Apply to BBSP

Applications to the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program must be submitted via the UNC Graduate School.

2020 Application Information

Priority deadline: November 25, 2019
Final deadline: December 3, 2019. 

Note: GRE scores are neither required nor typically recommended for applicants to the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. 

To begin the review process, a complete application must be submitted including all supporting materials and application fee paid. We suggest reviewing the BBSP admissions information found below along with the information found on the Graduate School website before starting your application.  When you are ready to begin your application click APPLY.

Once you submit an application you are welcome to check your status including letters of recommendation at any time by logging in here.  Admission committees will begin to review applications immediately following the priority deadline in late November, and all interview invitations will be made by early January. We strongly encourage you to submit your application materials by the priority deadline if possible. Please encourage your letter writers to submit their letters by this deadline as well. We are not able to accept applications after the final deadline of 11:59pm on December 3, 2019.

We welcome applicants with a background in a biological, chemical, or physical science. Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree at the time of enrollment to UNC. A master’s degree is not required for admission.

What are characteristics of successful BBSP Applicants?
Our top priority is to recruit a group of students with a variety of perspectives, and that each new member of our community has high potential for success in UNC’s particular research environment. There is no single “type” of successful candidate, and each application is reviewed in its own context. Virtually all incoming BBSP students have participated in substantial scientific research and have actively sought out research opportunities and both scientific and academic challenges. We look for motivation, curiosity, perseverance, and evidence of deep research engagement. Note: Funding constraints limit the number of international students (non-citizens/non-permanent residents) in the BBSP class. Successful international applicants often have co-authored publications and/or extensive research experience.

As a UNC BBSP student (regardless of whether you are a domestic or international student), you will be provided a competitive annual stipend and are guaranteed support throughout your graduate career as long as you remain in good academic standing. Your tuition, fees and health insurance are all part of your financial support package and are in addition to your stipend. The annual stipend for 2019-2020 will be $32,000. In addition, BBSP pays your UNC fees (currently $1,964), health insurance (currently $3,259), and tuition (currently $10,243 plus out-of-state tuition when applicable). Total student compensation is thus > $47,000. Student financial support is typically covered by the thesis lab and/or program beginning in the second year.

The application fee set by the UNC Graduate School is $90. There are several categories of applicants who may qualify for an application fee waiver. For more information, please see the Graduate School’s Information on Application Fee Waiver Requests.  Application fee scholarships are separate from fee waiver requests and are available for BBSP applicants from populations historically underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. To be considered for a fee scholarship, please complete the fee scholarship eligibility survey. This survey should be completed prior to submission of your BBSP application, the earlier the better. For questions or additional info, contact the Director of Diversity Affairs here.
Address the following in your personal statement.  Upload one document with three separate sections with each section clearly labeled. While there is no specific length requirement or restriction for each section, most complete statements are 2-3 pages single spaced.

1.  RESEARCH STATEMENT (REQUIRED). Describe your previous research experience(s). Explain your motivation to pursue this research, the scientific rationale for the project(s), and your role in the project(s). Summarize outcomes, challenges, and objectives. (Statements of Purpose lacking an informative description of your research experience are considered non-responsive to the instructions.)
2.  MOTIVATION AND GOALS STATEMENT (REQUIRED). Describe your motivation for seeking a PhD in the biomedical sciences and what general type of research you hope to pursue in graduate school. Explain your motivation for applying to BBSP and how a UNC PhD will be a necessary step towards your career goals.
3. ADDITIONAL. Provide any additional information about yourself that you feel the admissions committee should know for context. Examples include unusual academic or personal situations, information about academic institution(s), previous challenges, etc.

BBSP requires three letters of reference submitted directly to the university by your recommender. Your recommenders will be contacted via an email that triggers when you complete the recommendation letter section of the application. Please note: letters must be submitted via the online system; letters sent via mail will not be accepted. Please consider sharing the information below with those who are submitting letters of recommendation on your behalf:

• The most effective references come from faculty with whom you have conducted independent/original research. Letters jointly written by faculty with senior lab members (e.g. postdoctoral scientists, staff, senior graduate students) are welcome if they provide greater insight into your accomplishments and potential as a scientist. Letters from only senior lab members without a faculty letter have much less impact.
• Admissions committees greatly value letters that specifically describe qualities such as motivation, work ethic, resilience, persistence, initiative, intellectual contribution, and collegiality in research and academic settings.

One unofficial transcript from each university attended must be uploaded within the application. Please do not mail transcripts as part of your admission application; we use the uploaded transcripts for our review process. If you are offered admission, one official transcript for each university attended will be required prior to the first day of the term.
GRE scores are neither required nor typically recommended for applicants to the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. The GRE subject test is not required for BBSP applications.

If I submit GRE scores will they be considered?
Scores will not automatically be shared with admissions committees. We don’t recommend submitting scores unless there is a weakness in the application, (e.g. very low grades) that you feel the scores will specifically mitigate. Test scores are not a substitute for research experience for example. For applications that might be substantially improved by the inclusion of standardized test scores (less than 1% of typical applicants), they can be submitted and should also be mentioned in the “additional” section of the personal statement to alert the committee to their availability if needed.

