How follicular helper T cells (T(FH) cells) differentiate to regulate B cell immunity is critical for effective protein vaccination. Here we define three transcription factor T-bet-expressing antigen-specific effector helper T cell subsets with distinguishable function, migratory properties and developmental programming in vivo. Expression of the transcriptional repressor Blimp-1 distinguished T zone 'lymphoid' effector helper T cells (CD62L(hi)CCR7(hi)) from CXCR5(lo) 'emigrant' effector helper T cells and CXCR5(hi) 'resident' T(FH) cells expressing the transcriptional repressor Bcl-6 (CD62L(lo)CCR7(lo)). We then show by adoptive transfer and intact polyclonal responses that helper T cells with the highest specific binding of peptide-major histocompatibility complex class II and the most restricted T cell antigen receptor junctional diversity 'preferentially' developed into the antigen-specific effector T(FH) compartment. Our studies demonstrate a central function for differences in the binding strength of the T cell antigen receptor in the antigen-specific mechanisms that 'program' specialized effector T(FH) function in vivo.