Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a list of questions commonly asked by prospective applicants to the Bioinformatics and Genomics (BG) graduate program.

I have questions about general admission not specific to the Bioinformatics and Genomics program. Who should I ask?

For questions about general admission, go to the PSU Graduate School FAQ page, which provides answers to the common questions asked by prospective applicants. If you don’t find an answer to your question, you may submit questions by clicking the blue "Request Help" tab on the right margin of that page.

Are there any prerequisite of courses for your MS program?

The Bioinformatics and Genomics master's program is designed as a training program. Students entering may have a strong Biology background or a strong Computational background, but often do not have strong experience in both areas. The application will provide you with the opportunity to describe your experience, interests, and motivation.

Should I apply for the MS or PhD program?

There are both MS and PhD degrees via Bioinformatics & Genomics. Whether to apply for MS or PhD program depends on your career goals. The MS program can be the best option for some people depending on their career goals. If you're ultimately interested in a PhD program, then the best is to apply directly to that. But as a PhD student you receive a competitive stipend and you do not have to pay tuition, whereas for the MS you pay tuition and don't receive a stipend. We do have the ability to switch someone from PhD to MS consideration during the evaluation process.

Do you provide an interim master’s degree after completion of first two years of PhD?

It is possible to receive a master’s degree along the way to the PhD, but not common. Although the course work is nearly identical for PhD and MS students in the Bioinformatics and Genomics program, completing the MS degree would require a separate and distinct thesis, defended and submitted, before moving on to the PhD research. Most students go forward with the exams and research for the PhD without pausing for the MS.

I would like to apply to the Bioinformatics and Genomics program. I find some faculty’s research work interesting for me. Should I contact the faculty before my application?

Our program is rotation-based in the first year, meaning that each student conducts three rotations, selected from among the 80 research labs managed by the faculty in our program of eight weeks each in duration, before identifying the mutual best-fit lab to join for the remainder of duration in the program and for the full dissertation work. We do ask in the application for you to discuss the research of three potential advisors from among our faculty and why you might be excited to work with them, although what you record there is not binding in terms of what labs you ultimately decide to do rotations in. It's great to communicate with faculty ahead of time but it is not necessary (or possible) to be 'accepted' by a faculty member in advance --for this program your application is reviewed at the program level, and then students do rotations in the first year to help them finalize the lab decision.

Your website mentions that there are NIH training programs. Is it possible to participate in the NIH programs you offer as a master student?

The NIH training programs are for PhD students only, but MS students do benefit because participation in the training activities is open to all.

I am a master’s student at Penn State. Now I have decided to apply for a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics and Genomics at Penn State to continue learning more in this field. What is the application process?

As a current PSU graduate student, you will use the "change of major/degree" application found here. When you are signed in, this will bring up your original application. Within the application, you will indicate that you DO plan to complete your current degree. Please contact, Jean Pierce ( for details.

What is the average time to completion for the PhD program?

The average time from entry into the program to graduation is right around 5 years.

Is there a maximum amount of time to complete the MS or PhD program?

Yes. You must complete the MS degree within eight years from entering the program (but our program is designed to take one and a half to two years). You must complete the PhD degree within eight years from passing the Qualifying Exam (usually taken at the end of your first year of study).

Is there an abbreviation for Bioinformatics and Genomics?

The Bioinformatics and Genomics program is often referred to as “BG," but is officially abbreviated BGEN by the graduate school. BGEN is the code used for the application and for course work

Since it is mentioned in the application info page that the application review begins on November 15 and applications are accepted until December 11, is it a rolling application?

We do not have a rolling application/admissions process. Our application review begins on November 15 and applications received by then or prior to the final deadline can move forward more quickly, so that you have information from us earlier. If you are able to submit your application by November 15 (or as soon as possible thereafter), we encourage you to do so. However, all applications received by December 11 will still receive full consideration.

Can I apply for more than one graduate program?

No. You can only apply to one Penn State graduate program.

Do I have to send my official transcripts via post or can I upload them in the portal?

The short answer is you upload them in the portal. Please note that what is requested in the application is a copy of an official transcript. You should request a transcript (or e-transcript) from each school that you have attended and upload a scanned (pdf) copy into your application. The uploaded transcript should bear the name and mark of the institution and should not come from an unofficial/student advising copy. If you are offered admission and accept that offer, you will receive instructions for sending official documents to Penn State at that time. Please do not send us paper copies of your transcripts at this time.

Is the institutional letterhead required for recommendation letters? Is it possible for recommenders to use their personal emails?

Letterhead is not needed, as there is an option to type or paste the letter into a field in the recommendation form. On the email address, the preference would be for this to be set to the recommender's current institutional email address rather than a personal email address, but if they do not have a current institutional/ company email address then the personal email address is ok.

Are GRE scores required for the application?

The Bioinformatics and Genomics program neither requires nor requests GRE scores.

Will I be invited to interview after I submit my application?

Shortlisted candidates will receive an interview. Preliminary and international interviews are conducted by video conference. The Huck Institutes holds invited recruiting events in January. While these events are usually held in-person, we expect the 2021 program to be virtual. All application decisions are conveyed via email, using the university’s application system.

What if my email address changes after I apply?

Please notify Jean Pierce if you need to update your email address. It is recommended that you use an email address that is not your school email address when applying

My degree is from an institution outside the U.S. Can I apply to the Bioinformatics and Genomics program?

The best way to determine if your degree makes you eligible for admission to the Graduate School at Penn State is to use the “Minimum Requirements for Admission(by country)” tool found on the Graduate School’s Requirements for Graduate Admission web page.

Do I need to provide a TOEFL/IELTS score?

International applicants who have not earned a degree from a U.S. institution must submit official TOEFL/IELTS scores to Penn State, using institution code 2660. There are a few countries that are exempt from this requirement; they are listed on the Grad School’s Requirements for Graduate Admission web page. Minimum scores are listed there as well, but successful Bioinformatics and Genomics applicants typically have scores well above these minima.

Will 2020 deferral affect the admission number for 2021?

While we do not yet know for certain whether we might be asked to make a slight reduction in the number of offers we make this year, we are confident that we will be able to admit a strong cohort of students that continues the growth of our program.

I am having trouble scheduling a TOEFL or IELTS test due to the pandemic. What should I do?

The Graduate School at Penn State has made some provisions to accommodate additional versions of the TOEFL/IELTS tests that are being offered due to the pandemic.