Skip to main content
Grad student at lab
November 8, 2023

How to Apply to the PhD Program

Written By: Kate Fanis


Students with a strong background in chemical engineering or related disciplines and a serious interest in research are encouraged to apply for admission to the UW-Madison Chemical and Biological Engineering PhD program. Applications are accepted for both Fall (September) and Spring (January) admission, although historically most students start in the Fall and admission is seldom offered for the Spring semester. The application for the Fall 2024 semester is first available on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. Applications for Fall admission must be received by noon (CST) on December 12023. Admissions decisions are made by a committee of faculty with research expertise spanning the four research areas of the department. Individual faculty do not recommend admissions decisions and advisors are not determined at the time of application. Instead, students will match with advisors after meeting with all faculty during the fall semester.

Please email if you have any questions.

5 Steps in Applying to the PhD Program

1) Get to know our faculty and research

Identifying potential faculty advisors who perform research aligned with your interests will ensure that you are good fit for the department. Details on faculty interests are on the People page, and an overview of department research focus areas is on the research page. You can click here for a summary of faculty research interests. You will be asked to name potential faculty advisors as part of the graduate application.

2) Prepare your application materials

A list of required application materials is in the “Requirements for Admission” section below. You should review the section on “Advice for Preparing a Competitive Application” and the advice provided in this presentation on preparing a Statement of PurposeGRE scores are not required for applications.

3) Request letters of recommendation

Three recommendation letters are required for admission. Request letters well ahead of the application deadline, ideally from faculty members who can attest to your strengths as a student and research; see the “Advice for Preparing a Competitive Application” section below for more information.

4) Request an application fee waiver if applicable

Many students will be eligible for application fee waivers from the department. Please see the “Application Fees and Waivers” section below for information.

5) Complete the online application to the graduate school

Click the button below to access the graduate school application, which allows you to apply to up to three UW-Madison departments. Details are provided in the “Instructions for Applying to the Graduate School” section below.

Detailed Information

All applicants must fill out an application to the Graduate School, which permits application to up to three UW-Madison departments. Key requirements of the application include:

  • GRE scores. GRE scores are not required and will not be considered during the admissions process.
  • A bachelor’s degree with a strong background in chemical engineering or related disciplines. The degree must be from an ABET-accredited institution. Applicants from international institutions must have a degree comparable to an approved U.S. bachelor’s degree.
  • PDFs of unofficial transcripts from all institutions that you have attended. Once admitted, the Graduate School will contact you to ask for your official transcripts. For official transcripts from US institutions, e-transcripts are acceptable. For official transcripts from other countries, physical copies are required. Any transcripts not in English require the original, physical transcripts along with an official translation (not a World Educational Service evaluation) performed by your school or a professional translator.
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV). The CV should be two pages or less and written in 11-point font.
  • Statement of Purpose (SoP). The SoP is your opportunity to discuss your background and future interests. The SoP should be 2-3 pages in length and written in 11-point font. Suggested topics that you could discuss in your Statement of Purpose include, but are not limited to:
    • Your past research experience (academic or non-academic) and contributions to research projects, any products of your research (papers, posters, presentations, etc.), future research interests, and what faculty members match your interests.
    • Your motivation for pursuing a PhD, your career goals, and how the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a good fit for you.
    • Your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect in which scholars with various perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and collaborate productively and positively.
    • Your academic preparation and why you are well-prepared for graduate coursework in Chemical Engineering, including any extenuating circumstances or challenges that you have overcome.
  • Three recommendation letters. Recommendation letters are requested through the online system and should be submitted electronically by three persons who are familiar with you and can attest to your potential to succeed in graduate school.
  • English proficiency test. Official TOEFL or IELTS scores are required for students who attended institutions at which English is not the sole language of instruction, or who have not completed two full-time semesters at an English-speaking institution without any ESL coursework. See the Graduate School Requirements for Admission for more information.

