Applying to Linguistics Programmes, American

    • Thread Starter


    I am an American and I would really like to study an MA programme in the UK. I'm interested in linguistics, mainly sociolinguistics. I've done a lot of research recently on different universities and have sent emails making some basic enquiries to ask about programs and my particular situation, but I think I'd like to hear from people who have actually been admitted to (or who have friends who were) a good linguistics programme there.

    One issue that I'm very concerned about is how my undergraduate grades will be perceived by admissions teams. In the UK there is a system of "classes" which I've learned about, but in the US we have GPA. Apparently my GPA correlates to a very high 2:2 at most institutions. I have a 3.14 (out of 4.0) and a 3.2 is considered equivalent to a 2:1. Strangely a 2.8-3.0 seems to be equivalent to a 2:2 and I'm just in this "ok but not good enough" limbo land that doesn't make any sense to me.
    I do have some relevant experience working as an assistant language teacher in Japan for two years.

    As many people on this forum might be aware of, US universities have much broader undergraduate programmes. My grades in linguistics were very good, but other modules such as math, or Japanese (I love Japanese but it is a tough language) brought my cumulative GPA down. I also had undiagnosed ADHD which I have since learned to manage much better.
    I'm confident that I'd be suited to studying linguistics at the postgraduate level.

    UK programmes appeal to me for many reasons, one being that the MA programme is shorter. The international tuition is comparable to the "out of state" tuition fee that I'd have to pay in America (as my home state doesn't have the program that I want), so I'd actually be saving money. I also like that these programmes are much more narrow in focus. In the US I'd be taking a variety of linguistics modules, including re-taking several things I did as an undergrad, and just taking a few things in my focus area. Furthermore, in Japan I've made a lot of British friends and I think I'd like to experience living in this culture (also based on my knowledge about the UK and all they've told me, not just their individual personalities). I enjoy living abroad and I'm not ready to move back to America, but I do feel ready to start moving forward with my career by starting my MA. I also want to try living in a different country again.

    I'm determined to get into a UK programme if I can, but I'm honestly worried that no decent universities would take me. I realize that I am competing with home students who mostly earned a 2:1 or above, and students from all over the world who have much, much higher grades and much more varied experiences than mine. I also feel like I can't properly assess which universities are considered "prestigious" vs which ones are "good". I've scoured the internet for tons of different ranking systems by program, admissions criteria and so on. I've asked my British friends too. The problem is that most of my British friends here came from very good universities and graduated with very high 2:1 or even first degrees, so they don't understand my concern. I'm sure all of them could get into almost any MA programme in their field. One person told me that "Birmingham is a good university but it's not super prestigious". Meanwhile I just got an email back from Birmingham saying that they expect a first degree or very good professional experience plus a 2:1 (a very polite way of telling me that there isn't a chance in hell that I could be admitted there).

    I hope I could get some advice from anyone who knows about linguistics MAs in the UK. In the US there my university was considered "good" but not prestigious by any means. However in the UK from what I gather on the internet it's either fairly prestigious or just not very good! I don't believe that could actually be the case, I'm just lacking in knowledge of different universities.

    Queen Mary and Newcastle are two places that I'm interested in right now. I've crossed Birmingham, Nottingham, Edinburgh, UCL and a few others off my list because I don't believe I'll be admitted if I try. I crossed off Birkbeck after hearing some questionable things about the programme/supervisors. Goldsmiths sounds like it has an interesting programme but I hear they are more known for art or anthropology (if I did a PhD in the UK I wonder how that would be perceived...).

    Anyway, apologies for the essay! TL;DR I'm an American student with a very high 2:2 (3.14 GPA in the US) wants to get into a UK uni for postgrad in linguistics and I'm unsure about my prospects! I'm great at linguistics but had a few things that were holding me back during my undergraduate years. I'm now an English teacher in Japan, which gives me some related experience.

    They're all good schools. What you need to work out is which ones offer what you want in terms of course content and uni experience. Entry requirements are also on the website but if in doubt email and ask. Visit if you can. See if the uni can put you in touch with current or former students.

    What is your GPA in your major- with and without Japanese? Based on your post it sounds as if it is comfortably over the 3.2 threshold; if so apply based on that.

    The 'prestige' of a grad degree generally matters more than the prestige of your undergrad, but of course what you want to do with your Masters is a relevant consideration.

    Also, be sure to read the details of each Masters- they are more different between unis than you might realize. Read some of the prof bios also, to see what they are really into. Grad is different than undergrad.

    One thing: the tuition is only part of the cost, and the difference in cost of living between London and Newcastle is **huge**. If you are justifying this adventure based in part on being cost efficient, don't forget to account for that difference.
    • Thread Starter

    If I just combine my linguistics grades my GPA would be a 3.4 or 3.5. With Japanese it may be closer to just a 3.2. I have been reading in detail about the programs, all their different modules, professor backgrounds and so on.
    I am also considering cost of living as a major factor, since I will need to get a part time job in order to survive. In London, I may be able to stay with a friend for cheap actually, but other expensive cities could be a problem. Overall, I'd save in terms of how much debt I'd be going into, but it is a fact that I would have to work less in the UK than I could in the states due to visa restrictions. I'd like to focus on my studies as much as possible, but many US students work full time while doing undergrad or grad school due to the cost. I am also worried about potentially not getting a job, I'm hoping to apply for some before heading to the UK.

    (Original post by bekkisumisu88)
    Linguistics is a relatively specialist subject, you generally only approach it through another subject, often Modern Languages. Because of this only the largest, wealthiest Universities can afford to run the course, and wealthiest generally has a correlation with most competitive to enter.

    I'd recommend that you only ignore places you couldn't bear to live, or you couldn't afford, and let each university decide on the quality of your application. Whilst it takes time, and the forms etc are a pain, because they are never the same, basically when you've done one application, you've done 80% of all the others. So apply for everything you can, and struggle with decisions when you have offers.
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