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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. 
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 11:59pm on the final deadline date.

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

Admission committees will begin to review applications immediately following the priority deadline in late November. Interview invitations are typically sent on a rolling basis throughout December and early January. If you are selected for an interview, we will contact you via email with an invitation and further instructions. Interviews are required and occur in late January through February. If you have not heard anything from UNC by mid-January, you likely will not be receiving an invitation to interview.

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 mid-March. We will contact students directly to extend an offer for admissions. The UNC Graduate School will also send an official offer via email with more information about next steps. Applicants have until April 15 to inform BBSP of their decisions to accept admission or not, per the recommendation of the Council of Graduate Schools.

Once you submit an application you are welcome to check your status including letters of recommendation at any time by logging in here. Due to the number of applications we receive, we may not be able to update this status immediately; however, an email will be sent to you when your application status has changed.

We welcome applicants with a background in a biological, chemical, or physical science. Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree by the time of enrollment at 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.

The application fee set by the UNC Graduate School is $90. When submitting your application, you can qualify for an application fee waiver if you

  • Are a full-time permanent employee of UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Participated in the McNair Scholars Program
  • Are a US citizen meeting need-based eligibility
  • Participated in a UNC-Chapel Hill-recognized summer undergraduate research program
  • Participated in the Gates Millennium Scholars program

For more information on application fee waivers, please see the Graduate School’s website.

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 and prior to the final deadline to apply, the earlier the better. Each submission is reviewed manually, so it may take a few business days for you to receive a response about your eligibility for a fee scholarship. For questions or additional info, contact the Director of Diversity Affairs here.

Address the following in your personal statement.  Upload one document with the following three sections, separated and clearly labeled. While there is no specific length requirement or restriction for each section, most complete statements of purpose are 2-3 pages long, 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 recommendation submitted directly to the University by your recommenders. In the application, you will enter the names and contact information for your recommenders, and then they will be contacted via a separate email generated by the application system.

Your submitted application will not be reviewed until at least two letters of recommendation have been received, so make sure you encourage your recommenders to submit their letters by the above deadlines. 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 or supervisors 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.
  • At least 2 of your recommendation letters must be submitted by the final deadline for your application to be reviewed, and the third letter must be received within a few days of the final deadline.
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.
GRE scores are neither required nor typically recommended for applicants to BBSP. GRE subject tests are also 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. If you believe you qualify for any of these exceptions please visit the grad school website here to learn how to claim an exception.

  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

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/supervisor, and a brief description of the project. Also include any publications or manuscripts in preparation. For more information about preparing a CV, see this guide from UNC Career Services.
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 Committees get an idea of your basic interests so we can best assign your application to faculty reviewers.

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. Many of these programs offer flexibility in their curricula, so students can explore different fields while making progress on program requirements. 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 Biological Division of Chemistry or Pharmaceutical Sciences (Medicinal Chemistry Track or Pharmacoengineering & Molecular Pharmaceutics Track) can apply either through BBSP or through those 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 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.