Carnegie Mellon University

Application FAQ

We recognize that GRE scores are not predictive of success in graduate school.  You may submit GRE scores, but we do not require them.  Applications with and without scores are fully reviewed.

All Ph.D.candidates at the Neuroscience Institute are fully funded regardless of immigration status. This means that Ph.D. students do not pay tuition and the department pays all students a stipend. Stipends are set annually at a level that allows for a good quality of life in Pittsburgh. Students are guaranteed funding for up to five years (and sometimes beyond) as long as they are making progress within the program. Student health insurance is offered through Carnegie Mellon University’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). If you elect to enroll in SHIP, the university will cover 100 percent of the premium cost for your individual medical coverage.  Dental and vision coverage are offered separately for an additional fee. All students receive a travel stipend of $500/year and a one-time $1000 towards a laptop or computer. Students also receive free city bus transportation, free access to wellness and fitness facilities including an indoor pool and group exercise classes, and the ability to register for classes outside degree requirements (at either CMU or University of Pittsburgh) for free.

We recommend that you label your email with a subject header like “Inquiry about graduate study” or something similar. In the body of the email you should introduce yourself and briefly include any relevant background and experience. You might include a curriculum vitae (CV, see below for more details on what this is and how to make one). You can express your interest in the lab and Ph.D. program. Be very clear and specific about what leads you to be interested in this faculty member’s research. You might inquire about advice for the application process, or whether the faculty member is planning to take students in the coming application cycle.

It really helps if you can convey that this is not a form letter that you have sent to many faculty. Be specific about the research questions that excite you. Make clear that your interest is sincere by connecting with a paper published by the lab, or a research interest of the lab.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) literally means “course of life.” It is a form of academic resume. In contrast to a traditional resume, a CV places greater emphasis on your educational and training history than on professional experience or job skills. It is not as limited in length as a resume (although at your career stage, it may currently be about one or two pages). You can find helpful information on creating a CV online.
Faculty might respond with a brief email indicating whether they are taking students, they might respond with something more detailed including an invitation to video chat, or they might provide some advice or helpful information. Of course, they might not reply. There are many reasons why this might be the case -- they are unlikely to have anything to do with you so please do not take it personally. But, you might take this as useful information in your decision making about what lab might be the very best fit for you.
Sharing identity information with us can help us to explore creative solutions to funding, fellowships, etc. and to point you toward resources. You might wonder when you should share this information. You can weave this into the Personal Statement, note it in the application materials, or have a direct conversation with your prospective faculty mentor in an email or video chat.

Please know that our department is committed to diversifying science across gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic dimensions. We are cognizant that individuals from many groups have been excluded from science and, being driven by empirical data that back up this point, we understand that a lack of diversity hurts our science as well as our commitment to a diverse, inclusive, and equitable society.

For some examples, you may wish to discuss:
• Your experiences as a first generation college student
• Experiences overcoming any significant challenges the path towards graduate school (e.g., managing a disability, being of a gender historically underrepresented in your graduate field of study, being a Veteran, or socioeconomic disadvantages)
• Commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as demonstrated through personal initiatives, outreach, or research focus
Three letters of recommendation are required. At least two should be from faculty or recent employers. Recommenders should know you relatively well and be able to evaluate the quality of your academic and professional abilities. Please send the email requests to your recommenders as early as possible and well before the application deadline.

We ask that you submit a research statement no longer than 1-2 pages. This short document is meant to provide a brief history of your education and research experience, and the future work you intend to pursue in graduate school. This is the main way for you to share your interests, skills, and background knowledge so that a faculty member can determine whether you would be a good fit to their lab and to the graduate program. 

Be sincere, honest, objective. Take time creating this document. Write and edit. Set it aside for a bit and come back to it. Perhaps ask a trusted friend or faculty mentor for input. If possible, reach out to a research or academic mentor to read and comment on your statement. They've likely had to write their own, or have helped other students with similar writing in the past. If you do not have mentors who can read your statement, you can reach out to online communities (e.g., SPARK Society) to solicit feedback.

