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Graduate Program Application FAQ

Questions About Admissions

General Questions About GPA and GRE Scores

Questions About TOEFL Scores

Questions About the Neuroscience Program

Questions About Admissions

What undergraduate major should I have?

We will consider applicants with any undergraduate major, as many provide appropriate background for graduate training in neuroscience. Applicants from biology, neuroscience, psychology (experimental/biological or cognitive emphasis), physiology, and zoology backgrounds are common. Regardless of the specific major, it is recommended that applicants take advanced courses in biology (particularly cellular or molecular courses), chemistry or biochemistry, and math.

What classes should I take as an undergraduate?

While there are no required courses to enter the Neuroscience Program, here is what we have found provides the best preparation for graduate school in neuroscience:

  • Strong biology background, including cell biology, physiology, genetics
  • Neuroscience related courses, such as basic neurobiology, behavioral neuroscience courses (e.g., introductory biopsychology, learning and memory, drugs and behavior)
  • Strong chemistry background, up through biochemistry is considered excellent preparation
  • Math through at least one course of calculus, the more the better
  • Introductory statistics
  • Independent research with a faculty member


How important is my personal statement?

The personal statement is an important component of the application. You should outline your research interest and goals and how the Neuroscience Program at MSU and our training faculty will help you to achieve your long term career goals. It is also important to describe in your statement how you might contribute to a diverse community here at MSU and any obstacles that you have overcome in gaining your present level of education. Also describe in detail any prior research and/or laboratory experience (including a description of the research question, the methods used, your findings and conclusions). Include in the statement the names of 2-4 training faculty members whom you might like to work with and be interviewed by. We strongly encourage you to contact our training faculty at any stage in the admissions process, even before you have submitted an application. The identification of these faculty will not limit your choices of labs once you are here, but will help us determine whether there is a good match between your interests and our program. Please limit your personal statement to two pages.

Should I have research experience before entering graduate school?

You should have research experience before entering graduate school, if at all possible. Having research experience will help you to determine whether a research career is something you will enjoy, and you will get a better idea of what life in graduate school will be like. Also, faculty members with whom you do research can write informative letters of recommendation about your probability of success in graduate school.

Can I apply to enter the program in Spring or summer?

Admission to the Neuroscience Program is made only for Fall Semester. The deadline for receipt of applications is December 5th of each year.

Do I need to fill out the "Statement of Financial Proof" form along with my graduate application?

It is University policy that all international students complete a statement of financial proof. Please fill out all sections of the form excluding the "sponsor" section. You do not need to submit any other documents with the statement of financial proof form.

Can I apply simultaneously to the Neuroscience Program and to other departments/programs at MSU?

You may submit up to two (2) applications to different graduate majors in the SAME semester. Each must be accompanied by a full set of documents as required by MSU and the individual graduate programs. Each application requires payment of the application fee.

Okay, I've sent in all my required materials, how long until I find out if I've been admitted?

After the December 5th deadline for application materials and during the months of January, February and March, the Graduate Affairs Committee meets to review the applications, decide on nominations for various internal fellowships, and plan for the Neuroscience Program Interview Days. Then, at the end of March, the Committee makes offers of admission to qualified applicants.

General Questions About GPA and GRE Scores

What is the minimum GPA needed for admission?

We do not have strict admissions criteria for GPA. The Admissions Committee considers all aspects of the application, including not only GRE scores and GPA, but also what undergraduate courses were taken, research experience, letters of recommendation, and the applicant's personal statement. Strong qualifications in some areas may offset weaker qualifications in other areas.

What is the minimum GRE Score needed for admission?

There is no minimum GRE Score needed for admission. Submission of GRE scores is optional and not required for admission to the program. 

How old can the GRE and TOEFL scores be in order to be submitted when applying?

GRE scores can be up to 5 years old, TOEFL scores may only be 2 years old.

What are Institution and Department Codes to send TOEFL and GRE scores?

To have the TOEFL or GRE score sent to Michigan State University, please use:

  Institution Code Department Code
TOEFL 1465 30
GRE 1465 0213


Questions About TOEFL Scores

Do I need to take the TOEFL?

All international students admitted to MSU must meet the University and departmental English language proficiency requirement. You will need to take the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) and submit an official copy of your scores to us if English is not your native speaking language and you are not from one of the following countries:

Anguilla, Antigua, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Canada (except Quebec), the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Greenland, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, New Zealand, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, the Turks & Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom, the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Applicants from Puerto Rico do not need to submit TOEFL scores. If still unsure about whether you need to submit TOEFL scores, please contact the Program Office.

Are any other tests besides TOEFL accepted?

