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Graduate Study

Academics / Departments & Programs / Biology / Academics / Preparing for Graduate School


Since deadlines for application with consideration for financial aid occur in January or, at the very latest, the beginning of February, applicants should begin preparing their application documents in the fall semester prior to application. Allow yourself ample time to collect and prepare your materials. Spring of your junior year is an ideal time to begin preparations.


Junior year, Spring

Research areas of interest, institutions, programs, and researchers associated with the area(s) that you find most interesting. Keep in mind that during graduate school, you will probably work with a single mentor/advisor. Choosing a mentor is a very important step in the graduate process, and you should spend a lot of time considering who would be a good fit for you. Search research databases (like PubMed) using your interests as the keywords.

  • Make sure you meet or exceed all requirements. If you don’t meet the requirements but are a strong candidate, you may still be admitted "on condition” that you make up the deficiency.
  • Gain as much relevant experience as you can. This can include working as a lab assistant at Calvin or engaging in research projects related to the program to which you are applying. Calvin has many research opportunities available to you, including summer research and investigations courses.
  • Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admissions tests (GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.) There are many study guides available to help you excel on the GRE. Some can be found online free of charge. Many bookstores (including the Calvin Bookstore) carry GRE study guides, too. Calvin University’s honors program will reimburse you for the cost of one of these resources (up to $50) if you bring in your receipt.
  • Investigate national scholarship opportunities.
Junior Year, Summer
  • Take required graduate admission tests.
  • Write your application essay and statement of purpose. Ask your advisor at Calvin for advice and editorial assistance.
  • Check on application deadlines.
Senior Year, Fall

Ask for letters of recommendation from appropriate instructors. Request letters (two, three—sometimes four—from professors who can comment on the work you’ve done in the upper level courses they’ve taught) of recommendation from people who know you and your attributes best. Your science professors are a good place to start. If you conducted research, the professor you worked with would be an excellent person to ask (assuming your experiences together were good). Request letters of recommendation well before the due date and  provide your recommenders with relevant information:  

  • What criteria do the graduate programs want addressed in a letter of recommendation?
  • Will the recommendation be a paper and/or electronic copy?
  • Are you willing to waive your right to see the letter of recommendation (we strongly suggest you do)?
  • Offer to provide your recommender with a brief biography, a statement of your interests in the program, and a list of extracurricular activities and research experiences.
  • Take graduate admissions tests, if you haven't already done so.
  • Official transcripts, should be sent directly from the Registrar’s Office.
  • Send in completed application and application fees.
Senior Year, Spring
  • Register for Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid Service (GAPSFAS) if required.
  • Check with all institutions before the deadline to make sure your file is complete.
  • Send a deposit to hold your institution of choice.
  • Notify other institutions that accepted you of your decision so that they may admit students on their waiting list.


When you finish your undergraduate degree at Calvin, you may have some debt. With careful planning, you should be able to pursue graduate work in biology without incurring any additional debt. With the exception of some master-level programs, most graduate students in biology and environmental science programs receive considerable financial aid, usually sufficient to cover not only all the costs of tuition and fees, but to cover costs of living as well! Some financial aid packages require you to work as a research assistant or a teaching assistant. The stipend for many scholarships and fellowships now range from $16,500-30,000/year.


Graduate programs are not all alike:

You will want to carefully consider whether graduate school is right for you. Before deciding to apply for graduate study, talk to your advisor or another professor in the biology department about your career goals to help determine what programs might be best for you. Professors may have "insider knowledge" to help you discover which graduate school programs will best serve your goals and which professors you may want to work with.

Degrees (MS, PhD, etc.)

Two main types of degrees are the master of science (MS) and the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.).

  • An MS degree requires one to three years of graduate work, which often includes a modest research project and a master thesis. After receiving this degree, it is likely that you will work under the direction of someone with a PhD and you will be responsible for carrying out the research, and less responsible for obtaining grants, completing reports, and making presentations. These latter tasks are performed by someone with a PhD.
  • A PhD degree usually requires three to six years of graduate work. This track begins with one to two years of coursework, then after taking “qualifying prelims”, you become a “doctoral candidate.” The focus then turns to several years of independent research followed by completion of the dissertation and a “dissertation defense.”

