Frequently Asked Questions

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Applications and Admissions

How do I apply to the Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences?
You may apply on-line: APPLY ONLINE

What are the minimum GRE and TOEFL scores necessary for admission?
Minimum combined GRE verbal and quantitative score of 295. Competitive applicants will have verbal and quantitative scores above 310. GRE Advanced Subject Test is suggested, but not required.

If I do poorly on my GREs, should I retake them?
The GREs are one of the major criteria that we use, but it is not the only one. In general, if your GREs are not competitive you should consider retaking.

When is the latest time I can take the GREs to help with my application?
We have a rolling admissions process which begins approximately in December with a priority review deadline of January 15.  It would be wise to submit your scores no later than January 15.

What is the minimum GPA needed for admission?
All PhD applicants must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0.

The only research experience I have had in college are my lab courses. Is that enough?
Competitive applicants will have completed prior research experience outside of coursework.

Who should I get reference letters from?
You must have three letters of recommendation from those familiar with your potential for investigative research and academic record. The best letters of reference are those that come from established scientists with personal knowledge of your laboratory experience, such as research mentors at your own institution or elsewhere. Letters from faculty who have taught you in laboratory courses or in advanced biology courses are also very helpful.

Do I need to select a faculty advisor during the application/admissions process?

If I know that I want to enter, for instance, the Biochemistry program, should I just apply directly to that graduate program?
All students interested in the Biomedical Sciences PhD Program apply to the undeclared program. If accepted, the first year of the PhD Program includes core classes and three lab rotations, of your choosing, before the research program, lab, and mentor are determined.

For the Masters of Science degree, each program has its own admissions committee, so you should apply directly to that program (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Developmental Biology, or Physiology).

Can I visit the Upstate campus to learn more about the Graduate Program?
Students can contact Krystal Ripa, the Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at or 315-464-7719 to arrange a pre-advisement appointment and tour. There are also Open Houses hosted both in the fall and spring semester.

Students who have been accepted or are being seriously considered for acceptance into the Upstate Graduate Program are invited to visit the Upstate campus at our expense on one of our recruitment days between January and April. These visits include tours of our research facilities, presentations by each department and one-on-one meetings with research faculty. These days are designed to give students an opportunity to learn more about our program and meet some of our current students and faculty.

I've been accepted and am having trouble making a decision. Can I come back for a second visit?
Yes, you are encouraged to visit again to collect as much information as needed to be comfortable with your decision. Such additional visits are at your own expense. Please get in touch with your faculty contact on the Graduate Admissions Committee to talk about Upstate or you can contact Krystal Ripa, the Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at or 315-464-7719, to arrange another visit.

I've applied but haven't heard back. When and who should I call or email?
Inquires regarding the status of your application can be made to Krystal Ripa, the Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at or 315-464-7719. Please, however, realize that the Admissions Committee does need a certain amount of time to reach its decisions. Furthermore, you will be notified quickly whenever a decision is reached.

Student Life

Where do most Upstate students live?
While "on campus" housing is available in Geneva Tower, most students live off campus in rented apartments because it is very affordable. There are many places to live that are in close proximity to Upstate (for example, Madison Towers External Icon and Jefferson Towers External Icon are high rise apartment buildings within walking distance of Upstate) [WE DO NOT INSPECT, APPROVE OR SUPERVISE THE PREMISES HEREIN.] There are apartments available in the city of Syracuse and the surrounding towns. Some of the most popular areas include: the Eastwood, University Hill,  Tipperary Hill and Armory Square neighborhoods of Syracuse, as well as the town of Liverpool.

What is the best way to find a suitable place to live?
Most students use various websites to search for housing: External Icon, External Icon, External Icon and External Icon which is primarily, but not exclusively, for SU students. Students usually visit the property before signing a lease.

What is the typical cost to rent an apartment?
One-bedroom apartments typically rent for ~$700/month. Two-bedroom apartments typically rent for ~$850/month.

Do I need a car in Syracuse?
If you live within walking distance of Upstate, you do not need a car, although most students find it more convenient to own a car to buy groceries, etc. SUNY Upstate Medical University students can join Zipcar External Icon, a car sharing and car club service, for a moderate fee. Zipcar is an alternative to traditional car rental and car ownership.

Can I park my car on campus?
Parking is available at a fee, which varies based on location. For further information on pricing and shuttle services, please visit the Parking Office website.

