Frequently Asked Questions
Questions about the Program
Where can I find the details about the program?
Please review this website, and our program listing in ExploreDegrees.
What is the best way to see if my interests align with the program?
Review the details of our curriculum and summary descriptions of core and affiliated faculty. You should also do web searches to find the faculty websites, and check out their most recent publications on PubMed. Also, examine the list of our current students. News about our program appears on the home page and news page.
What is the difference between Stanford's program and other biomedical informatics programs?
Our program is particularly strong in methods development, drawing heavily on quantitative and computational approaches. Many other programs are more applied in nature. Also, BMI and the rest of Stanford Biosciences is extremely interdisciplinary, so there are many opportunities to work with faculty in other programs and departments.
How do BMI graduate students pick a lab and faculty research supervisor?
Students do rotations the first year in labs chosen through mutual agreement by the student and the faculty member.
How long does it take to get a degree?
- PhD: 4-6 years, current average is 4.7 years
- Academic MS: 1.5-2 years
- Professional MS: 2-5 years
What kind of jobs do Stanford BMI graduates get?
Please look at our alumni pages.
Questions about Applying
Should I apply to the Stanford BMI program?
Only you know enough about your circumstances to make this decision. We encourage all applicants to consider their personal and career goals, their background and abilities, financial constraints, and reasonable alternatives, before applying.
How do I apply?
Review our website to see if our program is a good fit with your goals. The specifics depend on the degree program to which you are applying. You can find instructions for each degree under Prospective Students.
When can I apply? What is the application deadline?
Applications to the PhD program are accepted each year from mid-September to the beginning of December for admission the following Autumn quarter. For details of timing for the other degree programs, see their respective webpages. All PhD applications are reviewed together, so there is no competitive advantage in applying early; however, we very strongly recommend that you not wait until the last minute (or day).
I missed the deadline. Can I apply late (or early) to the PhD program?
No. We do not accept applications to the PhD program out of the normal cycle, as it causes problems both for admissions process which is coordinated with the other Biosciences programs, and for arranging funding.
Does Stanford BMI offer conditional admission?
Is my application good enough?
We are unable to answer that question for specific applicants. The BMI admissions committee considers many factors, including grades, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, the personal statement, prior research experience, life circumstances, and fit with our program. The decision is based on a composite of these elements in the context of all the applications we receive each cycle. Please note that there is no minimum GRE score, nor do we accept candidates based solely on grade point average, GRE, or MCAT scores. You should also note that admission to our program, especially for the PhD, is very competitive, so it is to your advantage to make sure your application is as strong as you can make it in all of the listed dimensions.
Stanford requires a TOEFL score (if needed) of greater than or equal to 100. If your score is below 100 and you are accepted, Stanford requires that you retake the exam to achieve that threshold. Unfortunately, we cannot make exceptions to this rule. See here.
How many people apply?
The PhD application process is extremely competive. Recently, the acceptance rate has been about 5% or less. The acceptance rate for the MS programs varies considerably by program and by year.
Is it okay if some of my application materials arrive late?
You need to submit the main application before the deadline.
Unofficial test scores (GREs, TOEFL) and unofficial transcripts should arrive before the deadline. Your unofficial transcripts and test scores will be validated when your official ones are received by the University, which can occur after the admissions deadline.
Outside of that, we strongly recommend against late applications, including letters of recommendation. We start reviewing applications immediately after the deadline closes. Incomplete applications will be reviewed, but incomplete applications are unlikely to be as strong as the complete ones, placing you at considerable disadvantage in an already very competitive application process.
What is the status of my application?
We realize that the application process is anxiety provoking, and it is natural to be concerned about the possibility of information missing from your application, or wondering where you are in the application ranking. After the formal deadline, if something has changed, you may email the updated information to us. We ask, though, that you refrain from contacting us to request routine updates about your status. If your application is deficient in some way, we will contact you. However, you will have to wait for interview invitations and the final admission decisions on schedule.
Oops. I forgot to upload some of the supplemental materials for my application and now the system won't let me add them. What should I do?
Just email the additional materials to our Contact Address.
What is the general timeline for admissions?
