Carnegie Mellon University

Frequently Asked Questions

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 & Test Scores or Financial Questions.

Questions About Our Program

What careers are available to students after graduation?

  • The median starting salary for our students is over $80,000/year.
  • Our job board hosts opportunities both within the Computational Biology Department and in organizations that have full-time positions and internships available in computational biology.

What other programs are offered by the Ray and Stephanie Lane Computational Biology Department?

  • The Ray and Stephanie Lane Computational Biology Department also offers an MS in Automated Science degree program (MSAS). It shares some training faculty and three required courses (02-712, 02-750, 03-709) with MSCB, but the 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. In contrast, the MSCB program offers broader training in advanced biological and computer science concepts encompassing genomics, biological modeling and simulation, and machine learning. Both programs prepare students for jobs in industry or additional graduate study in competitive PhD programs.
  • Students may apply simultaneously to the MSCB and MSAS programs through the same application process. Other programs, including the PhD program in computational biology are also available that same application process.

Please note that applications are managed by the School of Computer Science in order to allow simultaneous application to other programs in related fields, but the academic home of the MSCB program is Mellon College of Science because it is a shared program so some functions (academics) are primarily under the Department of Biological Sciences.

What other programs are offered by the Department of Biological Sciences?

The Department of Biological Sciences offers a 2- to 3-semester MS in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics. That program requires no programming and no math beyond introductory calculus. It is designed to help science students learn practical skills to prepare them for a career doing bioinformatics research or working as a bioinformatics technician in industry. In addition, there is a PhD program in Biological Sciences and an MS in Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Engineering (joint with Chemical Engineering).

Will I be able to take courses from other departments at Carnegie Mellon?

Yes. On average, our students take 2-3 other electives during their 4 semesters (see our sample schedules). These courses can be taken from any department within the School of Computer Science or the Mellon College of Science. Courses from other departments may be approved on a case-by-case basis. All elective courses must be approved by the student’s advisor. Elective courses cannot be used as substitutes for required program courses. See the program handbook for more details.

Please note that applications are managed by the School of Computer Science in order to allow simultaneous application to other programs in related fields, but the academic home of the program is Mellon College of Science because it is a shared program so some functions (academics) are primarily under the Department of Biological Sciences.

What is the home department? What college will I be affiliated with?

Please note the School of Computer Science manages applications in order to allow simultaneous application to other programs in related fields, but the academic home of the program is Mellon College of Science (MCS). This is a joint program and academics are primarily under the Department of Biological Sciences.

Students are affiliated with both colleges, but your primary home is MCS. MCS sets the tuition rates and confers your degree, and your diploma comes from MCS. Your transcript will also specify your academic home in MCS in the Department of Biological Sciences. Your degree itself will list your primary field of study "Master of Science in Computational Biology."

Are M.S. students able to serve as Research Assistants (RAs) or Teaching Assistants (TAs)?

Yes, qualified students may be able to find work as either research assistants (RAs) or teaching assistants (TAs). Students may not work as TA's or RA's in the first semester, and most are not able to find paid positions as RA's until the summer or as TA's until the second year. Note that the number of RA and TA positions is limited and we do not guarantee that you will be able to find a job. Both RAs and TAs work on an hourly wage and do not receive a monthly stipend or tuition credit. For international students, number of allowed work hours for wages is determined by their visa regulations.

Is the Masters in Computational Biology Program 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 Computational Biologists. Students interested in other fields should apply directly to those programs.

Please note that applications are managed by the School of Computer Science in order to allow simultaneous application to other programs in related fields, but the academic home of the program is Mellon College of Science because it is a shared program so some functions (academics) are primarily under the Department of Biological Sciences.

What are the placement statistics?

Our graduates have high placement rates in a wide range of positions in academia and industry. Roughly 25% go onto Ph.D. or M.D. programs, the remainder primarily work in industry. Please see our pages on MCB Alumni Career Paths and Career Outlook for Computational Biology.

What is the primary academic home college?

The program is jointly administered by the Department of Biological Sciences in the Mellon College of Sciences and the Ray and Stephanie Lane Computational Biology Department in the School of Computer Science. Your degree will reflect the interdisciplinary nature of this program as a "Master of Science in Computational Biology" primarily conferred by the Mellon College of Sciences. Tuition rates are also set by the Mellon College of Science.

General Application Questions

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

Although the program is joint between two colleges, applications are managed by School of Computer Science. Details about application deadlines and fees are available here. NOTE: the fee varies by date and number of programs to which you apply. See also: Information regarding an application fee waiver

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 Computational Biology,
  • any previous research experience you have (including your role in those projects), and, if applicable, any publications.
  • your primary areas of interest within Computational Biology,
  • your reasons for considering the MSCB 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?

