Frequently Asked Questions for Potential Applicants

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding application

for admission to the Graduate Program in Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University.


Q1. Do I need to contact NAU Biological Sciences faculty members before I apply for graduate studies? 

A1. Absolutely YES! You MUST contact prospective faculty mentors at NAU Biological Sciences who do research in the area you wish to study. A list of all biological sciences faculty and their email/phone contacts is found here: Biological Sciences Faculty and Adjunct Faculty & Lab Research

             Introduce yourself and ask faculty members who you might like to work with if they are accepting new graduate students. If they are, tell them about your background, coursework, etc.  Tell them why you are interested in working with them and earning your master's degree or doctorate under their mentorship. Please be sure to understand the mentors’ areas of research and know why you want to work with them. This is a good time to ask potential mentors if your credentials and education are adequate, or if updated coursework might be needed before or after admission to the program. Ask the prospective mentor, once s/he knows something about you, if they would be willing to sponsor your application if it comes up for review for admission to the Biological Sciences graduate program. Please note that you cannot be admitted to the NAU Biological Sciences graduate program unless an NAU faculty member stands up during the admissions review process and says that s/he is interested in taking you on as a graduate student and can support you financially with a TA-ship, RA-ship, or other mechanism. At that point (i.e., only when that expression of interest/support is made by the faculty member) will the Graduate Program Committee review your application for admission, and rank you relative to other grad applicants who also have a potential faculty mentor. How you rank relative to other committed candidates at that point will determine whether you are offered admission. Therefore, your first step is to try to make a connection with an NAU faculty member and see if there is a good fit for you here at NAU.

Q2. Can I apply for direct entry into the PhD program with a Bachelors degree, without first earning a Masters? 

A2. Historically, the Department of Biological Sciences has required completion of a thesis-based master's degree as a criterion for admission to the Ph.D. program. Completion of a master's degree before a doctoral program provides the student an opportunity to demonstrate her/his abilities for graduate studies, and for the faculty advisor to evaluate the same. Some faculty members will expect their students to complete a thesis-based master's degree; and some will expect a research experience equivalent to a master's thesis before she/he will support a student's entry to doctoral level studies. At the request of a sponsoring faculty member, a new applicant for graduate studies can be considered by the Graduate Program Committee for direct admission to the Ph.D. program without already having completed a thesis-based master's degree. Criteria that might qualify an applicant for direct entry include: 

 • Demonstrated promise for independent research development, design, interpretation and presentation.

a) previous research experience as an undergraduate student or associated with postbaccalaureate work, with reference letters attesting to the applicant's abilities; and/or

b) research presentation(s) at regional, national or international conferences in the profession, with reference letters attesting to the applicant's abilities; and/or

c) co-authorship(s) of peer-reviewed publication(s), with reference letters attesting to the applicant's abilities.

• Demonstrated promise for success in graduate level course work in Biological Sciences and supporting areas germane to the student's area(s) of study.

a) strong undergraduate grade point average in a life science degree program and supporting science courses; and/or

b) strong performance on the GRE (earlier format), such as a composite score (verbal, quantitative and writing) with a percentile of 70% or higher.

 Q3. What specific science courses must I take as an Undergraduate or Post-Baccalaureate student in order to be eligible for admission to the Graduate Program in Biological Sciences? 

A3. All applicants must have earned a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and we expect that the Bachelor’s degree will be in a Biological Science or other Science closely related to their expected field of graduate study. Applicants holding non-science bachelor’s degrees but with very significant postbaccalaureate or undergraduate minor concentrations in biologically-oriented science can also be considered for admission to the NAU Biological Sciences Graduate Program, with strong mentor support.

While there are no specific biological sciences, math or chemistry courses required for admission to the NAU Biological Sciences program, this does not mean that there are no course requirements at all---it is just that each faculty mentor looks for different sets of classwork experience, research experience, grades, test scores, letters of recommendation, and personal goals in their prospective graduate students (Talk to your potential faculty --- see Q1, above--- communicating with potential mentors is critical for any admission application to the NAU Biological Sciences Graduate program). 

Q4. What is the required minimum undergraduate GPA for admission? 

A4. Minimum UG GPA for regular admission is 3.0 (0n a 0-4 scale).

Q5. Are there research lab rotations for first year grad students so they can choose a mentor? 

A5. No, we do not use the rotation system. You must have an assigned mentor before you can be admitted to the NAU Biological Sciences Graduate Program (see Q1, bove).

Q6. What is the average number of students who apply to the NAU Biological Sciences Graduate program each year, and how many of those applicants are admitted? 

A6. Typically, 75-100 apply, and 15-20 are admitted. This varies somewhat year-to-year depending on applicant pool and grant funding situations of individual faculty.

Q7. Is financial aid available? 

A7. Typically, all of our admitted graduate students are offered some type of Graduate Assistantship (either TA or RA). A few are admitted on competitive fellowships (these are not always available, please talk to potential mentors to see if any may apply to you). We do not ordinarily admit students without offering them some support, unless the applicant states that they are self-supporting.

The Graduate Assistantship Stipend depends on whether you will be entering the MS or PhD Program, and whether you will be a TA or RA.  Please contact your potential NAU Biology faculty mentor (major professor) or for additional information.

Q8. Is the GRE required? 

A8. Yes—the standard GRE exam is required for all applicants (Verbal, Quantitative, Writing). Please have the scores sent to NAU. The NAU Institutional Code is 4006, and the Biological Sciences Department Code is 0203. GRE Scores must be no older than 5 years. We do NOT require you to take the subject area GRE exams.

Q9. How do I apply? 

A9. All applications are submitted on-line through the Graduate College. Please go to the following site to get started:

Q10. When is the deadline for application submission?

A10. The deadline for submission of your complete application (all letters, transcripts, GRE scores, etc.) can be found here:

Q11. Is there a Biological Sciences Graduate Student Handbook that describes the requirements for completing the MS and PhD Programs? 

A11. YES, our current handbook is located at the bottom of the page at this link: