Applying to the Biological Engineering PhD program
Thank you for your interest in MIT BE - we want to receive your application! This page explains the application process and provides information specific to our program that you may use to strengthen your application. Our intensive evaluation process begins with your electronic application folder and proceeds through an on-site interview.
We believe that our diverse, welcoming, and collaborative community fosters the most effective environment for PhD students to learn from our faculty how to meet the challenges of conducting path-breaking research in Biological Engineering. To maintain and further strengthen our culture, it is important that we continue to receive applications representing a broad range of academic backgrounds and individual experiences. From 2019-2022, we invited applicants from 64 different undergraduate institutions holding and expecting bachelors degrees in many different disciplines to interview for admission. Of applicants invited to interview from 2019-2022, about 52% self-identified as female, and more than 18% self-identified as underrepresented minorities (as defined by MIT prior to 2023). Many students join the program immediately after completing their undergraduate studies, while others have already received advanced degrees or acquired post-baccalaureate professional experience.
The guidance below is intended to help prospective students understand the aspects of academic preparation and individual experience that poise applicants for success in our program and how to present this information effectively in their application materials. This guidance is not intended to describe any “ideal” application profile or minimum standards for admission (no quantitative standards exist). Every complete application received is reviewed holistically by BE faculty.
Application to MIT BE is very competitive, with approximately 5% of applicants receiving an invitation to interview in recent years (we offer admission to the majority of interviewees). Applicants holding international undergraduate degrees may apply, and such applicants received about 3% of the interview invitations made from 2019-2022. Interview invitations are communicated asynchronously to applicants in January and February each year. Many domestic and international applicants with interests in quantitative and applied biological research at MIT also consider the PhD programs in Computational and Systems Biology, Chemical Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, and Health Science and Technology. MIT allows applications to more than one program in the same year, and we recommend that applicants indicate all the programs they are applying to on their BE application to maximize their chances for a successful match.
Evaluation of applications for PhD study in BE particularly focuses on:
- Evidence of strong academic preparation and demonstrated interest in both a quantitative discipline and a biological discipline
- Evidence of aptitude for and experience/accomplishment in scientific or engineering research
- Explanation of interest in pursuing a career that leverages PhD-level training in Biological Engineering under the guidance of MIT BE faculty advisors
Academic preparation. Success in the challenging coursework and research components of the MIT BE PhD program requires a strong academic background in both biology and quantitative engineering or science. While many successful applicants expect undergraduate engineering degrees and have completed substantial coursework in biology, there are many different ways to demonstrate the academic preparation needed. Applicants whose principal degree is quantitative, computational, engineering, or in the physical sciences can bolster their training in biology by taking core biology courses like biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology. Applicants whose principal degree is in a life science field can acquire quantitative training in courses beyond calculus, biostatistics, and programming/informatics such as differential equations, linear algebra, and advanced courses in probability, statistics, analysis, and computer science.
As each applicant’s personal and college experience is unique and grading practices differ, BE has no minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement. We strongly consider the factors other than GPA described here in our admissions process. However, essentially all applicants receiving an interview invitation have a GPA in the A range (>3.6 on an A = 4.0 scale), and from 2019-2022 the median GPA of interviewees was 3.94. Many applicants with GPAs above 3.9 do not receive interview invitations, and applicants with GPAs below the A range may be competitive for admission in our holistic evaluation process given other extraordinary aspects of an individual applicant’s academic record, experiences, and achievements detailed in their application materials.
Research experience. MIT BE PhD students spend most of their time in the program conducting research in partnership with faculty advisors. Conducting impactful research is a challenging endeavor, and most successful applicants describe a strong track record of research experience and accomplishment. At the same time, we recognize that the nature of accessible research projects and opportunities to publish varies widely across the experiences of individual applicants. We value the skills and personal characteristics important for success in research - including initiative, creativity, and determination - evidenced by any type of work or personal experience. As a result, there are no specific requirements for the duration or number of research experiences, publications, or awards resulting from the research. Some applicants invited to interview have not yet completed any research publications. Successful applicants focus on why they selected the projects and mentors they chose to commit time with, what they did in their major project experiences, and the outcomes of the work including results of the projects themselves and how the experiences influenced the applicant’s evolving academic and career interests.
Applicant statement. Application statements are free-form opportunities to introduce yourself in writing to the admissions committee, explain your interest in Biological Engineering at MIT, and contextualize other application components including your academic record, research experience, personal experience, and letters of recommendation. The admissions committee wants to hear why PhD-level training in Biological Engineering under the mentorship of MIT BE faculty is right for you, which research groups you may be interested in joining, how you have prepared to receive PhD training, and how this training may power your aspirations for the future. The MIT BE Communications Lab CommKit has additional content on writing statements of purpose. While not a particular focus of our evaluation, statements are opportunities to directly demonstrate your writing skills and attention to detail.
Letters of recommendation provide crucial evidence of research aptitude in successful applications. The most impactful support letters come from your faculty research supervisor(s) who know you well and have substantial experience advising PhD students. Support letters from other research supervisors, academic advisors, or course instructors may also be included. You can find general guidance (not specific to applications to study in the BE PhD program) on requesting letters of recommendation and on support letter content from the Biological Engineering Communication Lab.
To apply, go to the online application and create a user id and password. You do not need to complete the entire application in one sitting. You may begin the application, save it, and return to it at a later time using your user ID and password.
Applicants are encouraged to submit their applications ahead of the deadline and are responsible for ensuring that all admissions credentials are submitted on time. Your application will not be reviewed until all materials have been received. There is no separate application for financial support; all admitted applicants are offered a full support package.
MIT BE does not require standardized Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores as part of our application process, but will consider scores if provided by the applicant.
How is the COVID pandemic impacting admissions?
MIT's admissions committees and offices for graduate and professional schools will take the significant disruptions of COVID-19 into account when reviewing applicants’ transcripts and other admissions materials as part of their regular practice of performing individualized, holistic reviews of each applicant. BE expects to hold interviews on-site in March after a timely review of public health concerns and applicable governmental and institutional policies and requirements for travel and events.
To apply follow these steps.
1. Fill out the online application by 23:59, EST, December 15.
You will be providing the following information:
- Field(s) of interest
- Personal information/addresses
- International student data
- Three or more names and email addresses of letter writers
- Scanned copies of your College Transcripts
- For international students, scanned copies of your IELTS scores
- Academic preparation and research/work experience
- Applicant statement
- Credit card payment of $75 (Information on requesting a fee waiver is here)
2. Arrange for submission of the following (official reports only):
Scanned PDF transcripts and IELTS scores are considered unofficial documents but are sufficient for review purposes. Official documents are required before an admissions decision can be made. Please have any test scores electronically transmitted to MIT Admissions and mail official copies of your transcript(s) to:
MIT Department of Biological Engineering
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Bldg. 16-267
Cambridge, MA 02139
For international students:
IELTS scores should also be electronically sent directly to MIT.
- To register for a test, visit http://www.ielts.org
- IELTS does not require a code. Please write "Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology". No address is required as scores are reported electronically.
- If you are an international student, you should take the IELTS test by November 15. The Department of Biological Engineering does not waive this requirement.
The IELTS is waived for applicants who are citizens of Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Singapore, or the United Kingdom, or for applicants who have or will earn a BS degree at a US university.