Department of
Plant Biology

Graduate Admissions

The Department of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois has enjoyed a long tradition of identifying, training and graduating many of the world's top plant biologists. Our graduate students have gone on to highly successful and productive careers at universities and in the private sector the world over. Our graduate training program offers a diverse yet individually tailored and focused opportunity for students to develop expert-level skills in current research methodologies, critical thinking and ancillary professional attributes essential to a successful and satisfying career in plant research at the molecular, physiological and/or ecological levels. In consultation with their research advisors and graduate committees, our masters and doctoral students craft programs of study and research that involve novel collaborations with faculty and students in related disciplines of, among others, Crop Sciences, Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior, Entomology, Geology, Natural Resources, and units in our sister school of Molecular and Cellular Biology. The material below should help guide you through our graduate application and admissions process. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact the department or specific faculty members or graduate students directly.

Pursuit of a post-graduate degree in modern biology requires commitment, discipline, focus, creativity and an abiding curiosity about and desire to understand life's inner and/or global workings. As a community of scholars dedicated to such pursuits, we seek students who share our passion for biology and welcome our graduate students as collaborators to be entrusted with advancing the research agendas that we collectively develop. Graduate research in modern biology is not a path to be taken lightly, yet it is one with deep and satisfying rewards. If you feel such a career is right for you, we will be pleased to consider having you join our department for graduate study. Women and members of under-represented minority groups are encouraged to apply.

Your graduate study in the Plant Biology Department can be directed toward a Master's or Doctoral degree. Financial support (stipend plus full tuition and partial fee waiver) is guaranteed for two years for M.S students and five years for Ph.D. students who can document annual progress toward their degree. Students who enter the M.S. degree program are expected to complete and defend a thesis. Students completing an M.S. in the department are free to apply to our Ph.D. program before completing their M.S.; this is a recommended route for entering graduate students unsure of their desire for a doctoral degree.

Applicants should have a broad but solid foundation in undergraduate-level biology (plant, animal and microbial, from molecular to integrative and ecological), physics, chemistry, mathematics and statistics. Deficiencies in certain areas will not necessarily preclude admission, but may necessitate additional coursework following admission. Other specific admission requirements are provided below, under How to Apply.

Prior, active experience in a biology research program (not just a lab course) as an undergraduate, or in a post-graduate (e.g., M.S.) program, is an invaluable credential. Please include in your application details about any research experiences you have had, and any publications that came from them.

Learn about us. We have tried to provide a comprehensive description of our department and our graduate program in these web pages. Please explore them to learn about our graduate program, our faculty, research opportunities, our current graduate students and their organization, Plant Biology Association of Graduate Students (PBAGS). Discuss your plans with friends, advisors and faculty at your current institution, to supplement what you learn here about Plant Biology at the University of Illinois.

The following faculty will consider adding new graduate students to their research groups:
Ainsworth, Berenbaum, Bernacchi, Chen, Conroy, Dalling, DeLucia, Downie, Fraterrigo, Heath, Hu, Huber, Leakey, Long, Marshall-Colon, Miller, Ming, Molano-Flores, O'Dwyer, Ort, Punyasena, Schuler, Warnow, Yang

Contact us. We strongly encourage you to contact, by telephone or email, one or more of our faculty members whose research areas interest you. Such a dialogue helps us learn about each other and will help you in preparing your statement of research interest. In your communication with our faculty, please provide some background on yourself and your specific interests.

For general questions about the department, the University or our application process, please feel free to contact the Department, and we will help find the right person to answer your question.

Visit us. While it is neither required for admission nor feasible for all students, we encourage you to visit potential graduate research advisors before submitting your application. A visit to the University that includes personal interviews with the Department Head, Associate Head, and prospective graduate advisors is by far the best way to learn about our program. During your visit, we will give you a tour of our facilities as well as an opportunity to meet with current graduate students. They are, of course, invaluable points of contact, giving you a first-hand, ground-level view of life as a working member of our graduate program. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if you wish to schedule a visit. We will arrange accommodation, campus tours and visits with graduate students and faculty for you. Information and travel directions for visiting the University of Illinois can be found at the campus website. Also note that we invite a group of our most promising graduate applicants to visit the campus in February of each year.