Is the TOEFL required?
All International students must submit TOEFL scores that are no more than 2 years old from the submission date on the application. There are three exceptions, and any one of these will waive this requirement:
1) Applicants from countries where English is the sole official language.
2) Applicants who have received or will receive a degree from an accredited university in the US.
3) Applicants who have received or will receive a degree from an accredited university where English is the sole language of instruction.
If you believe you qualify for any of these exceptions please visit the grad school website here to learn how to claim these.

The University of North Carolina’s Institution code is #5816. UNC does not require a department code, you may leave that blank.

A CV is required for the BBSP application. Please be sure to list all of your relevant research experiences including dates, PI, and a brief description of the project.  Also include any publications or manuscripts in preparation.
Research Areas of Interest (in the “Plans for Graduate Study” section of the application): Indicate at least one and up to five research areas that most closely match your research goals from the application list. Our goal is to have your application read by faculty in the same interest areas that you list, so we use this list as a guidance during our review process.

The Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) is a true multidisciplinary program; BBSP students can freely choose faculty advisors among all 14 participating PhD programs. To most appropriately evaluate your application, you will be prompted in the application to indicate the general scientific area that most closely matches your future research interests during graduate school. The options are below.


Understanding how biological processes, cells, and organisms work. (Related research areas: Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Cell Signaling, Developmental Biology, Epigenetics, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Pharmacology, Physiology, Plant Biology, and Organismal Biology)


Understanding the nature of human disease and potential advances in diagnosis or treatment. (Related research areas: Cancer Biology, Cardiovascular Biology, Nutritional Biochemistry, Oral Biology, Pathology, Stem Cells, Toxicology, Translational Science)


Understanding the structure and function of the nervous system, neurodegenerative disease, and behavior. (Related research areas: Behavior, Neuroscience, Addiction)


Understanding the biology of infectious disease and the immune system. (Related research areas: Bacteriology, Immunology, Microbiology, Pathogenesis & Infection, Virology)


Using computational approaches to answer biological questions, model biological processes, and mine/analyze large datasets. (Related research areas: Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Systems Biology)


Understanding how external compounds influence biological processes and human health. (Related research areas: Biophysics, Chemical Biology, Chemistry, Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery, Molecular Medicine, Nanomedicine, Structural Biology)

Faculty of Interest: Indicate in the online application at least one and up to five faculty from the BBSP website faculty database using the format described below:
• List the faculty in order of interest.
• Please make sure to include the first AND last name of each faculty and double check that you have the correct spelling.

The application asks about research interest areas – what are these?
Information about the interest areas and the faculty with research in those areas can be found here.  Your list, along with the personal statement, help the BBSP Admissions Committee get an idea of your basic interests so we can best assign your application to faculty reviewers.

BBSP will begin to review applications immediately following the priority deadline. Interview offers are typically extended on a rolling basis throughout December and should be completed by early January. If you are selected for an interview, we will contact you via email with an invitation and further instructions. In person interviews are required for domestic applicants, if an applicant is not living in the US we will coordinate video interviews.

If you have not heard anything from UNC by mid-January, you likely will not be receiving an offer. Due to application volume we may not be able to update this status immediately; however, an email will be sent to you when your application status has changed.

Do I need to have an idea of which PhD program I want to join before applying to BBSP?
No.  Students are admitted into the BBSP for the first year of graduate study.  During this year you are free to explore departments, programs, labs and courses before committing to a specific thesis lab or PhD program.  We do ask for your top research interest areas on the application, but this information is only used to help us better understand your goals and does not affiliate you with any one specific department.

But I already know which PhD program I want to join!  Can I apply directly to that program?
No.  If you are interested in obtaining a PhD in Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Biology (MCDB Division), Cell & Developmental Biology, Cell & Molecular Physiology, Genetics & Molecular Biology, Microbiology & Immunology, Neurobiology, Oral Biology, Pathology, Pharmacology, and Toxicology & Environmental Medicine you must apply via BBSP.  Because BBSP has no core curriculum or required courses, nothing prevents a committed student from starting on the requirements for a specific program right away.  Interested students should contact the Director of Graduate studies for their program of interest or check the program website for more information.

Please note: students interested in a PhD in the Biochemistry Division of Chemistry or Pharmaceutical Sciences (Medicinal Chemistry Track or Pharmacoengineering & Molecular Pharmaceutics Track) can apply either through BBSP or through their respective departments.

What if I have a physical sciences background (e.g. physics, chemistry, math, etc)?  
We welcome applications from students with either a biological or physical sciences background, or that have a background at the interface of these disciplines. Such a background can actually be a benefit for many of our PhD programs such as Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, and Medicinal Chemistry, as well as the Molecular & Cellular Biophysics Training Program.

If I am an international student and/or working/studying abroad can I apply for admission to BBSP?
Yes, although due to funding constraints we are limited in the number of international students (non-citizens/non-permanent residents) we can admit each year. Successful international applicants often have co-authored publications and/or extensive research experience. If you choose to apply please also note that where you are living can affect what type of interview you would be offered. Please refer to our Interview page for more information about our interview process.

When will I find out if I have been accepted into the program?
The admissions committees meet shortly after each interview weekend to determine which applicants to recommend for admission. The committees will give a small number of offers for admissions following each weekend; however, just like the review process, this is a rolling process with all of the offers not fully given until after the completion of the interview weekend cycle in early-mid March. We will contact students directly to make them aware that an offer for admissions has been given to the Graduate School, and then the Graduate School will send an official offer letter to the student only when they have finished qualifying the application. Students have until April 15th to inform the BBSP program of their decision.