Exploring Graduate Programs

MS and PhD in Plant Pathology
Master in Plant Health Management (Plant Pathology / Entomology)


Thinking About Grad School?

If you are reading this, you may be thinking about applying to graduate school.

For some, this has been your plan all along and so you are probably excited about this next step in your educational journey.  For others, however, the idea of attending graduate school is a relatively new thought.

Whatever your situation and level of excitement, enthusiasm, confusion or anxiety, the first step is to collect more information.  Here is some general information that you might find useful if applying to a “science-based” graduate program.

1) People go to graduate school for lots of different reasons.
Why are you pursuing this option?  Make sure you know the answer to this question – or at least ask the question.

2) MS, PhD or MPHM?
This will depend partly on your reasons for pursuing graduate school and also on what is offered by the programs to which you are applying.   The MS and PhD are in-depth, research-oriented graduate degrees.  If you are interested in being a university faculty member, policy maker or direct a research team in industry, the PhD is likely the route you will choose.

The Master in Plant Health Management (MPHM) is a Professional Science Master's degree that integrates coursework and training in science, business and other fields to prepare students for 21st century careers. Note that the MPHM is a terminal degree, and not a recommended path to a Ph.D. > mphm.osu.edu

Good advice is to seek out someone – or several individuals – with the degree you seek and talk with them about their experiences and thoughts on the subject.  Typical time to complete a MS is 2.5 years and a PhD 5 years.  The MPHM program can be completed in 1.5 years full-time.

3) In general, the better your qualifications – GPA, rigor of undergraduate coursework, letters of recommendation, life, research and work experiences, GRE scores, etc – the greater the likelihood of getting into your program of choice.
Getting into graduate school is competitive and like most things, it comes down to being prepared, making a good first impression and luck.  We don’t have control over the latter, but being prepared and making a good impression are within your control. 

4) Good students are hard to find and even more difficult to “land.”
In case you are starting to feel that getting into graduate school is insurmountable, know and remember this, faculty are always looking for good students.  Everyone wants the “best” students and so competition between graduate programs can be fierce.  So in some ways, good students – if they do their homework – should have lots of options.  For those on the bubble, you may have fewer options.

5) Do your homework.
And you thought this ended when you received your bachelor's degree.  Be prepared.  Talk to people and use your online resources to explore the full range of options that exist.

Most departments are very eager to talk to potential new graduate students – as mentioned above, getting into graduate school is a competitive process for both the student and prospective advisors.  Some departments will even give you the opportunity to travel to their campuses and meet with their faculty, staff and students.

Programs actively recruit graduate students – no kidding!  Ask for or review the program’s university, graduate school and the graduate program handbook for the schools/programs for which you are considering. All squared-away schools/programs have such documents that lay out all the details and specifics of their programs.

6) Know the minimum/desired requirements for admission and understand the admission/selection process.
I share Ohio State’s Plant Pathology Graduate program requirements as an example.  Successful candidates have GPA's that range from 3.0-4.0.  Although we don't require a minimum GRE score, our graduate program likes to see (as a guideline) Verbal and Quantitative scores in the 60-61st percentile range, and a 4.0 or greater on the Analytical Writing section.  This varies with the program and the university.  Note that the MPHM program does not require the GRE, unless your GPA is below 3.0/4.0 (or equivalent on a different grading scale).

As far as the selection process, there is usually a committee of faculty (and sometimes students or staff) that reviews your application materials.  Also, individual faculty seeking graduate students will typically interact with applicants (via e-mail, webcam or in person) who might have suitable experience and interests for their programs.

How much “weight” each facet of your application package counts for will vary program-by-program. But in general, you need to meet or exceed the minimum standards across the board. For example, in the case of the GRE, the higher your score, the more doors are open regarding University, College and Departmental fellowships and assistantships. But remember, the GRE scores are just one of the things the admission selection committee will take into consideration.  Your experience, interests, statement of intent, academic record and letters of recommendation are all part of the application package.

In general, most programs are looking for well-balanced, smart and enthusiastic graduate students with a strong interest in plant pathology, and thus look for the student that represents a “the complete package.”

7) Explore funding and financial assistance.
MS and PhD students in our program are generally funded by graduate research associateships, fellowships or government scholarships which offer a stipend (salary) to cover living expenses and payment of general and instructional fees and tuition.  In essence, students are fully-funded. These funding sources are pretty competitive.

For the Master in Plant Health Management program, students are often working professionals and utilize employee educational benefits, or apply for student financial aid.

All graduate applicants (MS, PhD, MPHM) may be considered for competitive fellowships > More information

Each type of funding has its pros and cons but funding is funding in the end. Remember, regardless of your source of funding, someone is making a significant investment in YOU.

Adapted from a handout by Mike Boehm, Ohio State.  Note: Some of this information is specific to Ohio State and the Plant Pathology Graduate Program.