|Diversity in Biology
Biology is a huge field with a lot of diversity, ranging from the study of biologically significant atoms to the study of entire ecosystems. Biologists are also employed in a lot of different fields. An example of this range of work includes: working on engineering bio-molecules, working on forensic crime scenes, studying the taxonomic relationships of spiders, investigating exotic diseases, teaching science courses, helping local governments make ecological decisions, working in museums, practicing medicine, running diagnostic labs, studying animal habitats in the rain forest canopy, and planting indigenous plants in a devastated ecosystem.
With such a variety in careers, it is not surprising that there would be a large variety in academic training. Many of these fields have very specific post-graduate programs, such as Medical school, Optometry, or Veterinarian medicine. Some biology careers such as pharmaceutical sales, technical writer, or laboratory technician require no formal post-graduate education. However, the majority of professional biology careers that are not health related require post-graduate degrees, either a Masters degree (M.S.) or a doctorate degree (Ph.D.).
This guide is intended to inform you about graduate programs and how to apply to them. This guide does not substitute the important advice one can receive from a school advisor or someone working in your field of interest. The graduate school search also provides a great source of specific graduate school information. Use the e-mail and URL links found on the graduate school information page to find out more information directly from a specific programs website. Remember that graduate schools are receptive to interested students. E-mail programs and get in contact with program faculty members to find out additional information.
|What Is It Like In Graduate School?
This is a typical question for many students looking into pursuing a graduate degree. Students are generally familiar with only their undergraduate curriculum and do not know how it compares with life in graduate school. Graduate school is definitely different, and the experience can vary greatly from school to school and also from department to department. Please keep this variability in mind when reading the following descriptions. Hopefully this information will give you a good idea of what to expect. Other ways you can get information of what to expect is to read the program’s brochure, visit the school, and e-mail or talk to current students in the program.
Masters (M.S. Degree) Programs:
Many graduate departments have a Masters program. Some have a distinct Masters program and others are in combination with a Ph.D. program. Some Ph.D. programs give a Masters degree to students after their second year, however this practice has decreased since programs would lose their investment by providing Ph.D. stipends to students receiving only a Masters degree.
The typical Masters program usually requires approximately nine graduate courses during two academic years. About half of these courses will be formal courses related to the program of study. These courses will be required of all students in the program. Testing in these classes can be very challenging and require essay questions. There are also slots open for elective courses, during which students can focus on specific subjects of interest.
Graduate school classes are much smaller than undergraduate courses and often less structured. Classes tend not to be based off textbooks, but scientific journal articles. Students are often required to attend departmental seminars. Student may also have to attend a journal club for a couple of terms. During the duration of the program, students must maintain an average grade of a B. Not meeting this requirement leads to either probation or failing the program.
Programs also take an approach where students will be required to experience public speaking. This may take the form of a journal club, seminar, or teaching a class. In addition, students are required to be a teaching assistant for at least one quarter (or semester). Teaching assistantships vary greatly and can range from grading papers to running an undergraduate lab alone. Depending on the requirements, this may take a lot of time. Whatever the situation, it is best to make the most of it. Even if you do not go into a teaching job, you will have teaching responsibilities in any career. Another perk of the assistantships is they provide some income (or offset tuition), which helps a lot during this difficult financial period.
Masters students need to choose a lab in which to do their masters thesis work. This may include an interview where the professor of the lab decides whether they want to take a student into their lab. Once accepted into a lab, the student will work with the professor to devise a research plan that will be their thesis work. Much of the last year is devoted to working on their research project and writing their thesis based on the work. After writing the thesis, students have to defend their thesis work in front of a thesis committee.
Much of the last year in a masters program is spent with one's own research project and the writing of a thesis based on this work. At the end of this road is an oral defense of the thesis work. The thesis committee judges the oral defense based on whether the student understands the material, has discovered something new, and whether the student become an expert in the field. A student’s thesis work may also lead to publishing a scientific paper but is not a requirement.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Programs:
The Ph.D. degree has traditionally been considered the most prestigious formal academic achievement. Students can enter a Ph.D. program from either an undergraduate or Masters Program. Students coming from a Masters program or another program may be asked to take a few courses to match the requirements of the program.
