Graduate Student FAQs

What should I include in the statement of purpose?

There are no specific requirements for the content of the statement of purpose. A statement of purpose allows an applicant to express why he or she wishes to pursue graduate studies. The statement could discuss your experience, training, goals, interests or expectations.

How long should the statement of purpose be?

The statement of purpose is generally a one- to two-page document. There is no restriction on length. However, take into consideration that the Admissions Committee is reading many documents so your statement of purpose should be concise.

Are journal papers required?

Journal papers are optional.

How do I upload multiple journal papers?

Applicants may upload one pdf. If you wish to upload more than one journal paper, create one pdf containing those papers and upload that pdf.

When should I submit my application?

Submit your application as early as possible so those providing letters of recommendation have sufficient time to upload letters. Official GRE scores, official TOEFL scores, and official IELTS scores will be added to your submitted application as they are received.

May I apply to the Ph.D. program if I only have a bachelor’s degree?

It is possible to apply directly to the Ph.D. program without having previously received a master’s degree.

If I submit an application to the Ph.D. program will the application also be reviewed for admission to the M.S. program?

Applications are only considered for the degree program indicated in the application. If you submit an application to the Ph.D. program, you will only be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program.

Can I earn a master’s degree while I am a Ph.D. student?

Many Ph.D. students choose to obtain an M.S. on the way to getting a Ph.D. They do so by fulfilling the M.S. requirements.

I am a junior and considering graduate school. Besides getting good grades, is there anything else I can do to enhance my chances for admission and financial support?

Having good grades in your junior and senior years are very important. However, we also require several letters of recommendation. It is helpful for you to participate in research so that faculty can get to know you. You should define your educational and research interests early and find a faculty member who is willing to accept you as a member of his or her research group or look into undergraduate research opportunities.

Whom should I ask to write my two or more letters of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation should come from people that can attest to your ability in many different aspects, including your knowledge of fundamentals, written and oral communication skills, motivation, maturity, independence as a researcher, and willingness to learn and succeed. For example, you may choose one of your former instructors or professors. It is very important that we get a letter from your adviser, if you have an M.S. degree. If you plan to transfer from one school to another, we require at least one letter from a faculty member at the school where you studied most recently.

What do I need to include with my letters of recommendation?

Provide the contact information for each letter writer in your online application. Each letter writer will have the option to either upload a scanned letter (pdf format) or type a letter of recommendation. Log on to your online application to send reminders to letter writers.

What Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score is required for acceptance into the program?

The Department of Mechanical Engineering no longer requires an applicant submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

What score is required for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for admission?

For international students, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores at a minimum of 80 or higher on the internet-based test with a 19 or higher in the speaking section. (An acceptable alternative to the TOEFL is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, on which you must achieve a minimum composite score of 6.5.) Visit the Penn State Graduate School FAQ page for more information.

How do I submit TOEFL/IELTS scores?

Submit official TOEFL scores to Institution Code 2660. Order these early; they can take up to a month to reach us. After official TOEFL scores are received, you can see them in your online application.

Official IELTS scores can be sent electronically or by mail (hard copy). Order these early; they can take up to a month to reach us. After official IELTS scores are received, you can see them in your online application. If sending by mail, request that official IELTS scores (hard copy) be sent to the following address:

  • The Pennsylvania State University
    Graduate Enrollment Services
    114 Kern Building
    University Park, PA 16802

I am an international student, but I received a degree from an institution in the United States. Do I need to take the TOEFL/IELTS?

International applicants who receive a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from an institution in the United States are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement. Additional information about exemptions can be found on the Penn State Graduate School FAQ page.

I am an international student who received a degree from a non-US institution where English is the language of instruction. Do I need to take the TOEFL/IELTS?

International applicants who have received degrees from specific countries are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement. For complete information about TOEFL/IELTS exemptions, visit the Graduate School’s Requirements for Admission page.

How do I submit my transcripts?

Scan official transcripts from each institution of higher education attended, both undergraduate and graduate. Upload scans of official transcripts to online application. Do not send any materials by mail to PSU. If you are offered admission to the program, you will be given information on how to submit official transcripts.

The Graduate School charges a fee for handling my application. Would it be possible for you to quickly examine my application via email and let me know if I will be admitted and considered for financial aid?

The Graduate Programs Office cannot make any decisions unless a complete application package is available. You can view the minimum application requirements and a list of the applications materials you need to submit on our Admissions page.

When and how will I be notified of my application status?

Your application file will be reviewed only when it is complete. A complete application includes our application for a graduate assistantship, a statement of purpose, and all other application requirements. The deadline for applications for the fall semester is December 15, and decisions on admission and financial aid are typically made by March 15. You will be informed of our decision by email. The most qualified students will be recommended for admission.

Can I check an existing application?

Students can edit or check the status of an existing application at

What courses are required for an M.S. degree?

