Recommended undergraduate background

Applicants to the BIG program typically have majored in a quantitative field (e.g., computer science, mathematics, statistics, physics, bioengineering) with a demonstrated interest in biological sciences OR have majored in a biological science but with considerable aptitude in computer programming and quantitative methods.

Holistic Admissions Process

Applicants are evaluated holistically, assessing the person’s accomplishments and potential based on all information provided (transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statement, etc). There are no cut-offs for GPA or GRE scores, no required set of courses, and no specific undergraduate majors. GRE scores are strongly recommended (except in fall, 2020, due to the pandemic) but not required. After the initial review, a group of students are invited for in-person interviews (except for 2020-21) in late January or early February with all expenses paid by the program.

Program Selection

Students apply to a program and once admitted, perform lab rotations during their first year in order to select a dissertation advisor. Student do not need to secure a dissertation advisor prior to applying

Most applicants apply to one program, and we strongly recommend this targeted approach. While prospective students are encouraged to carefully choose the program that best fits their academic goals, interested applicants may apply to up to three HILS programs and pay only one application fee. If you elect to apply to three programs, only two may be programs in the Department of Medical Sciences. Each application must be unique, containing a tailored statement of purpose and separate recommendations. 

To apply to a DMS program, you should select "Division of Medical Sciences" as your program of choice from the pull down menu at the "Select degree program" box on the Degree Programs page. Then using the pull down menu at the "Select area of study" box right below this and select "Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG)".

How to Apply

Fee Waiver

Full funding for admitted students

Successful applicants are fully funded throughout the entire graduate school years. The funding covers full tuition, health insurances, and fees, as well as a monthly stipend. For the first two years, the BIG program provides the funding; starting in the third year, the thesis advisor takes over. (Thesis advisors are required to demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to cover a student’s expenses throughout his/her entire thesis research period before taking on a student; thus, no student has ever left a laboratory for financial reasons).

Most promising students regardless of specific areas of interest

Because funding is provided by the program for the first two years, students are admitted without regards to the student’s intended area of research—the admissions committee aims to take the most promising students interested in bioinformatics and genomics and let them explore different areas before committing to a specific area for thesis research. Indeed, BIG students can choose any professor within HILS (Harvard Integrated Life Sciences), beyond those who are on the BIG faculty.

Contacting potential advisors prior to admission

Since a thesis advisor does not admit a student directly to his/her laboratory at the time of admission, contacting potential advisors does not provide any advantage in admission decisions (On the application, you do not need to answer the question on which faculty members you have contacted). Nearly all of our faculty are eager to take BIG students, although there is some year-to-year variation.


Q: Should I apply to BIG or BBS (Biological and Biomedical Science)?
A: The two programs share many features, including some course requirements. The biggest difference perhaps is who your peers will be. If you are in BIG, you will spend most of your time with those with a strong quantitative background. If you are strongly inclined toward a computational thesis, BIG may be a better fit. It is also possible to apply to multiple programs.

Q: Could I defer after getting admitted?
A: Deferrals are granted only in exceptional circumstances, e.g., winning a prestigious fellowship for study abroad. If you will perform research at a university or work in a company, for instance, you will have to reapply.

Q: I have a master’s degree. Could some required courses be waived?
A: If your master’s degree was in a related field, you can petition to have one or two courses waived.

Q: Could I get some feedback on my CV?
A: Given our holistic admissions process, it is not possible to provide feedback on one’s application for admission prior to reviewing the full application.

Q. Does the application require official transcripts to be uploaded?
A. You can upload unofficial transcripts with your application. If you are accepted, you will need to provide official transcripts at a later date.

Q: Do you accept international students?
A: Yes.

Q. For international applicants, can the TOEFL or IELTS score be submitted after the application deadline?
A. The review process happens very quickly after the December 1st deadline, so we cannot guarantee that your application will be reviewed if the TOEFFL score is absent.

Q. How much does previous research experience weigh in the application?
A. We have a holistic admission process and do not have pre-defined weights for different parts of the applications. In general, the student’s performance in a previous research experience is an important indicator for aptitude in graduate studies, assuming that opportunities were available. We encourage our potential applicants to seek out research opportunities especially during the summers.

Any program-specific questions should be sent to the program administrator, Ms. Cathy Haskell (