Everyone attempting the Ph.D. program is likely to be required to take an oral preliminary examination, to determine competency for beginning doctoral research. At some schools the topics covered during this exam are directly related to the student's proposed research topic. At other schools students may have to present a topic that is different from their own research topic. During the oral examination faculty members may ask a much wider range of questions to ascertain whether the student has the skills to tackle original research topics of any kind.
After formal admission to doctoral candidacy, most of a student's time is spent on their research topic. Research in graduate school is typically done independently. It is up to the student to decide how to proceed and to get the work done. One does not have to clock in and out, and the principle investigator (PI) rarely tracks how many hours one puts in. However, progress toward completing ones thesis is required. The student is their own boss, having to manage their time and getting the job done.
Students are also provided their own lab space, which generally will include a lab bench for research and a desk for reading articles and writing. Depending on the labs resources, students may have the freedom to order instruments and reagents. Students will also have access to departmental instruments and other resources to help in their research. The end goal of your research is determined through discussions between yourself and the principle investigator.
The typical program ranges from 4 to 7 years. This broad range is dependent on a number of factors:
1) Research progress has a high variability (failed experiments, hypothesis not panning out, etc.)
2) Certain fields require a more detailed story to be submitted for publication then others.
3) Variability in agreements between student and professor as to what is required to finish the degree.
4) Length of experiments may vary depending on model organism used.
During the research process a student may succeed in writing several publications in scientific journals. However, the sum of all their research is described in the book-length dissertation. The actual process of writing the dissertation may take several months, depending on the percentage of time devoted to it. The complete piece is submitted to the PI and the thesis committee. They review the dissertation and make comments during the thesis defense.
The thesis defense is an oral examination usually consisting of what the student has accomplished during their thesis research. They typically examine the dissertation and ask many probing questions. This is the moment for the student to shine. At this moment the student should be the expert in his/her field; most times knowing more then the PI. The committee typically asks what type of future experiments one would do. It is highly unlikely for the student to fail this examination, since the student and PI should have an understanding of the progress before pursuing the thesis defense.
After the thesis defense, most programs require a public defense where the student gives a presentation of their research. Family and friends are welcome to attend and there is usually a party afterwards to celebrate the achievement.
| Likelihood of Success in a Graduate Program
How hard is graduate school? This depends on both the student and the graduate program. There are many things one can do to increase the likelihood of success, such as making a realistic work schedule (working only 40 hours a week will ensure a longer time in graduate school), working on weekends in order to keep experiments on the correct timeline, and having a good relationship with co-workers, which enables a good working environment and people to bounce ideas off of.
Don’t worry, most good students who are admitted to a graduate program and are dedicated to finishing their degree will finish. The main stumbling block for most students who drop out is motivation. It is not unlikely for Ph.D. programs to have a rather high dropout rate. Some of the reasons for such a high rate are:
Length of commitment (~6 yrs)
Low pay compared to peers
Projects that fail
Tough scientific competition
Someone else beating you to the discovery.
Change in career interests
|Value of a graduate education
If earning a lot of money is your goal, a science graduate degree is not the best choice. Pursuing a business or law degree would be a better option. It is the love of discovering, understanding the mystery of life, and delving into the unknown that draws individuals into the biology field. People work in biology because they love what they do, and that is worth much more than how much money one has.
Therefore, the first general question one has to ask themselves is, “Do I want to have a career in biology?” If the answer is “Yes”, then the next decision after an undergraduate degree is to whether to pursue an advanced degree. This is not an easy decision, and an advanced degree may not be best for many. It is wise to get as much information as possible and weight the cost and benefits.
A typical question potential graduate students (and some already in graduate school) ask is, “Why would someone want to go through the trouble and agony of pursuing an advance degree and is it worth it?” Hopefully this advice will provide you with more information and the answer to your questions.
A main fear students tend to have is that pursuing an advanced degree will delay starting a career from 2 to 7 years. This is compounded by the low income students get while in school. In addition, an advanced degree does not ensure a job. In fact, having a higher degree may actually decrease the number of jobs available for you. The job market in some biology fields can also vary over time. This is especially true for jobs positions that are dependent on governmental grants.