Applications for PhD and Academic MS are due early December. Invitations for inteviews (PhD only) go out in early January. Interviews are early March. Offers of admission are sent starting early March. Your final admission decisions are due April 15. Most students start in the Autumn (late Sept, Stanford is on quarter system). Some start Summer quarter at the beginning of July.
The HCP MS and co-terminal MS has several application cycle per year. See the webpages for those programs.
I'm interested in several departments in Stanford. Which one should I apply to?
This is a very important decision, so it is worth your time to explore and consider your options carefully. Stanford Biosciences is very interdisciplinary; if admitted, you will be able to pick research supervisors from among many different departments. You should select a home department on the basis of your background, your interest in a particular curriculum, your fit with the program's research, and your career plans. In general, we recommend applicants apply to BMI if they are interested in methods and to other departments, such as Genetics or Cancer Biology, if they are primarily interested in those research domains. See also the next few FAQs.
What is "Biosciences"?
Stanford Biosciences represents the majority of departments and programs in the School of Medicine, including BMI, that grant PhD degrees. You apply through Biosciences for any of those programs, and you may rank up to 3 different programs at the same time.
What is the difference between Bioengineering and Biomedical Informatics?
The biomedical computation track in Bioengineering is different from BMI in that it focuses mostly on physical simulation of molecular or physiological systems, and less on informatics issues of data and knowledge representation, storage, retrieval, mining, analysis and machine learning. The BMI program offers more opportunities for deeper training in computer science and statistics. Both programs allow students to work with virtually any faculty member, so students should choose a graduate program based on the aspects of the curricula that appeal to them. Also, Bioengineering is not part of Biosciences.
Can I apply to both BMI and Genetics PhD programs at the same time?
Yes, you can apply to up to any three programs or departments in Biosciences in the same year.
Can I apply to both BMI and Bioengineering PhD programs at the same time?
No. You are limited to one PhD application per academic year. Applications to Biomedical Informatics go through the central Biosciences Program in the School of Medicine, which allows the applicant to select up to three Biosciences Programs for simultaneous consideration. Unfortunately, Biosciences does not include Bioengineering, Computer Science or other engineering fields. Therefore, it is important to decide which program best fits your background and career goals.
Can I apply to both BMI and Computer Science PhD programs at the same time?
No. See previous question.
I have been out of school for a while. Do you accept older students?
Yes. Many of our students have gotten other degrees, worked in industry or in clinical practice, or had other relevant experiences before entering the BMI program.
I was not admitted. Can I meet with someone to tell me why?
While we understand that situation is disappointing, we are not able to provide individual feedback to unsuccessful applicants.
Can I visit BMI? Can I meet with BMI faculty before applying? Can I request an interview?
Due to time constraints we are not able to accomodate requests to meet one-on-one with our faculty prior to submitting an application, give individual tours, or meet to provide guidance about applications, the admissions process, and career planning.
We only interview a limited number of applicants. Top candidates for our PhD program will be invited out to visit us during the application process. We will contact you by mid-January if we want you to come for an interview. We do not typically interview MS program candidates. Note that the interview process is quite extensive; you will interview with multiple faculty and students, tour our campus, and meet with many of our current students in social settings.
We invite those who are near Stanford and who are interested in what our students are working on to attend our research colloquium and journal club: BIOMEDIN 201.
I have contacted one of the BMI faculty about admissions? Will I receive a response?
Our faculty members receive many emails and requests for information. Unfortunately, they are unable to respond to all such contacts. Please email specific questions about the admissions process to us at our Contact Address.
Should I contact faculty to get a research assistantship before I am admitted?
Generally, we only admit PhD students whose funding is pre-arranged by the BMI program or outside scholarship. (There is more information about funding below.) As part of the admission process, we will bring your application to the attention of the appropriate faculty. We prefer you do not contact the faculty directly. Just to be clear: you apply to the BMI program; you do not apply to individual faculty labs.
If I have not completed all the prerequisites, will I still be considered?
Yes, but this is rarely a good idea. The goals of the prerequisites are: (1) to provide clear evidence that you will succeed if admitted, (2) to give us some basis for ranking admission candidates. In most cases, it is better to delay application until those prerequisites have been achieved. Your application will almost certainly be stronger for having done so. Otherwise, please clearly indicate what your plan is to complete them, preferably prior to enrolling in BMI.
