Graduate Admissions FAQ
Thank you for your interest in graduate study in kinesiology at Penn State! There are some important differences to be aware of between applying to a graduate program versus undergraduate, and there are even differences between graduate programs at different universities (or between separate programs at the same institution). The questions below are ones we often hear from applicants to our program and we hope you find the answers helpful as you make decisions about your graduate school applications. If you have a question about our program that you don't see answered below, please do not hesitate to contact us.
- What general areas of study are available in Penn State's Department of Kinesiology?
Kinesiology is a broad field of study focused on human movement, physical activity, or sport. Based on the interests and expertise of our faculty, we identify six areas of study within our graduate program:
- Athletic Training and Sports Medicine
- Exercise Physiology
- History & Philosophy of Sport
- Motor Control
- Psychology of Physical Activity
Most faculty affiliate with a single area but some faculty have interests that cross multiple areas. Applicants should determine the appropriate area of study, perhaps by consulting with a prospective mentor, prior to submitting an application. The application asks for primary and secondary areas of interest, and the answers provided by applicants are used by faculty to find students who have interests who align with theirs.
- How does the admissions process work?
We have a mentor-based program, which means that an applicant must match with a prospective research mentor before being admitted to our program. In order for you to be admitted, one of our graduate faculty members must recommend your admission to the program. That faculty member then acts as your research advisor once you enter the program. This model of graduate training involves students working closely with their advisors right from the start to develop programs of study that are customized to their individual backgrounds, professional interests, and training goals. Therefore, it is essential that applicants target their application toward a specific faculty member (or members) who are best suited to their research and professional goals.
Once a faculty member has made a recommendation for admission, the application is reviewed by a faculty admissions committee. If the decision is to admit the applicant, the applicant receives an offer letter that details funding and other details and conditions of admission.
- Should I contact a prospective faculty mentor prior to applying?
Yes! Applicants are strongly encouraged to reach out to faculty members prior to submitting an application. The best way to initiate this contact is by email, but please be aware that our faculty receive many email inquiries from prospective students. We try to respond to all these emails promptly, and we appreciate your patience if you do not receive a response right away. If there is a particular faculty member you are interested in working with that you do not hear back from, you might consider sending a follow up email.
One critical question to answer in this initial contact is whether the faculty member is planning to admit a new student for the upcoming year. Not every faculty member will be taking on new students every fall. This answer will depend on whether there is room in the faculty member's research group and especially on the availability of funding (see below).
In your email, tell the faculty member a little about your background and attach a resume if you have one. If you have prior research experience, it is a good idea to mention it. It is also suggested that you demonstrate some familiarity with the faculty member's research and explain your shared interest.
- When should I submit my application?
There is no fixed deadline for applying. With our mentor-based admission system, decisions are made on a rolling basis as graduate program faculty identify students that they recommend for admission to the program. To make sure that your application gets full consideration for funding, however, we suggest that you have your complete application submitted by January 15.
- What are the standards for admission?
Admission to our program is competitive and based on several factors: demonstrated relevant experience and motivation, letters of reference, and your personal statement, as well as your GPA. Undergraduate GPA is typically above 3.4 on a 4.0-point scale. It is especially important that we see high grades in courses that are closely related to the proposed area of study. For students applying to our doctoral program who have a record of success and productivity in a master's program at another institution, the undergraduate record may be of reduced importance. Please keep in mind that these are only guidelines, and that your entire application package is taken into consideration.
- What funding is available for graduate students?
Funding of graduate students generally takes one of three forms:
- Graduate assistantships (GAs) offered by the Department. Each year we have a limited number of departmental GAs available that fully cover tuition and provide a stipend for the 10-month academic year. These "half-time" positions normally require 10 hours toward teaching duties and 10 hours toward thesis research each week, with the balance of the GA's time spent on their studies, which may include additional time for research as the coursework requirements are completed.
- Research Assistantships (RAs) supported by grants. These grants (typically from government agencies or industry sponsors) may be research grants to faculty or training grants managed by groups of faculty. Like the GA, an RA provides a stipend and full tuition. RAs are also half-time appointments but with all 20 hours devoted to research that is usually the same as the student's thesis research.
- Fellowships. Fellowships available from the Graduate School or the College of Health and Human Development typically do not require teaching duties or involve a mixture of teaching and research duties. Some fellowships are available only to incoming students, while others are available to students already enrolled. Some fellowships and scholarships are available specifically for students from underrepresented minority groups (see below). In addition to fellowships available from inside Penn State, students and their advisors may apply for fellowships from external sources such as foundations and government agencies.
- How do I apply for funding?
Applicants seeking funding should indicate on the application that they do not already have funding. In general, GA, RA, and fellowship funding consideration for students applying to the program happens without the need for any special application to be completed by the student. Applicants who meet certain qualifications for diversity (as spelled out in the application) should indicate this if they wish to be considered for Graduate School fellowship funding specifically for students from underrepresented groups.
Please note that different funding sources have different requirements. For example, departmental graduate assistantships have teaching responsibilities so students must demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in English if English is not their first language (see below). Some U.S. government agencies have policies restricting the eligibility of funding to U.S. nationals or permanent residents and those policies can limit funding opportunities for some international students.