However, you have to look at the long term goal. Having an advanced degree will likely lead to a higher paying job. Although you may not be paid as much during your graduate studies as those working directly out of undergraduate school, our table below shows you how much graduate school will “pay off”.
|Years after B.S. Degree||B.S. Degree||M.S. Degree||Ph.D. Degree|
|Yearly Salary||Running Total||Yearly Salary||Running Total||Yearly Salary||Running Total|
|1||30000||30000|| || || || |
|2||31800||61800|| || || || |
|3||33708||95508||40000||40000|| || |
|4||35730||131238||42400||82400|| || |
|5||37874||169113||44944||127344|| || |
Having an advance degree will also put you in a position where you are more likely to manage others and direct projects. Some positions may even be closed to you unless you have an advanced degree. Therefore, it is important to have an idea of your end goal, in order to know whether an advanced degree is right for you.
|Picking the programs that are right for you
Using the graduate school search feature, prepare a list of at least a dozen graduate schools that interest you. Discuss this list with your school advisor or a biology faculty member whose research area most closely matches your interests. They should be able to help eliminate some schools from the list or add others. Faculty members in your department may also be able to arrange personal contact with either faculty or graduate students in the schools that you want to pursue.
Using your list, contact the programs you are interested in and request additional information. Remember that program catalogs are promotional items, they are trying to get you to apply to their program. Make sure you weed through the hype and get the facts.
You can also use this site to link to the programs that are of interest to you. Many of the programs have an immense amount of information that is kept up to date, and you can help save a tree by not requesting numerous catalogs.
It is also a good idea to start your own spreadsheet of the pros and cons of each program so that you can make the most informed choice of one of your most important life decisions.
Graduate programs can range from strictly basic research labs to more applied research found typically associated with medical schools. If you are quite sure that you want to do research with human health as your primary subject, a program in a medical school may be a better choice.
|Will a biology B.S. degree prepare me for graduate admission?
Completing a B.S. degree at an accredited school should prepare you for most graduate admission. However, it is impossible to specify a single set of courses that will completely prepare one for graduate admission. Generally speaking, completing a B.S. degree at an accredited school should prepare you for most graduate admission. It is important that you do careful class planning and use electives wisely. It is also a good idea to have available slots open during your senior year to fit in some extra classes if need be. Taking summer classes to free up more time in your schedule is also a good idea.
You apply during the beginning of your senior year, which is a great time to contact programs you are interested in to see if there are any deficiencies in your transcript. Nearly all graduate schools try to get all students on the same level during the first year of classes. Some schools will even allow entering students who are otherwise qualified to take one or two undergraduate courses in the first year, in order to rectify any "deficiencies". However, like with any application process, it is wise to put your best foot forward. So make sure your transcript reflects your love of the sciences.
Basic requirements (depending on type of degree):
Some other typical requirements:
Physics (can be non-calculus based)
|Visiting A Major University
Most Ph.D. programs require personal interviews. This is a great opportunity to get to know programs and to visit the schools. Masters degrees typically do not require personal interviews; however it is wise to visit the programs.
Keep in mind that even though a university is large in size, you will spend almost all of your working time in a single building and will interact with a relatively small group of faculty and graduate students. Therefore, investigate the specific place where you may be and don’t be taken in by the large size of the undergraduate campus. If the program does not have a formal visitation time or personal interviews, you will have to arrange visitation for yourself.
Before visiting a school, call the program administer or graduate admissions coordinator to help arrange your visit. They will help arrange a tour of the department’s facilities. It is also helpful to see if you can stay with graduate students. This provides an excellent opportunity to spend time with someone on the “inside”.
Consider all the time you spend at the program a long interview. While you are gathering information, others are gathering information about you. Professors will often quiz you on your plans and your background, and this could have an impact on whether they accept you into the program. Typically a visit to a program will consist of a long day of one-on-one interviews with around 5-6 professors. They will also talk about their research and expect thoughtful questions and a scientific discussion. Often students are given a list before they arrive of professors they will be talking with. In order to help your discussion of their research, you should investigate what these professors do.
