Preparing to Apply

Only a limited number of graduate students are admitted to our program each year. We accept students into the program based on their academic performance, graduate record examination scores, recommendation letters, experience, and potential for scientific and professional excellence.  Students must meet the minimum entrance requirements to be considered by an advisor. There is an excellent article written by Dr. Al Zale, Director of the Fishery Cooperative Research Unit, "How to Surpass the Competition," which you may find helpful as you prepare for admission to a graduate program.

Please take the GRE test before applying. Professors will want to use these test results to help determine your potential for success in our program. A total of 300 for a combined Verbal and Quantitative score is the minimum standard.

For students who meet all minimum requirements, the first and major step in the application process is to secure an agreement from a faculty member who is willing to serve as major professor or graduate academic advisor. We do not accept students into the program unless an advisor has agreed to supervise the student. Generally, the major professor will identify a research project and possible sources of funding as part of the admission process. We highly recommend that you submit an online application to the Graduate School only after a faculty member indicates that he or she is willing to consider serving as your graduate advisor and requests the full application for admissions be provided for review.

If you do not meet one of the minimum program qualifications, but you are close to meeting it, you may choose to contact a professor who would be willing to request a waiver of that minimum based on your other qualifications. The department will consider a recommendation for admission based on a recommendation from the faculty.

Program Qualifications

In addition to identifying a major professor, an applicant must fulfill the following four qualifications. In exceptional cases, at the request of the applicant's identified advisor, the Department Head may waive one of the qualifications.

  • A composite of the applicant's letters of recommendation must indicate the student has good prospects of success in graduate school. 
  • The applicant should have at least the equivalent of three-fourths of the science courses required in the undergraduate curriculum at Montana State University in the option chosen for graduate study. 
  • Official Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test scores must be submitted at the time the student submits the full application to the Department of Ecology. The sum of the verbal and quantitative scores should be at least 1100 for GRE scores before July, 2011. The sum for the verbal and quantitative scores should be a minimum of 300 for the current GRE tests. (For information regarding the GRE, check out their website at: http://www.gre.org/) Generally the scores should not be more than five years old but exceptions have been made.
  • The applicant should have maintained the following minimal undergraduate grade-point averages: 3.0 average in all biology courses; 3.0 average in all courses taken during the junior and senior years; and 2.5 average in all chemistry, physics and mathematics courses.
  • MSU requires applicants from countries where English is a second language to present evidence (TOEFL: 80-internet-based [iBT] or 550-PBT, IELTS: 6.5, or PTE Academic: 54) of proficiency in the use of the English language.

Once the application has been accepted at a departmental level, it will be sent on to the Graduate School where the Graduate Dean will give final approval. 

International students have some additional qualifications to meet for approval from the Division of Graduate Education. See International Application Process page for information in The Graduate School Policies. The Office of International Programs can provide assistance to international applicants.

Application Dates and Procedures

Admissions can be approved at any time during any semester though it is recommended to apply a full semester in advance for a timely admission. The application process for acceptance into a degree program in the Department of Ecology begins with contacting and solidifying a faculty advisor to work with you.

Qualified students must identify a willing graduate advisor from our list of faculty graduate advisorsWe do not accept students into the program unless an advisor has agreed to supervise the students. Generally, the major professor will identify a research project and possible sources of funding as part of the admission process. We recommend that you do not officially apply until a faculty member confirms that he or she is willing to serve as your graduate advisor. 

The interested faculty member should be the one to request that you complete a formal application for the department and the Graduate School for the admissions decision. The formal online application includes the completed full application form, official transcript(s), official GRE test results, three letters of recommendation, and an essay. You will receive all of the details of the final procedures at the time you are invited to submit the formal application. You will be able to track the progress of your application online.

Applications are accepted and evaluated year round, though many students begin studies in the fall semester. To be admitted for a specific term, the formal application must be completed by the dates below. 

Ecology Department Application Deadlines

Domestic Degree Seeking Applications
Fall Semester July 8
Spring Semester November 24
Summer Semester March 25
International Degree Seeking Applications
Fall Semester May 8
Spring Semester October 15
Summer Semester January 25


To be considered for teaching assistantships for the following fall semester, all application materials must be received by March 1st.