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Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains listing of questions and answers commonly asked by our prospective graduate students.
How do I apply to the program?
Application information and a link to apply to Penn State’s Graduate School can be found here.
How much emphasis is placed on GRE test scores, say in comparison to research experience and course work?
In science more emphasis is placed on the quantitative scores than the verbal scores. Generally we expect incoming students to fall above the 50% level for their GRE scores as an indication of likelihood of success in a graduate program. However, that said, GRE scores are not the only determinant. GPA, strong letters of recommendation and experience are all considered in the decision.
The GRE scores generally need to be in the 50th percentile or higher. Quantitative scores are usually more important than verbal scores. GPA needs to be 3.00 for junior and senior years. Strong letters of recommendation and a well-written Statement of Purpose are important as well. Exceptions are sometimes made in any one area (e.g. GPA) if other application materials are unusually strong (e.g. GRE).
How does the admission process work?
Generally, the way the process works in our department, is that a student applies and once all paperwork is completed, our departmental Graduate Programs Committee looks at the materials and makes a determination regarding admission. Then, a faculty member needs to indicate an abilty to serve as the student's advisor. Limitations for a faculty member will include funding and time; with funding usually the most difficult to address in recent years.
When is the application deadline?
There is no fixed deadline for applications, as we accept them on a continuous basis. However, in order for students admitted for Fall semester to be eligible for the limited number of departmental assistantships, all application materials need to be in the department by the first of January. This means, for all practical purposes, they should be in the department by around mid-December.
Can you send me a paper application?
No, paper applications are no longer accepted by the Graduate School. Applications must be submitted electronically.
Can the application fee be waived?
No, the application fee is a requirement of the Graduate School and the department is not able to waive this fee.
Do you supply / require forms for letters of recommendation?
No, we request plain text letters from your recommenders. The letters of recommendation do not have a particular format, but need to address in a fairly specific way the reasons for the recommendation. For example, if you worked in a laboratory of a faculty member writing a letter of recommendation for you, it would greatly strengthen the letter if that person can speak to your strengths she/he observed during that time. A general statement that a particular student was an outstanding student in a class carries less weight in a letter than does a statement about what it was the student did to demonstrate to the letter writer she/he was outstanding. Both academic ability and motivation are considered important characteristics.
I am a PhD student. What do I sign up for when my advisor says I need to take some research credits before my comprehensive exam?
As a PhD student, you are required to complete at least 12 credits of Research Credits as 600 (on campus) or 610 (off-campus) prior to scheduling your comprehensive.