Frequently Asked Questions

Questions most frequently asked regarding the graduate programs in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Penn State.

Question: I am very interested in joining one of your graduate program and am attaching my resume and information regarding my qualifications. Could you please review these and indicate whether I will be admitted into your program?

We are not able to answer your question about admission directly, because admissions and assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis. Our Graduate Admissions Committee reviews the applications submitted each semester and decides which applicants best qualify for admission. Generally, if you have a degree in an engineering discipline, have suitable GRE and TOEFL scores (if required), have satisfactory undergraduate and graduate grade point averages, submit a complete application package, have research interests that match with ongoing faculty research programs, and have three favorable recommendation letters you will likely meet the minimum qualifications for admission.

You can find the admissions requirements on our website.

Question: What are the costs for attending your graduate program?

The costs for attending the university are approved by the Board of Trustees. Please review the tuition and fee schedule.

Question: How can I obtain a tuition waiver so as to lessen my costs for attending graduate school?

The only way to get tuition waiver is to be a recipient of an assistantship (or fellowship or wage-payroll position with the department). Thus, you need to apply for and receive an assistantship to obtain a tuition waiver. Unfortunately, we have limited Departmental assistantships available and we have many very good applicants. Thus, obtaining a Departmental assistantship with a tuition waiver is quite competitive. You may also contact faculty members in your interest area directly to see if they have any contract funding that is available to support students. This changes on a continuing basis, depending on faculty success in obtaining project funding.

Question: How are assistantships awarded and what are the qualifications needed to receive assistantship funding?

Basically, there are two ways to obtain assistantship funding. Our Department has a limited number of Departmental Assistantships that are awarded on a competitive basis among admitted students. Individual faculty members may also have Project Assistantships that are associated with some funded research project. To apply for either of these types of assistantships, file a complete application package as described under " How To Apply ." 

When applying for either the Department Assistantship or a Project Assistantship, the first step is that the Graduate Admissions Committee reviews your application and decides whether you meet the necessary qualifications for admission. Once the Committee decides that you meet the qualifications for admission, they then consider students for receipt of Departmental Assistantships. There are always fewer assistantships available than there are student applications. The Committee ranks the students as to research interests, qualifications, interest in ongoing faculty research, etc. Depending on the semester, the students applying, the number of assistantships available, etc. you may or may not be selected for a Departmental Assistantship offer.

If you meet the qualifications for admission but do not receive a Departmental Assistantship offer, you may also be eligible for available Project Assistantships. Decisions about which students may receive these assistantships rest with the individual faculty members who have the funded projects and the Department Head. Thus, you need to contact directly those faculty members in your area of specialization/interest area, as to whether any such assistantships may be available. Those faculty who have available assistantship funding may then choose the student(s) to whom they wish to offer such funding.

Question: I am very interested in applying to your Agricultural and Biological Engineering graduate programs. Would it be possible for you to send a catalog or brochure to me?

Further information about our specific graduate programs can be found by reviewing each program syllabus; BRS Graduate Program and/or ABENG Graduate Program.

Question: Is there a form for the Letters of Recommendation? Is the recommendation on an official letterhead ok?

There is no "official" recommendation form. Rather, we ask that recommendation letters be written by individuals familiar with your professional and educational qualifications and achievements and your character — particularly as these relate to your potential for advanced graduate study. The letters should be written on stationary that has a letterhead from the organization or institution with which the person writing the letter is affiliated and should be uploaded by that individual in the online application.

Question: Is there a deadline for graduate assistantship and application for admission into your graduate program?

If you are only applying for admission into the program, there is no specific deadline date. Generally, the Graduate Admissions Committee meets in early January and late August to consider applications for fall semester and spring semester, respectively. However, if applications are received at other times, the Committee may take action to decide if the student should be admitted.

If you are applying for assistantship funding and/or University Fellowships and Scholarships, we will need your complete application materials by the following deadlines: (deadline dates are firm)

  • For Fall admission, you should submit all materials by January 15.
  • For Spring admission, you should submit all materials by August 15.

If you are interested in our ABENG graduate program, an undergraduate engineering program  is required for full admission into our ABENG graduate program. If a student does not have an undergraduate engineering degree and applies to our ABENG graduate program then we are only to admit the student provisionally and without financial assistance and the student is required to take several "remedial" courses related specifically to engineering.  This engineering requirement does not apply to our BRS graduate program.

Question: How many students apply to the department/program every year? How many international students will be admitted?

Typically we have about 40 to 60 students who apply to our program each year — some of whom never complete or send all materials to us. Of this total about 80% are international students. Depending on funding conditions and the number of enrolled students, the number of new international students admitted for any semester varies from 1 or 2 to maybe 6 or 7 — but we never are able to fund all of these students. Most students don't arrive if they don't receive funding. This varies considerably from semester to semester. On average about 60% of our graduate students are international students.

Question: What is the main source of your funding? And what is the main type of financial aid for international students?

The largest percentage of our funding for assistantships comes from two sources; one source is from grants and contracts that individual faculty members obtain and the second is from University and government-sponsored assistantships that our Department receives. International students are eligible to receive both types of funding and we have students being supported from both sources.

Question: What aspects of prospective students will you pay most attention?

We are looking for the best qualified students whose research interest matches with our ongoing projects and faculty interests. Each aspect of the application materials is important and we consider all parts equally. Thus, it is important that a student have a very strong academic record, that the student has shown that he/she is productive and technically competent, that the GRE and TOEFL scores are strong, that the student have a reasonably good GPA, that the student presents a strong, specific, and focused Statement of Purpose, that the recommendation letters are strong and individual, and that the entire package is complete, comprehensive, and strong. The Graduate Admissions Committee considers all aspects of an individual's application and then we select those whom we think are the best potential students to admit and to offer financial assistance.

Question: What are the average GPA, and average scores of TOEFL and GRE of the recruits in former years?

Exact statistical data on GPA, TOEFL and GREs are not the issue – as admission decisions are not based solely on some exact number on the GRE or TOEFL or GPA. There is a minimum TOEFL score of 213 (computer based test) that must be satisfied for admission to Penn State. GREs and GPAs vary — we generally desire undergraduate GPAs to be above 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale). GRE Quantitative scores are generally, but not always, above 700.