Carnegie Mellon University

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question, contact us any time.  Below are the most commonly asked questions and guidelines for the application process, admissions and general program information. Scroll down the page or jump to a following category: Questions About Our ProgramGeneral Application QuestionsAdmissions Requirements, Questions About Required Background & Financial Questions.

General Application Questions

Is there an application fee and when is the application deadline?

Application fee and deadline information is available here.

Are there required forms or formats for the online recommendation letters?

Yes, online recommendation forms are automatically e-mailed to recommenders once a student has submitted the application.

What should be included in the three online recommendation letters?

The three letters of recommendation should be written by professional or academic references. Recommenders should know you relatively well and be able to evaluate the quality of your previous work. At least two should be from faculty or recent employers.

What information should be included in my statement of purpose?

Your statement of purpose should be a 1-2 page essay describing:
  • your motivation to enter the field of Quantiative Biology & Bioinformatics
  • any previous research experience you have (including your role in those projects), and, if applicable, any publications
  • your primary areas of interest in Quantiative Biology and/or Bioinformatics
  • your reasons for considering the MSQBB and/or MSQBBAS program for graduate work
Your statement must be written in your own words. We use software to detect plagiarism in personal statements. Any applicant that submits a personal statement determined to contain plagiarised material will be rejected immediately, without notice.

How should my statement of purpose be formatted?

This document should be a well-written, 1-2 page essay describing primary areas of interest, motives for a M.S. in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics and reasons for considering the Department of Biological Sciences.

Are TOEFL scores required for international students who are studying at US colleges or universities?

English proficiency test scores are required for all non-native English-speaking applicants unless the applicant has completed a university-level degree in the U.S. or another majority-native English-speaking country in the last four years, such as: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada (excluding Quebec), Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, Malta, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom.

We accept TOEFL, IELTS, and DuoLingo scores.

University codes for all three:

  • TOEFL code: CMU 2074 and Biology 35
  • IELTS code: Select “Carnegie Mellon University, Mellon College of Science”
  • Duolingo English code: Select “Carnegie Mellon University – Mellon College of Science”

Photocopies of English proficiency test scores will be accepted for admission only, and scores must be no more than two years old.

Admissions Requirements & Test Scores

What are the requirements for transcripts?

Unofficial photocopies/scans of transcripts (in English) are all that we need for application purposes. If you are admitted and choose to come, you will need to provide an official transcript over the summer before you matriculate.

Are international students accepted?

No. Transcripts need to be in English, but external evaluations are not required.

Do international students need a WES evaluation?

No. Transcripts need to be in English, but external evaluations are not required.

What are my chances of being accepted to the M.S. program?

Only the admissions committee can judge if you are qualified for admission. The Admissions Committee is selective and only considers those applicants who have the potential for a successful career in industry or academia. Your chance of acceptance depends upon both the size of the applicant pool and the strength of your complete application.

I completed my Bachelor's degree in 3 years either because I finished a 4-year program early or because my institution/country has accelerated 3-year Bachelor's degrees. May I still apply? What if I finished my degree in more than 4 years?

Yes! Students with a Bachelor's degree in any STEM field may apply, regardless of how long between the start and completion of the degree. We do not, however, accept applicants who have completed a 2-year Associates degree unless they later finished a Bachelor's degree. If you are in your final year of your Bachelor's degree when you apply and anticipate graduating in time to join us in the Fall, you may also apply.

Are GRE's (general and subject tests) required?

An official report of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test and subject test are not required, but will be reviewed if submitted with your application. Photocopies of GRE scores will not be accepted, and scores must be no more than five years old.
  • Institution code: CMU 2074
  • Department code: Biology 0203

Subject tests are not accepted and will not be reviewed if they are submitted.

Recommended composite/overall score thresholds:

  • TOEFL overall minimum score is 100.
  • IELTS overall minimum score is 6.5.
  • DuoLingo English minimum score is 120.

If your English Proficiency scores are lower than above, your application may not be competitive for our program.

Questions About Required Background

Do I need to have any previous coursework in Biology, Bioinformatics, or Computer Science?

Admitted students will have clear biology background (equivalent to at least a minor or multiple courses in biology).

Past coursework in Bioinformatics or Computer Science is not required. If you have strong background in Bioinformatics and/or Computer Science, you may want to apply to the M.S. in Computational Biology and/or M.S. in Automated Science programs instead.

Do you admit students in the spring or summer semesters?

No, the MSQBB and MSQBBAS programs only admit students for the fall semester.

Is the Masters in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics a good alternative for students primarily interested in [Computer Science, Machine Learning, Software Engineering, or Data Sciences, etc]?

No. Our curriculum is designed to train Bioinformaticians. The M.S. in Computational Biology and M.S. in Automated Science programs (discussed below) provide more training in computing and machine learning. Our program provides very little or no course opportunities in these areas as they fall outside our mission.

Students interested in non-biology aspects of computing should not apply to this program or the two closely related programs (discussed belwo). Instead, they should apply directly to those programs.

What other programs offer related educational experiences?

  • The M.S. in Computational Biology program is designed for students with more quantitative background than the M.S. in Quantitative Biology & Bioinformatics. Students in that program will gain broader training in advanced biological and computer science concepts encompassing genomics, biological modeling and simulation, and machine learning.
  • CMU also offers an M.S. in Automated Science degree program. Its intellectual content is distinct. The MSAS curriculum is tailored to automation of experimental design and data acquisition through the hands-on use of automated instruments. This program also has a higher degree of quantitative background expectation than the M.S. in Quantitative Biology & Bioinformatics.
  • Students interested in either of those programs are encouraged to apply directly to them (you may apply to them and also to our program in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics). Both of those programs use the same application portal. NOTE: application deadlines are earlier than MSQBB. Also note: MS in Computational Biology is administratively housed in the Mellon College of Science even though it shares and application with School of Computer Science.

