Frequently Asked Questions
What type of people study for the Ph.D.?
Doctoral students come from a variety of backgrounds. Their most important distinguishing features are an eagerness to discover new things and an aptitude for research methods in business. We look for students who want to research and teach at top business schools.
Do I need a master degree to apply?
While a master degree is not required, the majority of our accepted students complete their master degree prior to admission for the Ph.D. degree. The equivalent of a four-year American baccalaureate degree is required for application.
Do I need prior work experience?
Not necessarily, but it is considered when provided.
Other Penn State Graduate Programs
What Master programs are offered at the Smeal College of Business?
The M.S. degree at the Smeal College of Business is not offered as a stand-alone degree program, but only as an option for Ph.D. students. Only the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the One-Year MAcc program are offered as a stand-alone master programs at Smeal. The Master of Accounting (MAcc) is offered as an integrated program along with a Smeal bachelor degree or as a One-Year MAcc program delivered in an executive format and designed for high-potential college graduates from Penn State or elsewhere who require additional coursework to be eligible for CPA certification.
The Master of Professional Studies in Supply Chain Management is offered on-line only through World Campus.
How can I find out more about other graduate degree programs offered at Penn State?
Visit the University Bulletin for a complete listing of residential graduate programs. Information about online graduate programs can be found on the Penn State World Campus website.
Ph.D. Program at Smeal
What primary fields are offered in the Ph.D. Program at Smeal College of Business? What degree is listed on the diploma?
The Smeal Ph.D. degree is in Business Administration offers six distinct primary fields or areas of emphasis within Business Administration from which to choose: Accounting, Finance, Insurance & Real Estate, Management & Organization, Marketing, and Supply Chain & Information Systems. You MUST choose only one of the six primary fields during the application process and may one submit only ONE application for consideration.
How are the primary fields indicated?
All students, regardless of primary field, will receive a Ph.D. in Business Administration. Primary field information will be viewable on the transcript.
How can I find information about areas of research for faculty or departments?
Information about the research activities of departments and their faculty may be found by clicking on the individual department listing on the left navigation bar of the website.
How long does a Ph.D. take?
The required coursework for a Ph.D. takes two to three years depending on your prior coursework. The defense of a thesis proposal, performance of thesis research, and defense of the final thesis will typically take an additional two years. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect the Ph.D. to take four to five years to complete.
When are students admitted?
Student admissions are in the fall semester only.
Can I study for a Ph.D. on a part-time basis? Is distance learning or an online program available?
The Ph.D. program is full-time during the period of coursework. Most students also pursue their thesis full-time for two years. While you may pursue graduate-level coursework and degrees at the World Campus, there are no Smeal College of Business Ph.D.-level courses offered through distance or online learning.
What type of scholarship and financial aid are available?
All Ph.D. students receive a 20 hour/week Research/Teaching Assistantship that includes a tuition waiver, a subsidized student health plan, and a stipend for living expenses. There are also a limited number of scholarships and fellowships available. Additional assistance is provided through student conference travel funding, dissertation and research funding, opportunities for summer research and teaching, and summer tuition assistance funding.
How long will this support last?
Students may be supported for up to five years in the Ph.D. program, assuming satisfactory progress.
Do most graduates enter the academic field?
The majority of students who enter the doctoral program assume a faculty position at an academic/research institution upon completing the Ph.D. degree program. Our goal is to place our students at the top universities in their field.
Current and Former Penn State Students
Information about Change of Major can be found on The Graduate School's website under Current Students, Change of Major/Degree. Do not submit a second application as this will only create a duplicate record. There is no application fee since you would have already paid it once as a graduate student.
Once the Change of Major form has been received and entered by the Graduate School, the Ph.D. Programs office will be able to see your application information in the GRADS system. However, you may need to manually submit the required supplemental documentation to the Ph.D. Programs office – you will know if you cannot upload materials to your GRADS application once the Change of Major form has been processed. Please scan and email supplementary information to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask your references to email reference letters to this address. Supplemental documentation includes the statement of purpose, reference letters, transcripts, resume/CV, and GMAT or GRE scores. As all of your educational experience as a Penn State student and previous to your time here at Penn State has been verified, you may email a copy of these transcripts to our office for admissions committee review. If you have educational experience after your time at Penn State, we will need two original transcripts from each of these institutions.
