Frequently Asked Questions

The Biology Graduate Program receives approximately 160 applications per admissions cycle (once a year).

A completed application consists of:

Online application form with biographical and academic information, personal statement and CV. 

Transcripts of undergraduate and graduate work.

Three letters of recommendation.

TOEFL or IELTS scores (for international students). Requirement can be waived for candidates who graduate with a Bachelor's degree from an institution whose primary language is English.

Details on requirements and submission process can be found on the Application Information web page.

A strong background in biology and math is also recommended. In addition, it is strongly recommended that students have some research experience prior to applying to the program.

In our admissions process, the Committee reviews the student's entire profile, not just test scores.  Factors taken into consideration during the admissions process includes academic history, research experience, recommendations, test scores, goals, and how these goals can be met by the department.  Therefore, we do not have a cut-off score for admissions.   

For assistance on the TOEFL exam, including free practice tests, you can visit

Yes, it is recommended that you contact the Biology faculty members with whom you wish to work.  It is an opportunity to discuss your academic background and readiness for graduate work.   Their input is also helpful in the Admissions Committee review.   

In addition, please list your research interest and the faculty members with whom you would wish to work on your application. 

Yes, The Biology Graduate Program and the Biology Graduate Group has a strong presence of international students, staff and faculty from countries around the world.  The Biology Graduate Program does not put a quota on the acceptance of international students.   In addition, international students are funded through many of the same mechanisms as US citizens - Educational Fellowships, Research Fellowships, and Teaching Assistantships.

Though based in the Biology Department in the School of Arts and Sciences, the Biology Graduate Group is comprised of faculty from other departments and affiliated academic institutions, such as the Perelman School of Medicine, Penn Vet School, and Wistar Institute. Thus, the students have a wide range of research opportunities within the program.

Research is started early, after two semesters. Students can choose from a diverse array of topics, such as genetics, molecular biology, cell and developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, behavior and ethnology, ecology, population biology and evolution.  

Our lists of recent dissertations topics and research interests of our current graduate students provide evidence of the variety and scope of the research projects undertaken by the students in the Biology Graduate Program.

Yes, the Biology Graduate Program will invite selected applicants in the continguous US to visit Penn sometime in mid-February. During this day, new students will meet with faculty and students to learn about Penn, the Biology program, and what it is like to be a student at Penn.

In addition, prospective applicants may contact the Graduate Coordinator or any faculty member with whom they wish to work about a visit to Penn. Every effort will be made to accommodate your request for a visit to the department and various labs in this department.

The Biology Graduate Program stresses a close interrelationship between students and faculty, a strong grounding in fundamentals, and an early emphasis on research.  Students undertake lab rotations in their first year to gain experience with different research approaches and acquaint themselves with different research environments.  Teaching experience is also included as part of graduate training to prepare students for an academic career.   Students also participate in departmental seminars, journal clubs, and the annual department retreat.

The Biology Graduate Program offers a doctoral degree only. Requirements for the PhD include:

  • a minimum of 7 required courses, additional courses are sometimes recommended by the advising committee
  • 3 lab rotations
  • 1 year of teaching
  • bioethics workshop
  • successful evaluation of academic performance during second year
  • successful completion of candidacy exam (end of second year)
  • oral defense of dissertation
  • written thesis

Detailed Information about these requirements can be found in the Student Handbook.

There are no language requirements.   

All Biology graduate students are fully supported either by educational fellowships, teaching assistantships, training grants, or research fellowships. Students earn a stipend ($40,500 for the 2023-2024 academic year), health insurance, and tuition benefits. Funding is guaranteed for the first five years as long as a student remains in good academic standing and research is progressing at a satisfactory pace. Students may apply for additional funding beyond five years if necessary.

Currently, the completion time to degree averages 5.8 years.   

Housing, both on- and off-campus, is available for graduate students. On campus, the University offers a newly redesigned residential building, The Accolade. For information about on-campus living, please visit Penn Residential Services for Graduate Students.

Because of its urban location, there is a vibrant community right next to campus with various types of rental properties (room, apartments, and homes). Most rentals are within walking distance to Penn as well as to supermarkets, shopping districts, and night life. For detailed information on housing offered in the neighborhoods surrounding the Penn campus, please visit Off-Campus Services.  

The Biology Graduate Group has approximately 55-60 graduate students.  The Biology Graduate Group, though based in the Department of Biology, is comprised of faculty members not only from the Department of Biology, but also from other departments and schools in the University, including Psychology, Anthropology and faculty from the Medical School. In addition, there are also members of the Biology Graduate Group from other affiliated academic institutions such as the Wistar Institute and the Stroud Water Research Center.