Members of underrepresented minority groups are encouraged to take advantage of the Graduate College’s ASPIRE program ( to help facilitate a fall semester visit to campus.

When to apply. Application for graduate study is normally made for Fall semester admission. We review all applications that are complete by December 1.

We also accept applications for Spring Semester admission with a nominal September 1 deadline. Students applying for Spring admission should know that resources to support incoming students are limited at this mid-(academic) year time and only a limited number of students are accepted for spring admission.

Electronic application only. You must apply online to the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All documents must be submitted electronically and no hardcopy documents will be accepted. Please note that all decisions regarding acceptance into the graduate program of the Plant Biology Department are made entirely within the Department.

  • Please go to the University of Illinois Graduate College Application site, create an account and complete the online application form.
  • The Department Codes for Plant Biology are:
    • 10KS0320MS (MS Program)
    • 10KS0320PHD (PhD Program)
  • On the online application's Application Information page, please indicate one or more of Plant Biology's "Fields of Specialization" and faculty members.
  • Be prepared to supply email addresses for writers of three (3) letters of recommendation, as this is the number required by the Department of Plant Biology.
  • Be prepared to upload electronic versions of transcripts from all post-secondary schools you have attended (colleges and universities). Please note that these transcripts are considered "unofficial". If you are accepted, you will be asked to supply additional, official copies of your transcripts.
  • Be prepared to upload your current curriculum vitae and personal statement at the appropriate place in the online application form.
  • Application fees are US$70 for domestic applicants and US$90 for international applicants. Fees must be paid electronically, by credit card.
  • We do not require the general or subject Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
  • The postal address for non-essential, application-related correspondence with the Department of Plant Biology is as follows:
Department of Plant Biology
265 Morrill Hall MC-116
505 S. Goodwin Avenue
Urbana, IL  61801

Please prepare and submit your application in a timely and careful manner. The following are some guidelines regarding its preparation:

  • Submit your application to the Department as early as possible. All materials should be received by the Department by December 1 in order for you to receive priority consideration for financial assistance. Please contact us regarding Spring Semester admissions, or if you cannot get your application materials to us by December 1 for Fall, and we will do our best to accommodate you.
  • The University of Illinois Graduate College sets a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 (4-point scale) for all applicants for graduate study. Students with lower GPAs are free to apply and will be given full consideration by the department. If accepted, admission will be contingent upon waiver of this requirement by the Graduate College by petition from the Department.
  • Acceptance of an applicant into our graduate program is never contingent upon the student's need of financial aid, nor are applicants ever favored by their stated ability to personally fund their post-graduate studies.
  • Please choose carefully those whom you ask to write letters of recommendation for you. At least one letter must be from a person closely familiar with U.S. university system of education. Referees should be people not only personally acquainted with you, but of equal importance, ones who, from their own career experiences, are in a position to judge your qualifications for a career in biology research and teaching. At least one letter of reference should come from an active scientist with whom you have recently worked and interacted closely over an extended period of time. Letters are of lesser value when they come from teaching assistants or professors whose only interaction with you has been at a distance, as a student enrolled in her or his course. It is also valuable to us if one or more of your references assesses your ability to communicate in English in the technical language of the sciences.
  • Your Personal Statement is a critically important part of the application you submit. We look for a clear, logical presentation, not necessarily constrained by any stated word limit while at the same time not burdened with extraneous personal narrative or philosophy. Please help us get to know you by providing explicit information addressing the following questions:
    • What experience and background do you have that is likely to help you not only succeed but excel in a program of graduate study and research in Plant Biology?
    • Whose research in particular, among our Plant Biology faculty, appears to be most appropriate to your interests and why? Please be specific.
    • What are your long-term career plans? What is it about your stated goals that attracts you to them? What sort of professional position do you envision yourself in ten years from now?