Yes, Michigan State University Graduate programs now accepts MELAB (Michigan English Language Assessment Battery). Michigan State Unversity Graduate programs also accept MSUELT (MSU English proficiency test). To find when these tests are offered please visit the MSU Testing Office and for more information visit the MSU Graduate School

As an international student, can the TOEFL be waived if I have already attended an institution/University in the United States?

Michigan State University requires a TOEFL score for all international applicants. However, the department may waive the TOEFL if the applicant is competent in the English Language. Please submit a written request directly to the Neuroscience Program for review.

What are MSU/Neuroscience Program's TOEFL requirements for graduate admission?

For regular University academic admission, your TOEFL scores must be:
For written-based test, the total score must be 550 with no subscore below 52.
For computer-based test, the total score must be 213 with no subscore below 19.
For internet-based test, the total score must be 80 with no subscores below 19 for reading, listening, and speaking and for writing a subscore of 22.

What constitutes an "official copy of scores"

An official copy of scores, whether they be for the GRE or the TOEFL, are scores that are sent directly to Michigan State University by the Educational Testing Service. You can arrange to have these sent using forms available on the GRE site or the TOEFL forms page.

Questions About the Neuroscience Program

Who are the Training Faculty?

The Neuroscience Program's "Training faculty" are a group of faculty who serve as rotation and thesis advisors. Ffaculty who are not listed as training faculty serve on thesis guidance committees, participate in the teaching of core courses, and provide valuable expertise across a broad spectrum of basic and clinical neuroscience research areas.

Will I be financially supported throughout graduate training?

Yes, as long as you are a student in good standing and continue to make good progress toward your degree. Students are generally supported during the first year by the Neuroscience Program, and in subsequent years by research grants, individual fellowships, or teaching assistantships. Regardless of the source of funding, financial support includes a stipend, full tuition and fees, and health insurance. There have been no Neuroscience Program students in good standing who were not supported throughout graduate training.

Will I have the opportunity to gain teaching experience during graduate training?

Yes. All Neuroscience Program students serve for at least one semester as teaching assistants for undergraduate courses in neuroscience or related disciplines, usually during the second year of training.

In addition to taking courses, conducting research, and gaining teaching experience, what else do students in the Neuroscience Program do?

Students participate in the weekly Neuroscience Program Seminar Series, and get to meet with the visiting neuroscientists from around the country. There are also several "special interest" journal clubs that meet regularly. Students are encouraged to attend regional, national, and international scientific meetings, and the Neuroscience Program provides an annual travel allowance to all students who present their data at professional meetings. Faculty, students, and postdocs attend the annual Neuroscience Program retreat, and several social events are scheduled each year.

How long does it take to complete the Ph.D. in Neuroscience?

Most students complete the Ph.D. requirements in approximately 5 years.

How do I contact faculty and students in the Program?

Visit our directory for a list of faculty and students and their email addresses. We encourage you to contact faculty whose research programs you are interested in, even before you apply to the Program. You should indicate that you have been in contact with particular faculty in your personal statement. Additionally, our current students will be happy to tell you about their experiences in the Neuroscience Program at Michigan State University.

I am interested in behavioral neuroscience, and I noticed that many Neuroscience Program faculty in this field are members of the Behavioral Neuroscience interest group in the Psychology Department. The Neuroscience Program and the Psychology Department offer separate PhD plans, which should I choose?

It depends on what is best for you as an individual, and it is a good idea to discuss this issue with the person you are most interested in working with before you apply. However, the following list may help you in making your decision:

  1. In either program, you can conduct your dissertation research in any of the following labs: Arguello, Breedlove, Johnson, Jordan, Lonstein, Nunez, Smale, Sisk, Veenema, or Wade, and the project you do could be identical.
  2. The coursework in the two programs is different with respect to the numbers of courses that are elective vs. required. All students in the Neuroscience Program take a series of required courses that provides a solid foundation in neuroscience during their first two years. In the Psychology program, there is somewhat more flexibility with respect to which courses each student takes and when they are taken. In practice, however, Psychology students often elect to take many of the same courses as Neuroscience students. All of the courses are open to graduate students in both programs.
  3. The Neuroscience Program requires that students rotate in two labs during their first year; the Psychology Department does not.
  4. The format of the comprehensive exam differs. Neuroscience students take a sit-down exam at the end of their second year. Behavioral Neuroscience students in Psychology develop an upper-level course in their discipline over the course of a couple of months, usually in their third year (this course is not taught, just planned)

More details regarding degree requirements from the two programs are located here: Behavioral Neuroscience Psychology (see left column for link to degree requirements) and MSU Neuroscience Program Requirements.