by Şeyma Toker
Searching for graduate programs abroad can be very daunting without any guidance. Only in the US, there are hundreds of graduate programs offered and choosing the best match requires a long reflective process. In this post, based on my experiences going through this application cycle twice, I will share some tips about creating a list of graduate programs for those of you who are planning to apply to master’s and Ph.D. programs in TESOL and Applied Linguistics in the US.
In earlier posts, our alumnae Tülay and Nazila mentioned Gradschools and Peterson’s as useful tools to start your program search. If you are particularly interested in programs in the US, I would also recommend you to check Center for Applied Linguistics’ (CAL) very comprehensive program survey list that captures the current state of Applied Linguistics and TESOL programs in the US. On this page, you will find a long list of graduate programs sorted out by state, degree type and university name. This is a great resource to get you started creating your own list of programs.
The lists of the programs on CAL’s website are quite long! So, how do you decide which ones to include in your own list? This part requires a little bit of reflection on your academic interests and goals and your priorities. Do you prefer to live only in certain states in the US? Is funding your foremost concern? Do you already have an established research interests (which you are expected to have if you are applying to Ph.D.) and you are looking for a faculty you align with? These are important questions to consider early in your search process and revisit later while making a final decision.
In my own experience, I knew before starting my search for master’s programs that I wanted to pursue a TESOL degree, so I only included TESOL/TESL programs into my list. I got admitted to three programs and I chose the one with the most competitive funding package. To be honest, finding funding for master’s degree is not very common. Doctorate students are almost always prioritized in funding decisions. However, departments that collaborate with ESL programs, intensive English programs (IEP – this concept is very similar to preparatory programs in Turkey), or composition programs are more likely to offer funding for master’s students in the form of teaching assistantship. So, it would be wise to put the programs that offer such opportunities up in your list if funding is your most important concern. Some TESOL/TESL programs which offer funding for master’s students are Pennsylvania State University, Northern Arizona University, Syracuse University, University of Utah and Kent State University (see CAL link for program pages), where as far as I know we have alumni who pursued master’s degrees.
For those of you applying to Ph.D. programs, I recommend you not to worry too much about funding (since it is usually provided, but always worth double-checking), but put your energy in searching programs that most align with their research interests. In my doctoral program search, I glanced over CAL’s survey list to make sure I did not miss any potential Applied Linguistics programs, but I found it more helpful to go over the articles I often cite in my own papers, check which university and program these scholars work at, and lastly make sure there is at least one or two more faculty my research interests overlap with in the department. I created my own list based on these criteria. Later, I shared this list with my academic advisors to get their opinions. I highly encourage you to do the same because this is a great opportunity to benefit from your professors’ expertise and experience in the field. They might have colleagues or alumni who have worked or graduated from the same program you plan to apply to, whom they can put you in contact with. Or they may recommend you other programs that might have escaped your notice. I recommend you to take the initiative and seek help from your professors early in the search process.
This might seem obvious and intuitive, but organizing your program list in a table on a Word document is very handy. While searching for master’s programs, I remember spending hours reading several websites and being extremely overwhelmed by all the information. Later, one of my friends who went through the same process recommended creating a table, which did really facilitated this process for me. I spent less time on each website since I knew what I was looking for and felt less overwhelmed with all the new information. Below is a screen shot of the table I used to gather information during my doctoral program search. It is really helpful to have all this information in one document to plan ahead and navigate your application process. You can create your own table based on your search criteria and priorities.
Lastly, never hesitate to contact the listed person on program website if there is missing information crucial for your application. You will most probably find all the information you need on the website and the FAQ section, but it happens that they do not provide certain details. It is considered appropriate to send inquiry e-mails as prospective applicants in American academic culture, so it is perfectly fine to ask further information. However, I recommend you to keep your e-mail succinct and specific and write in a very polite tone. I usually received responses to my inquiry e-mails, but sometimes I did not and in this case, do not take it personally, these people probably receive tens of such e-mails every day. You can kindly follow up your previous e-mail, which I hesitated to do initially, but after checking with my advisor I learned that it is totally acceptable as long as you have a kind attitude. Once you feel like you have your list ready, go ahead and read the very informative post by our alumna Tülay for the details about the application process for master’s programs in the US, which is also very much applicable to Ph.D. programs. Good luck in your search and I hope you find the best match for your academic path!