The real answer is “just about anything!” While the majority of graduates in linguistics go on to work in linguistics or a related field (computer science, education, speech pathology, journalism, editing), many also find jobs in areas outside of the field, for example, working in middle management for a large Fortune 500 firm, or going to law school. Because linguistics focuses on the analysis of language at many different levels, students completing the program have developed the ability to think abstractly, along with exceptional analytic skills. Students with an undergraduate linguistics degree have a wide variety of options to choose from, both within and outside of the field.
Students graduating from Northeastern’s Linguistics Program often choose to go to graduate school, either immediately following graduation, or after a year or two working or volunteering (often while living abroad). Within linguistics, there are master’s and doctoral degrees focusing on theoretical linguistics, applied linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, and computational linguistics. Students pursuing graduate degrees in theoretical linguistics are likely to find jobs working at universities or research labs. Graduate degrees in applied linguistics can lead to jobs in education: teaching foreign languages, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), working in a bilingualism program at elementary or high school level. Or it may lead to jobs in other areas, such as translation, research and documentation of endangered languages, or working for religious organizations to research lesser-known languages, for the purpose of developing grammar books, teaching materials and Bible translation. In a psycholinguistics program, students may focus on the processing of language, the development and acquisition of language, or the loss of language (through aging or disease), among other things. Neurolinguistics focuses on language in the brain, and graduates usually work in a university or hospital setting, working with aphasia patients, and/or running experiments using the latest technology (fMRI, MRI, PET, MEG, etc.). Computational linguists work in high tech firms, developing and testing models for improving or creating new software in areas such as speech recognition, dictionary development, grammar checkers, etc.
Other students choose to use their undergraduate linguistics degree as a springboard into another field. Students have attended graduate school in fields such as speech pathology, psychology, sociology, law, criminal justice, and business. Students generally find that they are highly competitive in applying to these programs, because the analytic skills and detailed work required in the study of linguistics provides students with an ideal background for further academic study. For example, we have graduates who have studied law at some of the most prestigious law schools in the U.S., including Harvard and Columbia.
There are many career options open to students without a graduate degree as well. For example, some of our students have gone on to be lab coordinators at large research labs (here at Northeastern, at Harvard University, and at Smith College). Others have decided to work abroad teaching English in countries like France, Brazil, and Japan. Some have gone to work for publishing companies, either in editing, or in acquisitions, or developing educational materials such as textbooks and classroom materials for language arts and foreign language texts. Still others decide to become teachers, and earn their certification to teach at the elementary school or high school levels.
In short, with a degree in linguistics, students gain the basic skills and experience needed to prepare their entry into a variety of professional opportunities. The career choices of students pursuing a degree in linguistics are numerous, and are only limited by the student’s imagination.