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There are two primary types of neuroscience programs: undergraduate and graduate programs. Though most students applying to graduate programs have completed some kind of traditional science major, such as chemistry, biology, or psychology, an increasing number of universities now offer neuroscience programs to undergraduates. Whether you're applying to an undergraduate or graduate neuroscience program, which program you apply to should be based on a variety of factors including the program's acceptance requirements, sub-specialty preferences, and overall approach to the subject matter.
Over 40 U.S. colleges and universities offer an undergraduate neuroscience major, and some of these specialize into narrower disciplines such as substance abuse, behavioral neuroscience, or neuropharmacology. If a graduate neuroscience degree is planned, an undergraduate neuroscience program is one way to assure that the necessary foundation disciplines are covered. In addition, an undergrad neuroscience degree will help provide a foundational amount of laboratory skills that a graduate program require.
The Society for Neuroscience lists current undergraduate neuroscience programs. Formal and informal assessments of these programs are available in annual college guidebooks, both printed and online. Though this analysis, like any, may not be complete, certainly it will help inform prospective neuroscience majors towards selecting the best neuroscience program for you.
Graduate programs in neuroscience are frequently ranked, with certain universities, like Harvard and Yale, at the top. This does not mean that the best approach to choosing a neuroscience program is merely to apply to top-ranked schools. Students should have realistic expectations and focus on programs for which acceptance is possible. One way to assess this is to ask the graduate program for information on students admitted in the past, comparing your GRE results, undergraduate transcripts, and research records to past successful applicants.
Undergraduates planning to pursue a graduate neuroscience degree should, beginning in their junior and senior years, seek out advisors. Neuroscience faculty members at one's own school are often great resources. They can often provide useful information about graduate programs and may be willing to serve as potential references during the application process.
Students who have a clear neuroscience sub-specialty in mind should choose a graduate neuroscience program strongest in that sub-specialty. If you don't have a particular focus area in mind, choosing an option with a variety of strong sub-specialties is often a wise approach.
Applicants should also research whether a program's overall approach to the subject is in line with their own preferences. Some programs offer close interaction with faculty, while others provide a more independent research environment. The best way to get a sense of whether a program will suit your needs and preferences is to tour facilities and talk to current students, who can provide the most candid analysis.
Other considerations when choosing a neuroscience program might include the financial support options, the amount and quality of current research its faculty members are producing, and whether the program's graduates are finding success in their postdoctoral positions.
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