Pregraduate Advising

Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: June 13, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t find your question and answer here, please email the Pregraduate Advising Office.

I have never enrolled in a research independent study course at Duke. How will this affect my chances of admission?

In this situation, applicants need to consider what research skills they have developed within the context of advanced seminars and work-study employment, in summer programs and, for recent graduates, what types of research activity have been part of their employment position. Undergraduates whose academic records display a superior performance compared with graduate students in the same advanced courses can present good applications, especially if their professors affirm that that they are prepared for graduate level courses and research.

What is the difference between the graduate school and the graduate department/program?

Using Duke as an example, The Graduate School is the administrative unit for Ph.D. and non-professional masters degree programs much as Trinity College is the administrative unit for undergraduate programs in arts and sciences at Duke. For graduate study, applications are actually made to the individual department, but the process is managed by the Graduate School. In addition to admissions, the graduate school administration has responsibility for setting minimum standards for departmental Ph.D. requirements as well as tuition rates, for graduate student affairs, and for implementing the mission of the institutions through enhanced graduate training programs.

I’m confused about deadlines; why are there multiple dates for submitting my materials?

No two institutions manage their application processes in the same manner. If you are required to send materials to two separate offices – the graduate school and the department—you may find these offices have different deadlines. Pay attention to the instructions, and send only what is requested to each location. Both units will be able to access your basic application which is made easy when you submit it on-line.

How do I apply for financial aid? I can’t find an application form on the web site.

Most commonly, there is no separate form; admitted applicants who indicated they wished to be considered for financial support on the application form will be considered for scholarships and fellowships.

Duke accepted several transfer courses which appear on my undergraduate academic record; will this be sufficient for my applications?

No. A credible graduate institution will require official transcripts, i.e., those that (1) display grades earned and (2) are transmitted directly from the Registrar.

How should I select individuals to write recommendations?

As a general guide, you should request recommendations from individuals who can provide an evaluation of those details that you present about yourself. Most programs require three letters. You should choose one faculty mentor or other appropriate professional who has guided you in a project requiring original scholarship and one faculty member with whom you have taken at least one advanced course in or related to your proposed graduate discipline; both should be very familiar with the quality of thinking you have demonstrated and work you have produced. For the third letter, ask either another course professor or mentor; it will add strength to your application if a second mentor recommends you on the basis of a research experience that does not duplicate the first letter.

The application guidelines strongly suggest that letters of recommendation be submitted on line, but one of my professors prefers paper. Will that be a problem?

Although it’s understandable why an admissions office prefers materials to be collected in one electronic file (or paper envelope), there should be a provision for submitting hard-copy letters. Check the web site for a form that can be printed for the professor, and ask her to mail it in for you.

How strict are application deadlines?

They are very strict for admission to competitive programs and for consideration for fellowship awards; deadlines tend to be less strict and later in the year for less competitive programs.

Will I be eligible for a waiver of the application fee?

The school’s web site should make clear whether fee waivers are a possibility and, if so, who will qualify for them. Policies differ widely and may include a fee reimbursement rather than an actual waiver. Waivers are usually tied to financial need, often determined by undergraduate financial aid status.

If I am not certain about the Ph.D. as a goal; should I apply to the master’s degree program first?

An MA or MS degree can enhance your credentials for a variety of career tracks, and the degree program may provide the time, experience and training that might gain you admission to a more competitive doctoral degree program.  Remember that many departments in arts and sciences, especially in research intensive universities, will not offer the master’s as a terminal degree; thus, they do not accept applicants who apply only for a master’s degrees. Also, earning a master’s degree will not admit you automatically to the Ph.D. program in the same department or institution.

What is an umbrella program?

Umbrella programs provide a structure for faculty and students to interact across departmental boundaries. Generally based in the natural and biomedical sciences, the programs also serve as a gateway to the Ph.D. programs in the participating faculty departments. Students accepted into such a program eventually choose one of the participating faculty as a doctoral advisor and move to that faculty member’s home department to complete the degree. To help the student make a decision about the mentor and department, the program offers a lab rotation schedule for the first year.

How can I be classified as a state resident for purposes of tuition?

As is the case for undergraduates in public universities, graduate students are charged a lower rate of tuition if they are in state residents. The guidelines for determining residency for tuition purposes should be included on the graduate school, registrar or bursar’s office web page. Typically, a student must be domiciled in the state for at least one year. Undergraduates who arrived in the state to attend college are not considered domiciled.

I applied last year but was not accepted; should I reapply?

There are many reasons why a student could submit a stronger application in the year following an unsuccessful attempt. Completing a research project with distinction or completing more advanced course work associated with a new recommendation from one of these professors can make a difference. Reapplicants are invited to submit their personal statements for evaluation to Dr. Nijhout for review and comment.

What is an ABD?

ABD is short for “all but dissertation.” It is a descriptor, not a degree.