Graduate Student FAQs

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Application Questions

What should I include in the statement of purpose?

There are no specific requirements for the content of the statement of purpose. A statement of purpose allows an you to express why you wish to pursue graduate studies. The statement could discuss your experience, training, goals, interests, or expectations.

How long should the statement of purpose be?

The statement of purpose is generally a one- to two-page document. There is no restriction on length. However, take into consideration that the Admissions Committee is reading many documents so your statement of purpose should be concise.

Are GRE test scores required?

Official GRE test scores will be considered if submitted but are NOT required. All applicants are expected to have earned a third-/fourth-year grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

Are journal papers required?

Journal papers are optional.

How do I upload multiple journal papers?

You may upload one PDF. If you wish to upload more than one journal paper, create one PDF containing those papers and upload that PDF.

When should I submit my application?

Submit your application as early as possible so those providing letters of recommendation have sufficient time to upload letters. Official Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and GRE (GRE is optional; see above) scores will be added to your submitted application as they are received.

May I apply to the Ph.D. program if I only have a bachelor’s degree?

It is possible to apply directly to the doctoral program without having previously received a master’s degree.

If I apply to the Ph.D. program, will the application also be reviewed for admission to the M.S. program?

Applications are only considered for the degree program indicated in the application. If you submit an application to the doctoral program, you will only be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program.

Can I earn a master’s degree while I am a Ph.D. student?

Many doctoral students choose to obtain a master of science degree on the way to getting a Ph.D. They do so by fulfilling the master of science degree requirements.

Admissions Questions

I am a third-year student and considering graduate school. Besides getting good grades, is there anything else I can do to enhance my chances for admission and financial support?

Having good grades in your third and fourth years is very important. However, we also require several letters of recommendation. It is helpful for you to participate in research so that faculty can get to know you. You should define your educational and research interests early and find a faculty member who is willing to accept you as a member of a research group or look into undergraduate research opportunities.

Whom should I ask to write my two or more letters of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation should come from people that can attest to your ability in many different aspects, including your knowledge of fundamentals, written and oral communication skills, motivation, maturity, independence as a researcher, and willingness to learn and succeed. For example, you may choose one of your former instructors or professors. It is very important that we get a letter from your adviser, if you have a master of science degree. If you plan to transfer from one school to another, we require at least one letter from a faculty member at the school where you studied most recently.

What do I need to include with my letters of recommendation?

Provide the contact information for each letter writer in your online application. Each letter writer will have the option to either upload a scanned letter (PDF format) or type a letter of recommendation. Log on to your online application to send reminders to letter writers.

What score is required for the TOEFL for admission?

For international students, TOEFL scores at a minimum of 80 or higher on the web-based test with a 19 or higher in the speaking section. An acceptable alternative to the TOEFL is the IELTS test, on which you must achieve a minimum composite score of 6.5. Visit the Penn State Graduate School FAQ page for more information.

How do I submit TOEFL/IELTS scores?

Submit official TOEFL scores to Institution Code 2660. Order these early; they can take up to a month to reach us. After official TOEFL scores are received, you can see them in your online application.

Official IELTS scores can be sent electronically or by mail (hard copy). Order these early; they can take up to a month to reach us. After official IELTS scores are received, you can see them in your online application. If sending by mail, request that official IELTS scores (hard copy) be sent to the following address:

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

I am an international student, but I received a degree from an institution in the United States. Do I need to take the TOEFL/IELTS?

International applicants who receive a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from an institution in the United States are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement. Additional information about exemptions can be found on the Penn State Graduate School FAQ page.

I am an international student who received a degree from a non-U.S. institution where English is the language of instruction. Do I need to take the TOEFL/IELTS?

International applicants who have received degrees from specific countries are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement. For complete information about TOEFL/IELTS exemptions, visit the Penn State Graduate School Requirements for Graduate Admission page.

How do I submit my transcripts?

Scan official transcripts from each institution of higher education attended, both undergraduate and graduate. Upload scans of official transcripts to online application. Do not send any materials by mail to Penn State. If you are admitted to the program, you will be given information on how to submit official transcripts.

The Graduate School charges a fee for handling my application. Would it be possible for you to quickly examine my application via email and let me know if I will be admitted and considered for financial aid?

The Graduate Programs Office cannot make any decisions unless a complete application package is available. You can view the minimum application requirements and a list of the applications materials you need to submit on our How to Apply page.

When and how will I be notified of my application status?

Your application file will be reviewed only when it is complete. A complete application includes our application for a graduate assistantship, a statement of purpose, and all other application requirements. The deadline for applications for the fall semester is December 15, and decisions on admission and financial aid are typically made within three months of the application deadline. You will be informed of our decision by email.

