Biological Sciences Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What degrees do you offer?
The Cell Biology & Biotechnology program offers three MS degree programs, the MS with thesis, the MS (non-thesis) and the MS (professional). The Cell & Molecular Biology program offers the PhD degree option.

Why is it called Cell Biology & Biotechnology or Cell & Molecular Biology? This sounds like multiple, separate degree programs.
Both programs are integrated degree programs that provide the student with background and experience in each of these fields. We decided to use a combined name because of the strengths and focus of our faculty, which often bridges these two areas.

Biotechnology is a broad field. How does your program differ from others?
Biotechnology has been with us since humans first made bread or beer. Different programs focus on food biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology, process engineering biotechnology, and molecular biotechnology. We focus primarily on the last, using molecular and genetic techniques to analyze and manipulate organisms. Different research programs emphasize studies of RNA, protein-DNA interaction, mammalian cell culture, plant tissue and cell culture, cloning of genes into novel host cells, and molecular analysis of a variety of organisms. Students will sample many of these through the courses required in the program and the research experiences.

What is the MS (professional) degree?
The MS (professional) is a non-thesis degree option that combines the core of the Cell Biology & Biotechnology program with courses from the MBA program. This prepares students with a combined science and business background to more quickly pursue a managerial track in industry.

Back to top

International Students

Do you accept international students?
We most certainly do. The admissions criteria are based on student performance and recommendations, not on an applicant’s national origin.

I am an international applicant and my instruction has always been in English. Do I still have to submit TOEFL, TWE and TSE scores?
It depends. If the official language of the home country and language of instruction is English, then these scores do not have to be submitted. We have found, however, that the English proficiency is quite variable in countries of south Asia (e.g., India, Pakistan). The TOEFL, TSE and TWE scores are required for applicants from these countries.

Back to top


Program Information

What courses do you require for entry?
Most of the students have background in at least genetics, biochemistry and microbiology, and many also have a cell biology course. Applicants should have taken at least two of these courses, with laboratory, or have significant work experience in these disciplines. We can provide remediation in each of these areas, but this is easier for the full-time student than those studying part-time.

You have both full-time and part-time study opportunities?
Yes. Each of the degrees can be earned with either part-time or full-time study. The part-time students are often pursuing the MS (non-thesis) degree and most full-time students are pursuing the MS (thesis) or PhD degrees. However, part-time students can work toward any of the degree options.

How are the MS (thesis) and MS (non-thesis) degree programs different?
The thesis degree is a research-based degree in which the student completes a research project with the guidance of one of the program faculty as a research adviser. The thesis degree requires a minimum of 20 didactic credits plus at least 10 research credits. The student completes the research process through writing a thesis summarizing the research and significant findings. The student is guided in this process by the adviser and a research advisory committee. The non-thesis degree is a course work only degree, requiring 36 didactic credits. There is no required research component, although the student can undertake a short-term research project with a faculty mentor.

What about the PhD degree?
The PhD degree is a research based degree with many similarities to the MS (thesis) degree. Students will pursue a novel idea that leads to a significant advance in knowledge. The PhD degree requires a minimum of 20 diactic credits plus at least 20 research credits. Each student has a research mentor/advisor and a research advisory committee.

How does a student choose a research adviser?
Early in the program of study, the Program Director registers the student for Introduction to Research. This course provides the opportunity to do laboratory rotations with two of the program faculty members. On the basis of this experience and interaction with the faculty in courses, the student asks one of the faculty members to serve as the research adviser. The faculty member must agree to take the student, and the decision to do so will be based on the faculty member’s time, space and resources available in the laboratory, and the experience in the rotation.

Back to top

Applying to the Program or Applying to Take Courses

What do I have to submit to apply for formal admission?
To apply for formal admission you are required to submit an application form and fee, official transcripts of all colleges and universities attended, official GRE scores, a curriculum vita or résumé, a statement of purpose for pursuing graduate studies, and three letters of recommendation from academic faculty members or employment supervisors. International applicants must also supply official TOEFL, TWE and TSE scores (or TOEFLiBT scores). We encourage international applicants to also submit an equivalency evaluation from World Educational Service or similar body.