Your statement should describe your prior experience, how it prepared you for our graduate program. Your goal should be to convince your potential faculty mentor that you would be a terrific (future) collaborator with them and a fit to their laboratory. Describe your specific experiences in detail and indicate your role. If you have been involved in research, describe the project objectives and results in as much detail as you can and describe what you did on the project. Finally, describe the general research area you hope to pursue in graduate school. This may or may not be directly linked to what you studied as an undergraduate. Your job is to articulate what excites you about spending the next 5 years getting deep into Ph.D. research and why you are a good candidate to take on this training.

Often, applicants will indicate faculty members that interest them in the Research Statement. Please note that it is entirely ok to identify multiple faculty mentors with whom you might like to work. We value collaboration and there are Ph.D. students jointly mentored by departmental faculty members.

You can bring this up in the Research Statement. There is also a specific place to enter faculty names in the application materials. Since individual faculty play a large role in admitting students to their lab, being attentive to this step in the application is important. It will help direct your application to the right readers.

We welcome applications from international students! Our Ph.D. program is greatly enriched by students who bring diverse perspectives from all over the world.

If you are an international student, you will be asked to share your TOEFL scores as an indicator of your proficiency to study and work in English. You must submit TOEFL scores if your first language is not English and you completed your undergraduate degree at a non-US institution (even UK and Canada). Please note that the test scores expire after 2 years. Our TOEFL institution code is 2074. Our TOEFL department code is 99. 

CMU offers resources like the Intercultural Communication Center to support Ph.D. students whose native language is not English. Our Office of International Education (OIE) is expert in helping international Ph.D. students to obtain the proper visas to study in the US. The OIE also hosts events throughout the academic year to help international students navigate issues such as Optional Practical Training (OPT) and internships. The CMU Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) is a student-led government body and advocates for all issues pertaining to graduate student life at CMU, including international students. The GSA also hosts a resource page for international graduate students. In addition, CMU has several other resources and organizations to support the specific needs of international students outside of their academic or research programs. The CMU Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI) frequently hosts programs and events to elevate the voices of under-represented students and would be of interest to both domestic and international students. Many CSDI events foster community building across different corners of our campus. CMU Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) provides workshops and programs tailored for the mental health and wellness of international students.

If you have specific questions about your circumstances, please reach out to with questions.

We do not have "cut-offs" for QPA or GPA. We know that there are many other factors involved including your academic background (e.g., the school you attended, the classes you have taken), and whether or not you have research experience and/or publications. The extent to which your research interests match those of faculty members is also a very significant part of the admissions decision. With this in mind, you may wish to contact faculty members directly to determine whether they are accepting graduate students in the following year and whether your research interests overlap with theirs.
Yes.  If applying to the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), our admissions committee will accept MCAT scores.

Where can I find the application?

Please use our online application.

What should be in my application?

You must submit the completed application form, official transcripts of all college or university attended, three letters of recommendation, and an official copy of your TOEFL scores sent to us from ETS if English is not your native language.
Transcripts:  you will upload an unofficial copy of your transcripts.  Also, you are required to send us official transcripts through the postal mail or electronically.  Transcripts sent via postal mail must arrive in the original, sealed university envelopes with the registrar's signature/stamp across the seal of the envelope.  If transcripts are sent open or in unsealed envelopes, they will not be considered official.
Please note that transcripts or test scores are not updated as received until you submit your application.

What are you looking for in the application materials?

We take into account your academic training, research experiences, letters of recommendation, GPA, personal statement, and other available information in our admission decisions.

I do not see my college/university listed in the drop-down box in the Education section of the application.  What should I do?

Please email to let us know your college/university is not in the drop-down box.  We will need to know the full name and address of the school.  Please also include the country if it is an international school.  We will add the name of your school to the drop-down box so that you may choose it for your application.  Please allow a few days for us to get it in the drop-down list.

I have requested my transcripts be sent, but my application has not been updated? 

You must first submit your application before receipt of test scores or transcripts will be updated. 

When is the final application deadline?

All application materials must be received in our office by the December 1st deadline.  All application materials include the following: submitting the application, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and TOEFL Scores.

Is there a fee to submit the application?

There is no fee to submit Ph.D. applications to the Neuroscience Institute.

When are the transcripts due? 