Applicants also fill out a Supplementary Application as part of the graduate application that has questions specific to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. These questions ask you to:

These choices are not binding and are used in part to ensure that your application is reviewed by faculty with aligned interests. There is also a question that asks how your background and life experiences motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. A response of fewer than 1000 characters is suggested and some redundancy with the Statement of Purpose is acceptable. A final question asks if you have external funding to support your PhD studies. Please note that external funding is not necessary for admission as all admitted students receive a five-year financial guarantee.

The graduate school application fee is $75, with an additional $6 processing fee for international applicants. However, the department provides application fee waivers to all domestic students, to international students who are currently enrolled in a US institution, and to all Fulbright Scholars. Please contact with your request when you are ready to submit your application, but before you pay to submit it. If you qualify, you will receive a one-time use coupon to use in place of payment when you’re ready to submit your application.

Click here to access the application to the Graduate School. It is extremely important that you check your MyUW portal frequently. This link is where you will find an application checklist, updates on the status of your application, and any communications from the Graduate School. You will first need to activate your NetID by visiting the NetID Account Activation site. You will need to enter your 10-digit UW-Madison campus ID number and your date of birth to complete the NetID activation process. Your campus ID number was provided in the confirmation email when you originally applied. It is the 10-digit number starting with 9.

To make your application as competitive as possible, you should carefully consider how to make your Curriculum Vitae (CV), Statement of Purpose (SoP), and letters of recommendation highlight your strengths to demonstrate why you will excel in graduate research.

The first step in preparing a competitive application is learning about our research focus areas and specific faculty with whom you would be interested in as potential faculty advisors. Click here for a one-page summary of faculty and their research interests. You are not expected to be an expert in department research prior to joining the program but researching our faculty can help ensure that the department is a good fit for your interests. We further recommend explicitly stating the faculty members that you are most interested in working with in your SoP and why their work is appealing to you.

Your CV and SoP should highlight your strengths in research. Your CV should clearly list any research products (publications, posters, or presentations) that have resulted from your research experience, as well as any accolades that you have earned. Your SoP is your opportunity to describe your research experience (academic or non-academic) and specific contributions to any research projects, as well as how your background and research experiences have shaped your future research interests. You can also use your SoP to explain your motivation for obtaining a PhD and why Wisconsin would be a good fit for you. This presentation also provides advice on preparing a strong Statement of Purpose.

Letters of recommendation should be selected to highlight your strengths. Most applicants have at least one letter from a research supervisor (professor or industry supervisor) who can attest to your research skills and contributions to research projects. Letters attesting to your strength in classroom activities are also an asset. Do not request letters of recommendation from graduate students or postdoctoral scholars, even if they were your primary mentors – letters should come from faculty if possible. Request letters of recommendation well ahead of the deadline to ensure that your recommenders have sufficient time to prepare a strong letter.

Most applicants accepted into the program have a Chemical Engineering degree with a grade-point average (GPA) well above the Graduate School minimum of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. You can discuss any potential concerns about your academic background in your SoP. If your degree is in another discipline, and particularly in a non-engineering discipline, it is recommended that you discuss coursework that you have taken that will prepare you for graduate-level Chemical Engineering courses. Information on the core courses taken by Chemical Engineering PhD students is here. If your GPA is close to the minimum, it is similarly recommended that you discuss your academic performance in classes relevant to graduate-level coursework.

Finally, highlight your unique non-academic strengths and activities in your SoP. Examples could include volunteering at public outreach events, community service activities, engaging in activities to improve diversity, equity, or inclusion, serving in leadership roles in student groups or organizations, mentoring or tutoring students, participating in varsity athletics, etc. This information will help the admissions committee gain a more holistic view of your application and who you are as a person.

Frequently Asked Questions

After you submit your application, all application updates and status changes are reported through your MyUW portal at It is extremely important that you check your MyUW portal as frequently as possible as it will show an application check list as well as any communication from the Graduate School and the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

To access the MyUW portal, you will first need to activate your NetID by visiting the NetID Account Activation site at You will need to enter your 10-digit UW-Madison campus ID number and your date of birth to complete the NetID activation process. Your campus ID number was provided in the confirmation email when you originally applied. It is the 10-digit number starting with 9.

