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McNair FAQ


Questions about the McNair Scholars Program


Questions about Application


Questions about Finances


Questions about the Summer Research Program


Questions about the McNair Scholars Program

Is the McNair Program a scholarship? No. The Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program helps prepare undergraduate students to earn Ph.D.s and become scholars in their fields.

Who is eligible for the McNair Program?

Please refer to the eligibility requirements main page.

What are the benefits of the McNair Program?

Please refer to program benefits page.

How does the McNair Program prepare undergraduate students for graduate school?

McNair Scholars are provided with tremendous help, in order to navigate a difficult and sometimes confusing road to graduate school. Scholars are paired with faculty advisors and mentors to serve as role models, research supervisors, offer personalized advice, recommend scholars to conferences in their majors and graduate programs of interest.

Workshops and seminars on topics such as: research methods, writing a personal statement, choosing a graduate school program, graduate school funding, graduate student success, library and Internet resources, and presentation skills building. These things combined with a nine-week faculty mentored summer research project, have a proven track record of success, in preparing McNair Scholars for the kind of work they will do in graduate school.

What is expected of me as a McNair participant? All program participants must:

  • Be part of the Academic Year Program, each year through your graduation from Penn State, by involvement with regular academic advising meetings, academic enrichment and graduate preparations workshops, etc., and
  • Be part of the Summer Research Program before you graduate from Penn State.

Do I get any academic credit for being a Scholar? Not directly. Most students can get 1-3 credit hours for their McNair summer research if they continue and extend this research in to the following academic year as independent study with their faculty research advisor. Students are also encouraged to do an independent study with their intended faculty research advisor to get ready for their McNair research experience.

What are the advantages of attending graduate school?  Many people consider an advanced degree as a means to higher salaries and this is certainly one of the advantages gained from graduate study. People with advanced degrees have the credentials that make them eligible for upper-level and specialized positions, which have higher salaries to match increased responsibilities. Beyond mere economics, however, graduate school provides invaluable opportunities to pursue in-depth research in a field of interest, to study with specialists, and to improve methodological and writing skills. The rigor of graduate studies also offers a greater breadth of knowledge and enhanced critical thinking abilities that enrich your overall life. Lastly, graduate school is extremely challenging, which, like all challenges, serves as an opportunity for growth and for attaining your personal best.

What are the challenges of graduate school? Graduate studies require a long-term commitment. Depending on the choice of programs, field of study, and availability of funding, graduate school can take between six and ten years. Even with full financial assistance and the support of family and friends, it can seem like a long time to be living as a student. There can be times when graduate study demands all of your time and energy. It can also be insular, isolating you from outside activities, and in many institutions it can be extremely political. If you don't receive a good financial aid package, it can also be expensive. Graduate tuition and fees are higher than those for undergraduate study. However; with great challenges, come great accomplishments and a sense of pride in knowing that you are “Changing the Face of Higher Education,” which is a benefit to all in academia.

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Questions about Application

What majors are eligible to participate in the Program? Students from all majors are welcome, with a priority given to STEM majors, including social and behavioral sciences majors. This priority is to help meet a national need in these areas for future scientists and researchers. Also, some majors very seldom get Ph.D.s. Some programs here at Penn State that tend to end in terminal master's degrees include business and accounting.

What is a terminal degree? These are master's degrees that are seen as an end in themselves. In most cases, a master's is seen as a step to a Ph.D., but in other cases, it is considered the end of a student’ educational training in a field. Most business students do not go beyond an M.B.A. While academic track master's degrees (such as those in sociology, psychology, mathematics, physics, etc.) are just another step towards a Ph.D., practical track (or terminal) master's degrees are seen as the final step towards joining a profession. If you eventually want to pursue an M.B.A. or another terminal program, you probably aren't going to get a Ph.D., and therefore are unlikely to qualify for our program.

Are part-time students eligible to become McNair scholars? No. McNair scholars must be registered as full-time undergraduates (at least 12 credit hours).

I'm a senior. Is it too late to become a McNair scholar? What’s most important is when you're going to graduate, not your class standing. If you’ll have a summer remaining before you graduate in which to participate in the summer research program component, it may not be too late. Contact the McNair office to talk with our Director Teresa Tassotti to discuss your individual circumstances.

I'm a sophomore. Is it too early to become a McNair scholar? Absolutely not! In fact, it is especially important to use the summers between academic years in ways that will help you with your academic and career plans; an internship, study abroad experience, other summer research opportunities, etc., can all be very valuable assets when it comes time to apply to graduate programs. We recommend talking with the McNair office as early in your undergraduate career as possible so that we can help you set up your McNair schedule and make the best use of your summer after your sophomore year.

What if I'm interested in a professional degree (JD, MD, MBA, etc.) and I still want to participate? The mission of the McNair Scholars Program is to diversify faculty in U.S. institutions of higher education by reducing the barriers to the Ph.D. for underrepresented individuals in graduate education. The McNair program recognizes that first-generation/low-income undergraduates and undergraduates of color have a number of career possibilities to consider outside of academia. However, the mission of the program is to increase the number of Ph.D.s, not professional degrees. So no, we don't accept students who only want J.D.s, M.D.s, etc. But, if you’re considering a joint program, see the next question.

 When do I need to apply? It’s important to start the process as early as possible, as references from faculty are needed. We recommend speaking with us during your sophomore year and starting the application process no later than first semester of your junior year. Applications are accepted throughout the year for the fall, though the yearly application deadline is mid- to late October.

How can I get an application? Please contact our office at (814) 863-1095 to schedule a meeting with our Director, Teresa Tassotti. Or, you may attend any of the program information sessions held each fall for students interested in learning more about the program. At these meetings, we’ll try to help you make sure the McNair program is the right fit for your academic goals. At these meetings, we’ll go over the application process.

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Questions about Finances

Are there any financial advantages to the McNair program?  During the summer internship, Scholars receive a stipend and assistance with room and board. There are also long-term financial advantages--see the next question.

Will the McNair program help me get into graduate school?  Yes. Many graduate schools provide application fee waivers for McNair Scholars and some actively recruit McNair Scholars and offer them graduate fellowships. Graduate schools know that McNair Scholars are motivated, have an understanding of the rigors and culture of graduate study, and have research and/or scholarship experience. Faculty advisors and mentors and McNair staff offer a wealth of information and advice about graduate programs and aid sources. In addition, McNair Scholars may sign onto the National McNair Scholar listserv from which they can learn about scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, special offers from graduate schools, and insider's tips from past Scholars who have entered doctoral programs.

How can I afford grad school? There are a number of financial assistance programs available to graduate students, including fellowships, assistantships, grants, and loans. The advising process and preparation opportunities offered by the program will help you research and find funding for graduate school.

Will the summer research stipend affect my financial aid? No. The stipend is not considered income or financial aid.

Can I be employed and still be a Scholar? Many of the McNair Scholars are employed during the academic year. However, during the summer research program, you’ll find the challenges of doing full-time research while at the same time undertaking a structured program of graduate preparation to be rather daunting. For that reason, McNair scholars may not take classes or be employed during the duration of the summer program, which typically runs early June through late July.

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Questions about the Summer Research Program

Is summer research mandatory for McNair Scholars? Yes, for at least one summer before you graduate from Penn State. If you would have a second summer available before you graduate, we’ll encourage you to pursue other research programs or summer opportunities, like internships and study abroad, to help you become more competitive for graduate school.

Can I use preexisting research as my McNair research? Generally, no. Your research must be original work done under the guidance of your research advisor. However, if you are continuing a pre-existing research project through the summer, then this research may be considered for your McNair research. 

Does my senior thesis research count as academic research work for McNair? No. The two can be related, however, as students may choose to expand on their senior research for the McNair research project.

What is expected of me a Summer Research Participant? All program participants have the opportunity to:

  • Conduct summer research for 8 weeks, 40 hours per week,
  • Participate in research writing and GRE preparation courses,
  • Attend graduate preparation seminars with other undergraduate researchers at Penn State for the summer, such as SROP students,
  • Present your research findings at a University-wide symposium that includes Penn State faculty and administrators and other McNair Scholars and undergraduate researchers, and attend presentations of fellow McNair Scholars,
  • Meet weekly during summer research program with your faculty research advisor to discuss progress,
  • Meet weekly during summer research program with the McNair staff to discuss your progress. and
  • Write and submit a scholarly paper of your research findings.

How will the Summer Research Program relate to my other summer obligations (e.g. summer classes, summer job, family responsibilities, etc.)? The Summer Research Program in an intensive, time-consuming program. McNair Scholars should not take summer classes and are expected to devote their full attention to research and graduate school preparation. Scholars are paid a summer stipend and provided a room/board allowance to offset the financial costs associated with full-time study.

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