If the program does not give you an itinerary, it is fair to ask the admission coordinator what to expect such as format of the interviews, schedule of visit, etc.
Dress code for the interviews is “Dress Casual”. Formal attire (suit and tie) is more normal for medical school interviews or applying for a job.
Things to tour:
- equipment that is available for use by the graduate students
- office space reserved for graduate students
- library facilities (proximity to labs, range of journals, electronic access to journals, books, space to study, etc)
- access to personal computers (almost all labs have plenty of computers now, some labs provide students with their own laptop)
- extras: bookstores, local restaurants and bars, transportation (shuttle bus, trains, etc), churches, parks, etc. Remember you may have to live here from 2-7 years.
Spend time talking to one or more graduate students. Students are a far better source than faculty members for many of the following questions. Ask if you can have an opportunity to talk to a student. If there is not a scheduled time, offer to treat a graduate student to lunch.
There is a lot of important information to gather about each school outside of program information. Some main questions to ask current graduate students are:
What is the availability of stipends and fellowships?
Are you able to live off the available stipend?
Where do students live and are the neighborhoods safe/nice?
What is the quality of life in the community outside the university?
How do they like the program, facilities, faculty, and student groups?
What are their impressions concerning prospects for employment after graduation and the involvement of faculty in helping them find jobs?
Are the faculty open to you going into alternative careers (science writing, patent law, government regulations, etc)?
What does the teaching assistant workload involve?
How is the overall relationships between graduate students and professors?
After your visit is complete, it is important to remember to send a short note or e-mail to thank whoever spent time with you on your visit. It is extremely important to send a note ASAP to any professor you had contact with, because some of them will be involved in the admission decisions.
Keep the following in mind when writing your thank you note:
- Your note does not need to be long, but keep it professional. Check spelling and grammar, and have someone proof read it. Remember, every interaction with them needs to be your best.
- Try to mention a conversation you had with them so that they will remember you from everyone else they talked to.
- If they talked about their research, mention it, such as, “Your description of the hedgehog pathway and fruit fly development was very interesting. It was fascinating how studying the development of the fruit fly could help us understand skin cancer.”
- Make sure you get the details correct. You don’t want to offend or appear not be interested in their research.
- Keep Thank You notes in mind when you are meeting people, and make mental notes (or physical ones) of what to include.
- Remember to actually state that you would love to be a part of their program. Don’t figure that it is implied.
|Financial Aid For Graduate Education
Tuition costs in graduate school are similar to undergraduate courses. However, most students will not have to pay these costs. Students can often get the tuition waived through a variety of avenues. Ph.D. programs usually provide complete tuition reimbursements, while the rest provide remuneration for services rendered such as teaching assistantships. In programs where there is no tuition reimbursement, repayable loans like those offered to undergraduate are available.
The most desirable aid is usually called a fellowship. Awarded to the most promising students (without regard to financial need), fellowships typically pay for all or most tuition and provide a cash living allowance ranging from around $10,000 to over $20,000 per academic year.
Some fellowships are awarded through national competition and may be used at any university you are accepted. The best known of these is the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, which provides about 900 students free tuition plus $30,000 per year (2004 figures). Only the very best students need apply, and only about 10% of applicants are winners each year. You can see the NSF graduate fellowship guidelines by clicking here. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute makes similar awards, for work specifically in biomedical research. (Unfortunately, the HHMI pre-doctoral awards program is being phased out, ending in 2008.)
A much larger number of fellowships are awarded by individual universities to their own graduate students. Most of the money channeled this way can be traced back to grants made by NSF or the National Institutes of Health to departments or senior researchers. In some cases, you must be working for a particular professor or research group to be eligible. The number of these positions available in a particular department is dependent on the federal budget and the ability of the department's faculty in applying for these grants.
Most graduate students will work for their money. There are various different positions available, such as research assistant, teaching assistant, teaching fellow, etc. These jobs generally require around 15 hours a week, depending on what is involved. The addition of a job to your schedule will probably reduce the amount of courses you can attend and increase the amount of time to complete a program. An assistant is normally charged a decreased tuition amount, or no tuition at all in addition to some cash payment. This amount will vary greatly, and is more dependant on the program than on your level of experience. The benefit to holding this kind of position is in receiving teaching experience, which is a valuable part of becoming a scholar.
