See Careers in Neuroscience for information about what you can expect to do with different degrees.
Applying for a Graduate Degree in Neuroscience
Spring/Summer junior year: Study for GREs, begin looking for programs.
Prior to August, before senior year: Take GREs (submit scores to early admissions programs, and allow time to retake before Dec deadline).
August-September prior to senior year: Decide on programs. Contact references and provide them with the necessary information.
October-November of senior year: Work on your personal statement and submit applications.
December-January of senior year: Prepare for interviews by learning more about the faculty’s research at the programs where you applied.
Most graduate programs have application deadlines in early December, prior to matriculation the following fall. You will usually be notified in February or March of their decision and you will need to notify the schools of your choice by April 15.
Many programs have rolling admissions and start accepting applications by October, the fall of your senior year.
Taking the GRE:
The GREs (General and subject-Bio or Psych) are usually required and you must plan to take the GREs early enough to have the scores sent to the programs before their application deadlines. At test time, arrange to have your scores sent directly to schools where you will be applying.
This table is taken from the GRE website: http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/scores/get/
Score reports will be sent to you and the recipients you designate according to this schedule:
Computer-based revised General Test Dates
Approximate Score Report Mailing Dates and View Scores Online Dates
August 1, 2011 – September 8, 2011
November 8, 2011
September 9, 2011 – October 2, 2011
November 10, 2011
October 3,2011 – October 15, 2011
November 17, 2011
October 16, 2011 – November 18, 2011
December 1, 2011
November 19, 2011 – November 28, 2011
December 8, 2011
November 29, 2011 or later
10 – 15 days after the test date
Choosing a PhD program:
Selecting a graduate school is very different from selecting an undergraduate school. The focus of your academic life will be research. Therefore you will want to first decide what area of research you are most interested in and what type of neuroscience you want to become an expert in. Consider what you find fascinating (enough to sustain you through long hours of work), what skills you want to have for your future career (e.g. molecular techniques, anatomy, neurophysiology, etc.).
The essential difference in applying to graduate school is that you often directly choose the laboratory or faculty with whom you would like to work, rather than choosing the school itself. Applying to a particular school is often the means to getting into your lab of choice. However, given that labs may be full and you cannot count on any particular lab unless you’ve been in communication with that lab head, you also want to select a program that has several labs you’d be committed to working in. Larger programs often have more options.
You can find labs and faculty members by reading literature reviews in the field you’re interested in and seeing who is cited. Then, look up their names online.
You can do a search for the research topics that interest you and see who is cited in those research areas.
Links to information on graduate programs:
The Society for Neuroscience has a useful link about how to select a neuroscience graduate program. This is one of the major professional societies in Neuroscience and you should be aware of their links and resources.
Searchable database and links to programs:
Information about program rankings:
Degrees required for entry into PhD programs:
You can apply to a PhD (“doctoral” program) with just an undergraduate degree. Some PhD programs allow you to get a Master’s degree after your 2nd year in the program (“enroute Masters”) and then complete your graduate degree with a PhD. Other PhD programs have specific requirements for a Master’s degree that you may/may not be required to complete before obtaining your PhD. The Graduate Center at CUNY does not grant Masters degrees to PhD students in, for instance, the Biology-Neuroscience or Psychology-Neuropsychology Subprograms.
If you know you’d eventually like to have a PhD rather than a Masters as your final degree, it’s usually in your best interest to apply directly to PhD programs. For many PhD programs, students entering with a Master’s degree do not have to complete any fewer requirements to obtain their PhD than students entering with a BA/BS degree would start.
Asking for letters of recommendation for graduate school:
Contact faculty members who 1) know your research abilities and 2) know your academic abilities. Send them an email that includes the following information:
- The schools you’re applying to and their application deadlines.
- Whether the school requires an online form for a letter of recommendation or a hard copy letter.
If the school requires an online form, supply the link for your letter-writer.
For hardcopy letters:
For each school provide for your letter writer:
- The official name of the person or office to whom the letter is addressed. Often this is “Graduate Admissions Committee.”
- The complete mailing address.
- The exact name of the Program or Department you’re applying to (for instance “Subprogram in Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience”). Many universities have multiple, similar-sounding Neuroscience-related graduate programs, each with separate admissions committees.
You can find this information on the website for the school you are applying to.
Your letter writer will be writing a formal business-style letter so will need the correct names and addresses. Do not simply refer them to a link for the program.
If the school requires a hard copy letter on official letterhead, also let your letter-writer know whether you will pick up the sealed, signed, letter or whether the letter-writer is to mail the recommendation directly.
Paying for graduate school:
Nearly all PhD programs, rarely Masters programs, offer financial support as part of their admissions package. This is not a loan, but is your salary while in graduate school. You don’t have to pay it back. In addition, you can also seek out the school’s financial aid office to find out about low interest graduate school loans that do not require payback until you have completed your degree.
Financial support packages (primarily for doctoral programs) usually come from the Department and usually require you to teach a certain number of hours per week while in graduate school. You may also be funded off the grant of the lab head whose laboratory you join, if they have a salary line for students on their grant.
Do not assume that universities with high undergraduate tuition will be expensive. Often these schools provide high graduate salaries for doctoral students who are teaching. These are also often the more competitive programs.
What is the difference between Neuroscience programs in Biology Departments, Psychology Departments, Neuroscience Departments, and Medical Schools?
Neuroscience programs may be housed in Psychology or Biology Departments if the university does not have a Neuroscience Department. They may also be within Medical Schools. Usually the primary difference in the program is the coursework and whether introductory courses are Intro Bio or Intro Psych courses. Different schools have very different curricula to see what your academic requirements will be. Also, your PhD degree will be either in Psychology, Biology, or Neuroscience depending on where the neuroscience program is housed. Your research itself will be determined by the laboratory you’re in, regardless of the department housing the program, and regardless of the home department of your faculty laboratory head.
For example, at CUNY, there is a Neuroscience doctoral program in the Biology Department and several Neuroscience doctoral programs in the Psychology Department.
Research experience prior to applying to graduate school:
There are two aspects of research that will be most impressive to graduate admissions committees: 1) Productivity: Research that results in conference presentations or co-authorship on a publication demonstrates dedication of your time, your interest in seeing research through to the end, and your ability to trouble shoot problems that arise. All of these attributes are critical for success in graduate school. 2) Type of research: If you are working in an area that you would like to continue in graduate school, you will be bringing immediately useful knowledge and skills to your new lab. Consider that you may be bringing experience with techniques that the lab head will now not have to teach you, or you may be bringing knowledge the lab head would like to include in his/her program. In addition to dedication to whatever research you conduct as an undergraduate, also look forward to what your skills and knowledge can bring to graduate school.
It is usually more important to have demonstrated dedication to any single line of research than it is to have skill sets from more than one lab. In other words, the ability to perform at a higher level in one area is considered to be more important than performing at a lower level in multiple areas.
Writing your personal statement:
Follow the directions exactly. Different schools will ask for different information. Focus on your research experience, significant findings, the type of research you would like to pursue in graduate school and your professional goals. Tailor each personal statement to each school, although it usually means just changing the program name and perhaps the focus of your research at that university to match the research of faculty members in the program.
Resources for the future neuroscientist:
This site provides information about joining professional societies: http://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/resources-for-future-neuroscientist.aspx
If you are considering applying to medical, dental or pharmacy school, or other health professions, after graduating with a Neuroscience Major, click here to be directed to the Health Professions Advisory Services at Queens College.