The Department of Plant Biology offers two graduate degrees, the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy. There are two paths to completing the Master of Science degree, the traditional thesis and a non-thesis option. Students accepted directly into the MS program are expected to complete an MS thesis. The department also participates in the interdepartmental graduate program: the Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology.

The Department teaches and conducts foundational research in plant biology. Its focus is integrative. Biological processes are investigated at multiple levels of organization using molecular, biochemical, physiological, morphological, and ecological approaches.

Areas of specialization within the department include: biochemistry, biodiversity, bioinformatics, cell biology, conservation biology, development, ecology, environmental physiology, evolution, genetics, genomics, modeling, molecular biology, mycology, paleobotany, paleoecology, photosynthesis, phytochemistry, population biology, biotechnology, systems biology, and systematics.

Graduate students receive broad biological and professional training and acquire expertise in their areas of specialization.

The Plant Biology Departmental website provides additional information about the department, its admissions procedures, degree requirements, facilities, and the research interests of its faculty.

M.S. in Plant Biology

Program Overview Degree Requirements Learning Outcomes Contact

Ph.D. in Plant Biology

Program Overview Degree Requirements Learning Outcomes Contact

Who Should Apply

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. 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 MS students and five years for PhD students who document annual progress toward their degree. Students who enter the MS degree program are expected to complete and defend a thesis. Students completing an MS in the department are free to apply to our PhD program before completing their MS. This is the 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 experience in a biology research program (not just lab coursework), as an undergraduate or MS student, is an invaluable credential. Please include in your application details about any research experiences you have had and any publications that resulted.

Before You Apply

Learn about us. Please explore our departmental website 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.

Contact us. We strongly encourage you to contact one or more of our faculty members whose research areas interest you. Initiating 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. If possible, 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 an excellent way to learn about our program. Information and travel directions for visiting the University of Illinois can be found at the campus website.

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.

We also invite our most promising graduate applicants to visit the campus in late January or early February of each year.

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 and only a limited number of students are accepted for spring admission.

How to Apply

Applications must be submitted online to the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by the application deadline.

All documents must be submitted electronically. No hardcopy documents will be accepted. Application fees are US$70 for domestic applicants and US$90 for international applicants. Fees must be paid electronically.

On the 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, indicate one or more of Plant Biology's "Fields of Specialization" and faculty members of interest.

Supply email addresses for three (3) writers of letters of recommendation.

Upload electronic versions of transcripts from all post-secondary schools you have attended (colleges and universities). Note that these transcripts are considered "unofficial". If you are accepted, you will be asked to supply additional, official copies of your transcripts.

Upload your current curriculum vitae and personal statement at the appropriate place in the online application form.

We do not require the general or subject Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

The 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

About Your Application

Please prepare and submit your application in a timely and careful manner. 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 for Fall admissions.

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.

The University of Illinois Graduate College sets a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 (4-point scale) for all applicants for graduate study. For students with lower GPAs, admission will be contingent upon waiver of this requirement by the Graduate College by petition from the department.

Please choose carefully those whom you ask to write letters of recommendation. At least one letter must be from a person closely familiar with U.S. university system. Referees should be people not only personally acquainted with you, but those 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 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. We look for a clear, succinct, and logical presentation. Please help us get to know you by addressing the following questions:

  • What experience and background do you have that is likely to help you excel in a program of graduate study and research in Plant Biology?
  • Among our Plant Biology faculty, whose research appears to be most appropriate to your interests and why? Please be specific.
  • What are your long-term career plans? What sort of professional position do you envision yourself in ten years from now?


Specific Information for International Applicants

Please provide English proficiency test results: either TOEFL IBT (Test Of English as a Foreign Language, Internet-Based Test) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). The minimum total score set by the Graduate College is 6.5 for the IELTS and 79 for the TOEFL IBT. They will also accept 550 for the TOEFL ITP Plus (temporary China only) test, and 60 for the Revised TOEFL PDT (Paper-Delivered Test). See English Proficiency Requirement for Admission for more information. The department will occasionally accept students with these scores, although we feel that a score of 7.5 for the IELTS and 103 for the TOEFL IBT gives a better indication of adequate ability in English.

Inadequate preparation in the English language will jeopardize the whole academic program of a student. The technical English of the physical and biological sciences, in written and oral forms, must be used daily. The TOEFL IBT or IELTS do not assess this ability adequately so that the students with high scores may still have difficulty with English. Therefore, it is essential that referees comment on the ability of students in technical English.

On arrival on this campus an admitted student will be given a proficiency test in scientific English. Based on this test, the student may be advised to enter immediately into advanced courses relevant to training in entomology. Alternatively, if proficiency is poor, the student may be advised to delay advanced studies. (Good grades in advanced courses cannot be achieved without competence in English.) The University offers remedial courses.

If a student does not gain a total TOEFL IBT score of 103 or more, or 7.5 or more on the IELTS, then he/she may enroll in an intensive English course at a U.S. university, including this university, and the TOEFL IBT or IELTS may be taken again after completing the course. This course work does not exempt a student from the proficiency test in scientific English on arrival in this department, or further course work for remedial purposes. No student can be admitted to the Graduate College or this department until an adequate TOEFL IBT or IELTS score has been achieved.

Please use the following codes to ensure that your 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), and IELTS scores directly from IELTS (International English Language Testing System) for your application to be considered.

After You Apply

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 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. 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 late January/early February. At that time, meetings are held with faculty members of interest to the candidate. You will have the opportunity to tour campus facilities and meet our current graduate students. The Plant Biology Association of Graduate Students (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 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. 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.

Application Checklist

Also see the Graduate College's Application Checklist.

Before initiating your application

  • Contact faculty member(s) whose research is of interest to you (strongly encouraged)
  • Visit our department (optional)

By December 1

  • Complete all parts of the University of Illinois electronic application.
  • 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

  • Transmit TOEFL scores 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.