We do not require GRE scores to apply to our program. Because you can apply to up to three departments/graduate programs with one e-application to UW-Madison, you still have the option to enter GRE scores into the graduate application as they may be required by other departments. However, we will not use GRE scores to evaluate your application for admission to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Test scores and letters of recommendations do not have to be received before you submit your application. We do encourage you to plan ahead for exams – it can take up to a month from your exam date to attach your scores to your application when you have the score sent via ETS to UW-Madison. You should also encourage your recommenders to get their letters in by the application deadline.

You do not need to ask for an exemption. If you meet one of the exemptions to providing a score, you will automatically receive an exemption when the Graduate Coordinator reviews your application and determines that you qualify. If you do not qualify, the checkbox for the TOEFL/IELTS/Exempt will remain unchecked. If you are unsure whether or not you qualify, you are welcome to email with your full name (as listed on your application), why you think you are exempt, and ask if you qualify

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s institution code is 1846.

The boxes will be checked as the application is reviewed. Those checkboxes are manually marked by the Graduate Coordinator when they go through each application individually.  Please have patience as only one person is reviewing a few hundred applications.

We require only unofficial transcripts for your application. Make sure the unofficial transcripts show your grades and GPA. If you are admitted, the Graduate School will contact you to obtain official transcripts. Official transcripts must be sent directly from your institution to the Graduate School via email to If your school does not offer official e-transcripts they must send an unopened, physical copy directly to the Graduate School, unless they are not originally in English. Any transcripts not in English require the original, physical transcripts along with an official translation (not a WES evaluation) done by your school or a professional translator. Please see more on the Graduate School’s website on Requirements for Admission.

The simplest (and best) thing to do is send a reminder via the application. You can sign back in to your application, click on the Recommendations button and then click on “Send Reminder” for the appropriate person. If you are worried that your recommender is not getting the email sent by the application system, check in with them directly and ask. If they are not getting the email or cannot submit the letter through the email’s link for some reason, please send an email to and explain your situation.

You are not required to submit official test scores prior to the application deadline. If paying again to have your official test scores sent is a burden, you can wait until after admission before paying to have your scores officially sent by ETS. While it is helpful to have received official test scores for the admissions committee to review, the committee can see self-reported test scores when you apply. If available, you should upload the PDF of the letter you were sent displaying your test results to your application before the deadline. It can take 4 weeks or longer from when you send your scores to when they are matched to your application, so there may be a small delay in your admissions process if you choose to send official scores after admission.

The admissions committee typically meets within a few weeks of the deadline to review applications for admission. Admissions letters are usually sent within a month or two of the deadline. However, not receiving admission within this time period does not mean that you will be admitted at a later time.

You do not need to contact individual faculty members before applying. Individual professors do not admit students into the department. Admission is recommended by a faculty committee. After matriculating at the department, there is a departmental matching process that occurs during September and October. Students meet with all faculty in order to match with a suitable faculty advisor. As such, student-professor matches are not made in advance in order to allow the student the best opportunity to meet and learn of all available faculty members’ interests. However, you may wish to contact particular faculty members of interest to determine if they will have open positions for new students.

While we understand you need to decide your destination, we cannot guarantee that you will hear from us before April 15th. There is also no official wait list of students not yet admitted. We understand if you decide to accept somewhere else by that deadline.

Once admitted, candidates will be invited to attend one of the Visit Wisconsin CBE weekends held in February or March. The Visit Wisconsin CBE weekends include meetings with faculty, meetings with current graduate students, tours of lab facilities, and tours of the UW-Madison campus. You are also welcome to take a campus tour organized by Campus & Visitor Relations, although the department will not schedule formal meetings with applicants who wish to visit prior to being formally admitted.

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering only offers admission for a PhD program. Students are not required to earn an M.S. degree before beginning the PhD. You may apply directly from completion of a B.S. degree.

Please email with any questions not addressed on the department website.