Most graduate departments will provide at least one type of financial aid described above for the majority of students accepted into their programs. The wealthiest departments are able to provide financial assistant to all the students in the department.
In certain programs or fields of study, admission is dependent on the financial aid that will support you. This proves to be true in the “applied” biological sciences, such as agriculture, forestry, horticulture, and wildlife management, to name a few. These programs do not have undergraduates, and therefore teaching jobs are not available. The funding for these projects often comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and not from the university or program. If you are interested in this type of program, early communication with the department is very important.
The next type of aid is also the last resort. This type of aid would be though the various federal programs, such as Pell, Stafford, etc. This is the same type of loan you may have applied in undergraduate school. However, it would now be based on your income if you are considered independent of your parents (meaning if your parents pay less than half of all your expenses in a year that you attend graduate school).
Generally speaking, the odds are good that if you have what it takes to get into graduate school in terms of grades, GRE scores, and everything else needed, you will likely be able to have most if not all of the costs provided for without needing to find additional employment. (In fact most programs that provide full support do not allow outside employment.) It is still recommended that you apply for financial aid in case you need it. If you wait until you need it there may not be much available.
|The Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Scores on the Graduate Record Examination are among the documents needed as part of your application to most graduate school programs in biology and related fields. A recent survey indicated that nearly all programs require scores from the General Test and nearly half also require scores of the Subject Test.
It is recommended that you take the GRE as early as possible in your senior year, if not in the latter part of your junior year. By doing so, you give yourself the option of re-taking the test if the score is not as high as you wanted. If you re-take the test, the programs you’re applying to will receive all results, but will likely consider only the higher tests results. It will also makes the list of things to do during your senior year a little shorter. Another reason for taking the GRE earlier is for your financial aid applications. Many schools and universities require the complete application by the end of January.
The General Test is available by computer at certain test centers. The Subject tests are still done with paper and pencil. You should take the Subject Test in either November or December of your senior year to ensure that the results are back in time for your application to graduate schools. Click here to connect to the GRE's official Web site. The GRE’s official web site has great up-to-date information. Their FAQ page also has a lot of information.
The GRE Registration form is normally available during the summer before an academic year. Make sure you allow enough time for the GRE to process your application. If you are not positive you want to attend graduate school, it is still recommended that you take the GRE. The results are valid for five years, which is helpful if you decide to apply for a graduate program after some time has passed since your graduation. This way you will be taking the exam while you are still familiar with the material and have a better chance of receiving a higher score.
The cost of GRE General Test was $115 in the 2004-2005 academic year, and a Subject Test carried a $130 price tag. Seniors meeting certain financial-need guidelines may have these fees waived. Check your financial aid office for the possibility of this option.
The General Test asks questions from the three categories of analytical, quantitative and verbal in a multiple choice format. Every student hoping to acquire a graduate degree in any major takes the same General Test. The quantitative questions only cover the concepts that all college students have in their backgrounds.
There are currently two Subject Tests, out of eight offered, that are for programs in biology. They are “Biology Subject Test” and “Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Subject Test”. Contact the graduate coordinators of the programs you are interested in to determine which Subject Test they require.
The Biology Subject Test is also multiple choice and covers the topics: cellular and molecular biology, ecology, evolution, and organism biology. One recommended way to prepare for this test is to work through with your introductory biology text book chapter by chapter. Many of the question answers can be found in a typical freshman biology text and course. There are a large number of questions that will help analyze how you interpret a certain passage. These questions are designed to test how you process new material and the conclusions you draw from it. This may include diagrams, graphs and tables. A good way to prepare for this is doing your own research, during which time you get a lot of practice reading and analyzing results. Also, reading scientific journals and understanding how many scientific processes work is helpful as well.
It is unknown how much GRE scores influence graduate school admissions. Most schools look at the overall picture, and the percentage the GRE scores are taken into account vary greatly.
|Requesting Letters of Recommendation
For applying to both graduate school and fellowships, you will be asked to contact several professors or research supervisors for the purpose of soliciting letters of recommendation.
