Application Requirements

Application Requirements

Application Deadlines & Information
Graduate Application for Admission & Fellowship November 27
TOEFL, IELTS, and GRE Scores November 27
Institution Code 4833

Admission is based on an evaluation by a departmental committee comprised of faculty and senior graduate students. The Admissions Committee employs a holistic approach to assessing the merits of each application. This means that we review all facets of an application in order to determine a candidate’s overall potential and fit with our program, weighing many factors including:

  • your undergraduate academic preparation: what previous coursework have you taken? are there reasons to explain weaknesses in your academic record? (hint: consider including these explanations in your personal statement - see below)
  • research and work experience: what is the nature of your research experience? what skills (e.g. problem-solving, analytical, technical) or personal attributes (e.g. resilience, grit, creativity) did you develop through research or other work experience that will promote your success in graduate school? What was the rationale and outcome of your research, and how did you contribute? 
  • initiative and motivation: are you motivated, curious, and excited about research? show us! have you overcome challenges (scientific or otherwise)? let us know! 
  • contributions to building community, helping vulnerable populations, and/or social justice: how have you demonstrated commitment to historically marginalized or excluded communities? have you participated in outreach, multicultural experiences, or programs to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion? does your lived experience help you understand issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion? 
  • overlapping scientific interest with the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology: let us know how your scientific interests align with our graduate program. 

The Admissions Committee will be reviewing your undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and in particular, your Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement.  Please see below for advice on how to write these statements. Review begins as soon as an applicant's file is complete and early applications are encouraged.

Admission is based not only on the online application but also upon faculty interviews.  The Admissions Committee will invite selected applicants to participate in virtual recruitment interviews.  Faculty evaluations of interviews are used by the Admissions Committee to make final admission recommendations to the Graduate Division. Offers of admission are made from late February through mid-March, 2024.

Undergraduate Preparation

We recommend that strong undergraduate preparation for this program would include at least one year each of:

  • calculus, physics, and general biology
  • two to three semesters of chemistry (general, organic and physical chemistry)
  • additional advanced coursework in such areas as biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology, genetics, microbiology, molecular biology, immunology and/or neurobiology
  • experience of working in a research laboratory while an undergraduate 

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should be from persons who have supervised your research or academic work and who can evaluate your intellectual ability, creativity, leadership potential and promise for productive scholarship.  If lab supervision was provided by a postdoc or graduate student, the letter should carry the signature of the faculty member in charge of the research project.  Letters of recommendation should be submitted online. 

Statement of Purpose and the Personal Statement

These statements are a very important part of your application as they provide the admissions committee with detailed information about your potential as a scientist. Please see general information about the Statement of Purpose and the Personal Statement provided by the Graduate Division.

Here is some more specific advice for the MCB Ph.D. program:

Committee members will be reading hundreds of these statements. Therefore, please focus on what makes you unique and interesting. Show us that you are creative, diverse, curious and passionate about science. Discussion of experiences that are common to many people (e.g., interest in science at a young age, loss of loved ones), while impactful events, do not provide insight into an applicant’s potential if discussed generically. Focusing on the specifics (e.g. of a disease, an event in your life that led to a particular insight, etc.) should be done in a fashion that relays the uniqueness of a candidate and their creative perspective.

The Statement of Purpose is a detailed summary (1-2 pages maximum) of your research experience and overall scientific preparation for a research Ph.D. Include your overall research interests and goals and why UC Berkeley and our department would be a good intellectual fit. A mere chronological listing of multiple research experiences is not as helpful as a narrative account of these experiences that explain their trajectory: how did your research experiences help you grow as a scientist and how have they now led to your decision to go to graduate school at Berkeley? When discussing your prior research, do not merely describe what you did or what techniques you employed; instead, explain the motivation behind your research, what question you are asking, why it is broadly interesting, why you took the approach you did, and/or what questions they now raise and how you would follow up on your work. Be specific and show that you are intellectually engaged with your science and can communicate it to a broad audience. Research experience is valuable because it helps the committee see that you understand what you are signing up for in your Ph.D.; so show us you understand what it takes to succeed in graduate school. Publications are always helpful, but certainly not a requirement. We are well aware that authorship on a paper sometimes reflects only a minimal contribution, or that major contributions are not always published prior to your application being submitted. Therefore, if you are an author on a paper that is published or in preparation, let us know; but more importantly, and regardless of the publication status of your research, tell us what your specific contributions were and how they supported the overall story presented in the paper.

The Personal Statement (1-2 pages maximum) should describe how your personal background shaped your interests and decision to pursue a graduate degree. Include any familial, educational, cultural, economic or social experiences that have affected your decisions to pursue a career in scientific research. If there are weaknesses in your academic record, this is an opportunity to explain them. Describe your leadership skills, interests, and how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity in the biological sciences. Note that perseverance and determination are important characteristics required to succeed in graduate school. Therefore, the committee not only evaluates your accomplishments but also measures these accomplishments against what you had to overcome to achieve them. We recognize that not everyone has had major difficulties to overcome, so don’t feel obliged to exaggerate. Instead, you can discuss how you have seen the struggles of others and how this and/or other factors motivate you as a scientist. At the end of the day, the committee is looking for future scientific colleagues. So, provide us with evidence that you are interactive, engaging and that you will contribute to a diverse and stimulating environment at Berkeley.

Exam Requirements

The department has decided to make the submission of GRE score both for the general and subject-specific exam optional. If you choose not to take the GRE or report your GRE score, this will have no negative impact on your application assessment.

Applicants whose native language is not English, and who have not received a degree from an English language institution, are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) receiving a minimum score of 570 for the paper test, 233 for the Computer Based Test (CBT) or 90 on the Internet-based test (IBT). You are not required to take the TOEFL if at the time of application you meet at least one of the following: 

  • you have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a U.S. university
  • Have a basic degree from a recognized institution in a country where the official language is English.
  • Have completed a basic or advanced degree at an institution, in the United States or a United States institution abroad, where the language of instruction is English and the institution is accredited by one of the United States’ regional accrediting agencies.