- Is there funding opportunities for students who would add to the diversity of the program?
Yes! We value diversity and there is limited funding available for students who would enhance the diversity of the Department. "Diversity" refers to the inclusion of:
- Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education (e.g., American Indians, or Alaska natives, Black or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders);
- Individuals with disabilities that limit one or more major life activities; and
- Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds (including students who are the first in their families to attend college).
There is funding available in the form of fellowships from the Graduate School for students who meet these criteria. Consideration for this funding does not require that the applicant complete any extra application beyond the application for admission, but it is important that you (A) indicate on the application that you wish to be considered for such funding; and (B) complete your application early - we suggest by January 15.
- Should I apply to the Master's (M.S.) or Doctoral (Ph.D.) program?
There are important differences between the Ph.D. and the M.S. that you should understand before making this choice. The Ph.D. takes longer to complete than the M.S., typically 4-5 years when the Ph.D. immediately follows the undergraduate degree and 3-4 years when the Ph.D. follows the M.S (although completion time ultimately depends on each individual student's research progress). The M.S. generally takes 2 years, but can be completed in less time in some cases. Both the Ph.D. and the M.S. programs require a thesis (the Ph.D. thesis is also called a doctoral dissertation), but Ph.D. thesis research has a much greater depth and scope. There are many career opportunities for holders of either Ph.D. or M.S. degrees, but the Ph.D. is the credential that is generally required for a faculty positions at colleges and universities.
The mission of the graduate program in Kinesiology at Penn State emphasizes doctoral training. Some students enter the Ph.D. program directly following their undergraduate studies, while others complete an M.S. before focusing on the PhD. It is possible to enter our program with the goal of an M.S. alone, but departmental GA and fellowship funding opportunities will be limited for such "terminal master's" applicants.
We understand that some students with a bachelor's degree who are interested in the Ph.D. may not be absolutely certain that the Ph.D. is right for them. Such students should not, however, disqualify themselves from applying to the Ph.D. program. Please discuss whether you should apply to the M.S. program or the Ph.D. program with your prospective mentor(s).
- What is the stipend for a student on an assistantship? Is tuition covered? Is there health and dental insurance?
Graduate assistantships in the College of Health and Human Development are made at Penn State's Grade 14 level at minimum. For the 2020-21 academic year, the amount for the Grade 14 36-week stipend (paid out over 10 months) is $22,860, with the possibility of additional funding in the summer. Assistantships always include tuition. For information on insurance and other benefits, please see the Graduate Assistant Fact Sheet maintained by the Graduate School.
- How important is it to have previous research experience?
Applying to graduate school is a little like applying for a job as a research apprentice. An applicant with previous research experience (and a positive letter of recommendation from an undergraduate or master's research advisor) will have an advantage over an applicant without such experience, all else being equal. It is not uncommon, however, for new graduate students to not have any formal research experience.
- What if my undergraduate degree is not in kinesiology or exercise science?
We have many graduate students in our program whose first degree is not in kinesiology, exercise science, or a similar field. Indeed, many of our faculty hold doctorates in fields other than kinesiology, including physiology, psychology, and engineering. Regardless of your undergraduate degree, there is undergraduate coursework that is considered important for your chosen area of graduate study. We suggest that you ask your prospective mentor(s) for their guidance on this topic because the relevant background training will vary by area.
- What should I include in my personal statement?
Your personal statement is an important part of your application. It should be a concise and well written statement of 1-2 pages that tells the reader about your academic and research background, your career goals, and how our graduate program would help you meet your career and educational objectives. It should be as specific as possible about your rationale for pursuing graduate studies, what you want to study, and how working with specific faculty mentors would facilitate your educational and professional advancement.
Your statement should focus on your educational background, training, and experiences and how those mesh with your future research and scholarly interests. It should not be emotive or overly personal, as might be expected in an undergraduate college admission essay. Tying your knowledge, skills, and interests directly to the scholarly and research interests of one or more faculty mentor is a good strategy.
- How can I learn about the research interests of individual faculty members?
Start by identifying faculty who work in the graduate area of study that most closely aligns with your research interests. Next, find examples of the faculty member's scholarly work. This might include articles published in scholarly journals or books that the faculty member has authored or co-authored. Articles in journals may be available free of charge through public databases like PubMed or you may be able to read just the abstracts on PubMed or on journal websites accessed through Google Scholar. If you are currently enrolled in a college or university, your institution's library may give you access to various databases, journals, and books that contain our faculty's work.
When you contact your prospective mentor, let them know that you have learned something about their work. The faculty member won't expect you to fully understand everything you read about their research in these articles and books, and it is fine to ask questions. It is not a good idea, however, to contact a faculty member without knowing what their specific area of interest is, or with a plan to complete your thesis in an area that has little to do with the faculty member's current research.
- I have an offer! How long do I have to decide?
Penn State, along with many other universities, supports the April 15 Resolution of the Council of Graduate Schools. When an offer of financial support is made prior to April 15, the student receiving the offer is under no obligation to respond to the offer until April 15. When the offer is made after April 15, the terms of when a response is required will be specified in the offer letter.