Most, if not all, supplemental materials can be scanned to a PDF file or emailed as a PDF file to the Ph.D. Program at email@example.com. However, ONLY if you are offered admission to the program, you may mail your official transcript to our office at the following address:
Graduate Enrollment Services
The Graduate School
The Pennsylvania State University
114 Kern Building
University Park, PA 16802-3603
Can I transfer credits from prior graduate work and have it apply to the Ph.D.?
Up to ten credits can be transferred from a graduate degree program if the degree has not been conferred, subject to the approval of the Ph.D. Coordinator in your department. All transfer credit must be substantiated by the former institution as having at least a B quality whatever grading system is in place (e.g., this includes P/F grading). Any transfers are usually less than the maximum. Please note thatyou must complete an application with all required materials by deadline regardless of your status at another school.
What are the eligibility requirements for international students?
International students follow the same application process as domestic students. International students are required to submit a TOEFL test score (or meet the requirements for a waiver) and visa documentation. Please note that we do not accept IELTS test scores.
How will I be contacted about visa documentation and where can I find more information?
Once you are accepted into the Ph.D. Program, the University Office of Global Programs will contact you by email with a link to use to submit your visa documentation. Documentation can be express shipped via a third-party provider. The contains a lot of information that is helpful for international students, from financial and eligibility information to housing.
What are the financial guarantee requirements for international students?
can be found at the Global Programs website. Keep in mind that all accepted students receive a graduate assistantship, tuition waiver, and subsidized medical insurance as part of their offer, which serves as part (if not the majority) of the financial guarantee.
Is there financial aid available for non-United States citizens?
Yes. There are a limited number of scholarships and fellowships available.
Starting the Application Process
How do I receive an application package?
What is the application process?
Applicants are required to complete the Graduate School's Electronic Application including remitting an application fee and submitting or uploading the required documentation.
What are the application deadlines?
The deadline for completed applications for fall 2017 admissions are as follows:
Accounting- January 15, 2017
Finance- February 1, 2017
Management & Organization- December 10, 2016
Marketing- December 15, 2016
Real Estate- February 1, 2017
Supply Chain- January 10, 2017
However, because the application is comprehensive and you will be asked to submit transcripts and letters of recommendation, we recommend starting at least a month prior to the application deadline.
Will you consider late applications?
The electronic (GRADS) application MUST be completed by the deadline to be considered on-time. However, you may have as much as a week or two after the deadline has passed for transcripts and letters of recommendation to be received. Incomplete applications will NOT be forwarded to the faculty committees for review (see Application Materials Needed for more information). Occasionally a department will decide to extend their deadline in a particular recruitment season. However, this is not the norm. Please email the Ph.D. Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org BEFORE submitting a late application to be sure that the department will consider a late application as application fees are non-refundable.
What if I'm applying close to the deadline from a different time zone – what do you consider "on-time" in this case?
If you apply by the deadline in your timezone, your application will be considered on-time.
Can I receive a refund of my application fee if my application is late? If not, what are my options?
Application fees are non-refundable. If you do apply after the deadline to a department that is not accepting late applications, you may request that we move your application to the next application period.
Application Materials Needed
What materials are needed to apply to the Smeal Ph.D. program?
- Read through the application instructions
- Completed GRADS application
- Resume/CV (including extra-curricular activities, community activities and an up-to-date work history)
- Statement of Purpose (3 essay questions)
- GMAT (preferred) or GRE (acceptable for all but the Accounting program)
- TOEFL (international applicants – also see TOEFL waiver)
- Grade conversion chart or guide (if available)
- Diploma and degree certificates may be required from international applicants
- At least two letters of reference
How do I submit supplementary materials?
You will enter your test scores, enter email addresses for your references, complete your Statement of Purpose, and upload your resume/CV in the GRADS system. Certified and sealed transcripts, diploma and degree certificates need to be sent by the institution to the Graduate School via mail ONLY if offered admission to the program.
Can I submit my application if I am missing a required item (i.e., GMAT/GRE results, originals of my transcripts)?
We cannot proceed with evaluating your application until all materials are submitted. However, if you are approaching an application deadline and are still missing an item, please contact our admission team by email at email@example.com with the details of your specific situation.
