Beyond Words - Language Blog

Translation Graduate Programs: An Overview

It’s that time of the year again, the application cycle for graduate programs across the nation is about to start. Applying to any program is a daunting task, whether it be a certificate program or a PhD. Simply finding the information about what programs are out there, the length of each program, and how much each program costs seems an insurmountable task which is why I’ve decided to put together a multi-post series on the post-undergraduate options an aspiring translator has available.

The first thing that one has to decide when researching translation programs is what kind of program one wants to apply to. You need to ask yourself first and foremost what kind of translator you want to be: a general translator or a translator with specific credentials (medical, court, literary, conference, etc.). While a plethora of general translation certificates exist, the options telescope when a category like medical or literary translation is added into the mix.

A master’s degree or PhD in translation or translation studies generally refers to a comprehensive, general translation program. These programs are interdisciplinary and allow students to dabble in historical, literary, and scientific areas while at the same time grounding the students in general translation skills. Computer skills are emphasized as an essential tool for translators and classes teaching the use and development of translation computer programs and glossary management are often a key component of translation studies programs. Graduates of translation studies programs are qualified to work for personal and corporate translation services, as freelance translators, as government agency employees, and as translation software developers. PhD graduates often stay in academia and teach linguistics or translation studies. Like any comprehensive humanities degree, a master’s degree or PhD in translation studies allows each student to tailor the program to his or her individual interests.

A more specific kind of translation program, however, is the literary translation degree. Typically awarded as a Masters of Fine Arts degree in the United States, only a handful of these programs exist. MFA programs in literary translation offer training in the theory and practice of literary translation. The translation work specifically focuses on translation literature from foreign languages into English. Each candidate for the MFA in literary translation focuses on one foreign language, although sometimes a program requires a candidate specialize in two or more languages. Because these programs are MFA programs often associated with the Creative Writing department, candidates are required to take both creative writing and translation workshops in addition to theoretical and practical translation courses. MFA graduates are qualified to teach at the undergraduate level and to translate literature into English as either a freelance translator or as an employee of a translation or publishing company.

Most court, medical, and conference translation programs are awarded at the certificate level. There are some exceptions to the rule, of course, but generally these types of studies are limited to professional or graduate level certification. Tens of translation certification programs exist in the United States and narrowing down the programs can be daunting. Some certificates are general French translation, German translation, Spanish translation, etc., but some are more specific: legal, medical, conference. The general certificates function like the graduate degrees in translation studies. They allow for a translator to gain advanced study in the foreign language as well as to take courses specific to the profession. Legal certificates prepare candidates to work in legal and courtroom settings. In order to become a court translator, one must pass a state-specific test (comprised of a written and oral component) for both English and the foreign language. The certificate program helps to prepare candidates for translating in a legal setting by focusing on legal vernacular, the professional conduct of a courtroom translator, and state court test preparation. Likewise, medical translation certification focuses on medical vernacular and professional conduct as a translator in a hospital or other medical setting. Conference translation certificate programs prepare candidates for translating at conferences and seminars. These certificate programs vary in time commitment and cost, but most are designed for the professional student and take place at night or in one to two week commitments over a period of one to two years.

While finding, applying, and choosing a translation program seems impossible, over the next few posts I will break down each category: translation studies, literary translation, legal translation, medical translation, and conference translation, as well as descriptions of the top translation programs in the United States.

I hope that you might find this information helpful for your own research, and, of course, if you have any tips, questions, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to comment or email!


  1. Would you mind posting (or emailing me) where the Translation MFA programs can be found? I’ve long wondered about this. Thanks!

  2. Is there a way to apply to work as a translator for the ALTA? I’m fluent in Arabic, French and English languages. Thank you.

  3. I am looking for an opportunity to be trained in translation and interpretation. I have already learnt on the but I now need a degree program to upgrade my abilities.


  4. Hello
    I’m Ibtihal looking for an opportunity to be trained in interpretation esp.simultaneous intepretation.I’ve got a PhD in Translation but need more training to upgrade my abilities.please if there are any programmes or courses on interpretation esp,simultaneous let me know!!
    Thanks FOR HELP

  5. now i want to take program to be translater but i need more trained in english language and i want this program online in saudi arabia and cost of this program can you help me
    Thanks FOR HELP

  6. I am interested for translation and interpretation study in the US. I have completed my Masters’ Degree in English Literature with theses in translation. I have also translated three books of translation from Nepali to English and English to Nepali. Please suggest me what must I do and where and how shall I contact? Best regards Ramchandra

  7. Could you please kindly inform me about admission in Ph.D level of us universities? I have my BA in English literature and 2 MAs one linguistics and the other in Teaching Prsian.


  8. Thanks for the informative article and comments. I wonder if they offer a Ph.D program in Translation Studies in Emirates or not? Can you give me some information or introduce a website about it?

  9. Hi Jes,
    Like Rachael, I’m wondering where the following posts are? I’m an undergrad considering graduate studies in translation and I would really like to learn more about the different opportunities and programs that are out there! Any information you could send me or any website or other resource you could direct me to would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  10. Is there any Chinese-English translator (not interpreter) training program offered online? Any online literary translation program?

  11. Do you have any agreement with the Mexican CONACYT, since they offer scholarships and I am interested. Thank you.

  12. Which is the best translation school for french language? What are the criteria and the procedure to apply? I am a little lost.

  13. Hi everyone, I am looking for a MA in interpretation and Translation in USA. do they offer any scholarships for international student and what universities are the best… I am looking more for conference translation or smth related to tourism and hospitality.. any recommendations? I am fluent in Russian, Romanian and English

  14. My name is Roya Docarmo and I am studying in the UK, at Leeds Metropolitan University. I am to carry out research for a university project, and the question is ‘what interpreting courses are available online or in a class room to the spanish speaking community in North America’, due to the amount of States I am struggling. Do you have any information that may help with my research? Also, is there anywhere I can go online to ask the people who have used these courses, how useful they were? I would appreciate any help! Thank you.

  15. Thank you deeply. I really appreciate how you have categorized the plethora of information of grants, schools, and distinctions between different programs ie: certificates vs. degress available on this site.

  16. Hello,
    My name is Juliette. I am trilingual in French (native tongue), English and Spanish. I have a BS in Communication Studies and Spanish. I currently work in Human Resources but would like to reorient my career by going back to school and obtaining a Master’s degree in Translation. Do you have any information for me regarding such programs in SF and the Bay area? Is it possible for me to start a Masters Program without any professional experience nor education in Translation? I greatly appreciate any help and advice you can provide. Thank you in advance.

  17. Hi, my name is Pamela and I’m from Argentina. I’m currently studying Translation here in Buenos Aires but I was thinking about getting my degree in United States. Is there any way to do that? Or would I have to start over?
    Thanks in advance!

  18. I have already finished my Master Degree Studies in Translation and Interpretation. Languages that I work on are: English, Albanian and Italian. I would like to know if there is any possibility to be enrolled in one of US University Phd programs that provides such service fro the above mentioned languages.

  19. I’d be very much obliged to you if you tell me how much does it cost
    me to get my MA degree in Translation and Interpreting (Arabic into
    English and vice versa.
    My regards,

  20. Hello! I’m hoping to go into a translating career (not sure how specific yet) and I was wondering where would a good place to go for an undergrad that also has a good study abroad program. I’m looking at learning Chinese and then possibly going on to another language. Is it a good idea to stick with just one language or branch out? Thanks!

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