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Department of Biology

Graduate Program
How to Apply

Admission to our Graduate Program is granted jointly by the Penn State Graduate School and the Department of Biology.

Admissions Review Considering COVID-19 Disruptions

Biology evaluates applicants for admission holistically, meaning that we consider an applicant’s combination of personal accomplishments, letters of recommendation, personal statements, academic record, and supplemental materials in making our admissions decisions. Our admissions committee will take into account the significant disruptions and challenges associated with the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic when reviewing applicants’ academic transcripts, and other application materials as part of our ongoing practice of performing individualized, holistic reviews of each applicant.

As we review applications in future admissions cycles, we will respect decisions made by individual students and/or by their academic institutions with regard to the enrollment in or adoption of Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, Pass/No Record, Credit/No Credit, Pass/Fail and other similar grading options during the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. Applicants are invited to describe their individual experiences during the pandemic to provide context to inform the application review process. We also encourage students to include any research or internship opportunities, experiences abroad, or presentations/conferences that you were accepted into but were cancelled due to the pandemic. We strive to form future graduate student cohorts composed of intellectually strong, diverse, and resilient individuals who will make the most of their graduate education opportunities at Penn State.

The Graduate School does require non-English speakers to take the TOEFL examination and are aware that there may be challenges associated with taking and submitting examination scores. Please make us aware of any challenges that you face in meeting this Graduate School requirement.

You should also review the Requirements for Graduate Admission before applying.


Steps to Take (Domestic and International Students)

To apply, please complete the following by December 15th of each year for fall admission:

A. Complete a formal online application through the Penn State Graduate School (select Degree Admission). There is an application fee payable to the Graduate School. The Department of Biology uses five essay prompts in lieu of a personal statement.

  1. Provide the names and contact information for three references. We realize that in writing recommendation letters, recommenders often write a generic letter for most programs. If their letter does not already do so, the Department of Biology would like for them to address in a paragraph their thoughts about the potential for the applicant to be a future scientist. In particular, we value their evaluation of the future ability of the applicant to ask strong biological questions, design critical experiments, collect and analyze data, and draw biological conclusions from the data. Do you think that the applicant will be resilient when research difficulties arise? How do you think that the applicant will work as a member of a diverse team to help solve problems? A letter with superlatives is less helpful than a letter that provides facts about the applicant's academic and research experiences.
  2. Upload a resume or curriculum vitae.
  3. Upload a list of the Graduate Faculty with whom you are interested in working.
  4. Upload an official copy of transcripts (university records) from each institution of higher education attended as an undergraduate or graduate student. International transcripts must be submitted in both the original language and in English. Examples of documents that are not acceptable are: advising transcripts or a degree audit from a self-service website.
  5. The Department of Biology no longer evaluates GRE scores for admission to our graduate program.

B. International applicants must also submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) electronically to Penn State. Institution code: 2660.

Scores from the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) can be submitted in lieu of the TOEFL. Hard copy scores should be sent directly from the IELTS testing agency to Penn State's Graduate School at the following address:

The Pennsylvania State University
Graduate Enrollment Services
114 Kern Building
University Park, PA 16802


General inquiries may be directed to:

Graduate Program Coordinator
Department of Biology
208 Mueller Lab
University Park, 16802   USA
Phone: (814) 863-7034