Statement of Purpose (Essay)
What are the essay questions on the application?
1. What are your career objectives in pursuing a doctoral degree in Business Administration?
2. Why have you chosen to apply to the Pennsylvania State University for graduate study?
3. Describe any previous research which you have done as well as the kind of research you wish to pursue during your graduate studies and beyond.
*No word count requirement
GMAT and GRE Tests
What is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) Test?
The GMAT test is a standardized test that measures the verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills of an individual applicant, which can be a predictor of an applicant's ability to be successful in a rigorous academic environment. The GMAT test is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
What is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Test?
The GRE test is one of two standardized tests used by the Ph.D. Programs to measure an applicant's verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytic writing skills, which can help us determine the probability of an applicant's success in a rigorous academic environment. This test is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).
Will you accept the revised GRE test scores?
Yes. ETS provides percentiles and score keys for colleges to compare the new revised scores with the old scores.
Is the GMAT/GRE required?
The GMAT is required for admission to the Smeal Ph.D. Accounting department. Official score reports must be sent directly from the reporting agency (you MUST have GMAC or ETS send your scores electronically to the Penn State Smeal Ph.D. Program). The other departments (Finance, Management & Organization, Marketing, Real Estate and Insurance, and Supply Chain & Information Systems) prefer GMAT scores, but the GRE is an acceptable alternative.
I need to have my official GMAT score report sent to Smeal. What is your school code?
The GMAT code for the Penn State Smeal Ph.D. is 2660.
I need to have my official GRE score report sent to Smeal. What is your school code?
The GRE code for the Penn State Smeal Ph.D. is 2660.
Should I upload a copy of my student report to my application?
Yes, this is very helpful and may speed the verification process.
If I already have an advanced degree, do I still have to submit a GRE or GMAT scores to apply?
Yes. A GMAT (required for Accounting program applicants) or a GRE test score is required of all applicants.
Are there circumstances in which the GMAT/GRE can be waived?
No. A GMAT (required for Accounting program applicants) or a GRE test score is required of all applicants.
How long is the GMAT/GRE valid?
Scores are valid for five years. Your GMAT score must be less than five years old at the time of your application.
What is the average GMAT/GRE score for accepted students? Is there a minimum score?
While there is no minimum score, the average GMAT score of accepted students is 650-760, although the recent averages of incoming classes has been over 700. The average GRE scores of accepted students is 800 quantitative and 600 verbal. This translates to approximately 166 quantitative and 160 verbal on the new scale.
If I take the GMAT or GRE more than once, which score will you consider?
We will consider the highest score.
TOEFL and IELTS Tests
What is the TOEFL test?
The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a test used by colleges and universities to determine English proficiency.
What is the school code to send the TOEFL to your program?
The Smeal school code for TOEFL is 2660 (Pennsylvania State University All Campuses, University Park).
I have taken the IELTS. Do I need to take the TOEFL?
We accept only TOEFL scores. International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores are NOT accepted.
How long is the TOEFL test valid?
The TOEFL test is valid for two years. This validity period is set by ETS, the official group that administers the TOEFL test.
Graduating with a bachelor's or master's degree from a college or university located in a country where the primary language is English by the time you would start the Ph.D. Program at Penn State would qualify for a TOEFL waiver. These countries include Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, the Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States (except Puerto Rico), South Africa, or Wales. We will see this in the education section of the application. Candidates who are U.S. Permanent Residents do not need to submit a TOEFL score. All others need to submit a TOEFL score.
*U.S. citizens and permanent residents qualify for TOEFL wavier, regardless of native language.
What is the language of instruction? What is the minimum TOEFL score needed?
The language of instruction at Penn State is English. Generally, the better the test score, the more likely a student will succeed in the program. Note that computer-based TOEFL scores are no longer valid or accepted. TOEFL test score minimums are below:
Internet-based TOEFL minimum score: 80 (23 speaking)
Paper-based TOEFL minimum score: 585
Transcripts, Diplomas and/or Degree Certificates
We only require that you scan and upload your official transcript in PDF format to your GRADS application for application review. Please make sure your degree received and graduation date is documented on your transcript and/or degree you submit. ONLY if you are offered admission to the program, you will need to send the registrar of every college or university you've attended a request for one official transcript. If the transcript is not in English, a certified translation must also be included along with the original transcript. The registrar will then return the official transcripts to you so that you may send the unopened official transcript to The Graduate School. International students may also be required to submit diplomas and/or degree certificates in addition to the transcripts.