Are there regular social activities sponsored by the Graduate School designed to bring the students closer together?
First-year graduate students, in particular, are a fairly tight-knit group because they are taking classes together and studying together. Many of these friendships are maintained in later years as students pursue their dissertation research in different labs and departments. The Graduate Student Association meets regularly and sponsors several social events such as the annual Summer Picnic and Winter Holiday Party. The graduate students also have a group that meets monthly to present data in a student-only setting.

Does Upstate offer/sponsor extracurricular and social events for students?
Such activities and events are offered through the Campus Activities Office, which sells discounted tickets to local shows, concerts, movies, and sporting events. They also host comedy events, coffee houses, and an annual semiformal, and sponsor weekend trips to various destinations such as New York City, Boston and the Finger Lakes. In addition, they organize intramural athletic leagues. All students are welcome to use the facilities at the Campus Activities Building (CAB) which include a pool, sauna, tennis courts, weight room, etc. Please visit Campus Activities to view available facilities.

Are there interesting restaurants, nightspots, and nightlife in Syracuse?
Much of student nightlife is centered around Armory Square External Icon in downtown Syracuse which has many restaurants, nightclubs and shops. Syracuse also has numerous offerings in the arts including Syracuse Stage External Icon, Everson Museum of Arts External Icon, Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) External Icon, and the Syracuse Opera External Icon, all of which are within walking distance of campus.

What kinds of recreational activities are available nearby?
Downhill skiing External Icon and cross-country skiing External Icon, hiking, golf, college sporting events (SU football, basketball, lacrosse), minor league hockey (Syracuse Crunch External Icon), and minor league baseball (Syracuse Sky Chiefs External Icon). Discounted tickets to many events are available through our Campus Activities Office. The Lake Ontario External Icon, Finger Lakes External Icon, Thousand Islands External Icon and Adirondack Mountain External Icon vacation areas are within an hour's drive of the city and offer unique swimming, boating, fishing and hunting opportunities. Many smaller lakes, including Green Lakes State Park External Icon are within a few minutes of Syracuse, and numerous golf courses are located in the city and surrounding towns. Niagara Falls External Icon is close enough for a day trip.  New York City, Montreal and Philadelphis are all about a four hour drive from Syracuse, and Boston is about a five hour drive.

My spouse is getting a position/job in Rochester/Ithaca/Buffalo/Albany/ Binghamton. Is it realistic to commute back and forth to these places?
Rochester, Ithaca, and Binghamton are each 75 to 90 minutes from Syracuse by car on interstate highways, so it is feasible to live between the 2 cities and commute half the distance each day. Albany and Buffalo are more than 2 hours away, so commuting from a site between them and Syracuse would be difficult.

Is there childcare available for my young children? Is it expensive? Is it of high quality?
SUNY Upstate's Child Care Center is less than one mile from campus and offers high quality care for children aged six weeks to five years. The Center offers care on weekdays from 6:30 am to 6 pm and is dedicated to serving staff and students.

Upstate's Child Care Center is one of the first programs in the nation to achieve the accreditation under the new quality standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC). All child care staff members have an Early Childhood accreditation or degree.

The cost of daycare is based on household income and is competitive with other daycare centers in the area.

More information or an application may be obtained directly from the Childcare Center (315-464-4438) or by visiting our Upstate Childcare Center

Am I expected to buy many textbooks?
During the first year, 2-3 textbooks may be recommended for introductory level courses. Students may purchase them, or use them from the reserves in the library. Most advanced coursework is based on original readings from the literature, so textbooks are not required.

Research and Lab Rotations

What are lab rotations?
All first-year students participate in three lab rotations of their choosing. Lab rotations give students exposure to diverse research environments and help them select a research mentor with whom to do their dissertation work. Each rotation lasts 10-12 weeks, and typically students are given a small independent project to work on during that time. Students have until the end of the first year to select a mentor at which time they become affiliated with their mentor's degree granting program.

Do graduate students choose their lab rotations? How is this done?
Yes. Each graduate student is appointed a faculty advisor who will help them match their research interests and personalities to suitable labs. To help students select their rotation labs, the college offers the Graduate Student Research Opportunities course which meets the first three weeks of the Fall semester. In this course, representatives from each of the six biomedical sciences programs describe the research interests of their faculty members. These presentations, along with the guidance of a faculty advisor, help students select their rotations labs.

How quickly do I get into a lab? When do the first lab rotations begin?
The first lab rotation begins about the third week in September. This gives students approximately 1 month, prior to the start of the rotations, to settle into their course work and to meet with various faculty members to determine where to do their first lab rotation.

