Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQs from Applicants

Do I need to take the General GRE, and what scores do I need to achieve?
Yes, GRE scores must be received by the time of application. To meet department requirements for admission, you must place in the top 50th percentile in any one of the three subsections. This exam is offered frequently and thus it is expected that you take the exam with sufficient time for scores to arrive at CSUN before the applicaiton deadline.

Do I need to take the Biology GRE, and what scores do I need to achieve?
Often. The rules say that if you were a biology major as an undergrad and your GPA in your biology courses was 3.0 or more, then we will take that as evidence of sufficient background preparation. If your undergrad major was not biology, or your undergrad biology GPA was less than 3.0, then yes you need to take the Biology GRE and place in the top 50th percentile. Note that some specialized degrees in some biology sub-disciplines (e.g. Bachelors in Biotechnology) may not be equivalent to the more general Bachelors in Biology. If you are unsure, take the Subject GRE or contact the Biology Graduate Coordinator. The subject GRE exam is offered infrequently so plan ahead.

Can the DAT, MCAT, or other such test be used instead of the GRE?

What if my scores are not available when I apply?
Apply anyway, and get us as complete an application as fast as you can. Note on your application the date that you have taken the test but don’t yet have scores, or the date that you will be taking the test. Depending on the strength of the rest of your application, we may be able to delay our final decision while we wait for your GRE scores.

How do I find a thesis advisor?
See their research interests, and contact faculty whose interests overlap yours. We will happily show your file to the faculty you list on your application as faculty you would be interested in working with, however it is your responsibility to find an advisor, and you can not be admitted without one.

How do I find out the status of my application?
Your application to the University through CSU Mentor will allow you to track the progress of your application through myNorthridge Portal at to determine if the university has received your application and transcripts. Once the university has completed their review of your materials then they will change your status to “under departmental review”. Late transcripts are often a source of delay. The Graduate Coordinator will send letters of admission or denial usually within 6 weeks to the email address you included in your department application. Incomplete applications are often the reason for delays beyond 6 weeks. It is important to confirm with your referees that letters were sent by the deadline.

I was sent a letter of acceptance from the Graduate Coordinator and so how do I start registering for my classes?
Once the Graduate Committee has approved your application we will recommend your admission to University Admissions and Records. They will forward an official acceptance letter and instructions for registering.

I met all the minimum requirements for admission into the program but I was not admitted.
Unfortunately we sometimes have to deny admission to applicants who have excellent scholastic records. There can be many reasons for this. The most common reason is that the application was incomplete or late. The second most common reason is that the applicant was not accepted by a faculty member to join their lab. Faculty have limited space, time, and resources and therefore have a limited number of positions available in their lab in any given semester. Therefore it is very important to make contact with potential faculty advisors before applying. If you are not admitted you can reapply in a subsequent semester through CSU Mentor. See for instructions on reapplying without paying the application fee again. Contact the Biology Graduate Coordinator if you intend on reapplying to the department and to determine what you need to improve your application for a second submission.

FAQs from Current Graduate Students

What is the difference between fully classified and conditionally classified status?
You could be admitted to the program despite deficiencies in your application. For example, if your undergraduate degree is not from a CSU institution then you probably have not taken the Upper Division Writing Exam which is a requirement for classification. Remedying such deficiencies would then be a ‘condition’ on your graduate status. If you are ‘conditionally classified’ you have 12 units of coursework within which to remedy those deficiencies and become ‘fully classified.’ Naturally there is paperwork to fill out for this; you do not automatically become fully classified, unless you were admitted as ‘fully classified.’

How many units are required, and how long does it take to get a degree?
31 units of coursework, however up to 12 of those units (BIOL696 & 698) can be related to your research. The MS is not primarily a coursework degree. You finish when you meet all of the requirements and successfully defend an original research thesis. How long that thesis takes is very variable. Generally, students in ecology and evolution disciplines might take three years, whereas students in cell and molecular disciplines might take two.

How can I support myself while studying at CSUN?
A few faculty have research grants that provide student salaries. Most graduate students either work outside of the department, or support themselves as Teaching Assistants (TA), or Graduate Assistants (GA). The graduate students are now unionized and have collective bargaining agreements with the University. The amount of support varies with hours worked etc., but most graduate students who need financial support receive enough TA/GA hours to support themselves, but perhaps not in any high style. Applications for assistantships are online through the Biology graduate website. Also, see Financial Support.

What about money for research supplies?
This again varies by faculty member. All fully-classified graduate students are able to apply for several thousands of dollars of on campus research support, and are encouraged to apply for other sources of funding. See section on Financial Support.

I have applied to graduate, but because of setbacks, I have to delay my thesis defense one more semester.
Complete a Master’s Graduation and Diploma Date Change Form and pay $8 to Student Financial Services.

I have applied to graduate in spring but due to unforeseen circumstances I’m not going to meet the deadline for spring submission of my thesis.
If you are fully classified and have completed all the courses required for the program then you can defend in summer (by end of July) or even the next semester with the approval of the Graduate Coordinator. Complete a Culminating Experience Enrollment Authorization Form. You need to be enrolled at the University in the semester you graduate, therefore, you will need to enroll in Culminating Experience through The Tseng College for a fee of $265. Enrolling in Culminating Experience allows you to retain enrollment in the University with access to library privileges, but not health center services. There are no units for enrolling in Culminating Experience. You do not pay tuition when enrolled in Culminating Experience.

I have exceeded 40 units and now I’m no longer eligible for Financial Aid, but I still need to take more courses to complete my formal program.
If you have compelling reasons for exceeding 125% of units required for your program then you may file an appeal with the Financial Aid and Scholarship Department. You will require a letter from the Graduate Coordinator to include in your appeal that describes the remaining units you need to complete your program.