Prospective M.S. Student FAQs

The College of IST employs a holistic review based on several criteria including academic performance, participation in research, writing sample, personal accomplishments, letters of recommendation, and accomplishments outside of academia. Our admissions committee reviews an applicant’s complete application package. Weaknesses in one area can be offset by strengths in another area. Applicants who have overcome hardships or obstacles as part of their education or who have had unique life experiences are invited to share their stories.

About Our Graduate Programs

Compared to computer science, the College of IST’s graduate programs address a broader set of issues dealing with computing, particularly those involving a large volume of heterogeneous information and considering the human and societal impacts of computing and information systems.

Compared to MIS, the graduate program of IST focuses on information-centric issues of individuals, groups, organizations, and other social entities, not just those of business.

Compared to psychology, the graduate program of IST focuses on how cognition, motivation, and other human elements affect—and are affected by—computing and information design issues within a particular context.

Generally, it takes one to two years to complete our master's program.

Yes, the College of IST offers master of professional studies degrees through Penn State World Campus. You can explore the college’s degree programs here.

No. IST requires full-time matriculation at the University Park campus for both master's and doctoral degrees. The College of IST offers master of professional studies degrees through Penn State World Campus that can be completed on a part-time basis.

No, we welcome applicants from diverse academic backgrounds including the liberal arts, computer science, engineering, environmental sciences, information sciences, law, life sciences, management, philosophy, mathematics, and social sciences.

Application Information

The requirements listed for each country are seen most often from institutions within the selected country. Academic credentials will be reviewed on an individual basis to determine degree comparability and eligibility for admission. Please click here to choose a specific Country/Territory.

University policy does not allow the waiver or deferment of the application fee. If you cannot pay the fee yourself, then a third party, such as a friend or relative, may pay the fee on your behalf. Applications received without the fee cannot be processed.

Exceptions for IST Undergraduate Students

  • The College of IST offers automatic acceptance into one of the college’s M.S. or M.P.S. degree programs and will waive the application fee for any graduate from an IST bachelor’s degree program with a 3.5 GPA or higher.
  • This offer is good for 2 years after graduating from an IST program (any PSU campus).
  • Eligible applicants should contact for verification and issuance of the waiver.

Exceptions for Underrepresented Students

The Penn State Graduate School offers application fee waivers for members of selected minority groups, including Native Americans, Hispanics, and Black/African Americans. McNair scholars also may be eligible. Students requesting fee waivers must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. For more information, please contact the Office of Graduate Educational Equity.

No, we only admit students for the fall semester.

Yes, all international students must submit an official TOEFL score. However, international applicants are exempt from the TOEFL requirement if they have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college, university, or institution in any of the following countries or regions:

  • American Samoa
  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bermuda
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Canada (except Quebec)
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominica
  • England
  • Ghana
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Montserrat
  • New Zealand
  • Nigeria
  • Northern Ireland
  • Puerto Rico
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Uganda
  • United States
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Wales

Yes, we accept IELTS scores, but we prefer applicants to submit TOEFL iBT scores.

The Graduate School has a total minimum of 80 points on the internet-based test, with a minimum of 19 on the speaking portion. Since we support many of our graduate students through teaching assistantships, IST requires a minimum of 23 on the speaking portion.

No, we do not have a minimum GPA requirement; however, we have found that our strongest candidates possess a GPA of at least 3.5 (out of 4.0), or the equivalent.

No, all documents submitted as part of your application packet must be submitted in English.

No, Penn State's Graduate School does not allow students to apply to more than one program at a time.

We do not require GRE scores and we will not accept GRE scores as part of your application. This holds for both the GRE general test and the subject tests.

We recommend that you review faculty members’ personal websites, which are more detailed than the overviews provided by the College. These websites often also include invitations or other information aimed at prospective graduate students. These websites also often contain pointers to recent research papers, which can help you understand if you might be a good match. Many faculty members are willing to engage with you in advance (e.g. over email) if you can describe why you are interested in studying with them.

Individual faculty and the admission committee use these keywords to sort the applications and identify additional reviewers. Please choose keywords that are the best descriptors of your interests. List them in order of relevance if possible.

Ideally select or create and submit a brief sample illustrating your writing skills, organization and clarity, critical thinking, and consistent use of citations and references. This may be extracted from a previous academic paper (e.g., class essay, dissertation, thesis, journal article, capstone project, research paper) or work-related report (e.g., white papers, policy briefs, news articles and grant applications). If part of a group report, only include the part for which you were responsible, and/or include a note explaining the document’s context your authorship. As a suggested length, limit your sample to no more than ten (10) pages, double-spaced, even if extracted from a longer piece. At the top of each page please indicate "WRITING SAMPLE," along with your name, numbering each page.

We use academic records, your statements and portfolio, along with your letters of recommendation to assess your preparation and potential for success in a research degree. However, we also recognize that some aspects of your aptitude may be revealed by non-academic activities and experiences. Critical events, episodes or personal challenges in your life may have had a prolonged impact on you and can provide useful additional information.

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