Other considerations

  • For most students, we suggest applying to five to eight graduate programs. Apply to programs that you think will be a challenge for you to gain admission into and several schools for which you think you are well qualified.
  • GPA requirements are quite variable. Many graduate programs will indicate the minimum GPA an applicant should have. To some extent, good scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) will compensate for a slightly lower GPA.
  • Reputation of program and department dynamics - Before applying, ask us if we know anything about the program, the department, and the professors.
  • Campus visits - Increasingly, schools are inviting students who are seriously considering doctoral programs to visit the campus during special visit days. Any program that offers such visits certainly deserves serious consideration. Graduate students are an investment for the program and the university, so the programs want to be sure that their student investments are going to be happy and will be productive. Serious graduate programs know that they are assembling persons who will be the future professors in the US, and the programs want to be sure that these graduate students will be successful in the long run. The campus visit isn’t an interview, although the visiting student will probably have several opportunities to talk about their scholarly interests and what they’ve been reading and writing about. The student will probably have opportunities to meet current graduate students as well as professors. The visit provides an occasion to take stock of the graduate student community. This is important since the fellow students will be an important cohort of support and learning.

Graduate schools of Calvin biology alumni

Within the past 10 years, Calvin biology majors have been accepted into graduate programs at the following schools:

  • Baylor College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program
  • Barry University in Florida
  • Benedictine University-Masters in Public Health
  • Boston University for Masters of Science in Nutrition
  • Calvin Theological Seminary
  • Case Western Reserve Dental School
  • Central Michigan University
  • Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, IL.
  • Clemson University
  • College of William and Mary
  • Colorado State University
  • Colorado State University Master's degree in Bioagricultural Science and Test Management
  • Columbia Medical School, Ben Gurion program
  • Creighton University Pharmacy School
  • Des Moines University
  • Des Moines University Medical School
  • Ferris State University
  • Ferris State University, Michigan College of Optometry
  • Finch University Physician Assistant program
  • George Fox University
  • George Washington University
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Grand Valley State University Physical Therapy program
  • Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research
  • Indiana University - Purdue
  • Indiana University Northwest
  • Indiana University Optometry program
  • Indiana University School of Optometry
  • Kent State University
  • Life Chiropractic College West
  • Loma Linda University
  • Loma Linda University, School of Public Health, studying Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine
  • Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Michigan College of Optometry
  • Michigan State University
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
  • Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Michigan State University Industrial Microbiology program
  • Michigan State University in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics PhD program
  • Michigan State University Law school
  • Michigan State University M.D./Ph.D. program
  • Michigan State University PhD program in Plant Biology
  • Midwestern University
  • Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine
  • Midwestern University, M.S. Physician Assistant program
  • National University of Health Science Chiropractic school
  • National University of Health Sciences
  • New Jersey Medical School
  • New York College of Podiatric Medicine
  • Northwestern Medical School
  • Northwestern University in the Interdepartmental Biological Sciences PhD Program
  • Northwestern University Masters Genetic Counseling
  • Northwestern University, Doctor of Physical Therapy program
  • Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
  • Ohio State Univeristy
  • Oregon Health and Science University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Purdue University
  • Queen’s University, Pathology Department
  • Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in the Masters of Science in Biomedical Sciences program
  • Rosalind Franklin University, Chicago IL, Physician Assistant program
  • Rush Medical College
  • Scripps Institute in immunology
  • Southern California University of Health Sciences School of Chiropractic
  • St. Louis University School of Medicine Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program
  • The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
  • University of Chicago School of Medicine
  • University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Colorado-Health Sciences Center's Biomedical Sciences
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Detroit Mercy Dental School
  • University of Illinois Chicago PhD program in chemistry
  • University of Illisois Dental School
  • University of Kansas PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology
  • University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Michigan Hospital & Molecular Epidemiology Masters of Public Health program
  • University of Michigan School of Dentistry
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a Master's degree in Nutrition
  • University of New Mexico Medical School
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania - Ph.D. in Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology
  • University of Pittsburgh medical school
  • University of Utah masters in Human Nutrition and Sports Dietetics
  • University of Waterloo
  • University of Western Ontario for MS in Molecular Biology
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison for a PhD in Philosophy of Biology
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison Vet School
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison plant breeding and genetics program
  • VanAndel Institute PhD program
  • Virginia Osteopathic Medical School
  • Washington University
  • Washington University School of Medicine
  • Wayne State University
  • Wayne State University School of Medicine

Graduate education in biology, biotechnology, or environmental science will open up opportunities for advanced careers with higher salaries, greater responsibility, and more specialization.

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