What do I have to submit to apply to take a course before formal admission into the program?
Students wishing to begin the program without matriculation (course work only) must submit an application form, a statement of purpose for pursuing graduate studies, a curriculum vita or résumé, a copy of a college or university transcript, preferably showing graduation or likely graduation, and one letter of recommendation from an academic faculty member or employment supervisor.

Back to top

Financial Aid

What about financial aid?
Students who seek aid are generally full-time students pursuing their thesis degree, and there is priority to fund those who will be conducting research. As with the admissions, the financial aid offer is based on student credentials and recommendations. The decision to offer an aid package will be determined by the amount of money to support student positions in a given year, the strength of the applicant’s prior academic record, the quality of recommendations, and the GRE scores. Aid may be offered either as a monthly subsistence stipend accompanied by a tuition scholarship or an offer of a partial (1-4 credits) tuition waiver.

What do I have to do to apply for an aid package?
Indicate on the application form that you are seeking financial aid. If you do not indicate that you require aid, it is unlikely that an aid package will be offered, even after arrival at the University.

What do I have to do for the money in an aid package?
Students who receive aid are referred to as Graduate Student Instructors (GSI). These students assist in the educational process at the University by instructing in laboratories, doing preparatory work for the laboratory, assisting in laboratory and course development, assisting in the library, Central Stockroom, the Office of Sponsored Projects, or any of a variety of other duties. The number of hours per week expected is determined by the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies depending on the needs of the various programs and departments. You are not guaranteed to work solely for the program in which you are matriculated. At present, GSIs with stipend and tuition scholarship are required to provide 17 hours per week of service to the University plus proctoring in the home program. Partial tuition waiver students provide two hours per week of service for each credit waived.

Students who do not qualify for GSI funding and/or need additional funding may be eligible to receive federal loans. Students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and enroll in at least 5 credits. In addition, a student will need to complete Entrance Loan Counseling and a Master Promissory Note. If you have any questions, please contact the financial aid office at 215-596-8894.

Back to top

Entrance Exams

What do you require in the GRE?
We require that students take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test. We generally accept applicants who have scored at the 50th percentile level on each of the three subparts or higher. Applicants who are applying directly to the PhD program should generally have higher scores. A lower score in one area can be offset by a higher score in a different area, but the deviation should not be too large. International applicants often have a lower verbal score; this can be offset by a good to high TOEFL score. The language proficiency components of these examinations are important because of the number of presentations and writing exercises required of each student in the program.

What do you mean by 50th percentile?
When the official GRE scores are received, the applicant and institution are given both raw scores and a percentile rating. The percentile is an indication of how many of those who took the test in this time period scored below this particular effort. The raw scores that represent the 50th percentile can drift around over time, so we use the percentile rating to adjust for these variations. At present, the 50th percentile level for the Verbal Reasoning (=Verbal) subscore is 470; for the Quantitative Reasoning subscore, the 50th percentile level is approximately 620. The 50th percentile for the Analytical Writing subscore is approximately 4.5. To the extent possible, we follow the guidelines of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in using and interpreting GRE scores. Their guidelines can be viewed at

Are there any alternatives to the GRE requirement?
Yes. Those students who wish to start the program on a non-matriculated basis (typically part-time) are not required to submit GRE scores. However, upon completion of nine credits of courses in the program, we will evaluate the applicant without the GRE scores if the student has maintained a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher (4-point scale) and no course grade is less than B-. If the GPA is below 3.0 or a grade lower than B- is earned, the applicant must still take the GRE. Students who enter under this option will usually be expected to complete the MS degree before continuation to the PhD degree.

Back to top



Additional Questions?

For additional admissions information, please contact our graduate admissions counselors by phone at (215) 596-8556 or by e-mail at graduate [at] usciences [dot] edu.

(Back to top)