You can view the full requirements for the M.S. degree in mechanical engineering. For the new graduate student, it is important that you schedule a meeting with your adviser to discuss and to formulate a course program prior to the start of the M.S. program. If you do not have an adviser prior to your arrival to Penn State, one will be assigned to you.

How long does it take to complete an M.S. degree?

The average time to complete an M.S. degree is about two years, though some may take longer.

How many graduate-level courses should I take per semester?

For students beginning their first semester, three courses at the 500-level are very time-consuming. Since many students have an assistantship, it is important that the duties associated with the assistantship are factored in when managing your course load.

What are the options for an M.S. thesis?

We have two options, although a third is possible for Ph.D. students. Students who wish to terminate their graduate studies with the M.S. degree may choose either the M.S. thesis or the M.S. paper option. Most students choose the thesis option, because one less course is required.

What is the difference between an M.S. thesis and an M.S. paper option?

There is, in general, not a significant difference between the M.S. thesis and the M.S. paper options. Both require the completion of 30 graduate credits. The thesis involves 6 credits and it must be prepared according to procedures and guidelines specified by the Graduate School. In the M.S. paper option, the students writes a paper on a research topic agreed upon by the adviser and it should be publishable in a professional journal or presented at a national or international conference.

What job opportunities become available once receiving an M.S. degree?

After earning your M.S. degree, it is expected that you will have a deeper knowledge of the fundamentals, in-depth research experience, and improved technical writing and presentation skills. Therefore, you may be considered more qualified for positions that require solving complex problems or undertaking management responsibilities.

What courses are required for a Ph.D. degree?

There is no formal course program required for the Ph.D. degree. However, the adviser and members of the student’s Ph.D. committee normally decide the content of the course program. View the full Ph.D. requirements in mechanical engineering.

How long does it take to complete a Ph.D. degree?

It varies considerably. If you have completed an M.S. degree, it may take only three years. However, if you have only a B.S. degree, it may take five to seven years.

What job opportunities become available once receiving a Ph.D. degree?

Today, most of our students find a position in industry with job responsibilities associated with research and development. Others find a research position at a national laboratory, such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Sandia National Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, etc. These positions are often of a temporary nature (post-docs) and span about two years. A few find an academic position as a tenure-track assistant professor, but the competition is keen.

What course material should be reviewed for the Ph.D. candidacy exam?

Sample exams are available for your review through the ME Graduate Student Council ANGEL page.

How do I find an adviser?

The first step is to define your area or areas of interest. What undergraduate courses were most appealing? From there, you may want to look at the various areas of research conducted in our department that links to your educational interests. You should then communicate directly to the faculty members who conduct research in an area of your interest to find about what opportunities he or she may have available.

What are the duties of the typical teaching assistant?

The typical teaching assistant (TA) serves as grader for a lecture course. The TA also keeps office hours, proctors exams, and may give recitation sessions. However, TA duties may vary. Teaching a lecture course is very limited for graduate students in general. Most teaching assistants serve as a grader in courses, or may teach a laboratory course. During the past several years, teaching a lecture course has been one important aspect of the Graduate Teaching Fellow program. The students participating in this program are usually within a year from completion of their Ph.D. degree.


What are the possibilities for financial support?

Almost all of the students who arrive at Penn State at the beginning of the academic year have received either teaching or research assistantships covering tuition and a monthly stipend.

What research facilities are established in the department?

It is impossible to provide a short answer to this question, but you can visit our Research section to get a complete listing.

What graduate-level courses are offered?

The department offers a wide variety of graduate level courses. Visit the University Bulletin to see a listing of graduate courses in Mechanical Engineering.

Where can I find information on important dates like the first class day of the semester?

Check the Graduate School Calendar.

Some faculty are always “out-of-office” or I cannot get in touch with them via the telephone. How should I most effectively contact them?

Our faculty are very active in teaching, research, and various service activities. To attract their interest, it may be best to write an e-mail stating your educational background and research interests, and include a résumé. If the faculty have an interest, they will contact you. Faculty members get hundreds of inquires every year, and it is very difficult to provide an individual reply to all requests. We appreciate your understanding in this matter.

When are the various thesis deadlines?

The Graduate School specifies various deadlines for submitting draft and final versions of theses. Find out more from the Graduate School Thesis Office. Check with our Graduate Programs Office, 127 Reber, for departmental deadlines.

Graduate School

Who to Contact

  • Graduate Programs Office
    127 Reber Building
    University Park, PA 16802
    Phone: 814-865-1345

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With more than 60 faculty members, 330 graduate students, and 800 undergraduate students, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering embraces a culture that welcomes individuals with a diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Our faculty and students are innovating today what will impact tomorrow’s solutions to meeting our energy needs, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems. We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S.) graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

Department of Mechanical Engineering

137 Reber Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2519