Combined BA/MS Degree

The combined Bachelor’s/Master’s degree program allows Northwestern undergraduates to begin work toward a Master’s degree in Plant Biology and Conservation and then enter the graduate program so that they may complete the two degrees in a timely fashion. Students are encouraged to discuss their intent to apply to the program early on in their undergraduate career.  Applicants must have at least one quarter of undergraduate study remaining at the time of their enrollment in the combined degree program. More information about combined degrees can be found at The Graduate School’s webpage.

Requirements for admission

Students may come from any undergraduate degree, but to be admitted into the accelerated MS program a student should meet the following criteria prior to applying.

  • GPA of at least 3.0
  • Required pre-requisite courses
    • BIO 215 – Genetics and Molecular Biology
    • BIO 330 – Plant Biology
  • Suggested course combinations to be taken while still an undergraduate but that can be counted toward the MS degree:
    • Either a combination of BIO 339 – Critical Topics in Ecology and Conservation (1 unit) plus two elective courses, or
    • A combination of PBC 450 – Field and Lab Methods in Plant Biology and Conservation (permission of instructor required) (2 units) plus one elective course

Application Process

The application process will involve submitting the following documentation to the Director of the PBC Program and TGS. Applications should be submitted during the quarter in which the student will be within four courses of completing his/her Bachelor degree requirements. The MS admissions committee will review the application.

  • A completed TGS Application for Admission for Combined Degree Program - can be found on the TGS webpage:
  • A copy of Northwestern transcript
  • A statement of purpose explaining why the student seeks admission in the program, and identifying the PBC faculty member with whom the student plans to work
  • For students with a GPA below 3.5, two letters of recommendation are required, one of which will come from the student’s intended faculty mentor. The latter letter should clearly state the mentor’s willingness to advise the student’s research. If the student has a GPA of 3.5 or higher, only the letter from the intended mentor is required.

Requirements for completion of the MS degree

  • Required coursework
  • Attendance at PBC seminar series and journal club is expected
  • Satisfactory performance (GPA above 3.0 and no single grade below C)
  • Research thesis
    • Original research under the mentorship of a PBC faculty member
      • The research may be an extension of undergraduate research
      • If an extension of undergraduate research, it must represent the collection and/or analysis of new data
    • Formation of a thesis committee
    • Thesis proposal
    • Written thesis and oral defense

Other important considerations

  • If the student is on a 12 quarter undergraduate financial aid package, he/she will remain on undergraduate financial aid through 12 quarters of registration even after they have been accepted into the MS program.
  • Prior to MS admission, students can count three units that they take as undergraduates toward the MS degree. However, those three units cannot be counted toward their Bachelor’s degree requirements.
  • After admission into the MS program, all graduate courses taken count toward the MS degree.
  • It is expected that students will require approximately one year beyond their senior year to complete the MS degree.
  • If a student applies to the accelerated degree program and is accepted, upon completion of the Bachelor’s degree, the student is free to leave Northwestern and not complete the MS degree if he/she chooses to do so. However, the student must inform the PBC director so that the MS career can be formally discontinued.

Example timelines for students matriculating in the MS in different quarters

Classes in bold are required.

Fall matriculation

Undergrad/Grad Grad
Fall PBC 450 (2 units)*
BIO 335*
Apply for and matriculate in MS
3 electives
Winter PBC 435
PBC 401 (suggested elective)
Spring PBC 402 (suggested elective)
PBC 499(2 units)
Form thesis committee
Thesis proposal
Analyze data
Prepare thesis
Summer Research Defend thesis

Winter matriculation

Undergrad/Grad Grad
Fall BIO 335*
PBC 450 (2 units)
PBC 499
2 electives
Winter Apply for and matriculate in MS PBC 435
1 elective
BIO 350
Analyze data
Spring BIO 3491
PBC 499
Form thesis committee
Thesis proposal
TGS 512 Prepare and defend thesis
Summer Research

Spring matriculation

Undergrad Undergrad/Grad Grad
Fall BIO 335* PBC 450 (2 units)
PBC 499
Winter BIO 350* PBC 435
PBC 499
2 electives
Spring BIO 349*1 Apply for and matirculate in MS
PBC 499
Form thesis committee
Thesis proposal
TGS 512
Analyze data and prepare thesis
Summer Research Defend thesis

*a course that will be counted toward the MS degree but could be taken as an undergraduate

1 If a biology major has a plant concentration, this is a required course for their bachelor’s degree. In this case, this suggested elective will be waived for the MS degree and the student can substitute another elective (i.e., BIO 316) to take while still an undergraduate.