Can I be admitted to Stanford and finish the prerequisites there?
Maybe, but the rest of your application will have to be quite strong to make up for this.
Do I have to complete the prerequisites at Stanford?
No. We accept prerequisite courses from any accredited college or university, including evening courses from a community college.
I have taken some coursework at Stanford before. Can I count those units towards another degree if I am admitted?
Generally, yes. However, you can't count the same course towards two different degrees. If you have extra units from a prior degree or a currently active degree program, then those units can count towards a BMI MS or PhD if you are admitted. The total number of units required for the relevant BMI degree does not change. There are more specific rules for these degree programs: HCP MS, coterminal MS.
Can I meet the prerequisites through the free on-line classes?
The on-line courses are still new, so it is going to take a bit of time to arrive at a stable, consistent viewpoint within our admissions committee on this matter. For now, although graded versions are preferred, the on-line versions may suffice if taking them allows you to show commitment to learning in this area. This is especially true for MDs in training as their time is very tightly constrained. Having a completion certificate for the on-line courses that you submit with your application would be a good idea.
Can I meet the prerequisites through self-study and work experience?
There is space on the application form where you describe your coursework or similar research or work experience, and you can also comment in your personal statement.
How can I complete the computer science prerequisites?
The main goal of our listed CS prerequisites is to learn not merely a particular computer programming language, but the fundamentals of computer science, including data structures and algorithms, and software engineering principles, including abstraction, modularity, and object-oriented programming. We expect our applicants to know something about computer science.
The particular Stanford classes we list are CS 106 A and B. These can be taken at Stanford or on-line through SCPD; the course content is also available for free through Stanford Engineering Everywhere. The particular languages covered in those classes are Java and C++. There are many good equivalent options available at other colleges and universities, and on-line.
Many CS classes at Stanford use C, C++, or Java. The BMI core courses and many of the other graduate electives typically use R, Python, or Matlab. Most of our students end up learning and using multiple languages. It is not necessary to have mastered all these languages before applying.
I took the prerequisites years ago. Is that okay?
That depends. If you have been working in a position that uses the knowledge and skills from those prerequisites, then that may suffice. If you have been out of school for a while, it is highly advised that you refresh your knowledge. The point of the prerequisites is to make sure that you can do the work required by our program without excessive delay if admitted.
Do I need any particular undergraduate major in order to apply?
No. Our students have diverse backgrounds, with undergraduate training in computer science, mathematics, statistics, engineering, or the biomedical sciences.
If I come to BMI, can I work with a particular professor?
If you have already identified a possible research mentor, then you are one step ahead. However, be advised that even if admitted, there is no guarantee that that professor would have space in their lab, have appropriate funding, or be a good interpersonal match with you. In general, we recommend that you apply to Stanford BMI because your interests align well with our overall program philosophy and emphasis. Note for international students: you apply to BMI (within Biosciences), you don't apply to a particular professor.
Does BMI have an undergraduate degree?
No, but there is a coterminal MS program in BMI for current Stanford undergraduates, and Stanford offers an undergraduate biocomputation major.
Do I need to have an MS degree before I apply for the PhD?
Why do you offer three different MS degrees?
Each serves different purposes and has somewhat different application procedures.
- The academic research MS program is for those who are seeking research training in biomedical informatics. We have funding for those who have postdoctoral status (MD, or PhD).
- The professional (Honors Cooperative Program, distance learning) MS is designed for part-time study from off-campus, typically for working professionals.
- The coterminal program is for Stanford undergraduates who through additional study can complete the BMI MS.
I'm working towards my doctoral-level degree, but it has not yet been conferred. Can I still apply to the post-doctoral MS program?
You can apply for the post-doctoral MS before your PhD degree has been awarded. You should apply using the instructions on the Academic MS page. Note that you cannot be placed on postdoctoral NLM funding until your doctoral degree has been conferred, so there may be problems if your graduation is delayed.
Is there a part-time MS degree program?
Yes, see the HCP MS program details.
How do I get answers to questions about the distance education MS?
For questions about fees, video availability, and employment requirements, please see the SCPD website, or email: email@example.com.
