Graduate Admissions

Graduate Admissions

The final degree objective for all students in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Graduate Program is the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). Regardless of undergraduate major, applicants must have an outstanding academic record, particularly in mathematics and the sciences. Relevant research experience is also highly desirable. Students who were unable to obtain research experience at their undergraduate institution often work in research during summers or after graduation.  

We receive over 400 applications each year, and we typically enroll 15-20 new students. The Department cannot estimate chances for admission based on any one or two qualifications. The graduate admissions committee carefully reviews the application package (statement of objectives, recommendation letters, transcripts, etc.) to determine admission decisions. GRE scores are not required.

The tabs below will guide candidates through the admissions process. 


Applications to the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Graduate Program must be completed online. Paper applications are not accepted. The application, unofficial transcripts, and letters of recommendation must be submitted by December 1 for admission the following September. Items received after the deadline will be added to your file. The Graduate Admissions Committee begins reviewing applications shortly after the deadline, so materials received late may not be reviewed.

The Office of Graduate Education (OGE) is offering graduate application fee waivers for US citizens and US permanent residents who demonstrate financial hardship, are current or former members of the United States Armed Forces, or who have participated in special fellowship programs, including MIT-sponsored diversity programs (e.g., MIT Summer Research Program, CONVERGE). Fee waivers are also available for prospective students the OGE has met during diversity recruitment events. International students attending US colleges and universities who have participated in MIT sponsored programs, such as CONVERGE or MSRP, are also eligible to apply for a fee waiver. More information and the fee waiver request form can be found here.

The MIT Graduate Admissions page has information about all graduate programs at MIT (master's and doctoral), information for international students, and a grad student blog.


We require one copy of transcript(s) from each university attended. Original, official transcripts are not required until after a student has been admitted. Official transcripts for admitted students should be sent to: 

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences 
Academic Office (Room 46-2005)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
77 Massachusetts Avenue 
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

Transcripts are verified upon receipt. Any discrepancy between uploaded and official transcript(s) will result in withdrawal of our admission offer.



GRE is not required.


Applicants whose first language is not English must present evidence of their ability to conduct studies in English by taking the IELTS (preferred) or TOEFL exam. Applicants are automatically waived if all previous instruction was conducted in English.

Requests for waivers should be sent via email. Applicants may request a waiver if any of the following apply: 

  • Student is currently enrolled at an English-speaking institution.
  • Student has lived in an English-speaking country for four years or longer. 
  • Student has received a degree from an English-speaking institution. 

TOEFLS test reporting codes:

MIT institution code: 3514

IELTS does not use reporting codes. Send electronic scores to MIT Graduate Admissions

Send IELTS scores to: 
Graduate Admission Office (Room 35-332)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Commonly Asked Questions

Does the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences offer clinical, counseling, or social psychology?
No, we do not offer studies in these areas.

Will I be notified about the status of my application?
You will receive notification of application status within two weeks of the deadline. The only information you may view in our online system is confirmation of receipt of letters of recommendation.  

Do I have to complete the area of the application that asks about subjects taken?
Yes, but only include relevant subjects. This section is designed to gather information not included on transcripts, such as textbooks used for particular courses. 

What if I completed a course that did not use a textbook or the textbook is unknown?
In these cases, leave that area of the application blank. 

Are GRE scores required?

I’m taking the IELTS/TOEFL in December. Will you receive my scores in time?
Scores not received by December 1 will be added to your file when received. However, your application may be reviewed before they arrive. You will not be penalized if scores are received late. 

Do you accept old TOEFL/IELTS scores?
We follow the guidelines set by Educational Testing Service and IELTS:

  • TOEFL scores are valid for two years. 
  • IELTS scores are also valid for two years.

Why can’t I choose cognitive neuroscience as a research area on my application? 
If you enroll in our program, you will have opportunities for interdisciplinary studies in many areas, including cognitive neuroscience. On your application, please select either cognitive science or systems neuroscience, whichever category is more applicable to your area of interest.

Is it possible to send more than three letters of recommendation? 
Yes, you can have up to 5 letters of recommendation sent.

When will I hear if I’m accepted? 
Emails regarding final admissions decisions are typically sent in April.


The first year: the rotation system

During their first year of study, students rotate through three different laboratories, gaining exposure to the Department’s rich scientific diversity of cutting-edge methods, model systems, and research questions. Typically, by the end of their first year, students select a primary faculty thesis mentor to work with in accomplishing their Ph.D. research.

Applicants are encouraged to learn more about the exciting research conducted by our faculty.

Financial Support for Graduate Students

The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences will support all graduate students in good standing for their entire time of study at MIT, regardless of citizenship. Students are funded directly by the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences for their first three years of study, which provides great flexibility in rotating among different labs, and, if desired by the student, the ability to develop of a thesis project that can easily bridge beyond a primary faculty mentor. Beyond year three, students are typically supported by research appointments in faculty labs. Funding packages provide a twelve-month stipend, tuition, and individual health insurance.

Application Assistance from Current BCS Graduate Students

We recognize that the academic community prospers when minds from diverse backgrounds work together to solve scientific problems, and hope to recruit exceptional researchers from communities historically underrepresented in higher education. Started in 2019, the BCS Application Assistance Program (AAP) seeks to address the disparities in support that applicants receive throughout the graduate application process. We especially encourage applicants from underserved and non-traditional academic backgrounds to use this resource!

AAP is a volunteer-based, student-run initiative which aims to assist applicants from underrepresented groups in STEM, including: students who are ethinic minorities (e.g. African Americans, American Indians including Native Alaskans, Hispanics and Native Pacific Islanders), students with non-traditional academic backgrounds, and students from academic institutions which have not sent many students to MIT historically. Participants in the AAP will be paired with current BCS grad students, who will provide feedback on application materials and answer questions about the BCS program. 

To apply for the AAP, please use this link. Applications will open on September 1, 2020 and be accepted on a rolling basis until November 15, 2020. Please note that BCS grad students are volunteering their time to support prospective applicants, and our service capacity may run out soon. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that every applicant will be matched to a BCS grad student, and recommend prospective applicants to think clearly about the kind of assistance they are seeking before signing up for the AAP. For additional resources and FAQs, please see this document.