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Admission of New Students

Admission activities for Fall Semester are concentrated in February and March. With the electronic application process, each department has direct access to the database. When any information is received in the Graduate School, it will be sent to the program for review and recommendations. With the electronic application, each department will be able to monitor the status of the application, and if interested in a particular student who has not completed the application, the program can contact that individual to urge him/her to complete the process.

A complete application includes the following:

  • a completed online application form in Slate, the application and admissions system
  • transcripts of previous academic work
  • three letters of recommendation
  • official Graduate Record Examination scores

Following a review of the applications, the DGS will submit to his/her School Dean’s office a Recommendation for Action Form (RAF) in Slate, which outlines the proposed admission and financial award, if any. The RAF is available in each application record in Slate, once the record is moved into your DGS Review bin. In most situations, the individual school Dean decides on approval or disapproval of the recommendation made by the program. Certain programs do not have a Dean, and they should forward their RAF's directly to the Graduate School in Slate. If you have a question about the approval chain for your program, please contact Graduate School Admissions for clarification.

Most decisions are announced to applicants by March 15. On request from the DGS, the decision on admission can be made earlier than the normal cycle in February and March, and late applicants can be considered throughout the spring and summer. The latter depends on the program and its willingness to accept late applications.

The act of admission denotes the willingness of the program faculty to enter the applicant into professional status as a colleague in their discipline. This is obviously a fundamental decision. The more information the program has about the applicant, the wiser can be its decision. It is doubtful that any application can give the admissions committee all the information needed for a wise decision. Thus, the DGS is encouraged to solicit further information and clarification through communication with the applicant and even suggest a visit to the campus. This could be done to obtain further evidence of the applicant’s research and writing experience, depth of pertinent academic preparation, commitment to advanced training, and degree of interest in Vanderbilt University.

The minimum standards for admission, as established by the faculty and the Graduate School, are the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, or the equivalent, and proof of the degree
  • Better than a B average in the undergraduate work and especially better than a B-average in the field of intended graduate study
  • Scores on the Graduate Record Examination (including a record of official scores from ETS) that show promise for significant accomplishment in the student’s chosen field
  • Strong letters of recommendation that speak to intellectual capacity as well as research experience

Recommendations for admission of students who fail to meet these minimum standards are subject to review and may be challenged by the Dean of the individual School or by the Dean of the Graduate School. Students near the minimum may be challenged, especially if the program persistently recommends such students. Programs may see evidence that justifies admission of students whose standard qualifications seem modest. Clear statements and assessment of this evidence should be presented with the recommendation to admit on the Recommendation of Action form found in the application. 

At the time that recommendations for admission are made to the School Dean, the department/program will also indicate any scholarship or fellowship awards that it wishes to make. Keep in mind that not all admissible students will receive an award. As stated above, the Recommendation for Action Form (RAF) is available in each application record in Slate, and is submitted electronically to the deans’ offices. 

From the students that are being admitted, the program should also select those who should be considered for honor fellowships. In December, a notice will be mailed to all departments asking for nominations. The honor (topping-up) fellowships include: the University Graduate Fellowships ($5,000 stipend), and the Provost’s Graduate Fellowship for underrepresented populations of U.S. citizens ($5,000). The UGF and PGF awards are for up to three years and programs must commit at least five years of other support to nominees, i.e., these are topping-up awards. All nominees must be seeking the PhD degree unless your program offers only the Master’s degree, in which case, they would be awards of up to two-years. PhD students are eligible to apply for an additional two years of support. These nominees are reviewed and evaluated by 4 different graduate faculty committees (Biomedical Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Engineering programs, including Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry) in February. It is extremely useful to have nomination letters that clearly detail why you think each of your nominees is outstanding and how you and the program rank them. Nominators can upload the letters for PGF awards to the application on the Slate admission system, following the instructions emailed by the Graduate School each season. For UGF nominations, faculty should forward the student’s name and a brief commentary to Dean Richard Hoover. Each program may nominate up to a total of six applicants for the topping-up awards, and there is no limit to the number of nominees for the PGF. Please keep in mind that these awards are given to outstanding students who have applied to several different universities and who, with the addition of an honor fellowship, will more likely be recruited to Vanderbilt.

International applicants of good quality may be overlooked because it is difficult to evaluate credentials and equate records to the U.S. system for purposes of comparison. Credentials of applicants can be compared to those of former students in the program who have come from that particular country and institution. Questions concerning the accuracy and validity of international applicants should be forwarded to the Graduate School. It is our goal to address these questions before the application is complete. Questions concerning visas and admittance to the U.S. should be directed to the office of International Student and Scholar Services. There are also reputable credential evaluating services, such as World Education Services that evaluate foreign educational credentials for a fee, which can be paid by the prospective student.

International students’ capabilities in written and spoken English require careful assessment. The university requires that international students, whose native language is not English and who received their degree from a non-English-speaking university, take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam to demonstrate English proficiency. A score of 230 or better on the computer-based test (570 on the paper-based test and 88 on the internet-based test) is recommended for students pursuing graduate degrees at Vanderbilt. Scores on the TOEFL should not be used as a measure of the student’s intelligence or ability nor should a low score be used as a yardstick for rejecting the student. If the program feels that the student is academically acceptable but that English ability is not sufficient, this should be clearly indicated. The student can then be encouraged to improve language proficiency if still interested in attending Vanderbilt. This can be done before arriving or through courses offered at the English Language Center.

The Graduate School recently began accepting IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) scores, and has not set an official minimum requirement. However, it is safe to say that a score of at least 7.0 is desirable. Admissions decisions begin at the program level, and many programs will set their own standards for IELTS. For more information on IELTS, please see

International students who are enrolled in graduate programs at Vanderbilt may find that they need to improve their language skills after they enroll in courses. The English Language Center offers courses in Academic Speaking, Academic Writing and Pronunciation for graduate students who need additional help in these areas.

Students enrolled in graduate programs at other institutions, who want to come to Vanderbilt to carry out research, must be admitted to the Graduate School to allow them access to the various university services and facilities. The student must complete the Graduate School online application for admission in Slate, provide a copy of his/her transcript, and have a letter sent by the Director of Graduate Studies of the department at their home institution, indicating that he/she is a student in good standing in that department. If all is in order, they will be admitted as a Special, Non-Degree Student, with the understanding that the student will receive his/her degree from the other institution.

Students who are transferring to Vanderbilt to complete their degree, e.g., the thesis advisor is relocating to Vanderbilt University, must have a complete application on file. They must complete the entire application and provide official transcripts of their undergraduate and graduate studies and copies of letters of recommendation. 

A PhD and a Master’s degree student may transfer maximally up to 48 and 6 hours of credit, respectively. Usually, these transfer credits will count toward earned hours and not quality hours (didactic credits); however, in some situations, some course credit may actually be applied as quality hours, if the courses are similar to those at Vanderbilt and required by the program. Pass/fail grades are not transferable nor are research hours; however, an exception to this can be considered by a request, including a justification, from the DGS to the Graduate School, who has final approval.

Students who are transferring to the Graduate School from a professional degree program offered by other schools at Vanderbilt must submit a formal application for admission and are expected to do so no later than at the end of their first year of graduate-level studies at Vanderbilt.

Please note that no student will be permitted to enroll 10 days after classes have begun. This is a particular concern for international students who may arrive late, but must be enrolled to maintain legal immigration status. If you know that there will be a significant delay in a student’s arrival, encourage him/her to defer admission and come the following semester. Please consult with the International Student and Scholar Services office if you have specific questions or concerns regarding the student’s immigration status and visa application process.