Many students majoring in neuroscience are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in related fields including neuroscience, neuropsychology, public health, social work, and clinical psychology with the goal of becoming a professional research scientist, practitioner, and/or college professor. An education in neuroscience can provide students with an excellent background for these programs but major classes alone are not enough to make yourself a good candidate. Each university has unique prerequisites for their applicants but there are some universal requirements.
Becoming a Competitive Applicant
There are many things that you can do besides academics that will make you an excellent candidate for masters and doctoral programs in neuroscience-related disciplines:
- Research experience is strongly preferred for PhD programs. As you are applying to train to become a professional scientist, programs would like for you to demonstrate:
- Basic lab skills
- An ability to work with a variety of people
- An ability to take direction
- Attention to detail
- Critical thinking skills
- Extracurricular activities
- Personal letters of recommendation from faculty who know you well and can vouch for your strength of character and academic potential. Get to know potential letter writers early by standing out in class, attending office hours, and communicating regularly.
- Strong essays that demonstrate your individuality and indicate a passion for science.
- Contact possible advisors and express informed interest in their work.
- Volunteer experience is encouraged but should be considered essential for students interested in pursuing a degree in social work, clinical or neuropsychology.
Frequently Asked Questions
How good does my GPA need to be to get into a decent graduate program?
Extensive research experience may make up for slightly lower grades but you should try to obtain, at minimum, a 3.0 GPA for masters programs and 3.3 for PhD programs. Many schools have minimum GPA requirements for fellowships so make sure you meet these minimums before you apply. For your reference, OSU's Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program's average undergraduate GPA is 3.47; the Psychology program's (includes Behavioral Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Clinical Psychology) average is 3.71.
How good do my GRE scores need to be to get into a decent graduate program?
Extensive research experience may make up for slightly lower scores but you should try to obtain, at minimum, the 50th percentile in both the verbal and quantitative sections and a 4 in the analytical writing section. For your reference, OSU's Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program's average scores are 75th percentile in verbal, 71st percentile in quantitative and a 4.4 in analytical writing; the Psychology program's (includes Behavioral Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Clinical Psychology) average scores are 86th percentile in verbal, 74th percentile in quantitative and a 4.5 in analytical writing.
When should I take the GRE?
The GRE should be taken at least 2 months before your applications are due. For example, if your application is due on December 1st, you should take the GRE no later than October 1st.
Do I need to take a GRE subject test?
Probably not but each school has their own application requirements so check their websites for more specific information.
I want to go to med school but my grades aren't good enough. Would going to graduate school and getting a PhD increase my chances of getting accepted?
Maybe, if your grades in graduate school help to improve your GPA. However, PhD programs are often more competitive than medical schools and may have more stringent requirements. They are also a big time commitment (5+ years). Master's programs, on the other hand, usually ask for a minimum 3.0 GPA and take about 2 years to complete. In the end, you may be better served by re-taking the pre-med courses, doing more volunteer work, and/or attending a post-baccalaureate program.
Are there any other courses that I should take?
While each program has its own specific requirements, a poll of current graduate students has suggested the following:
2 semesters inorganic chemistry (Chem 1210 & 1220)
At least 1 semester organic chemistry (Chem 2310 or 2510)
1 semester biochemistry (Biochem 4511-- counts toward Neuroscience Major)
1 semester genetics (Molgen 4500, Psych 5602 or Neuro 4050 -- all count toward Neuroscience Major)
1 semester anatomy (Anatomy 3300)
1 Excel course (CSE 1111)
At least 1 semester physics (Physics 1200 or 1250)
At least 1 semester computer science (e.g. CSE 1211, 1221, 1222)
1 semester abnormal psychology (Psych 3331)
1 Excel course (CSE 1111)
1 semester developmental psychology (Psych 3340)*
1 semester personality theory (Psych 3530)*
1 semester research methods (Psych 2300)*
1 semester abnormal psychology (Psych 3331)*
1 semester history of psychology (Psych 4505)*
1 semester clinical psychology (Psych 4532)*
1 Excel course (CSE 1111)
*Consider applying these courses toward a minor in Psychology
How do I choose a program?
This is one of the most difficult parts of applying to graduate school. Many start with location (i.e. what cities/states/regions appeal to you?) and narrow schools down from there. It is most important to focus on the types of research that is being done; find schools with several professors who are doing work of interest to you. Also consider contacting current graduate students to ask about stipends, cost of living, degree requirements, classes, insurance, graduation timeline, etc. While you research, stay organized by keeping a spreadsheet of important details about each program. An example of a spreadsheet can be downloaded here.
To how many schools should I apply?
Even if you are a perfect candidate, budgetary or size constraints may cause admissions boards to pass on your application. For PhD programs, make sure the professors with whom you would like to work are taking new students so you do not waste your time. To maximize your chances, you should apply to at least 5 schools.
How do I get involved in research?
See our Research page for more information.
What kinds of extracurricular activities are best?
Anything that you are passionate about! Schools recruit a diverse group of people with a variety of interests.
Which specialization is best?
Any specialization will do but choosing the specialization that is most closely related to the research you hope to do will ensure that you have a decent background prior to matriculating.
Would it look bad if I took time off?
Absolutely not! Many schools look favorably on older applicants because they are generally more mature and have more extensive life and work experience. If you choose to take time off, however, make sure that you are still doing things to enhance your application (research, etc.).
I don't think I want to pursue graduate education anymore. What else can I do?
A bachelor's degree in neuroscience provides you with broad scientific literacy that will prepare you for a variety of careers. Visit our Careers page for a list of other options.