The University of Chicago | Graduate Admissions

Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations - PhD

Division: Humanities
Degree Type: PhD

Program Description

The languages and civilizations of the Near East have been a major part of the University of Chicago's teaching and research commitment since its inception.

William Rainey Harper, the University's founder and first president, was a Hebrew scholar and author of a grammar widely used in institutions of higher learning for more than three-quarters of a century. Research done at Chicago has helped to form the very basis of the modern disciplines of Assyriology, Egyptology, and ancient Near Eastern Archaeology.

The creation of "Islamic Civilization" as a curriculum was effected at Chicago. A faculty of distinguished scholars now extends this tradition in all these areas and related subfields, keeping the University of Chicago at the forefront of worldwide developments in Near Eastern studies. Graduates of the Department have for decades been among the leading international experts in their fields.

An interdisciplinary approach to learning is a characteristic of the Chicago intellectual tradition. The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations is itself an interdisciplinary group, comprising philologists, linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, students of religion and law, and others. Students in NELC participate in courses, seminars, and workshops where they, as well as the NELC faculty, interact with their counterparts in anthropology, art history, classics, comparative literature, history, law, linguistics, political science, and religious studies. NELC also has a joint degree program with the Department of Linguistics.

This interdisciplinary and team approach is especially facilitated by the participation of many students and faculty in the work of the University's Oriental Institute and Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The Department also publishes the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, which is one of the leading journals in Ancient Near Eastern and Islamic studies.

Explore program faculty »

Specific Areas of Focus

More information on fields of study »


Application Method

Applications should be initiated through the online application. Paper applications are not accepted.


Deadline for admissions and financial aid: December 15

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations admits applicants once a year for the following Autumn Quarter. Applications received after the deadline cannot be considered for financial aid.

Campus Visits

Interviews are not required; however, admitted applicants are invited to visit campus, sit in on classes, and meet with current students. You may contact faculty with questions, but there is no expectation that you do so.

Degree Objective

NELC admits applicants only for the PhD degree, and does not offer a stand-alone MA program. If you are interested in pursuing an MA focusing in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, we encourage you to explore the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH).

Application Requirements

NELC Application Process

  1. Online Application Form and Supplemental Form
  2. Non-refundable application fee
  3. References: A minimum of three letters of reference should be included with your application.
  4. GRE and TOEFL Scores: Send the scores to University Code 1832. For non-native English speakers, your scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) must be comprised of a: minimum score of 104 with a minimum of 26 in each section on the internet-based test.
  5. Statement of Academic Purpose: A statement that describes the intellectual issuesand historical/linguistic/archaeological subjects that you hope to explore at the University of Chicago.
  6. Writing Sample Applicants should submit a writing sample that reflects their ability to present the question, to present consistent arguments using clear expository prose, to exhibit critical thinking, and to support a conclusion using correctly formatted footnotes and a bibliography. It can be either a research paper that is approximately 20 pages in length or a MA thesis. If it is more than 20 pages in length, a specific section should be highlighted.
  7. Transcripts: Official transcripts from all post-secondary educational institutions should be submitted with your application.

Admissions Decisions

Admissions decisions typically are released in early March. No decisions will ever be given by phone, and no decisions will be given to those who inquire by email before early March. Direct all questions about your application directly to the admissions office.

Program Requirements

Year One:

  1. Begin taking language exams (French, German, or approved substitute); students must receive a "high pass" in one foreign language exam before the start of Year Two.
  2. Year One Review in Spring Quarter; copy of the review goes to the student.
  3. In Spring Quarter, submit Form 17, identifying the topic for the MA thesis approved by at least one of the two faculty readers, no later than Friday of Week 10. This is a prerequisite for registration in Autumn Quarter of Year Two.

Year Two

  1. Students must receive a "high pass" in a second foreign language exam before the start of Year Three. Submit Application for Degree form no later than the first day of the quarter in which you plan to receive your MA degree.
  2. Submit two copies of the completed MA thesis to the NELC office by the first day of Spring Quarter.
  3. Year Two Review in Spring Quarter; notification to the student by Week Five in Spring Quarter.

Year Three

  1. Continue coursework; begin preparation for comprehensive exams; clear all incompletes and blanks.

Year Four

  1. Take comprehensive exams before the end of Year Four (summer after Year Four is acceptable).
  2. Submit Form 27, the written and approved list of examinations and examiners, to the NELC office by Week 10 of the quarterprecedingthat in which the exams will be taken. EXCEPTION: Students taking exams in the summer must submit their form by Week 5 of Spring Quarter so exams can be written before faculty leave for the summer.
  3. Occasionally, students who take exams early will be ready to propose their dissertation topic during this year rather than in Year Five.

Costs & Financial Aid

The Office of the Dean of Students works to assist graduate students at all stages of their studies who seek funding to support their scholarly work. Visit the Dean of Students website for an overview on funding support for pre-dissertation research, language study, conference travel, dissertation research, and post-doctoral fellowships.