Can I check an existing application?

To edit or check the status of an existing application, visit the Penn State Graduate School Access an Existing Application page.

Master’s Degree Questions

What courses are required for an M.S. degree?

You can view the full requirements on our M.S. in Nuclear Engineering page. As a new graduate student, it is important that you schedule a meeting with your adviser to discuss and formulate a course program prior to the start of the master of science program.

How long does it take to complete an M.S. degree?

The average time to complete a master of science degree is about two years, though some may take longer.

How many graduate-level courses should I take per semester?

For students beginning their first semester, three courses at the 500-level are very time-consuming. Since many students have an assistantship, it is important that the duties associated with the assistantship are factored in when managing your course load.

What job opportunities become available once a master of science degree is earned?

After earning your master of science degree, it is expected that you will have a deeper knowledge of the fundamentals of nuclear engineering, in-depth research experience, and improved technical writing and presentation skills. Therefore, you may be considered more qualified for positions that require solving complex problems or undertaking management responsibilities.

Doctoral Degree Questions

What courses are required for a Ph.D. degree?

There is no formal course program required for the doctoral degree. However, the adviser and members of the student’s Ph.D. committee normally decide the content of the course program. You can view the full requirements on our Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering page.

How long does it take to complete a Ph.D. degree?

It varies considerably. If you have completed a master of science degree, it may take only three years. However, if you have only a bachelor of science degree, it may take five to seven years.

What job opportunities become available after receiving a Ph.D. degree?

Today, most of our students find positions in industry with job responsibilities associated with research and development. Others find research positions at national laboratories, such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Sandia National Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, etc. These positions are often of a temporary nature (postdoctoral) and span about two years. A few find academic positions as tenure-track assistant professors, but the competition is keen.

Graduate Experience Questions

How do I find an adviser?

The first step is to define your area or areas of interest. What undergraduate courses were most appealing? From there, you may want to look at the various areas of research conducted in our department that aligns with your educational interests. You should then communicate directly with the faculty members who conduct research in an area of your interest to find out what opportunities they may have available.

What are the duties of the typical teaching assistant?

The typical teaching assistant (TA) serves as grader for a lecture course. The TA also keeps office hours, proctors exams, and may give recitation sessions. However, TA duties may vary. Teaching a lecture course is very limited for graduate students in general. Most teaching assistants serve as a grader in courses or may teach a laboratory course. During the past several years, teaching a lecture course has been one important aspect of the Graduate Teaching Fellow program. The students participating in this program are usually within a year from completion of their doctoral degree.

What is the Graduate Teaching Fellow program?

The Graduate Teaching Fellow (GTF) Program is designed for students who are seriously considering a career in academia. The program provides an opportunity to gain real-world university teaching experience and opportunities to learn more about an academic career.

What are the possibilities for financial support?

Almost all graduate students who arrive at Penn State at the beginning of the academic year have received either teaching or research assistantships covering tuition and a monthly stipend.

What research facilities are established in the department?

It is impossible to provide a short answer to this question, but you can visit our research section to get a complete listing.

What graduate-level courses are offered?

The department offers a wide variety of graduate level courses. Visit the University Bulletin to see a listing of graduate courses in nuclear engineering.

Where can I find information on important dates like the first class day of the semester?

Check the Penn State University Registrar website.

Some faculty are always “out-of-office” or I cannot get in touch with them via the telephone. How should I most effectively contact them?

Our faculty are very active in teaching, research, and various service activities. To attract their interest, it may be best to write an email stating your educational background and research interests, and include a résumé. If the faculty have an interest, they will contact you. Faculty members get hundreds of inquires every year, and it is very difficult to provide an individual reply to all requests. We appreciate your understanding in this matter.

When are the various thesis deadlines?

The Graduate School specifies various deadlines for submitting draft and final versions of theses. Visit the Penn State Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Information page to learn more.

Contact Information

  • Ashley Ammerman
    Nuclear Engineering
    Graduate Program Coordinator
    113C Hallowell Building

button: the graduate school at Penn State


The Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the top ranked nuclear engineering programs in the United States. The department distinguishes itself with a strong focus on experimental research. The actively growing department leads four educational programs for students pursuing a bachelor of science, a master of science, a master of engineering, or a doctoral degree. The Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) facilities, including the Breazeale Reactor, are available to nuclear engineering faculty and students at Penn State for research and instruction. RSEC houses the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, the country’s first and longest operating licensed nuclear research reactor. Having access to an operating research reactor is a key strength for the department and enables Penn State to harness research and educational opportunities that are unique in the United States. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

Department of Nuclear Engineering

206 Hallowell Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-863-6222