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Chemistry Graduate Program

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Application Questions

1. Can I apply to your master’s degree program?

Students are only admitted to our PhD program each fall semester.

2. How many references are permitted on the application?

An applicant is required to have three references. However, if the applicant would like to upload additional reference letters, said applicant can email the documents directly to either the Graduate Program Coordinator or the Graduate Program Assistant. The Coordinator/Assistant can then upload the documents directly to the application.

3. Am I required to upload a personal statement or CV on the application?

No, applicants are not required to upload a personal statement or CV on their application. However, should an applicant desire to upload these documents, they may send them directly to the Graduate Program Coordinator or the Graduate Program Assistant. The Coordinator/Assistant can then upload the documents directly to the application.

4. Can I apply to the PhD program with just my bachelor’s degree?

Yes, undergraduate applicants are encouraged to apply. A master’s degree is not required.

5. Should I contact chemistry faculty before I apply to the PhD program?

There is no need to contact chemistry faculty members during the application process.  If you receive an admission offer, you are welcome to reach out to faculty about potentially joining their research group. Our preceptor selection process takes place during the fall semester of the first year.

6. How do I apply for financial aid?

The Department of Chemistry provides full support (tuition, health insurance subsidy, and a monthly stipend) in the form of a teaching assistantship/research assistantship/fellowship to all accepted graduate students for all five years of study. Support is given regardless of citizenship or financial need and does not have to be paid back to the University.

Transcripts and Deadlines

1. Electronic Transcripts? Mailing address?

In order to review an application, a copy of the student's official transcript must be uploaded to the application. If you are unable to upload your official transcript, please upload your unofficial or advising transcript for the committee to review. Upon acceptance, you will be instructed to have official transcripts/documents (for institutions outside the U.S. documents may include marksheets, record of courses, degree/study certificate, diploma, etc) sent from all post-secondary institutions attended and official English translation if the language of instruction is not English.  You should wait until your degree has been conferred to arrange for the official transcripts/documents to be sent.  Deadlines for the receipt of this documentation will be displayed on your status page.

Please send transcripts to:

Mailing Address

Graduate Enrollment Services
The Pennsylvania State University
114 Kern Graduate Building Box CHEM 9165
University Park, PA 16802

Electronic Delivery


1. TOEFL, IELTS scores- criteria?

Official scores for the TOEFL iBT or IELTS are required to be submitted to the department prior to the application deadline. In regard to your TOEFL iBT score, a minimum overall total score of 100 with a speaking score of 23 is recommended for consideration.  The IELTS minimum score is a 6.5. TOEFL iBT or IELTS scores may be no more than 2 years old.

2. Who is exempt from the TOEFL iBT test?

  • US citizens or permanent residents
  • Those who have a bachelor or master’s degree conferred (by May 2021) from an institution at the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean, British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, North Ireland, Scotland, United States, Wales.

3. Where do I send my GRE Scores?

Applicants should send their GRE Scores directly to our Institution and Department.

Institution code: 2660      Department code: 0301

4. My GRE or TOEFL scores are a few points below the application requirements. Should I still apply?

Submitting all GRE scores only optional. Choosing not to submit scores will not impact your admissions decision.

We encourage applicants with a TOEFL score slightly below the minimum score to still apply to our program. If the speaking score is below the recommended score, you may be required to take an additional English course during your first semester in the program. If the Admissions committee decides to move your application forward in our admissions process, we will have a Skype interview with you before the final decision is made by the committee.

Other Questions

1. Is it possible to receive a fee waiver on the application?

Yes, we have a limited amount of fee waivers for students facing financial hardship. Please email Dr. Joseph Cotruvo at for the possibility of a waiver code. A fee waiver may be considered for U.S. citizens or permanent residents only.

Additional Questions:

FAQs on research during COVID-19 pandemic

1. Are students allowed to conduct research during COVID-19?

Yes. Students are allowed to conduct research with the COVID-19 related safety practices in place. Students are required to wear masks during their time in the lab and on campus and maintain at least six-feet of distance from other researchers. 