Can I transfer to another Masters program at CMU after I start?

There is no direct transfer option. Generally, we recommend that students who are interested in another MS program (including those related programs discussed above) apply directly to their program of interest rather than applying for transfers. Transfer students are accepted at a lower rate than external applicants in most situations because a transfer student has the added burden of demonstrating that their current CMU Masters program is unable to meet their educational goals.

Once a student has matriculated, they may apply to other programs. The MSQBB program will support applications for PhD programs (including the PhD program in Biological Sciences) to begin after completion of the MSQBB degree. Transfer to other programs while still in the MSQBB program is discouraged, but students are permitted to apply to other programs using the same application system as external applicants (refer to the other programs for details). Most programs require students who are already in an MS program at CMU to not only meet admission criteria, but also to demonstrate that they are unable to achieve their goals in their current CMU Masters program (which can make it harder for transfer students than external applicants in many cases). Credit transfers depend on policies for the other program.

Can I transfer to a PhD program at CMU after I start?

There is no direct transfer option. You can apply for admission to a PhD program and should discuss with the MSQBB advisors and also the PhD program of interest about what options exist for credit transfer.

Students in MSQBB can apply for accelerated consideration for the PhD program in Biological Sciences in the summer after their first year in the program (after graduating in the 2-semester option, before the third semester in the 3-semester option). If you are interested, ask us for more information.

Is the MS-QBB (or MS-QBB-AS) program a good option for studying Machine Learning? Can I take a course in Machine Learning?

Machine Learning is not part of our curriculum or our core mission. Some students, however, may be able to take 1 introductory course in Machine Learning while here, although it is very difficult and typically fewer than 1/3 of students are able to do so.

In order to be eligible to take 02-620 (Machine Learning for Scientists, 12 units, Spring semester), students need a minimum grade of a B- in 02-680 (Essential Math and Statistics for Scientists, 12 units, Fall semester) and also a B- or better in 02-601 (Programming for Scientists, 12 units, Fall semester). Those two are both very difficult courses and 02-620 is also very difficult. Typically, fewer than a third of students in the MSQBB or MSQBBAS program are able to get the required grades in 02-680 and 02-601 to be eligible to take 02-620. Even if you aren't able to take 02-620, we will still be able to help you successfully complete the MSQBB or MSQBBAS degree and gain valuable skills while doing so.

Financial Questions

How much is tuition?

A complete list of graduate tuition and cost of attendance information may be found on the CMU Student Financial Services page. Room/board and other costs are not included within this total.  Please see "Mellon College of Sciences" on that page.  Note that tuition rates are subject to change each summer.

Please also view full cost of required fees and estimate expenses for Mellon College of Science graduate students here.

Is there financial support for graduate students?

It is advised that you review CMU's Enrollment Services website for external sources of financial aid. International students should check with their home country for additional funding opportunities and private loans.

Need based aid is available for US Citizens and Permanent Residents here. Other students are encouraged to look for aid available from their home country.

Our program does have a limited number of hourly paid teaching- and research-assistant positions, but these do not begin until the summer (for research positions) and second year (for both types). No tuition credit is available for these positions.

We do not offer any program or departmental scholarships. However, you can find out more about university-wide and externally-funded scholarships here.

Is health insurance provided?

No, students must provide their own insurance. Carnegie Mellon requires full-time, degree-seeking students to enroll in the university's contracted student insurance plans or request a refund of the premium by completing a medical insurance waiver form on which they verify that their alternative insurance meets the university's mandated requirements.  Information about the insurance options available for purchase from Carnegie Mellon is found at the Student Health Services website.

Can I work part-time while studying?

Our program requires you to be physically in person in Pittsburgh to take courses. Part-time employment is allowed (maximum of 20 hours per week). Because of the difficult nature of our program and the courses, we recommend that you plan your work to allow you to also succeed. For example, if you are enrolled in 48 units of classes that means you will be doing classwork between 40 and 60 hours per week (more on weeks when exams or projects are due), so you should account for that when planning work.

Research employment on campus is possible, but usually only is available after 1 semester (or 1 summer) of unpaid research for course credit. The rate is hourly and there is no tuition credit. (TA positions are similar.)

Full-time employment is not available at any time during the 2-semester option. Students in the 3-semester option may work full time over the summer and then resume part-time employment during semesters.

International students:

Review policies here. Policies may change, but as of October, 2021: F-1 and J-1 students may work on campus 20 hours or fewer per week while school is in session and full-time (40 hours per week) during vacation terms or any official school breaks. Work for CMU (including TA and research for pay) does not require use of CPT or OPT.

After 2 semesters of study in Pittsburgh, students in the 3-semester program become eligible for CPT which can be used for full-time summer employment if it is directly relevant to the degree program (quantitative biology and/or bioinformatics positions).

After 1 year of study (so in Fall of year 2), students in the 3-semester program become eligible for pre-completion OPT for work outside of CMU, which can be used for up to 20 hours/week of work. Students using this should consider:

  1. Use of 3 months of pre-completion OPT will shorten your later OPT eligibility by 3 months.
  2. Students will still need to be registered for a minimum of 16 units of CMU courses during OPT study (total of 36 units if doing a 20 unit internship). This requires attendance of classes at the Pittsburgh campus which means the work needs to either be remote for the company or for a company in Pittsburgh.

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