Do I have to choose all 3 lab rotations in the Fall?
No, this is discouraged because students' plans change as they learn more about various research areas. Typically, rotations are arranged approximately 2 weeks prior to the start of the rotation.

How much time do first year students have for research?
Most first year courses are scheduled for mornings so that afternoons and evenings are available for research rotations.

Can a student do clinically-related research at Upstate?
Since SUNY Upstate is an academic medical center, our graduates students do have an ample opportunity to pursue research with an immediate clinical relevance.

Academic Program

What courses are first year students required to take?
All PhD students take the following courses:

  1. Foundations of Molecular and Cell Biology, which covers fundamental and advanced topics in biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology.
  2. Principles of Biostatistics, which introduces the basic principles of biostatistics for research in the biomedical sciences.
  3. Graduate Student Research Opportunities in which representatives from each of the 6 Biomedical Sciences Programs describe the research interests of their faculty.
  4. Journal Club, which provides practice in analyzing published research papers and giving oral presentations.
  5. Three Research Rotations, which provide students with diverse research experiences to help them select a lab in which to carry out their thesis research.

What courses are required beyond the first year?
During the second year, students take Responsible Conduct of Scientific Research course, which examines the moral and philosophical issues confronting scientists. Students continue to take electives based on their research interests as well as courses required by their program.By the end of the 2nd year, students pass a qualifying exam to go on as candidates for the doctoral degree. By this time, most students have completed all of their coursework and are devoting full time to their dissertation research.

What is a qualifying exam?
The qualifying exam is a written/oral exam, covering areas appropriate to the student's training and research interests, given by a committee of 6 faculty members representing at least 3 different departments. The specific exam format is set by the student's degree-granting program, but typically, the exam involves writing a thesis research proposal and doing a literature search to answer a question outside the student's main area of interest. The written exam is then defended in an oral exam before the examining committee. All PhD students must pass this exam by the end of their 2nd year in order to go on as candidates for the doctoral degree.

How much time do first year students have for research?
Most first year courses are scheduled for mornings so that afternoons and evenings are available for research rotations.

How many years does it take to earn the PhD degree?
The average time to degree for PhD students at Upstate is 5.5 years.

Can I pursue a PhD degree as a part-time student?
This is discouraged because completing an independent research project requires full-time effort.

Will I have my summers off during graduate school? Will I get vacation time?
The academic and stipend calendars run for a full year, which includes the summer. There are scheduled breaks noted on the academic calendar that first year students typically take. Additional time off can be taken with the approval of the Advisory Committee. Once students have entered their dissertation labs, time off is determined in consultation with the dissertation advisor.

Are students required to do any teaching? Are teaching opportunities available to students who want some teaching experience?
Most of our PhD students are NOT required to teach. However, there are numerous opportunities to gain teaching experience; for example, graduate students may assist in medical school laboratory courses such as Gross Anatomy and Neuroanatomy.

Can I take courses at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF?
At the request of the faculty advisor, students may take courses at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF. Students must meet the prerequisites set by S.U. and SUNY ESF for taking courses.

Stipends and Benefits

What is the current stipend for graduate students?
The annual stipend is currently $25,008, which is paid on a biweekly basis.

How does this stipend compare to stipends at other graduate schools?
Our students generally find it very easy to live on their stipends because the cost of living in Syracuse is very low compared to many other cities. For example, you would need to earn $48,173 in New York City, $36,722 in Boston, or $32,932 in Philadelphia to equal our stipend of $25,008 in Syracuse.

What health care benefits are provided to graduate students?
If receiving a graduate student stipend, you are eligible for the Graduate Student Employee Health Insurance Program. The cost for the plan is approximately $14.00 biweekly for enrollee, $85.00 biweekly for family, and is deducted from the stipend check. The health plan includes dental and vision care benefits.

Is the stipend considered taxable income?
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), stipends are taxable.

Is on-campus parking available?
Parking is available, at a fee which varies based on location. For further information on pricing and shuttle services, please visit Parking Services.

International Students

Are international students accepted into the graduate program?
International students must meet the same academic requirements and standards as domestic students. In addition to the materials required of all applicants, international students whose first language is not English must submit the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score.

Is there an on-campus International Student Advisor?
Our international student advisor is Ms. Jennifer Abbott.

Visa information and an I-20 application form can be found at: