Above photo courtesy of current CONS student Annette Spivy.
Q: I was not admitted to CONS but am still interested in improving my application for the future. Can you provide specific feedback as to why I was not admitted along with some tips for enhancing my candidacy?
A: Unfortunately, our program does not have the person-power to provide specific feedback to applicants regarding individual admissions decisions. However, much of what we would be able to tell each applicant individually is either discussed here or under the "Admission Requirements" section of our website.
Each admissions decision is made with regard to the complete application, based on an overall perception of the candidate's quality and fit with the program. No one item ensures acceptance or rejection; given the number of applications that are submitted, we are often able to select students who were outstanding in all categories. We evaluate the following items: scores (GPA, GRE), recommendations (written letters, rankings), evidence of leadership, evidence of biological and/or conservation experience (internships, research experience, academic preparation, work experience, quantitative skills, Peace Corps/AmeriCorps participation, etc.).
The quantitative measures of applicants to whom we offered admission for Fall 2013 were:
- Mean Undergraduate GPA 3.72 (range 3.2 - 4.0)
- Mean GRE verbal 160 (84%)
- Mean GRE quantitative 159 (76%)
- Mean GRE analytical writing 4.7 (76%).
The CONS Program consistently has a large applicant pool, and most applicants far exceed our admissions standards. We would love to admit the many outstanding applicants, but can only accept 15-16 students per year, and so we are forced to make some tough decisions. We hope that students who were not offered admission will find other opportunities for pursuing their worthwhile interests in conservation and development.
Q: Do I have to be accepted by an advisor to be admitted to this program?
A: No. We are a non-thesis (non-research) degree program so you are not required to have an individual advisor. Dr. Keryn Gedan, PhD, Lecturer in Conservation Biology, is available to advise CONS students. There is also a lot of peer advising among students, who help with questions about elective courses, professors, and internships.
Q: I am especially interested in a specific field within sustainable development and conservation biology. How can CONS meet my interests, and are there particular departments or professors I may contact for more information?
A: CONS is broadly supportive of a whole host of different interests encompassed by the study of sustainable development and conservation biology. A focus in agriculture, architecture, public policy, applied ecology, to name a few, is encouraged as you pursue electives in the program. Given the few core requirements a CONS student must fulfill, our program provides a fantastic "home base" for students to pursue a "CONSentration" (PDF) of their own design and choosing in other schools and departments within the university.
Other students enjoy the opportunity to "learn a little about a lot" at the vanguard of conservation and sustainability today, again with a firm grounding in the core curriculum. As CONS is not a research-based degree, students are not assigned individual advisers per se, but may develop a rewarding academic relationship--sometimes before arriving on campus--with a particular professor(s) within their field of interest. Motivated applicants with a targeted interest in a particular field may therefore wish to browse other departments' offerings for areas of overlap with CONS.
Q: What are the advantages of this small program compared to the larger ones available at some other universities?
A: This program is kept small on purpose, so we can teach our core courses with a maximum of about 15 students (particularly the problem-solving course). You will get to know the professors and your fellow students very well. CONS students also interact a lot with each other recreationally (weekend field trips, parties, group studying, etc.). We also keep the program small so that we can provide financial support to most of our students.
Q: I'm very interested in doing and learning about research. Is this the right program for me?
A: Probably not. The university does have other outstanding graduate programs that are designed to provide training in research, including Departments of Anthropology, Biology and Entomology and graduate programs in Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics (BEES); Marine, Estuarine, and Environmental Science (MEES); and Public Policy.
Q: I'm planning to go on to a Ph.D. after getting my M.S. Is there any disadvantage to this plan compared to going straight for a Ph.D?
A: In a Ph.D. program your coursework will be focused on developing research skills. It's unlikely that you would have the opportunity to develop the breadth that we require of CONS students. About 10% of our graduates go on to Ph.D. programs (Biology, Resource Economics, Policy, Geography, MEES, etc.) and universally they have reported that the CONS program provided them with excellent preparation.
Q: Do I need to take the GRE Subject Test in Biology?
A: No, just the General Test.
Q: When should I take the GRE General Test?
A: In time to have the scores reported to the University (institution code: 5814) by the January 15th deadline for submission of all application materials.
Q: My undergraduate GPA is above the 3.0 required for admission by the graduate school, but not super. Is there anything I can do about this?
A: Consider taking a graduate course or two. At the University of Maryland, you can be admitted as an Advanced Special Student (i.e., you already have a Bachelor's degree) and register for graduate courses. If you are admitted to CONS, you can then transfer those credits (if the courses are appropriate) into your CONS program. You may be able to take courses in a similar context at another university and transfer up to 6 credit hours to your CONS degree requirements. This may be a way for you to demonstrate that you can handle the challenge of graduate courses even if you didn't have a stellar undergraduate GPA.
Q: I am considering applying to CONS, but have either missed the latest application deadline or would like to take a course or two before I make up my mind. May I take courses as non-degree-seeking student in the interim?
(See previous answer.)
Q: I took the GRE General Test and didn't do very well. Can my application still be competitive?
A: We don't have any required minimum score for admission. However, we do pay some attention to GRE scores because our program's reputation at the university is to some degree dependent on GPA and GRE scores of applicants we admit. The range of GRE scores for domestic students we admitted recently was 510-720 verbal (mean 648), 520-800 quantitative (mean 678), and 3.5 - 6.0 analytical (mean 4.9).
Q: Do I have to be a full-time student?
A: No. There's a Graduate School deadline of five years for completing an M.S. degree, but even that could be waived if necessary. Some of our students continue to work at jobs in the D.C. area while taking a few classes a semester. Please be aware, however, that many CONS core courses and popular electives meet during daytime hours, so completing all coursework exclusively during the evening is not usually possible. Please consult our pages for Prospective Students and Current Students, as well as the Schedule of Classes in Testudo, for more details on required courses, suggested courses, and course meeting times.
Q: May I complete the CONS degree remotely?
A: No. Although special opportunities exist for online coursework, independent study, and cross-registration with other University System of Maryland schools or within the Washington Consortium of Universities upon joining CONS, the vast majority of instruction requires students to be present on campus in College Park.
Q. How should I select recommenders in support of my application to the CONS Program?
Letters of recommendation should come from individuals who can speak to your chances of success in graduate school, particularly in an interdisciplinary program such as CONS, by attesting to such qualities as leadership potential, maturity, motivation, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to work successfully across multiple disciplines. We welcome letters from appropriately selected recommenders known within personal, professional, and/or academic contexts. Only three letters are required; the applicant may solicit more recommendations as desired and as deemed necessary for a sufficient evaluation of the applicant's candidacy.
Q. I wasn't a biology/science major as an undergraduate, and haven't taken introductory biology or calculus. Should I take them before applying?
A: You could consider taking introductory biology (a course that includes ecology, evolution, behavior, and maybe systematics; e.g., BSCI 106 at the University of Maryland), but you could probably pick up the necessary background by reading the appropriate sections of an introductory biology text on your own. (After all, you developed strong learning skills to get your Bachelor's degree, right?!) Calculus is not an absolute requirement, but is recommended. You will find it useful in the Population Ecology course, probably in your core ecology course, and maybe in resource economics.
Q. What resources can you recommend regarding admissions and financial aid for prospective international students?
A: After reading the sections of the CONS website on "How to Apply" and "Financial Aid," please check out the information provided by the University's Office of International Services, a special office here on campus designed specifically to support international applicants and students. CONS is always delighted to welcome international students to our program, and over the years has graduated students hailing from over 30 different countries.
Q: When I log into the ASF (Application Supplemental Form) it appears that I can only upload one file, but CONS requires a resume in additional to my personal statement. What do I do?
A: You may upload both a resume and a personal statement into the ASF as two separate files. For more information on these requirements, check out the Application Procedure.
Q: After submitting / updating my application materials online, the Apra website still shows my file as "incomplete."
A: There is often a significant lag, especially in the busy months leading up to application deadlines, between an applicant's submission of application materials/updates and the Graduate School's processing of that information. Please continue to check back on the status of your application. Concerned applicants may also wish to contact their transcript-submitting institutions and recommenders to verify that materials have been sent. Please note: If you feel that you there has been a significant time lag and your application still reads "incomplete", please contact the Graduate School directly: (301) 405-0376. The CONS Program does not receive, process or upload application materials to the online application system. This online system is managed by the Graduate School staff.
Q: May I receive more information about the CONS program?
A: The CONS website is our most comprehensive source of information. For any additional questions feel free to call or email the CONS office for assistance.