All transcripts are due December 1st, regardless of when you submit your application Because fall grades are not required, please upload your transcripts as early as possible.  They will be held until you submit your application.  Please note that transcripts or test scores are not updated as received until you submit your application.

When are the letters of recommendation due? 

All letters of recommendation must be submitted by December 1st.

When are the TOEFL scores due? 

All official TOEFL score reports are due December 1st.  It is strongly suggested that you plan to take all required tests by the end of October. 

Please note: The GRE is optional for your application.

What are the institution and department codes for the GRE?

Our GRE institution code is 2074

Our GRE department code is 0213

Is the TOEFL required? 

If English is not your first language, either the TOEFL or the Duolingo English Test is required. 

What is the Duolingo English Test?

The Duolingo English Test is an online English proficiency test that can be taken online, on-demand, in under an hour for only $59. The test is taken via a computer with a camera and includes a proficiency score, video interview, and writing sample which are shared with the Neuroscience Institute when you send your results. Certified results are available within 48 hours of the test session.

What are the institution and department codes for the TOEFL?

Our TOEFL institution code is 2074

Our TOEFL department code is 99

When do GRE and TOEFL scores expire?

ETS keeps GRE scores for 5 years and TOEFL scores for 2 years.  We require that ETS send us your scores.  If ETS no longer has your scores, you will need to retake the test(s).

I used the wrong codes. What should I do? 

It is your responsibility to submit the score reports with the correct codes. Please have them sent again with the correct codes as stated above.  

Am I required to submit a TOEFL score? 

If your native language is not English, then you MUST submit a TOEFL.  If you are currently working on or have received a bachelors and/or a masters degree in the US and your native language is not English, the TOEFL is still required.

Do you accept the IELTS?  

Yes, but we prefer TOEFL scores.

Do you accept the MCAT Scores?  

Yes If applying to the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), our admissions will accept MCAT scores. 

My recommenders have not received the email requests or the reminder emails that were sent.  What should I do?

First, make sure that you typed the correct email address, and then ask them to check their spam filters. If the email can not be found, please ask them to send their letters in pdf format to They must put "Upload recommendation letter for (your name)" in the subject line. Uploads will not be completed here until early December. Remember that our offices are closed over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. We appreciate your patience.

If I submit an online application, can my recommenders send a paper recommendation letter?

No. Recommenders must submit their letters online. We no longer accept any paper recommendation letters.

What should I do if the deadline is approaching or has passed and one or more of my recommenders has not submitted their recommendation?

You may send a reminder email to a recommender from your submitted application. It is your responsibility to make certain that the letters are submitted by the deadline of December 1st. Any letters not received by the deadline may not be considered.

What if I want to submit more than three letters of recommendation?

Three letters of recommendation are required; however, space is provided for you to submit up to five. At least two should be from faculty or recent employers. Recommenders should know you relatively well and be able to evaluate the quality of your previous work.

Who should I ask to write letters of recommendation for me?

The admissions committee wants to know about your ability to do independent research. You should select letter writers who can best speak to that point. Professors who interacted with you extensively in smaller classes are also a good choice. Employers are sometimes appropriate, but letters that are simply character references will not provide good support for your application.

My recommenders have not submitted their letters.  Can I submit my application before they submit?  

Yes.  Do not wait for the letters before submitting your application. Recommenders have a longer period of time to submit their letters.

How and when will I be notified if I am admitted?

Our programs make their decisions at various times during December and January. You will be notified directly by each program that you applied to, as to whether or not you have been admitted.  All applicants will receive notification of their status by March. We realize that waiting is very difficult. However, we request that you do not call our offices to inquire about the status of your application. 

How do I check the status of my application?

Please do NOT send email to ask the status of your application. Use your User ID and password to access the submitted online application form. Receipt of the required documents (score reports, transcripts, and letters of recommendation) will be indicated in the corresponding section. Please allow two to three weeks past the deadline for all documents to be recorded. We receive a large volume of mail, and it does take time to process each application. Our offices are closed during the Christmas and New Year holidays (Dec. 22 - Jan. 2) which may further delay processing.

When will I find out whether or not I was accepted into the program?

Admissions Decisions will be made no later than April 15th. We will notify you of your admissions decision via email once our admission decisions have been completed.