I'm an international student residing in the U.S. and I only have one copy of my transcript, diploma and/or degree certificate -- what if I can't get two certified copies of my transcript, diploma and/or degree certificate sent by the institution by the deadline?
In extenuating circumstances, you may request an exception. To do this, upload your transcript to your application, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org explaining the circumstances and/or when we can expect to receive a certified copy, and request that the admissions committee consider the uploaded transcript for review. However, please note that unverified transcripts, diplomas and/or degree certificates WILL delay the admissions process as this documentation must be verified prior to admission and that applications without official transcripts will be considered incomplete if you have not received permission for an exception. Third-party transcripts (i.e., from your current institution) are NOT acceptable.
Do you accept electronic transcripts?
Yes, we will accept an official, electronically transmitted transcript that is sent directly from the college or university to our program at email@example.com. The transcript must include a transcript key (ledger) so that we may verify the authenticity of the transcript.
GPAs and Grade Conversion Chart
Is there a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) required for admission?
There is no minimum GPA requirement, although most of our accepted students have GPAs above 3.5.
A grade conversion chart would be whatever your university would use to convert their grade scale to a 4.0 scale as is used in the USA. Typically, it would contain columns with the grade system used at the university in one column and the equivalent grade using a 4.0 scale in the next column. Please upload this information to your application, if it is available.
Recommendation / Reference Letters
How shall my referees submit their recommendation letter?
We prefer that referees provide recommendation letters electronically via the GRADS application system. You will be asked to provide email addresses for your referees during the application process – please verify that the email addresses you provide are valid and correct. Emails to recommenders are not sent by the GRADS system until the application is complete. You will receive an email when each reference is submitted and you can also check on references received by logging into your application through "Manage your Submitted Application".
Can I make a correction to a referee's information or resend the link for the recommendation letter after I've submitted my application?
Yes. To update your referee contact information or to send a reminder e-mail to your referees, follow these steps:
- Go to the Graduate School Admissions and Program Information Portal.
- Select "Check Application Status".
- Log in.
- To change your referee contact information: At the bottom of the "Current Status" page, select "Update Reference" for the referee you need to edit. Clicking this link will open a new window where you will be able to make the necessary changes to your referee contact information. Click on the "Save reference" button at the bottom of the page.
- To end an e-mail to your referees to alert them of your request for a reference: Select "Send Reminder" at the bottom of the 'Current Status' page. This will send an automated e-mail to that referee.
My reference is not willing to or cannot submit a recommendation letter via email. What should I do?
If necessary, your referees may submit letters via mail to the Ph.D. Program. Please note that if your referee sends their recommendation letter via mail, you will not be able to tell that the letter was received in the GRADS system.
Recommendations should be from at least two persons whom you feel are able to present an accurate evaluation of you. Each individual will be contacted by e-mail via the online application system, therefore, it is important that you provide a valid e-mail address for each reference. Instructors, academic advisers and recent work or military supervisors are most appropriate. Recommendations from personal friends, relatives, or family acquaintances are not appropriate.
May I submit more than two recommendations? How many recommendation letters are needed?
Yes. You must have at least two recommendations for your application to be considered complete, so for this reason it is a good idea to list more than two referees in your application. To add more than two references to your application, please send referee's information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there a recommendation form or specific format for my referees to use?
There is no form for recommendation letters – please ask your referees to tell us why they feel you would be a good fit for the program to which you apply and please ask them to be sure to include their contact information.
How much is the application fee and what is the method of payment?
The application fee is $65 and it is non-refundable. We accept credit card (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express), check or money order in U.S. dollars. You will receive instructions for payment during the application process. If paying by check or money order, please make it payable to The Pennsylvania State University. The canceled check will serve as your receipt. International money orders or checks must be drawn on a U.S. bank. Bank-to-bank transfers are not accepted. Please note that applications without fees cannot be processed.
Can the application fee be waived?
No. The application fee covers our costs to process applications and therefore cannot be waived.
Submitted Application Status and Decisions
Will you inform me when you receive my application?