You will be required to provide between two to four letters. These letters should come from faculty members in the department of your undergraduate major, and it is sometimes appropriate to include at least one person from a related discipline (chemistry, physics, math). If you did any independent research you must have your supervising professor write one of the letters. Not including this letter will raise questions, since this person will be the best witness of your research practices and your scientific abilities. If for any reason you cannot get this letter, include an explanation in the application. Unless the graduate school specifically asks otherwise, it is not wise to obtain a letter from someone not in a science or math department, or someone not in an academic/research environment.
There are a couple different ways in which the letter is required by each program. Some graduate schools will simply ask for a composed letter, others will request a letter on a form provided by the school. The main content of the letter will include how the person knows you, the length of that relationship, and how they believe you will perform in a graduate program.
Do not hesitate to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation it is considered a part of their job and many considered it a pleasure to do so. It is also a positive reflection on your professor and the undergraduate school if you are admitted to a graduate school. Keep in mind that the letter of recommendation also comes with great responsibility. To help the professors that you have chosen, here are some recommended guidelines:
1. Always ask a professor if he or she is willing to write a positive letter for you. Do not assume that it is automatic for them to respond affirmatively. Reasons for a professor to decline include: not being able to honestly write a favorable letter, not believing that your contact was significant enough to provide material for the letter, or could not get the letter composed and sent in the time provided.
2. Be willing to sit with the professor and talk about your career plans, your experiences to date, etc. The better the professor knows you, the better the letter will be.
3. Professors get swamped with a lot of letter requests, so it is important that you provide them with enough time. Approach the professor in time to allow at least four weeks before he or she must send off the letters to beat the graduate school's deadline. Be sure that the writer knows the deadline date and is willing to beat that date. Send a friendly reminder at two weeks and the week before the due date. Don’t worry about offending them, they will likely welcome the reminder.
4. Unless the professor knows you quite well, provide them with some information about yourself to help them write their letter. Include the following:
- your full name.
- a list of the programs to which you are applying.
- your career aspirations.
- the science, physics, and math course you have taken and are currently taking. Note the courses that you took under the recommender, and their dates.
- your current grade point average (overall) and the grade point average for science courses.
- your GRE scores, if available.
- a description of any research experiences you have had, and any pertinent work and volunteer experiences.
- a list of any honors you have received.
- Anything that sets you apart from other applicants
- Any other information that you believe would help the writer.
5. Fill out your portion of the forms before you give them to the writer. Do so only by typing, even if you have to hire a professional typist. Neatness counts. If you can, get the electronic version of the form, fill in your information and e-mail it to the professor. They can then enter their information and print it out.
6. Provide the writer with appropriate envelopes, stamped. Type the addresses on the envelopes.
7. It is likely that you will be asking each writer for several similar letters for the multiple programs to which you are applying. Be sure that he or she knows this. If possible, provide all forms and requests simultaneously. If not, ask the writer to keep a copy of the first letter(s) to help shorten the time required to compose letters you request later.
Typically, you will be asked whether you want to waive the right to see a letter of recommendation. It is to your advantage to waive this right, since some readers of the letter will believe it to be more candid if you did not see it. If you are greatly concerned about the contents of a letter, perhaps this is an indication that you should reconsider using that person as a recommender.
|How Are Students Selected For Admission?
Each graduate program is different in their admission criteria. Admission committees are generally made up of faculty members of the program (another reason to get in contact with program faculty). Some general admission criteria are grade point averages (GPA) and GRE scores (General, or both General and Subject). They will also look at what classes were taken, reputation of the undergraduate school, letters of recommendations, application statements, research experience, published journal articles, and attendance to scientific meetings. In some smaller, less well-funded programs a student is admitted to work only with a particular professor or laboratory. In this case the applicant’s success will depend if the professor/lab has financial support for another graduate student.
One of the goals of your application should be to convey that you have the skills needed to succeed in the program, both intellectual and research skills. A good way to do this is to have research experience. This shows that you have experienced a research setting and enjoyed it enough to pursue it further. Many undergraduate schools have summer research programs that you may apply to be a part of. This not only displays that you are actively pursuing research, but you may get a chance to author a journal article on your results. Since the research will likely be short term, even a lower-tier journal article will reflect positively. This would also give you a chance to discuss research on a personal level and share with professors your approach to research.
