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Biomedical PhD Admissions & Application

The Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Graduate Training Program in Life Sciences (DGP) evaluates applicants for admission based on the entire application package. Our goal is to identify and offer admission to those individuals with potential for success in graduate school and beyond. To this end, we carefully examine each applicant's academic achievement and hands-on research experiences. Our admissions committee places great emphasis on quality research experiences, strong letters of support from research and/or academic advisers and a dedication to graduate training.

The application deadline is December 1. Priority will be given to applications that are complete (including letters of recommendation) by this date.

 Complete the Online Application

Applications for the 2024-2025 academic year can be submitted starting  September, 13 2023. The deadline for receipt of completed applications is December 1. Submissions after the deadline will be accepted only with permission from the DGP office.

To begin the online application process, read the instructions and complete an online application via The Graduate School of Northwestern University website.

Choose "DGP-Driskill Life Sciences: PHD (L20PH)" as your Academic Program from the pull-down menu. Applicants to the MPH/PHD program should choose "Life Sciences and Public Health" (L21PH). The nonrefundable application fee must be paid via credit card at the time of application submission, and the application will not be processed without payment of the fee. Students that meet certain eligibility requirements may apply for a fee waiver from The Graduate School. The fee waiver application is embedded in the application itself. DGP does not offer any additional fee waivers.

 Submit All Supporting Documents Online

As part of the application, you will need to upload the following supporting materials.

Letters of Recommendation

Please submit letters from three or more advisers/professors who are familiar with your work and achievements and can assess your potential to succeed in a PhD program. At least one (and preferably more) of your letters of recommendation should be from an adviser who can comment on your performance in a scientific research setting. Letters should be submitted online by your recommenders. Please follow the instructions on the online application website.

Please note:  Letters should be submitted from an official institutional email address rather than an internet address (yahoo, gmail, etc.).  Letter writers who submit via internet addresses may be contacted by the program through an institutional address to verify the letter.


The Graduate School requires all applicants to upload a scanned copy of their transcripts. Please do not have transcripts sent by mail. We do not need official transcripts at the time of application.

Resume or Curriculum Vitae

Please be sure to include date (month and year) for all research experiences.  Also be sure to include any publications or presentations of your work to scientific audiences.

Academic Statement (1000 words)

This statement should address in detail at least one previous research experience.  You may address some of following questions:

  • What were the larger research questions that you were investigating?
  • What aspect of the overall problem did you pursue and why was this aspect important?
  • What was your hypothesis, and how did you approach it?  What were your findings and conclusions?
  • What was your individual contributions to the project(s)?
  • What did you learn from the experience and how did it shape your career goals?

You should also address why you chose to apply to Northwestern and/or the DGP.  You should include the names of faculty and general areas of research you are interested in.  You should not propose a specific research question you wish to work on for your thesis.  Students applying to the MPH/PhD program should include additional information about why they are applying for both degrees and their experience in public health.

Personal Statement (500 words)

The Graduate School values diverse backgrounds, approaches, and perspectives, understanding them as essential ingredients for true academic excellence. As a Northwestern graduate student, how could you contribute to an intellectual community that prioritizes equity, inclusion, belonging, and cultural humility? Your answer may draw upon past or present experiences, whether in academic work, extracurricular or community activities, or everyday life.

Additional Information Essay (Optional; 250 words)

If there is something that you would like to highlight that you have yet to discuss in other areas of the application, please do so here. You can also use this space to address any concerns you may have in your application. If, for example, you do not believe that your academic credentials demonstrate your true capabilities, please explain why. Also, describe any gaps in your academic career and work experience or any extenuating circumstances in your profile of which the admissions committee should be made aware.  You might also consider answering the following questions:

  • Describe a time of growth or persistence through challenges that you faced in your personal or professional life
  •  Describe a time that your actions and/or leadership had a positive impact on a community that you belong to

 Test Scores

The DGP no longer requires the submission of GRE general or subject tests. DGP will accept GRE scores if you believe they will help your application. We would like to stress that submission of scores is truly optional. In the admissions cycle for 2023 admits, less than 15% of applicants submitted GRE scores. The percentage of applicants admitted who submitted GRE scores and those who did not were the same. International students with degrees from non-US institutions may benefit more from submitting GRE scores.

  • If you decide to submit GRE scores, please have your official GRE scores sent by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) directly to The Northwestern University Graduate School (Institution code 1565, no department code needed). You should also self-report your scores as part of the online application

A TOEFL score of 90 (internet) for all international applicants is a requirement of NU Graduate School and cannot be waived by the DGP. However, students who obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree from institutions within the US or from institutions where the language of instruction is English are exempt from the TOEFL requirement. If your TOEFL is not automatically waived, please contact us.

  • TOEFL: For international students, valid TOEFL scores ARE required by the NU Graduate School unless you have a degree from an institution in the US or in which English is the language of instruction. The DGP cannot waive this requirement. The test must be taken no more than two years before the intended quarter of entry. For the TOEFL, you must score 90 or higher on the internet based test. The Graduate School's school code for TOEFL is 1565. When prompted, IBT test takers should request that their scores be sent to the graduate office. ALL scores sent to school code 1565 are made available to all programs, regardless of the "departments" selected on the ETS form.
  • IELTS: The IELTS may be used in place of the TOEFL. For the IELTS, you must receive a score of 7.0 or higher.

 Holistic Review

The DGP uses a holistic review process for admissions.  Holistic review means that we take into account all aspects of your application, including your experiences and academics, as well as how you would contribute to the scientific and learning environment at Northwestern.  We do not use cut off scores or other metrics that eliminate applicants without a thorough review of the entire application.

 For the written application, we ask admissions committee members to consider the following aspects of the application:

  • Research experience and scientific thinking (e.g., the ability to define a questions, form a hypothesis, discuss an experimental approach beyond the technical details, etc.) as evidenced in research statement and letters of recommendation
  • Research accomplishments, including publications and presentations
  • Letters of recommendation, with emphasis on evaluation of potential as a scientist from research advisors
  • Academic qualifications—GPA, courses completed, trajectory through undergraduate/graduate education
  • How students can contribute to an intellectual community that prioritizes equity, inclusion, belonging, and cultural humility
  • Motivation for graduate school
  • Evidence of persistence in research and ability to overcome obstacles
  • Leadership potential

 In addition to the above, interviewers are also asked about the following aspects in interviews:

  • Ability to engage in thoughtful discussions about research; both ask and answer questions
  • Scientific curiosity, demonstrating interest in science beyond a specific project
  • Evidence of problem solving ability
  • Communication skills
  • Applicant’s confidence, understanding of their own strengths and weakness, and ability to grow


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