Within one to three days after completing your application, the GRADS online application system will send you a message to let you know that your application was successfully submitted and how to make changes to your application. You will also receive an email with your PSU ID and PIN approximately 48 hours later. The PSU ID is a permanent ID number assigned to you starting from the time you are an applicant and will be your ID as a student. Therefore, you will want to retain these emails for future reference.
How can I check the status of my application?
We are in the process of adding more ways for you to learn the status of your application once it has been submitted. The primary way to learn the status of your application is through the Graduate School Admissions and Program Information Portal, "Manage your Submitted Application". Once your application is listed as "complete", it will be sent to the department for review and no further information is available about the application status until the department has made a decision on your application.
Will you inform me if my application is incomplete?
Once the deadline has passed, all submitted applications are reviewed for completion by the Ph.D. Programs staff. You may be contacted for additional materials during this phase. The Ph.D. Programs office will send individual emails to notify applicants if their application is incomplete and what material is missing to make the application complete. A complete application consists of a completed and paid electronic GRADS application submitted by the deadline, statement of purpose, resume, verified GMAT or GRE score, TOEFL score (if required), at least two references received and all transcripts scanned and uploaded from each institution attended. Please note that incomplete applications will not be submitted to the faculty committees. While it is helpful to upload your student score reports for the GMAT, GRE and/or TOEFL, it is not required for your application to be considered complete.
How many applications do you receive each year, and how many do you admit?
The number of completed applications is usually between 300 and 500. Less than 10% of applicants are offered admission, and usually 10 to 20 students matriculate each year.
When and how will I be notified of the committee's decision?
Once your application is complete, it is prepared for the department's faculty committees for review. The committee reviews will typically start within a few weeks after the deadline has passed. The admissions committee for each department will typically meet in late February and early March. Admission decisions are typically made in March and April.Decisions may be communicated by phone, mail or email and are communicated very shortly after they are available. Due to the number of applications, please do NOT contact the Ph.D. Programs for a decision as it is very unlikely that additional information will be available.
When do I need to make a decision if I receive an offer?
While it is helpful to us to receive a decision as soon as possible, you have until April 15th to make a decision for any college that belongs to the Council of Graduate Schools.
Can I defer admission?
An offer of admission with financial support is made for the upcoming academic year only. Acceptance of the offer may not be deferred. An accepted applicant who must postpone acceptance of an offer of admission may request that the application be reactivated for consideration the following year.
Can I request feedback on my application if I am not offered admission?
Due to the number of applications we receive each year, the admissions committee cannot offer feedback on individual applications.
Can I request an interview when applying?
A prospective candidate may be invited by the department for a campus interview at the expense of the college before the admission decision is made.
May I reapply if I wasn't accepted previously?
Yes. Candidates who submitted an application to a Doctoral Program and were not offered admission may re-apply but not for the same academic year, e.g., an applicant who was not admitted for fall 2011 may re-apply for fall 2012. You will want to update your application in the GRADS system (references, resume, statement of purpose, etc.). Please do not create a new application as it will only be flagged and merged with your old application at a later date. Since this is a new review, the application fee will need to be paid again.
Do you keep applications and materials submitted in prior years?
We do not keep materials submitted in prior years, unless an applicant submitted an application. Applications and all supplemental materials (including test scores and transcripts) are kept on file for up to three years after the year of application, and then destroyed. If you submitted an application during this time, you may request that we pull your supplemental materials from your previous application for use during this application cycle by emailing us at email@example.com. Include your full name, PSU ID number and the admission period to which you applied (i.e., Fall 2011).
I'm having trouble accessing the Ph.D. Programs in the online application. What is the problem?
To find the Ph.D. Programs, log-in to your application. Once you are in the electronic application select Campus: University Park, Major: Business Administration – MS, Ph.D., Degree Ph.D. You can select the primary field (i.e., Accounting, Finance, etc. ) under "Program-Specific Questions" which you will find near the end of the application.
My password will not work. Why?
You may be entering the incorrect password. A common problem is that passwords are case sensitive. Be certain you are entering your password with the same capitalizations and lower cases as appear in your confirmation e-mail. To have your login and password information re-sent to you, click the login link and follow the directions to have the information re-sent to you. If all else fails, please email the Ph.D. Programs office for assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org.