There are other reasons that schools may or may not be accepting students that are out of your control. One example would be based on a financial basis, if the government has not approved a large enough budget to the NSF, programs may be accepting a smaller amount of students. Keep this in mind when applying to specific programs. Very prestigious programs will have a higher number of competitive students applying for their slots.
Generally, those with an overall grade point average of 3.5 or above, score well on the GRE, have good research experience, and obtain good letters of reference, will be competitive at the best schools. Most students with a grade point average of at least 3.0 will find a good graduate program willing to admit them. Those with an average below 3.0 may have difficulties getting into a graduate school; however, with very good GRE scores and letters of recommendations students may be able to get in schools under a “probation” type status.
No matter what grades and scores are you should always apply to several schools, ranging from the minimal that you would consider attending to at least one that you think is normally above your reach. Don’t apply to so many schools that you stretch yourself too thin. Remember to aggressively pursue the admissions process, and to give your very best to each application. Don’t waste your time and the time of the admissions committee by giving a mediocre or half-hearted attempt.
|Time Table And Checklist For Applying
The following is the typical time table you should follow to enter graduate school in the Fall quarter following graduation. However, take caution, as every program has its own requirements and deadlines. Please make sure you are in communication with admissions in order to meet specific deadlines and fulfill the necessary requirements.
Junior Year (Undergraduate)
- Do some serious thinking about what careers you are interested in.
- Talk to biology faculty about careers and graduate schools.
- Get in contact with and talk to individuals in the careers you are interested in.
- Take biology elective courses in areas of potential interest to you.
- Start thinking about who you would like to write your letters of recommendation. If you don’t have four people picked out, start scouting out possibilities and try to set up relationships. You want the writers to know who you are.
- Continue thinking about and discussing career choices.
- Talk with biology faculty about the possibility of doing independent research during summer between junior and senior years.
- Ask advisor or faculty member if there might be any classes that might be missing for graduate school admission.
- Finalize plans on doing independent research project.
- Continue to communicate with the 4 professors who will write you positive letters of recommendation.
- Consider taking the General Test of the GRE, although this early date (April) is optional. If you decide to take it now, register before mid-March.
- Continue to think very hard about career options. Go on informational interviews with individuals in the careers you are interested in.
Summer between Junior and Senior Years:
- Continue to think very hard about career options (notice trend).
- Do an independent research project.
- Register for the October GRE test date.
- Begin studying for the Biology Subject Test of the GRE, if you need to take it in November.
- Obtain graduate catalogs and department brochures from schools that emerge as possible choices.
Entire senior year:
Take remaining required and elective biology courses.
October: Register for the December GRE, if you decided to take the two GRE portions on separate dates.
November: Take the GRE General Test, and if required, the appropriate subject Test.
- take the GRE if registered.
- If still undecided, use part of the Holiday break to visit schools.
Mid-December: Receive GRE scores from November test (if paper test taken, as with Subject Tests).
November or December (depending on deadlines):
- Make final decision on which schools to apply to, and begin filling out application forms and financial aid forms.
- give chosen faculty members forms and envelopes for letters of recommendations.
- request the mailing of all undergraduate transcripts to the graduate schools. Request this from the registrar’s office of each school you have attended, even if for only one course.
- Get your applications into the mail in order to beat the deadline by at least a week. Send by overnight mail if necessary.
- Two weeks after applications are sent: call or write the graduate school department office, ask whether all application materials have arrived safely. If not, chase down whatever is still missing.
Mid-January: receive GRE scores from December test (if paper test taken, as with Subject Tests).
March, April: receive acceptances from multitudes of top-ranked graduate schools.
April 15: due date (for many schools) for you to send responses to schools that have accepted you.
- Identify whether you can take a summer rotation in a lab
- If you want to room with a fellow graduate student, call program coordinator to see if there are students looking for a roommate.
Note: If you unfortunately do not get accepted to your schools of choice, you can either try the following year, or try a smaller, less known program. Some graduate schools continue to accept students well into the summer, but most of these do not carry offers of financial aid.