Master of Science in Biological Sciences


Program Description

About the Program

The Master of Science in Biological Sciences program is designed to prepare students for many types of biological work that require advanced training beyond the bachelor's degree, including careers in industry and/or civil service, teaching biological sciences at the elementary, secondary, and community college levels, independent research in the field of specialization, or continued graduate work at other institutions. A research thesis is required.

The Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly takes Learn by Doing seriously. Over three-fourths of our courses include a lab section. That means our students spend most of their time out in the field collecting data or in the lab running experiments on modern equipment – not sitting at desks.

We’re located on California’s Central Coast, the hub of pristine ocean, coastal marine, estuary, riparian, mountain and grassland environments. These unparalleled “living laboratories” are ideal for study and research on plant, aquatic and animal species in a variety of thriving ecosystems.

We offer the latest high-tech equipment allowing our students to study life on a molecular level. Those students headed to a medical career can take specialized anatomy classes, and labs usually offered to first-year med school students.



The program of study for all Master’s Degrees must include 45 units of committee-approved graduate work, at least 30 units of which must be at the 500 level. At least 18 units of the formal program of study must be completed after the student has been advanced to candidacy. A grade point average of 3.0 or higher is required in all courses included in the Plan of Study.

  • BIO501 Molecular and Cellular Biology (4)
  • BIO502 Biology of Organisms (4)
  • BIO503 Population Biology (4)
  • BIO561 Proposal Writing for Biology Research (3)
  • BIO590 Seminar in Biology (1)(1)(1)
  • BIO591 Trends in Biology (1)(1)
  • Select one of the following*: (4)
    • BIO419 Analytical Methods in Ecology
    • BIO542 Multivariate Biometry
    • STAT513 Applied Experimental Design and Regression Models
    • STAT523 Design and Analysis of Experiments
    • STAT524 Applied Regression Analysis
  • BIO599 Thesis, with oral defense (9)
  • Approved electives 400 or 500 level (12)

Total: 45

*If a STAT course is chosen, Electives must include three units taken within the Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly in order to meet the program requirement of 32 units.

Application and Admission

Application deadline is the 1st of February annually.
This deadline is a departmental policy and differs from the university deadline listed in the current catalog. Admission is for Fall quarter only.

Admission Requirements

In addition to Cal Poly university-wide admission requirements, admission into the graduate program in the Biological Sciences Department requires the following:

  • A minimum G.P.A. of 3.0 in the last 90 quarter units (60-semester units) taken as an undergraduate. Candidates with lower GPAs are considered only with extenuating circumstances.
  • Satisfactory scores on the General Graduate Record Examination Aptitude Test. Scores should be at least 150 in each of the verbal and quantitative sections for the “new” GRE, and 1000 for the “old” GRE. (Note that the Biology GRE Subject Test is not required for admission.) Candidates with lower GRE scores are considered only with extenuating circumstances.
  • Prerequisite courses: one year of majors' introductory coursework in biology and one course in each of the following areas: general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, calculus, genetics, evolution. NOTE: If you have not taken one or more prerequisite courses, you may still be admitted with conditional status, and will be required to take the course at Cal Poly.
  • At least two letters of reference from persons familiar with recent academic or work performance of the applicant. Note that the Graduate Education website indicates that three letters are required; however, we only require two letters in Biological Sciences. Letters should be submitted via Interfolio (see below).
  • A one page, typed Statement of Purpose describing your reasons for pursuing graduate study in the Biological Sciences at Cal Poly, your specific areas of interest (including the name(s) of your prospective faculty research advisor(s) if applicable), and any other information you consider pertinent. The statement should be submitted via Interfolio (see below).
  • Curriculum vitae (optional but encouraged). The CV should be submitted via Interfolio (see below).
  • Applicants to the regular MS program are strongly encouraged to contact prospective advisors. Admission to the regular MS program requires that an advisor agree to supervise an applicant. Faculty research interests can be found by browsing faculty profiles.

Application Checklist

Application to Cal Poly’s graduate program in Biological Sciences requires completion of the following steps at two different websites:

  1. Apply to Cal Poly via CSUMentor. This is the mechanism by which you officially apply to Cal Poly. The site closes after February 1, and extensions are not possible. When applying, please arrange to send official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended and an official GRE General Exam score report to Cal Poly Admissions (code 4038).
  2. Submit materials below via Interfolio (Click here, then scroll down to the Biological Sciences Interfolio link.) Note that Interfolio is provided by Cal Poly to applicants free of charge. If you have any trouble with Interfolio, please contact Graduate Education at Materials must be submitted by March 1, but you should submit materials as early as possible (before February 1 if possible). Please submit:
    • Unofficial transcripts (be sure to submit official transcripts to Admissions as described above)
    • Unofficial GRE General Exam score report (be sure to submit official score report to Admissions as described above)
    • Statement of Purpose
    • At least two letters of reference
    • Curriculum vitae (optional but encouraged)

Admission Steps and Timeline

  • Application completed via CSUMentor by 1 February;
  • Eligibility determined by Admissions Office by March;
  • Supporting materials uploaded via Interfolio by 1 March;
  • Recommendation of acceptance communicated by Graduate Coordinator of Biological Sciences Department by April via email;
  • Departmental financial aid (if applicable) offered by mid-May.
Last updated Nov 2018

About the School

Located in San Luis Obispo, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, Cal Poly maintains a guiding philosophy of “Learn By Doing” that is reflected in the school’s comprehensive curriculum combining technical a ... Read More

Located in San Luis Obispo, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, Cal Poly maintains a guiding philosophy of “Learn By Doing” that is reflected in the school’s comprehensive curriculum combining technical and professional training with the arts and humanities. This prepares students to become resourceful professionals and innovative leaders from the moment they step foot on campus. As one of the most selective universities in the California State University (CSU) system, Cal Poly consistently ranks “Best in the West” by U.S. News and World Report and is considered one of “The Best Colleges for Your Money” by Money Magazine. Read less
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