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Admissions Overview and FAQs

Are you thinking about applying to the Doctoral Program in Second Language Acquisition?  Before you go through the time and effort it takes to apply, we want you to be sure that our program offers what you are looking for. With that in mind, please explore the entire SLA Program website.  For frequently asked questions about admissions to our program, see below.

Dear Future Colleague,

We are honored that you are thinking about applying to our program. As (or before) you do, please be aware of the following:

In admission decisions, we consider (a) the applicant’s academic qualifications; (b) whether we believe that an applicant’s research interests match the expertise of our faculty; (c) whether the faculty member/s whose expertise supports an applicant’s interests has/have the resources (especially in available time) to take on a new student; and (d) the availability of financial support.

We only admit students whom we believe we can support financially over the course of their doctoral studies (a minimum of four years), through a mix of Teaching Assistantships, Project Assistantships, and Fellowships, which are important components of building professional expertise and connections. Benefits provided with assistantships are explained here. However, Teaching Assistantships especially depend on the resources of other academic departments as our graduate program has no undergraduate students that would need TAs.

As an interdisciplinary program that serves as well as supports a broad variety of research interests and methods and includes expertise in a large number of different languages, we attract an equally broad array of applicants. We truly thrive on diversity in perspective, thought, provenance, objectives, and trajectories.

But it is a challenge to match diverse applicants with diverse – and unpredictable – resources. Please know that we are restricted in the number of new students that we can take in each year – and that the number fluctuates with available funding and faculty, which may not become apparent until after the application deadline. We are further limited in whether and when we can support students with specific skills and needs. Sadly, while we always do our best to arrange for the most comprehensive and suitable support package for new students, we have had to – and will need to in the future – turn down highly qualified applicants because we cannot offer the support that they need at the specific time.

It is likely that our program is not alone in these challenges. We did want you to be aware of them as you prepare your application. More specifically, we wanted to let you know that the Graduate School processes applications to up to three academic programs for one (the same) application fee.  More information can be found here. If you feel that your interests intersect with more than one academic program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, you might want to make use of the option to apply to multiple programs at the same time. Some applicants may qualify for an application fee grant.

Please also know that while you are always welcome to contact us with questions at please understand we are limited in the type and extent of information that we can offer without a complete and submitted application.

We do assure all applicants that their application dossiers will be given our full consideration.


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When is the application deadline?

You must complete the application and provide all the requested materials by December 15.

Do you admit students for a spring semester start?


The SLA Program admits students to begin in the fall semester only.

Do I need a GRE score?


The SLA Program recognizes that prospective students’ ability to register for and take the GRE may differ. We realize that a single set of scores does not necessarily provide useful insights.  Instead, we consider an applicant’s entire dossier when making admissions decisions.

Do I need an English proficiency test score?


The SLA Program follows the general Graduate School requirements for English proficiency test scores.  Whether or not you need a score depends on a few factors.  Please consult the Graduate School requirements  and scroll down to the “English Proficiency” section for more information.

Do I need a master's degree?

You need a master’s degree by the START of your doctoral studies. You do not need a master’s degree at the time of application.

You may apply while you are completing your master’s degree. If you are accepted, admission will be contingent upon your having earned the master’s degree by the start of your doctoral studies.

What area, field, or major should my master's degree be in?

Your master’s degree should prepare you for doctoral studies in a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the acquisition of additional languages. We expect familiarity with fundamentals of language study from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Some knowledge of issues pertaining to language learning and teaching is preferred. Please also know that graduation requirements for our program require written and oral proficiency in English and another language. While it is possible to work toward completion of this requirement during your doctoral studies, it may extend the time to degree.

Commonly, doctoral students in our program hold master’s degrees in English, TESOL, English as a Second Language, a language other than English (LOTE), applied linguistics, linguistics, or education – and in specific cases (such as with a relevant undergraduate degree or graduate minor), in psychology.  If you are uncertain whether your master’s degree would qualify you for studies with us, please contact the SLA Program Coordinator.

Are there are other linguistics-related doctoral programs at UW-Madison?


In fact, there are many ways to pursue a doctoral degree in linguistics, applied linguistics, and second language studies at UW-Madison. Depending on your interests and career goals, you might consider the following UW-Madison graduate programs, in addition to our program. We encourage prospective students to explore options in consultation with faculty and staff affiliated with these units, and you may also find detailed information about the various graduate programs in the Graduate Guide. Keep in mind that it is possible to apply to up to three graduate programs with one application fee.

  • African Cultural Studies
  • Asian Languages and Cultures
  • Chinese
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Linguistics
  • Portuguese
  • Scandinavian Studies
  • Slavic Languages & Literatures
  • Spanish

What areas of research does the SLA Program focus on?

This is a great question and one that you should be asking as a prospective SLA PhD student.  Find out about the research interests of our core faculty and staff by reading their profiles.  If you find someone with whom you share a research interest, we encourage you to reach out with an email to find out more.

What types of funding opportunities does the SLA Program offer?

The SLA Program works very hard to secure funding to provide financial support for our students’ studies at UW-Madison. Any offer of admission would be accompanied by an explanation of funding support.  Because of the interdisciplinary nature of our program and the varied interests of our students, funding looks different for different students.  Visit the Graduate School webpage on the various types of assistantships available for general information.

Are application fee waivers available?

There is more than one answer to this question, depending on your situation.

Answer 1: The SLA program has no independent resources with which to cover applications fees. However, please read further to explore other options.

Answer 2: U.S. citizens, permanent residents or applicants who have DACA status may qualify for a fee grant from UW-Madison’s Graduate School, and the SLA Program may directly administer some of these available fee grants. Please check this webpage to see if you meet eligibility criteria. We welcome inquiries from those who believe they qualify.

Answer 3: Unfortunately, there currently are no fee waiver programs for international students.

Answer 4: Please know that one application fee covers applications to up to three UW-Madison graduate programs.

Ready to find out how to apply? Go to how to apply.