in linguistics, that you could certainly get into some of these schools, and some would award you merit money.

Also seriously consider U Toronto, in Canada. Top linguistics, plus it’s easier to get residency (and then citizenship) in Canada. And it’s a great school in a fantastic city (although cold).

Do not even THINK about " working under the table" as Parentologist suggests. If you are not a US Citizen and think at some point you might want to become a citizen, do not do anything while you are in college which could put your immigration process at risk.

If you are in the US on a student visa, obey the law. period, full stop.

If you ARE a US citizen, then carry on. But working “under the table” encourages employers to break the law (not paying overtime, wage theft, not withholding appropriate taxes and social security, not complying with OSHA regulations on creating a safe work environment, etc.) and is still a bad idea. But at least you aren’t risking your future…


Of course it is illegal to work under the table, for US citizens, US permanent residents, and those who are in the US with and without legal visas.

Yes- it is illegal for a US citizen. But a summer waitressing for cash tips while in college is not going to change the trajectory of a young person’s life the way it COULD for someone who hopes to get a Green Card with the ultimate goal of citizenship.

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We don’t yet know if the student is international - I found it unclear from the first message but asked the question because it sounded like maybe.

As for working illegally - that must have stopped because half of restaurants aren’t staffed. And yes, it’s never a good idea anyway - but - that’s the topic of another thread :slight_smile:

Yep, I’m international. In the OP, I left that info in the “background and reason” tab (looks like we have to click on the arrowhead for it to appear, sorry). My old school doesn’t have GPA or conversion, but my ECs include founding a volunteer group where we did some projects that help many people. I also founded another language group to practice skills like presentation, debate and acting together. Some dance here and drawing there… I’ll add these to the OP.

Oops, looks like I can’t edit posts. Anyway, could you elaborate on this?

I’m more interested in the cultural/geo part of linguistics, what common threads do they have and how they became different with time… How the brain processes languages is also of minor interest, since I need knowledge to develop a tongue that’s quick to learn and easy to speak. Some of that was explained in the OP, but I made a mistake of letting it be buried in a kind of a ‘spoiler’ tag, and you might have to click on the arrowhead for it to appear. I was going to make changes to that inconvenience but found out I can’t edit posts…

[quote=“parentologist, post:4, topic:3609285”]
have some evidence of an established interest in linguistics
[/quote]Thank you. Could you enlighten me with some detailed examples of such evidence? I have no idea what US colleges would consider a strong case for an interest in linguistics.

Regarding U Toronto, I’ve just read on their website, and international students like me will have to pay the full package - which, at ~80k/year, will eat through my whole savings in just 15 months… so not possible ::

In other words. You say you can afford a certain amount.

But a school that is evaluating your financials may disagree and think you can pay more.

From what many international students say, a big name is most important.

So I’m not sure that UMASS will help there.

But few schools meet need for international and we don’t know that you have need.

There are small schools with small programs grams like Ohio Wesleyan or Mary Washington.

Here’s other schools to look at. You’ll have to see which offer aid to international.

In this case, look for schools that are strong in anthropology as well as linguistics. You may end up liking linguistic anthropology more than straight linguistics, or you may at least want to add some anthro coursework to your ling major.

Examples of schools that have a linguistic anthro track for undergrads:

Examples of schools that offer a combined major:

Not an exhaustive list by any means, just proof of concept.

Most those schools wouldn’t work with your financial constraints, though. You need to look for schools that will give you significant merit aid. (Lawrence might… and Brandeis admits a LOT of international students and presumably gives merit aid to some of them, but I don’t know how much.)


Not many people enter college knowing that they want to major in linguistics - it’s often something that people find out about while they are in college, as a result of their love of studying languages, sometimes as a result of studying computers and language, of anthropology or sociology and language, etc. Those who know that this is what they want, from high school age, are often obsessed with learning languages and fascinated by the way that languages develop and change, and the evidence of it that we see in language families. These are the students who are, for example, teaching themselves Finnish and Icelandic on their own time (in addition to the languages that their high school offers), or are inventing their own language. So your essay for your college application might discuss your interest in linguistics, how it developed, what you want to study in it, how you want to use it.

A few of the schools with good linguistics departments are highly prestigious schools likely to meet full financial need for international students, but these schools are an extreme long shot even for straight A US students. As I said, unless you are one of the very few absolute top students in your country, you are unlikely to be accepted to one of those highly selective schools. However, there are state schools on the list that I gave you that might offer you a great deal of merit aid, and would be places with good linguistics and anthropology departments.

If you are a resident of an EU country, you would probably be better off studying at an EU university. There are many schools in the EU with good linguistics departments. You can filter this very comprehensive list by location:


[quote=“tsbna44, post:13, topic:3609285”]
From what many international students say, a big name is most important.
[/quote]Well that’s partially true for me too. But my intention is not to find a fat-paid job after graduate, but to use the reputation to help get a footing for the big project. What would you say of UMass about the other 2 points, namely the ease to make teams and the uni’s policy for audacious projects?

[quote=“aquapt, post:14, topic:3609285”]
Not an exhaustive list by any means, just proof of concept.
[/quote]Thank you. What if I also want to take advantage of IT and to build a database and model for languages?

