2023-2024 Catalog

Graduate Study

Occidental College offers graduate study in academic areas for which the College is able to provide distinctive offerings at the graduate level. Admission to graduate study is competitive, and the number of students admitted is sufficiently small to ensure flexibility in arranging individual programs of study within a general framework of policies that assure high academic standards.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is offered in the biology department.


Graduates of accredited colleges and universities are eligible to apply for graduate study at Occidental. Preference is given to applicants with superior preparation and achievement. Graduate students are admitted subject to the general regulations of the College.

Applications for the master of arts in biology are available in the Graduate Office. Applicants should contact the Graduate Office coordinator for more information.

Applications and all admission credentials for graduate study must be received by March 1 for students applying to begin study during the summer session or the fall semester, and by October 1 for students applying to begin study during the spring semester.

Students seeking admission to the M.A. program must have significant successful experience in the discipline to be ready for graduate study. Evidence of readiness includes undergraduate grades, completion of an undergraduate major or minor in the discipline, successful completion of a significant amount of coursework at or above the advanced undergraduate level, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general and subject test scores. Consultation with the department chair is recommended before completing the application, particularly for students who have not completed an undergraduate major in the discipline.

Completed applications must include the following:

  1. A completed application form, including a statement of objectives for graduate work. 
  2. Application fee of $60. (This fee is waived for current and former Occidental students.) 
  3. Official transcripts of all academic work at the college or university level, including previous graduate work. 
  4. Letters of recommendation from three persons. These should include, if possible, one letter from a professor in the applicant’s major field of undergraduate study. 
  5. An official report of test scores from the GRE General Test. 
  6. An official report of test scores for the GRE Subject Test in Biology. 
  7. For applicants whose native language is not English, an official report of test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language. (This requirement is waived for current and former Occidental students.)

Applications for the Master of Arts in Biology must be submitted directly to the Graduate Office.

Financial Aid

Financial aid for graduate study is available from the College on the basis of financial need and academic promise. In order to be eligible for available funds, applicants must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online and a separate Financial Aid Application for Graduate Students to the Financial Aid Office by April 19, prior to the academic school year of intended matriculation. All other required supplemental documents (tax returns, W-2s and verification documents) must be submitted to the Financial Aid Office by April 19. Application forms and a list of required supplemental forms may be obtained from the Graduate Office or the Financial Aid Office.

Candidacy for Advanced Degrees

Candidacy for an advanced degree is granted to a student whose undergraduate preparation provides a thoroughly satisfactory background for the graduate work proposed. In some instances, a student who does not meet all the departmental course requirements for admission may be admitted to graduate standing but not to candidacy for the degree until specified prerequisite courses are completed. When the background courses have been completed at a level of achievement satisfactory to the student’s major department, the department will recommend to the Graduate Office that the student be advanced to candidacy for the master’s degree.

Plan of Study for Candidates for the M.A. Degree

At the time of acceptance for graduate study, each degree candidate is assigned a major advisor. The student and the advisor share the joint responsibility to formulate a consistent plan of study that is within the policies of the College and the major department. The plan of study should include a schedule for meeting all degree requirements. Graduate full-time status is nine or more units.

Credit for a graduate degree may be given for Occidental courses (including summer offerings) numbered 500 and above, but not for any course taken in fulfillment of requirements for a Bachelor’s degree. As a general policy, the College does not accept transfer graduate credit from other institutions; however, students receiving Veterans Benefits should submit documentation of their prior graduate work to the Graduate Office for evaluation of potential credit toward their degree. Courses numbered 500 and above are ordinarily limited to graduate students. However, advanced and specially qualified undergraduates may be permitted to enroll in such courses by special petition to the instructor, the department chair and the director of Graduate Studies. In special circumstances, by additional petition to the director of Graduate Studies, credit toward the Master of Arts degree also may be granted provided the course is not required to fulfill a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate full-time status is nine or more units.

Degree Requirements - Master of Arts

  1. Completion of a minimum of 30 units (six courses) of graduate work at Occidental, achieving a grade of B (3.0) or higher in every course.
    1. Not less than one-half of the work shall be completed in the student’s major department. The remainder shall be chosen, with the approval of the advisor and the major department chair, from related upper-division courses in other departments to form a consistent plan of study. 
    2. M.A. students in biology must register once for thesis credit by enrolling in Biology 590, Thesis for Master of Arts Degree (5 units). This course may count toward the 30-unit requirement. 
  2. Satisfactory completion of a thesis. The relevant material shall be presented to the Graduate Office in approved form as specified in the general instructions issued to degree candidates. The Special Collections librarian will issue an acknowledgment of receipt to the student. This receipt shall be submitted to the Graduate Office as proof that the thesis has been submitted. 
  3. Passing of a final examination demonstrating a thorough grasp of the candidate’s field of emphasis. The supervising committee for this examination shall consist of three faculty members, with the student’s advisor as the chair. The committee shall include at least one faculty member of a department other than the student’s major department. 
  4. Other degree requirements specified by the major department in the College catalog. 
  5. All degree requirements must be completed no later than five calendar years after the date of initial enrollment as a graduate student. 

Thesis Candidate Status for M.A. Students

M.A. students who have completed all coursework and are continuing thesis work may enroll in Thesis Candidate Status. This status grants student privileges and allows the College to certify enrollment. A student may enroll in this status for a maximum of two semesters and must be either normally enrolled or in Thesis Candidate Status in the semester in which he or she graduates.

Final Approval of Candidacy for the M.A. Degree

The Master of Arts degree is conferred upon candidates formally recommended by the faculty on the basis of approval by (a) the candidate’s supervising committee, and (b) the director of Graduate Studies. Such approval is contingent upon completing all degree requirements.

In addition, candidates must present to the Graduate Office an application for final approval of candidacy for the degree, including signed recommendations from the members of the supervising committee. Graduate degrees will be dated as of the end of the semester in which the registrar certifies that all College and departmental degree requirements have been met. For those candidates who wish to participate in May Commencement ceremonies, all evidence of degree completion must be received in the Graduate Office by April 1.

Probation Policy for Graduate Students

Students who do not maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher in all coursework after admission to the graduate program will be placed on academic probation.