For questions about the MS curriculum and degree requirements, please review the relevant section of the BMI website, and address remaining questions to us via email.
Do I have to come to campus for any part of the distance education programs?
In our current curriculum, not all courses required for the HCP MS are necessarily available on-line through SCPD. In such cases, you would need to construct an alternative course plan that either includes other classes at Stanford, or builds on coursework taken elsewhere (and not counted towards the units required for the HCP MS degree). In some cases, there may be advantages to being able to attend classes on-campus at Stanford.
Is there a full-time distance education Masters option?
There is no specific full-time option. Per SCPD policy, you can take up to 3 courses per quarter, although that is not typical.
Is financial aid available for the distance education program?
No financial aid is available through Stanford. Some employers pay partial or full cost for technical training of their employees, so that may be available to you.
Is there a part-time PhD degree program? Is there a distance learning PhD?
No. Our faculty believe that the PhD must be obtained on-campus, with full-time involvement.
We do have distance learning (part-time) programs (MS and certificate), whose coursework can be used towards a PhD if the student is later accepted into the PhD program. The student doing the PhD must meet all the residential requirements (BMI and Stanford) for that degree, which means at least several years on campus. The distance learning courses can be used ahead of time to get a start on some of the coursework. The BMI program doesn't require taking any course for a second time on entering the PhD program, but Stanford requires a minimum number of additional units that must be completed as part of the degree. Up to 15 credit units earned for a graduate certificate may count toward a degree program if you apply and are accepted.
I applied before. Do you need official copies of my transcripts again?
For PhD applicants, yes. For MS applicants, we keep the official copies for one year.
Can I transfer credit?
Transferring credit means using credit for courses taken outside of Stanford to reduce the number of credits taken at Stanford.
For the MS degree: No. The University residency requirement is 45 units taken at Stanford for an MS. No transfer credits are allowed to count towards the masters residency requirement.
For the PhD degree: Yes. The PhD requires 135 units, of which 90 units must be taken at Stanford during the PhD program. Thus, you could transfer credits taken elsewhere or taken at Stanford in another graduate program. More information is here.
Note that for both degrees, up to 15 units of academic credit from relevant Certificate or Non-degree option programs taken at Stanford may be used upon acceptance into the degree program.
Are the GRE's required?
Stanford University requires GRE scores for graduate degree programs. The GRE scores must be from the last 5 years. The official Stanford policy is here. If you take the test near our application deadline, email us the unofficial scores as soon as possible; the official scores can arrive after the deadline.
Exceptions: GREs are not required if you already have a PhD from an accredited US or foreign university. In that case, your application must include the PhD transcript showing degree conferral. GREs are also not required if you are applying to the coterminal MS program. If you are in graduate school and expect to receive a PhD before starting in BMI, then submit your old GRE scores (older than 5 years is okay) during the application process.
Physicians or currently enrolled medical students may submit MCAT scores (including those older than 5 years) in lieu of the GRE scores. (If prompted for your GRE scores during the application, enter a date in the future.) Others, including pre-medical students or physicians who did not take the MCAT, should submit GRE scores.
Note that even if you are not required to take the GREs, you may do so, and strong performance on that test may improve your chances of admission.
Do I have to take the TOEFL?
TOEFL scores are required by Stanford University of all applicants whose first language is not English. There are some complications and exceptions. See the official Stanford policy for details. Note that page says the qualifying degree must have been earned; degrees expected to be earned before starting in the BMI program are sufficient, and the TOEFL is not required.
If you take the test near our application deadline, email the unofficial scores to us as soon as possible; the official scores can arrive after the deadline.
Stanford requires a TOEFL score (if needed) of greater than or equal to 100. If your score is below 100 and you are accepted, Stanford requires that you retake the exam to achieve that threshold. Unfortunately, we cannot make exceptions to this rule. See here.
Can I take another language exam in place of the TOEFL?
No. Stanford only accepts the TOEFL.
Can international students apply to the program?
Yes. If you have very strong credentials then you should consider applying to the program. See below for important information about funding, and our page for International Applicants.
Questions from Clinicians
I have an MD. Can I apply?
Yes. We encourage applications from MDs, or others with doctoral-level professional degrees (DO, DDS).