[quote=“parentologist, post:15, topic:3609285”]
If you are a resident of an EU country, you would probably be better off studying at an EU university.
[/quote]Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, I’m Asian. And it looks like UK unis don’t have an aid program as generous as US ones, even for intl students. I only know English well enough, therefore my options in EU are very, very limited.

If you’re interested in linguistics and comp sci, UMass also has a very highly ranked Comp Sci dep’t. There are a lot of Asian students there. MIT would be better for what you want, but you’re probably not going to get in (although if you do, and your parents don’t have anything, they will take you, and your savings, and fund the rest). But when considering cost, strong linguistics dep’t, and strong Comp Sci, UMass is way up there on your list. I would also take a look at the other state schools that tend to offer merit (assuming you qualify for merit), and see about the combination of strong linguistics and strong Comp Sci. You would apply for Linguistics, but also take Comp Sci, and wiggle your way into Comp Sci double major by virtue of your performance and interests.

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UMass has a CS minor and an Information Technology minor, either of which could give you the skill set you need. The tough part would be getting the cost of UMass down to $25K/year. That would require a big merit award, since the COA for international undergrads is over $55K/year, and they don’t give need-based aid even to out-of-state domestic students much less internationals.

This program at Northeastern sounds like exactly what you’re talking about Data Science and Linguistics, BS < Northeastern University (There’s also CS+Linguistics, but I’m not hearing that you’re necessarily looking for a deep dive into CS theory so much as the ability to apply computational tools to the “big data” aspects of sociolinguistics.) There’s also Ling/Anthro as previously mentioned. The University President is a Linguist, fwiw. However, getting Northeastern to your price point is an extremely doubtful proposition.

Lawrence, which I mentioned above, has both a major and minor in Linguistics, a Linguistic Anthro track in the Anthro major, an Anthro minor, and minors in CS and stats/data science. They are also unusual in facilitating a large number of 1:1 tutorials and student-initiated courses. Student-Initiated Courses | Lawrence University Combining these with their senior capstone, which is automatically customized to your interests, could almost certainly get you where you want to go. (If you happen to be a musician as well, that would make the school an even better fit.) But again, you would need BIG merit to make it work.

It’s fine to identify some schools that seem perfect for what you want, and either try to get enough merit $ to attend, or try to get into one of the ultra-competitive schools that meet need for international students (i.e. MIT). But if you want to be certain of having a US option, it would be wise to identify at least one school that you know you could afford, which also has the programs you want and need. I would suggest looking at Truman State University, the public honors liberal arts college of Missouri. They have a linguistics major Linguistics Major | Truman State University , a joint Anthro/Soci department that offers minors i both Anthro and Soci and a blended Anthro/Soci major, a computer science department that offers a major and a minor, and also minors in stats and info systems. In some combination, I’m pretty sure you could cover your bases here, and get a quality education that you’re assured of being able to afford. Strong students here are able to get into top grad programs.

Side note: U of California schools have been mentioned up-thread. There is zero way any of these will be affordable. Even with the maximum merit (which is tiny), the cost of attendance would be upwards of $60K/year. Don’t even waste your time on the UC application. There are so many threads on CC every year, where students who managed to get into a UC are confronting the financial reality and looking for a funding miracle that does not exist.


If this student is highly qualified, they are very likely to be awarded 16K/yr merit by UMass, bringing cost down to about 40K/yr. This will probably be their best option for a school that has leading dep’ts in Ling and Comp Sci. It is most definitely possible to double major for these.

I think that the only places that will beat that price for an int’l student would be places without strong dep’ts in both disciplines, although they may certainly be good enough, if the student cannot manage 40K/yr. Best option may be the southern and southwest public U’s that are known for offering really good merit money and at least have departments in both disciplines, such as U Arizona, ASU.

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Thank you all, especially @aquapt and @parentologist for taking your time and look into my case. My plan is to get somewhat deep knowledge in linguistics and wide but shallow in quite some other field, just enough to provide good feedback and insight into my teammates’ parts. I plan to share the bulk of the work to other people, because for a project of this size, it’s simply impossible to do it single-handedly. Zamenhof made Esperanto alone, and the result is just mediocre.

I’ll need to cooperate with cognitive scientists to find the easiest way a new tongue can be learnt. I’ll have to collaborate with computer science students to take advantage of the big database of languages. I’ll work with the anthropology and psychology guys to figure out how people accept a new tongue. I’ll have to consult experts in almost every other discipline so they can provide input about buzzwords of their own specialties for the vocabulary of this new language… And of course, I’ll need to ask for the knowledge of other linguists who focus on one specific tongue in order to take out all of its nuance. And that’s only the 1st phase of the project!

That’s why I can’t do it alone, and why I listed the importance of an environment that encourages connection-making with other talented people in the 2nd position. In my country, realizing such project is straight-out impossible, and I figured that an environment which allows me to both acquire academic knowledge and develop relations (and do a bit of research, I have some ideas for the new IAL myself) is none better than a university - that’s why I’ve ended up looking for options here.

The 4th part of the list - policy - only has 10% importance because the IAL will very like be a long-ass project. Even if I receive grant and begin it while studying, I’m sure it will span out of the college timeframe.