Graduate Program FAQs

Do I need a master’s degree to apply to the Ph.D. program?

A master of science (M.S.) degree is not a prerequisite for admission to our doctoral (Ph.D.) program. Students who are interested in Ph.D. study should not check the M.S. degree box when filling out the intended degree section of the application form.

What are my chances of admission if my B.S. degree is in a discipline other than chemical engineering?

Our graduate program admits highly motivated, top-notch students with both chemical engineering and non-chemical engineering backgrounds. We do have additional ‘make-up’ coursework plans, which will vary depending on the previous educational background and research experience. If you feel you are well prepared for the transition (for example, you took several chemical engineering classes during your B.S. study), please highlight it in your statement of purpose. Also, you should clearly justify your intention to switch to the chemical engineering program. Nowadays, most research subjects overlap in many disciplines; thus, it is not necessary to change the program to do such studies unless your interest lies within core chemical engineering fields that other disciplines do not study.

What are the minimum entrance requirements?

The admission recommendation is made based on a holistic review, not just a numerical rubric of GPA scores in the previous or current institution. However, it can be said that typical students entering our program will have a GPA above 3.5 and be in the top 10 percent of their classes. We highly consider students who have GPA scores slightly lower than these averages but demonstrated outstanding research capability during their B.S. or M.S. degree studies. Note that the letters of recommendation and the presentation of yourself in the statement of purpose are also extremely important.

English Proficiency: The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (iBT). The minimum acceptable composite score for the IELTS is 6.5.

Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 16 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires completion of specified remedial English courses ESL 114G (American Oral English for Academic Purposes) and/or ESL 116G (ESL/Composition for Academic Disciplines) and attainment of a grade of B or higher. Graduate programs may have more stringent requirements.

I have graduated from a University in the U.S. May I be exempt from the TOEFL requirement?

The TOEFL/IELTS requirement is waived for international applicants who have received a baccalaureate or graduate degree from a college, university, or institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Ghana, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Kenya, Liberia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, the United States, and Wales.

What are my chances of admission?

We understand that most students want to know their chances for admission before applying. Please understand that we cannot evaluate your chances without seeing the full application. The general standards mentioned above can serve as guidelines, however, they are not absolute. The quality or reputation of your undergraduate university also plays a role.

Can I ask for and receive a direct admission from a specific professor?

Students are encouraged to contact faculty members of their research interests; that is a good way of learning more about research activities being carried out in the department. However, students should not request direct admission to a specific research group. Upon agreement with an applicant, faculty members may provide his/her input to the graduate admissions committee regarding the qualification of the applicant. The official admission decision will be made by the chair of the admissions committee, not by individual faculty members.

What is the timeline for admission decisions?

Please refer to our How to Apply main section for the current deadlines to submit applications to the McWhirter Graduate Program of Chemical Engineering.

Please be advised that we may start granting admissions before the deadline and will continue issuing admissions until our graduate student need for the coming academic year is met.

What if I haven’t heard about my application?

If it is between January 30 and mid-April, it means we are holding your application with the potential of further admission offers.

If you need to respond to other offers while you are waiting for the admission decision from us, please contact the Ph.D. Admissions Committee Chair to explain your situation. However, we do not expect students will not be under such a pressure since most universities (including Penn State) observes the April 15 Resolution of the Council of Graduate Schools.

Can I apply if my test scores will not be ready before the application deadline?

It is acceptable to apply while you are still awaiting test scores; however, you must indicate it on the application form when you have taken or are taking the test. If we do not have this information when we evaluate applications, any potential offer may be delayed, or we may not be able to evaluate your case.

Is my application complete?

The application process is detailed on the How to Apply section of our website. Please complete all steps to ensure your application is complete.

Do I need to complete the Visa Document and Financial Aid Form?

These forms are not required until an official offer has been established.

I am a green card holder/permanent resident. Do I still need to fill out the VISA document or Financial Aid Form?

Permanent U.S. residents with green cards do not need to complete the VISA form. They also do not need to complete the Financial Aid Form.

What is the policy on second doctorates?

It is the policy of the Graduate Council to not encourage applicants to work for a second doctoral degree. Please see Policy on Concurrent or Second Doctorates on the Graduate School’s webiste.

Can I pursue a graduate minor in chemical engineering?

A graduate minor in chemical engineering is available to both M.S. and Ph.D. students who are enrolled in other graduate programs of related fields at Penn State. Details can be found on the CHE graduate minor webpage.



The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry.

Department of Chemical Engineering

121 Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2574