Prepare a concise one or two page essay in PDF format that describes your primary areas of interest, your related experiences, and your objective in pursuing a graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon. Your essay should be specific in describing your interests and motivations. When describing your interests, you should explain why you think they are important areas of study and why you are particularly well-suited to pursue them. You should describe any relevant education, research, commercial, government, or teaching experience. If you are applying to more than one program, you may (but are not required to) submit a separate Statement of Purpose for each program. If you are submitting different statements, please upload as one file. Include your name and User ID on the essay.

Your User ID can be found as you fill out the application, for more information on that, please go here:

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

Language Score Reports

If you will be studying on an F-1 or J-1 visa, and English is not a native language for you (native language… meaning spoken at home and from birth), an official copy of an English proficiency score report is required (no older than two years). The English proficiency requirement cannot be waived for any reason. We strongly encourage applicants to take either the TOEFL or IELTS exam, but you may take the Duolingo English proficiency test if you are unable to test for TOEFL or IELTS.

If you are currently working on or have received a bachelor's and/or master's degree in the U.S. and your native language is not English, then you may submit an expired test score up to five years old.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) - Request ETS to send valid/official score reports using the SCS/CMU codes:

  • TOEFL Institution Code: 4256
  • TOEFL Department Code: 78

International English Language Testing System (IELTS) - We accept IELTS scores through E-delivery. Use the information below when arranging the delivery of your IELTS scores to SCS.

Account Name: Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science


School of Computer Science
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213 United States

Admissions Requirements & Test Scores

What are the requirements for international transcripts?

International applicants should submit their transcripts in English, but do not need to hire a credential evaluation service as long as the degree is equivalent to a US degree and the transcript has been translated to English.

Are international students accepted?

Yes, the program is very diverse and welcomes international students. The numbers of foreign-born applicants, accepted students and matriculating students vary each year.

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.

Is the GRE required?

No. The GRE is not required.

We assess applicants holistically and take into consideration many factors, including computational background and skill. This skill can be demonstrated by optional submission of GRE scores and/or by coursework in computer science, linear algebra, statistical inference, or related areas.

If scores are submitted, they must be no more than 5 years old.

Subject tests are not accepted and will not be evaluated if they are sent.

Please note: most other programs that use School of Computer Science admissions have stricter GRE requirements than we do, specifically GRE is required by other programs even for students who have studied in the US. Our program's academic home is not School of Computer Science, thus we do have different requirements (below). If you are applying to other programs through the same application, please review their requirements.

If you choose to send GRE scores then you will need to submit scores twice. First, scores need to be submitted with your application as per the instructions in the School of Computer Science. Then, because our program is a joint program with a primary academic home in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Mellon College of Sciences and is shared with School of Computer Science, admitted students who plan to attend will have to send another set of official scores as described below. Please wait until you have been admitted and have decided to join us to send these second set of official scores and please plan accordingly.

  • Institution code: CMU 2074
  • Department code: Biology 0203

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.

Is there a minimum TOEFL score?

Carnegie Mellon University has a minimum overall score to be considered for acceptance of 91. Individual TOEFL score minimums are: Listening - 23; Reading - 23; Speaking - 22; Writing - 23.

Because students with higher English competency have typically done better in our program, we consider TOEFL scores as one factor in admissions.  90% of students admitted to our program have a TOEFL speaking score of 23 or higher and an overall TOEFL score of 96 or higher.

We do accept IELTS scores as well.  We use the following site to convert IELTS to TOEFL scores:

Questions About Required Background

What background do I need to pursue MS in Computational Biology at CMU?

We admit students with a wide range of backgrounds. An undergraduate degree in any life science or quantitative field is desirable. The specific knowledge areas that are most valuable to our program are:

1) Cell & Molecular Biology
2) Computer programming
3) Linear algebra
4) Probability theory

Other technical skills are also highly valuable. A typical student we admit will demonstrate strength in 2-3 of those 4 areas, we almost never get applicants with significant strength in all 4 and we have built our curriculum to provide students with background in whatever of those topics they don't already have.

Do I need to have any previous programming experience?

No, but most of our students do have some programming experience. Students with limited programming experience will be required to take an introductory programming class.

Do I need to have any previous coursework in Biology?

No, but most of our students do have some background in Biology. Students with limited background in Biology will be required to take an introductory Biology class. Also, for applicants with little or no background in Biology, we strongly recommend that you explain why you want to study Computational Biology in your Personal Statement.

Do you admit students in the spring or summer semesters?


Financial Questions

How much is tuition?

For tuition purposes, we are in Mellon College of Sciences. A complete list of graduate tuition and cost of attendance information may be found at Room/board and other costs are not included within this total.

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 Carnegie Mellon's Enrollment Services Web site for external sources of financial aid. International students should check with their home country for additional funding opportunities and private loans. Our graduating students' high starting salaries make loan repayment very manageable.

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 Web site.

Still have a question? Please ask us.

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.)

Students may work full time over the summer.

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 become eligible for CPT which can be used for full-time summer employment if it is directly relevant to the degree program (computational biology positions).

After 1 year of study (so in year 2), students 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.