What can you do with a Bachelor's degree in Linguistics?
A wide variety of career paths are open to Linguistics majors – with some areas utilizing our majors’ specialized linguistic expertise, and some capitalizing on linguists’ exceptional analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills. Some students choose to continue on to graduate school in Linguistics or a related field, and pursue a career in higher education teaching or academic research, but the majority find jobs in various industries without further education beyond the Bachelor level. Our recent graduates have found interesting and rewarding employment with businesses and non-profits such as Samsung, Amazon, Grow Progress, Apple, Epic Systems, The Geo Group, The Literacy Network, Educational Testing Service (ETS), RGA Public Relations, UW Health, and International English Language Testing System (IELTS), to name just a few.
Linguistics majors receive extensive training in collection and analysis of language data, and (depending on their choice of electives) may have experience in areas such as language teaching methodology, socioeconomic/dialectal linguistic variation, or other fields. These skills are directly applicable in a variety of career areas, for example:
- Computing/Technology – speech synthesis, machine translation, technical writing, data extraction, user experience
- Marketing – communications, branding, localization, consumer research
- Education – ESL/TESOL or foreign language teaching, curricular and assessment development, language policy administration
- Publishing – dictionaries/lexicography, editing
- Government/Law – language consultancy, technical writing
- Healthcare – communications, medical interpreting
In addition to a deep, detailed understanding of how human language works, the study of linguistics equips students with a set of broadly marketable skills:
- qualitative and quantitative data analysis
- data collection methodologies
- clear and effective communication of technical material, both written and oral
- evaluation and empirical testing of competing hypotheses
- advanced critical thinking, systematization, and problem solving skills
- cooperative and collaborative research
These skills are in high demand in the world of work, and are transferable to essentially any field of useful human activity.
For more information about careers in linguistics, see the Linguistic Society of America’s “Linguistics as a Profession” page.
"I'm the prize" - An interview with Samantha Beaver of Memra Language Services on using linguistics in the workplace
Entrepreneur Samantha Beaver, MA, is the founder and CEO of Memra Language Services, a company that uses sociolinguistic research techniques to provide insight into company culture and effectiveness of communication.
UW Linguistics Alumni and Career Profiles
The most common employment sectors among our own alumni are marketing/human resources, computing/technology, and language-related education positions. We have alumni working in every other imaginable sector as well, including healthcare, non-profits, entertainment, and law! Here are some job titles of recent alumni:
- Marketing/Human Resources – Content Writer, Editor, Director of Marketing, Communications Coordinator, Operations Manager, Research Analyst. Students reliably find employment in this field with just a Linguistics major, although double-majoring in another field of interest (such as Economics, Communication, or a world language) is certainly an option.
- Computing/Technology – Software Developer, Software Engineer, Research Engineer, Technical Services Analyst, Training Instructional Designer. Students interested in this field should add a major or certificate in Computer Science or Data Science.
- Education – English Teacher, World Language Teacher, Literacy Program Coordinator, Educator Vetting Coordinator, ESL Tutor. Students interested in this area might consider adding a second major or certificate such as TESOL, Educational Policy Studies, or a world language.
- A few more job titles from various fields – ESports Tournament Coordinator, County Park Land Steward, Magazine Art Director, Physical Therapist, Court Clerk. Our majors have a wide variety of skills and go on to do lots of interesting things!
We periodically conduct interviews and alumni panel discussions with recent graduates, which is a great way to learn from your peers’ experiences. You can watch these archived recordings conducted by Lydia Odegard and Kaitlin Koehler of the Language Institute, and keep an eye out for future events!
- Language Institute Event Archive features multiple career events, including recent Language & Linguistics career panels, a Language Careers Beyond Translation workshop, and more!
- Language and Linguistics Alumni Panel Discussion Fall 2020
- Interview with recent alum Melissa Hill, who majored in Linguistics and East Asian studies with a TESOL Certificate
- Language and Linguistics Alumni Panel Discussion Spring 2021, featuring Linguistics & French major Cady Gansen, who now works as a Research Engineer with Educational Testing Services.
In Depth Career Profiles
For some sample profiles of former Linguistics majors from across the globe, it’s well worth your time to explore the in depth career profiles available at these sites:
- Superlinguo’s series of job interviews with linguists
- CareerLinguist’s Career Paths of linguists
- Linguistics Careercast – Podcasts featuring interviews with linguists working in various industries outside academia
Perusing these case studies can give you an idea of the broad range of challenging, interesting work that Linguistics majors go on to do!
Most students begin working after they complete the Bachelor’s degree, but some students pursue a graduate-level degree in linguistics or a related field. Graduate school is an option for students interested in academic research, computational linguistics, or who need professional qualifications for teaching or clinical practice. Here are a few examples of the graduate programs that our students have chosen!
- University of Washington, Computational Linguistics MS
- Carnegie Mellon Language Technologies Institute
- University of Wisconsin-Madison, World Language Education MS
- University of Wisconsin-Madison, Secondary Education and ESL MS
- University of Wisconsin-Madison, Communication Sciences & Disorders MS
- Northwestern University, Linguistics PhD
- Rush University, Audiology PhD
- University of Hawaii at Manoa, Linguistics PhD
Featured Alum: Kanjana Thepboriruk
Most of our alumni go into areas outside of academia, but some do end up taking their love for Linguistics to a higher level! Here is a story featuring an alum who went on to the PhD and became a professor at Northern Illinois University.
Career Advising at UW
At UW-Madison we have a strong commitment to helping students make the transition from school into work. The College of Letters & Sciences (of which Language Sciences is a part) has its very own career advising service, L&S SuccessWorks, which specializes in guiding Liberal Arts & Sciences students through all phases of the career exploration and job search process. The center has numerous industry partners, and hosts job fairs, campus speakers, and other special events throughout the year, in addition to providing individualized and group advising. Students are encouraged to connect with SuccessWorks regularly throughout their studies at UW-Madison, from year one up through two years after graduation day.
SuccessWorks has a collection of self-paced courses that you can do any time, such as “Jobs, Internships, & How to Get Them,” and “Graduate School & Gap Years.” These are packed with information and resources that can be a good starting place – take a look!
For more general questions such as choosing a major and learning about career options, all students also have access to the University-wide Career Exploration Center (CEC).
Declared majors should also make sure to consult with the Undergraduate Advisor, to make sure that their course selection aligns with their career and personal goals.