Applicants whose native language is not English are required to submit Internet-Based Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT) scores. The University of Illinois Graduate College sets the minimum acceptable TOEFL iBT score of 79 for admission to graduate programs at Illinois. Scores between 79 and 102 earn the applicant "limited status admission", requiring further training in English language skills, on campus, following admission to a graduate program. Applicants earning TOEFL iBT totals of 103 or above are granted Full Status Admission and are not required to engage in any further English language training.

However, please note that the TOEFL iBT does not properly assess whether a student's facility with technical and scientific English is adequate for its intensive daily use, as required of graduate study in biology. We therefore reserve the right to require additional English language training for international students, even if their incoming TOEFL iBT scores earn them Full Status Admission to the University.

Finally, a score of 24 or above on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT is required for international students to be eligible for Teaching Assistantships at Illinois. An English Proficiency Interview (EPI) Test is administered on the Illinois campus by the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning for international students whose TOEFL iBT Speaking scores do not qualify them for TA-ships at the time of entry into the graduate program.

Please use the following codes to insure that your TOEFL scores are routed to the proper destination:

  • Institution Code 1836
  • Department Code 37

International applicants must submit all application materials online. Hardcopy versions of transcripts, letters and test scores sent by regular or express mail will not be accepted. GRE and TOEFL iBT scores must be submitted electronically, directly from ETS (Educational Testing Service) for your application to be considered. Transcripts from international applicants cannot be evaluated until we receive official TOEFL iBT scores. Applications are not considered complete until all parts are received.

Our Decision Process. All complete applications are given equal consideration. Completed applications are reviewed by the Graduate Affairs Committee and by all faculty members in the Department seeking new students in their research programs for the coming year. Final decisions on applications are made by the Department's Graduate Affairs Committee. Interest in an applicant expressed by one or more faculty members is of key importance in the committee's decision-making process. Admission decisions are largely based on an applicant's likelihood of excelling in our program and in a career in Plant Biology. Admission is never based on an applicant's race, gender, nationality, ethnicity or personal financial status.

Your Visit to the Urbana Campus. As mentioned above, you have the option to visit us before you submit your application. In addition, we invite our most attractive candidates to visit as a group in early February every year. At that time, meetings are held with faculty members of interest to the candidate. Also included in the visit will be a tour of campus facilities and an informal program of short seminars given by faculty introducing their work and summarizing recent research results. Importantly, plenty of time is provided for social interactions with our current graduate students, whose organization (PBAGS) plays an active and essential role in organizing and hosting these visits.

Acceptance Decisions: Ours and Yours. Decisions regarding the disposition of applications are made during the early months of the calendar year. Decisions on international applications often take longer than those from US applicants because, for example, we are required to have GPAs from non-US institutions translated by our Graduate College before we can evaluate them and render decisions. All offers of admission are accompanied by guarantees of financial support (living stipend plus full tuition and partial fee waiver) for three years of graduate training in an M.S. program and five years in a Ph.D. program. Specifics regarding the nature and duration of provided financial support (teaching assistantship, research assistantship or fellowship) will accompany your offer of admission. You will have until April 15 to accept or decline our offer, after which we have the right to withdraw the offer and extend it to another candidate.

  • Also see the Graduate College's Application Checklist.
  • Contact faculty member(s) and/or graduate student(s) whose research is of interest to you (optional but strongly encouraged)
  • Visit our department (optional)
    By December 1:
  • Complete the University of Illinois electronic application (all parts) at
  • Pay application fees: US$70 (domestic), US$90 (international) (electronically by credit card)
  • Submit all post-secondary school transcripts electronically with your online application.
  • Have three (3) letters of recommendation submitted electronically to the Graduate College of the University of Illinois.
  • International applicants
    • Have official TOEFL for international applicants) scores transmitted electronically to the Graduate College of University of Illinois, with appropriate coding for the Department of Plant Biology.
    • GRE Scores are not required, but may be sent to strengthen your application packet.