UW Center for Human Neuroscience

FAQ Applying to Graduate School in Human Neuroscience

Should I apply to neuroscience, psychology or both?

In general there are three considerations when deciding whether to apply to a departmental program (e.g. Psychology) or a general cross-dept. neuroscience program.

(A) Does the program do rotations or not? Rotations are great, especially for students where the admissions group might be concerned that you don’t have a totally clear idea of what you want to do. (I’d classify that as anyone who hasn’t done a year of post-bac experience in the area they want to apply for).

(B) Does the PI you want to work with accept students from both programs? Does your PI have a preference one way or another? Ask. If you don’t know which PI you want to work for you should prioritize programs with rotations.

(C) How are students supported? (See the answers FAQ below).

There’s no cost to applying to both (except the actual $) and you can apply to both in the same cycle. Faculty members don’t care if you apply to multiple programs.

Which is harder to get into? Neuroscience or Psychology?


At UW Psychology students are basically accepted into a particular lab. So most PIs want to see a really good match between the student and advisor. We want to have a really clear idea of why YOU want to work with ME. So, when I evaluate applicants, most strong candidates will either have experience working my area of interest or there will be some other kind of compelling reason for me to believe that you are really interested in computational vision rather than you’ve just browsed the internet and thought … hmm that seems cool.

When entry is directly into a lab, the degree of competitiveness really depends on the individual’s laboratory. Junior PIs, or PIs with a smaller or less visible research program will have fewer applicants. It will be REALLY difficult to get into the lab of famous PIs.

In the UW Neuroscience program, students are accepted into the program and then do 3 (or sometimes 4) rotations. So the admissions committee will want to know that you understand what neuroscience is and what a PhD requires, but it’s OK if you are less clear whether you want to study single cell molecular biology or behavior in humans (though we really do prefer it if you are a little more clear than that).

Funding … I’m so confused! (What if I’m not a US citizen?!)

Most reputable programs will offer you funding throughout almost all your program – tuition and stipend. Personally, I would recommend against my child entering a MA or PhD program that didn’t offer significant tuition and stipend support.

But the way support works is complicated. Basically students are supported from four pots of money:

  1. Direct support from the department. So the neuroscience program at UW provides 1 year of direct support, psychology offers 1 qtr of direct support. Occasionally this support is available to international students, but not always.
  2. PI support from grants. We pay students to do research related to our grants. This is usually the primary source of support for international students.
  3. Student fellowships. These are awards that students apply for. (NIH/NSF are very committed to diversity fellowships {which includes low SES}, so if you qualify you should definitely look into those, some can be applied for before you are even accepted into grad school).
  4. Teaching Assistant – this is where you get your stipend and tuition covered in return for providing support for a class. A single TA at UW covers one quarter of support. This source of support is usually also available to international students.

So, depending on the program and the research funds of the PI you end up working with you are likely to be covered from a combination of these sources throughout your time in the program.

The right question to ask for any program/PI is ‘historically, how many of your students are fully covered (tuition + stipend) up to their 5th year’.

You want them to say ‘everyone’. If they add onto that ‘but we can’t guarantee anything’, don’t let that worry you. For example, UW Psychology can’t make guarantees, because we patch together support from all these sources. But in 20years, good times and bad, we’ve successfully supported students up to their 5th year.

The second question is – how often can I expect to TA?

TA-ing roughly once a year is optimal. TA-ing every quarter will really impact your productivity and will make it very hard to graduate on time.