Graduate Studies


How to Apply

  1. Visit the Graduate School for more information about graduate programs in geography (Masters of Science in Geography or Doctor of Philosophy in Geography).
  2. Complete an online application to the Graduate School.
  3. Find out where to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) ( and make an appointment to take the exam.
  4. Prepare a “Statement of Career/Educational Goals” and submit it to the Graduate School with your completed application.
  5. Arrange to have “official copies” of all undergraduate (and graduate) transcripts sent to the Graduate School.
  6. Identify three or more persons qualified to judge your academic potential. You will be asked to provide their contact details. The Graduate School will contact each of them and request a letter of reference.
  7. Have an official record of your GRE scores forwarded to NIU’s Graduate School. If you are an international student whose native language is other than English, you will also need to take the TOEFL exam and have those scores submitted to NIU.
  8. Complete an Application for Graduate Assistantship and mail or fax (815-753-6872) it to the Department of Geography (if interested in financial support).
  9. After you’ve applied you may log into the Graduate School online application system to verify that they have received your application materials. You may also verify which documents have yet to be received. Once your file is complete it will be sent to the Department of Geography for acceptance/rejection and graduate assistantship decisions. 

When to Apply

We admit most students to begin in the Fall semester as this is when most funding is allocated, but you may apply to begin in Spring semester.

Fall admission

For admission and financial support: January 15
For admission without financial support: June 1
For international students and financial support: January 15
For International students without financial support: May 1

Spring admission

For admission and financial support: November 1
For international students and financial support: October 1
For international students without financial support: October 1  


  1. What should I do before I apply?
    • Identify one or more faculty research interests common to yours. You are encouraged to make an initial contact with them and discuss their research program and opportunities.
    • Visit the department and campus. 
  2. When is the application deadline?
    • Domestic Students
      • Fall admission and assistantship consideration – January 15
      • Fall admission and no interest in an assistantship – June 1
      • Spring admission and assistantship consideration – October 1
      • Spring admission and no interest in an assistantship – November 1
    • International Students
      • Fall admission and assistantship consideration – January 15
      • Fall admission and no interest in an assistantship – May  1
      • Spring admission and assistantship consideration – October 1
      • Spring admission and no interest in an assistantship – October 1
  3. Where do I send my application materials?
  4. How do I apply for an assistantship?
  5. What is an assistantship?
    • Students work in a teaching or research capacity for the department.  Assistantships include a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend (student fees must still be paid) and are awarded on a competitive basis.  The department typically offers teaching assistantships (TA) and research assistantships (RA).  Occasionally other assistantship types of funding opportunities arise (administrative assistantships).  These can be discussed with the graduate coordinator when they become available.  TA positions spend 20 hours a week teaching for the department.  The specific course and load depends on the students expertise, experience, and departmental course offerings.  Incoming students would typically teach multiple laboratory sections of introductory courses.  RA positions involve working 20 hours a week with faculty on externally funded research grants.  RA’s are selected by the funded faculty member.
  6. How long can I be on an assistantship?
    • Teaching assistantships for MS students are funded for 2 years maximum with an annual review for renewal.
    • Teaching assistantships for PhD students are funded for 4 years maximum with an annual review for renewal.
    • In certain instances where research assistantships are available a student may be funded longer than the traditional time period.
  7. Is the GRE required?
    • The GRE is required of all applicants, there are no waivers.
  8. Is there a minimum GRE score for admission?
    • No, the entire application packet is evaluated by the application committee.
  9. When will the decision regarding acceptance be made?
    • After the Graduate School receives a complete application packet the department will review the material and notify the graduate school of their decision.  This happens on a continuous basis throughout the year. 
  10. When will assistantships be offered?
    • Mid-March is when most assistantship offers are typically made for fall semester.  Most TA and RA positions begin fall semester.  Occasionally a TA position become available beginning spring semester.  RA positions may become available throughout the year as grant funding becomes available to specific faculty members.
  11. How many student at large (SAL) credits can I transfer into the program?
    • The department typically allows up to 15 credits of graduate coursework taken as a SAL to be transferred towards the degree.  The actual number accepted will be determined by the students committee in consultation with the graduate coordinator.
  12. What should I do once I am accepted?
    • Contact faculty with research interests that overlap with your to discuss advising and thesis project possibilities.  You are strongly encouraged to do this before arrival on campus so that you begin work towards degree completion as soon as you arrive on campus. 
  13. How are advisors determined?
    • Advisors are not assigned.  Students have unique research interests and faculty have unique interests and existing graduate advising loads.  Students make contact with potential faculty advisors to discuss common research interests.  After consultation, a faculty member is asked to be the advisor and agreed upon mutually by the student and faculty member.
  14. What courses should I take?
    • Each student has a custom designed plan of courses.  GEOG 600, 604, 663, & 663 are required for all graduate students.  Beyond those courses, you and your advisor will determine what courses will be required based on your academic background and your research project.
  15. How long will it take to complete my MS degree?
    • Most MS students complete their degree in 2 years or 2 years and 1 semester.
  16. How long will it take to complete my PhD degree?
    • The goal is to be finished in 4 years.
  17. Can I apply to the Ph.D. program with just a Bachelor's degree?
    • PhD students must have a master's degree before eligible for a PhD.

Graduate coordinator Ryan James