MDs (or equivalent) may be interested in the two-year research MS, which could be completed before, after, or (with planning) during residency training or subspecialty fellowship. This degree is full-time (half-time classes, half-time research). Both this and the PhD are rather rigorous and you should make sure you had the computer science and mathematics (calculus, probability, statistics, and linear algebra) coursework in order to apply. You should contact us as early as possible, especially if you are interleaving the BMI training with medical residency or fellowship training.
Note that NLM training grant funds can only support US citizens or permanent residents. Others will need to consider alternative sources of funding.
I am a clinician. Which degree is most appropriate?
We recommend you review thoroughly the descriptions of our programs, consider your personal and financial constraints, and professional goals, then address remaining questions via email.
Can I have a clinical practice while at BMI?
Yes, with limitations. The NLM training grant limits outside work activities (including clinical time) to eight hours per week. Given the demands on your time in our program, it is unlikely that you would be able to devote more than eight hours per week to clinical work, regardless of the NLM restrictions.
How do I find clinical work while in the program?
Some residency and fellowship training programs provide funded time to pursue research, and this might align with time spent in graduate training at BMI.
If you have already completed residency or fellowship training, then you will need to make your own arrangments for clinical appointments. These could be at Stanford, UCSF, the VA, Kaiser, or elsewhere.
Questions about Tuition, Fees, Program Costs, Funding, and Financial Aid
How much does it cost to get the MS (or PhD)?
Tuition and other fees for the Academic MS and PhD program are set by Stanford University. The most up-to-date listing is on the Stanford Registrar's website. Fees for the distance education (HCP) MS program are a little higher and are set by the Stanford Center for Professional Development.
What financial aid does BMI provide?
The NLM training grant is available to PhD students and post-doctoral MS students who are US citizens or permanent residents, and covers tuition, stipend, and health insurance. International students will need to find other sources of support; PhD candidates may be eligible for the Stanford Graduate Fellowship. We do not provide financial support for students enrolled for the MS degree who do not already have a PhD, MD, or similar doctoral degree; some of those students find Research Assistantship support after arrival at Stanford (by directly contacting professors).
We do not provide financial support for the HCP (distance learning) MS program. Such students are generally not eligible for student loans or scholarships. Most loan programs require full-time commitment to courses. Most scholarships or fellowships have a required research component. However, some employers offer educational benefits to their employees. Please contact the Human Resources Department within your organization.
For the Coterminal Masters program, students are eligible for undergraduate financial aid until the 12th quarter of their studies.
Stanford's Research Management Group maintains a comprehensive list of funding.
Questions about BMI
How much does it cost to live close to Stanford University or in the SF Bay Area? How can I find out about my housing options?
The SF Bay Area is expensive. Many graduate students choose to live on campus for convenience and to minimize costs. Please refer to Stanford's Housing Office for more information.
Can I switch from one MS program to another?
The answer is "yes, with restrictions". Please contact us to discuss your particular circumstances. It is possible to change from the Academic MS to the HCP MS, or vice versa. Students in the coterminal program must fulfill the requirements for the undergraduate degree and it is unlikely that a switch would be possible. Note that several excellent Professional MS students have later been admitted to the PhD program.
Questions about Clinical Informatics
Is there a degree program in clinical informatics?
If you are interested in research involving clinical data, then you should consider applying to the BMI graduate program; many of our students use data from clinical systems, such as STRIDE.
If you are interested in the new clinical informatics fellowship, an MD-only subspecialty fellowship with the goal of board certification, then see the CI Fellowship page.
What is the difference between BMI and BMIR?
BMI is the Biomedical Informatics Training Program, an interdepartmental program affiliated with the Department of Biomedical Data Science in Stanford's School of Medicine granting MS and PhD degrees. BMIR is the Stanford Center for Biomedical Informatics Research, a division in the Department of Medicine devoted to research in this area. Several faculty are affiliated with both BMI and BMIR, and BMI students can do research at BMIR.
What do I do if I still have questions?
Send us email (Contact Us). We are busy keeping all the machinery behind the scenes running smoothly, but we try to respond to every inquiry within one to two business days. It is much better to email us questions directly rather than asking us if you can call.