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 $100,000/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 offer related educational experiences?

  • CMU 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 program is Mellon College of Science because it is a shared program so some functions (academics) are primarily under the Department of Biological Sciences.

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

Yes. On average, our students take one elective course per semester (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.

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 nearly 100% placement in a wide range of positions in academia and industry. Roughly 60% of graduates go onto industry, the remaining 40% go onto Ph.D. or M.D. programs. Recent graduates have been accepted to top-tier Ph.D. programs in Computational Biology and related areas (e.g., Biostatistics), including Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard, Cornell, UCLA.  Please see our pages on MCB Alumni Career Paths and Career Outlook for Computational Biology.

General Application Questions

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

Early deadline, November 19 (11:59 a.m. EST):  If you submit your application and pay the required fee by November 19 (11:59 a.m. EST), the application fee is $75 for one program and $50 for each additional program. At noon EST on November 19, the application fee increases to $125 for one program and $75 for each additional program. The early deadline does not imply an early decision. You may continue to edit your application until the final deadline December 10 (11:59 a.m. EST). For more information click 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 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?

Yes. Official TOEFL scores are required for all non-native English speaking applicants.

However, if you have completed a bachelor's degree in a majority native English-speaking country, we accept unofficial scores up to 5 years old. If you are unsure if your university is considered to be in a majority native English-speaking country, please ask us.

In addition to TOEFL and IELTS, we will now accept the online Duolingo English Test for applicants for whom English was not their first language. These tests include a proficiency composite score, section subscores, video interview, and writing sample which are shared with CMU M.S. in Computational Biology Program when you send your results. Certified results are available within 48 hours of the test session. Minimum and recommended score follows our TOEFL and IELTS minimums using percentile equivalencies and are indicated in the chart below. For more information, please visit the websites for the Duolingo English Test.

Admissions Requirements & Test Scores

How do I get my transcript evaluated and GPA calculated?

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.

Are subject GREs required?

No. Subject GREs are not required for acceptance into the M.S. or graduate program.

NOTE: Scores must be no more than five years old.

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.