2. How do students/researchers maintain social distancing during research in the lab?

Students are assigned a research space with social distance capacity of their lab.

3. What safety precautions has the department taken to ensure the safety of students/researchers?

The department has safety precautions in place in compliance with the University, state and federal guidelines. The chemistry building is accessible to students, postdocs, faculty, and undergraduate researchers only. Public places within the building (such as graduate student rooms, restrooms etc) are assigned single occupancy only.

4. What happens if a student/researcher becomes sick with COVID-19 in a particular lab?

The student is required to quarantine at home and advised to seek medical attention if necessary. The research lab is put on hold until the University completes contact tracing and recommends the COVID-19 testing for personnel who came in contact with the sick student. Students and the members of the University are provided COVID-19 testing free of charge.

5. What happens if a student/researcher becomes sick with an unknown illness and the COVID-19 has not been confirmed positive or negative yet?

The student is advised to stay home until the COVID-19 test result becomes available. Students sick with any illness is advised against coming to the research lab and on campus.

6. What are the supports available to students/researchers if they are infected with the COVID-19?

The University has health centers (University Health Services) where students can seek immediate help. Students also have walk-in access to Penn State Health Medical Group (Mount Nittany Medical Center).

7. What is the turnaround for the COVID-19 test at Penn State?

Turnaround is typically 1-2 days.

8. What happens if a graduate student cannot defend qualifying/comprehensive exams in time due to the pandemic (for reasons of slow research/mental stress etc.)? 

The department will work closely with the student and PI to provide additional support.

9. What is the traffic like in the chemistry building during working hours?

The traffic in the chemistry building during working hours is minimal. Nonessential personnel (like administrators, accounting etc) work remotely. The building is restricted to students, postdocs, faculty, and undergraduate researchers only. The number of research personnel at any one time is restricted to the social distancing capacity of the building.

10. How are the shared research facilities and other public places (such as restrooms, lunch rooms, seminar rooms etc) shared by students/researchers during this pandemic?

The common areas, public places and research facilities are single occupancy at this time. However, when research facilities are higher than single occupancy capacity and host multiple pieces of equipment, occupancy is based on the social distancing capacity of the room.

11. How do students take their graduate course (in class, online) during this pandemic?

Classes are offered in three modes: in-person with social distancing capacity of the room, dual with in-person and remote, and remote only.

12. How are the teaching assignments completed by the graduate students – do the students go to the undergraduate teaching labs or they perform the duty online?

TAs for lectures are remote, and TAs for labs are in person with appropriate PPG and distancing.

13. How are the social distancing and other safety-related provisions maintained in undergraduate teaching labs when graduate students have to perform their TA duties?

TAs and undergraduate students wear PPG and following all the federal, state and the University safety guidelines.

14. Are expectations for graduate students different during the pandemic? (Especially for experimentally intensive research with respect to lab work).

PIs will work with students to balance in-person and remote work to help make good progress towards earning a PhD.

15. Will the pandemic impact the expected duration of my studies?

There has been some slowing but overall good progress is being made.  Our faculty and staff work hard to keep progress possible, even with distancing and more limited time in the labs.

16. Is the pandemic impacting the ability of research groups to support new students?

Support has not generally been affected.  Grants are in place and TA support is still present.

17. Will my travel be restricted? And if I do travel to see friends or family, will I experience delays in returning to work?

Travel follows the recommendations of the Governor of Pennsylvania.  Right now, there is a fourteen-day quarantine or testing to return to the state of PA.  Even with a quarantine, students can work remotely.

18. What is the department doing to maintain its culture and integrate new students into its community?

In the department, we are maintaining town halls for student feedback.  The Graduate Student Association (GSA) holds fun events for students like BINGO and trivia night.  Individual groups have group lunches and happy hours.