Using “right-brain” and “left-brain” thinking, whole-brain engineers use creative and analytic skills to solve complex problems. Using “right-brain” and “left-brain” thinking, whole-brain engineers use creative and analytic skills to solve complex problems.

Graduate Study

Thank you for your interest in earning a graduate degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University.


The department only admits PhD-seeking graduate students for Fall quarter.

Applications for admission to the PhD program in Fall 2024 are now open. The deadline to submit an application is December 15, 2023.


The department only admits MS-seeking graduate students for Fall quarter.

Applications for admission to the MS program in Fall 2024 are now open. The deadline to submit an application is April 20, 2024

Please see the frequently asked questions about how to apply below, as well as additional information on the main McCormick School website.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Application Process

How do I apply to the graduate program?

If you’re interested in applying to either the master of science or PhD program in chemical and biological engineering, please submit your application through The Graduate School.

Applications for admission to the PhD and MS programs for the 2024-2025 academic school year will open on September 13th.

Start the MS or PhD application

If you’re interested in applying to the master of science in biotechnology program, please do so through the program’s website.

Start the MBP program application

Do I have to pay the application fee?

Yes, all students have to pay the application fee. The application fee is not typically waived. The Graduate School at Northwestern (TGS) provides fee waivers on a first-come, first serve basis to eligible applicants who meet certain criteria. If you meet the criteria you will automatically be given a waiver upon application.

Do I have to pay the fee by credit card? Can I pay by check?

The fee must be paid online using a credit card. If you do not have a credit card and are unable to borrow a card from a friend or family member, please contact The Graduate School’s admissions staff. Students without credit cards may also pay using a Visa gift card, which may be purchased in a number of ways and is a gift certificate that may be used in place of a credit card. These gift cards frequently involve a nominal purchase fee, though, and the use of a standard credit card is recommended if at all possible.

Are there guidelines for the application essay prompts?

Yes, you can find a list of resources and advice for essay writing here.

Note: This document is intended to help applicants best communicate aspects of their experiences and desires that are pertinent to the PhD admissions committee.  Following these guidelines should not be perceived as a guarantee of admission into our program in any way. 

You can find The Graduate School's official essay guidelines here.

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Where do I get forms for recommendations?

For more information on how Letters of Recommendation are handled, please see The Graduate School's policies on LORs.

Can I have a fourth recommender send in a recommendation letter?

It is not how many you send, but the information contained in those letters that contributes to your overall admissibility. Send the required number (no more than three), but choose your recommenders well.

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Test Score Requirements

Our program will not be accepting GRE scores for the 2024-2025 application cycle.

How do I submit official GRE or TOEFL scores? What are your department and institution codes?

Please do not submit GRE scores; they will not be accepted for the 2024-2025 admissions cycle.

What are the TOEFL requirements for admissions?

The TOEFL minimum requirement is 100 for PhD and 90 for MS applicants. 

We also accept IELTS scores in lieu of TOEFL scores. The requirement is 7.5 for PhD and 7.0 for MS applicants.

Applicants with a degree from an English speaking institution will have their TOEFL/IELTS requirement waived upon review of their application.

Can I submit official test scores if the supporting documentation will not be available until after the December 15th application deadline?

The supporting documentation for TOEFL scores has some flexibility. Once you know your scores upon completion of the test, you can self-report these scores on the application. You must then request that a score report is sent to Northwestern University. Note, however, that it is your responsibility to make sure that the department receives this documentation. It is important to get these score reports in to the department as soon as possible.

I have included testing scores, my resume or CV, and a sample publication in an email. Will you please review these documents and let me know my chances for admissions or if you recommend retaking any of the standardized tests?

Our policy is to provide final decision offers after all applications have been reviewed.

I am a citizen of another country but have/will have a degree from an English speaking institution. Do I have to take the TOEFL or IELTS?

A degree from an English speaking institution will waive the TOEFL/IELTS. This will happen manually after you submit your application, so please don’t be alarmed if the system is saying that the score is missing. Once your application is submitted, an administrator will review all materials and waive the requirement manually.

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Admissions Prerequisites

If I applied last year and was not admitted, but would like to apply again, do I have to send in a new application?

You need to fill out a new online application and pay the application fee again. However, you may not need to send new copies of the supporting documents if we still have them on file.

I received a special honors or award after submitting my online application. How can I include this information in my profile?

If you receive any notable commendations after submission of your application, please send an email to the graduate program assistant with the relevant information and a request for it to be incorporated into your file.

Can I be admitted to the department if I do not have an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering?

If you have degrees in other engineering disciplines, chemistry, physics, or applied math, you can apply for the chemical and biological engineering program. In most cases, it may be necessary to first take some undergraduate chemical engineering courses to be prepared for the core chemical engineering graduate courses.

If you have a biological science degree and have interest in working with the synthetic biology faculty, please apply to the Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Program (IBiS).The graduate course requirements in IBiS are better suited for your degree and background, and synthetic biology faculty also take students from IBiS.

Do you admit international students?

Yes. The large majority of the graduate students we admit received their BS degrees from US institutions, but we do admit a small pool of international students each year.

What do I put in the "supplemental" section of the application?

The supplemental portion of the application is not required. This is just a section for you to include anything else that does not necessarily fit into another category.

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Research and Advisers

How are research advisers assigned?

Early in the fall, each faculty member who is looking to recruit new students will give a research presentation at the beginning of the fall semester. Over the next four weeks or so, you will talk in more detail with the faculty members with whom you have interest in working. In November, you submit your top three adviser choices, in rank order. The faculty members then meet to match students’ and advisers’ preferences.

Will I get my first choice for my research adviser?

Typically, the matching process has gone very well, with the majority of the students receiving their top choice. In some cases, a student’s second or third choice is awarded. It is extremely rare that we are not able to satisfy one of the top three choices. In this case, we work with the student to identify other available advisors that are still in their area of interest.

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Program Specifics

How long does it take to complete a PhD?

The typical residency for a PhD student is five years.

How many courses do I need to take?

PhD students are required to take 10 classes on the quarter system. MS students take 7 or 10 courses, depending on whether they opt for the thesis or course based option, respectively.

Are there any qualifying exams?

We do not have formal qualifying exams. After the first year, PhD students wishing to be considered for continuation are evaluated based on their coursework and research performance to date. Students are asked to demonstrate a minimum 3.5 GPA in graduate coursework and to demonstrate a working knowledge of their selected field of research.

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How does the funding work for a master's student?

While there are some limited funding opportunities for full-time masters students in our department, preference is given to the doctoral students. As a consequence, nearly all of our master’s students are self-funded.

How does the funding work for a PhD student?

In our department, fulltime PhD students are provided funding for living expenses, benefits, and full tuition for at least five years, as long as progress milestones are being met. Students in the PhD program are offered a competitive annual stipend. For the 2024-2025 academic year, the base stipend is $36,960. Students are highly encouraged to seek their own outside funding, as this can increase their stipend and can be quite prestigious.