The Learning Enviromment

Q. I love UNC. My family loves UNC. I’d love to come to UNC, but I’m kind of afraid – it’s such a BIG school, so many students, I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Will the professors actually know who I am?

A. True, UNC is a large school, in fact, it is referred to as the “flagship” university in the state system of North Carolina. That said, UNC often has a small-town community atmosphere despite it’s bigness. This is especially true for the Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Each specialization, including exercise physiology, is purposefully small. This permits more personal interactions between the students and faculty.

Q: How many students apply each year in the exercise physiology specialization?

A: The number of applications range between 35 – 50 per year.

Q. How many students are accepted each year? A: The Exercise Physiology Specialization annual acceptance rates range between 6 – 9 per academic year. The amount accepted depends upon the student application pool, university funding, and faculty availability to accept thesis students.

Q: What does “faculty availability” mean?

A: Faculty availability depends upon three factors: how many students are currently assigned to a faculty member for thesis supervision, whether or not a faculty member has expertise in the area a student wishes to pursue for his/her thesis, and whether or not the faculty member is “on leave” (i.e. sabbatical, study abroad supervision, etc.). The goal is to make sure there are enough faculty resources to provide an excellent academic experience for the student.

The Interview Process

Q: Do you require an interview?

A: In the past we “strongly encouraged” prospective applicants to arrange an interview at their convenience throughout the year. However, this yielded mixed results. Beginning with the 2010- 2011 academic year, drop-in interviews throughout the year will not be arranged. Instead, we will be holding a formal interview process beginning December 1st, one month before the Departmental application deadline has closed. We will review all of the completed applications and invite those candidates who meet both the required and recommended admissions criteria. We will continue to review completed applications and invite the top candidates for on-campus interviews through March 1st.

Q. Does that mean that if I don’t meet some of the admissions criteria exactly that I won’t be interviewed or get into your program?

A: The answer to that question is “That Depends”. We consider the student’s “total package” when reviewing prospective grad students. While the “Required” elements cannot be changed (e.g. Bachelor’s degree, course prerequisites, etc – see the Admissions Information section), the “Strongly Recommended” criteria are balanced with your recommendations, personal statement, and course transcripts. For instance, sometimes a student is an excellent student (i.e. high GPA) but a poor standardized test-taker (low or below the required GRE score). In those instances, we may slightly waive 2    the objective scores a bit – but we must present very strong justifications to the UNC Graduate School for the waiver to be accepted. These waivers are very difficult to obtain, but it has occasionally worked out.

Q: What if I can’t come to campus for an interview?

A: We will conduct telephone or web-cam interviews for prospective candidates who cannot visit the campus.

Q: What if I want to come to see the UNC campus and tour the Department to determine if I even want to consider UNC – but I haven’t been formally invited?

A: Of course prospective students are welcomed to visit the UNC campus and the Fetzer Gym facilities to “have a look” whenever it is convenient for them, however we are not able to accommodate personal informal interview requests prior to the formal interview period.

Q: But I have a lot of questions that the website doesn’t answer and I need to talk to someone, what should I do?

A: Prospective students are encouraged to contact the Exercise Physiology Specialization Coordinator, the Executive Administrative staff, and/or the Department Graduate Program Director for answers to any of their questions. Their contact information is contained within the Exercise Physiology Specialization website as well as on the Exercise and Sport Science Department’s Home Page under “Faculty/Staff, Faculty and Staff Directory.

The Prerequisites

Q: I don’t have the prerequisites. Can I still apply and then take the pre-reqs during my first year as a grad student?

A: You cannot take the prerequisites during your first year as a grad student in exercise physiology. If you don’t have the prerequisites, you can still apply but you must take and complete (and pass) the prerequisite courses prior to your first Fall semester as a grad student. You must provide “proof” that you are in the process of taking (and passing) whatever prerequisites are needed. For some, that may only be one course and often can be completed during the Spring at UNC or elsewhere. For others, if coming from an entirely different discipline, it may take as long as a year to get up to speed, thus applying before you have the required prerequisites would be premature and financially costly.

Q. What if I was registered to take the pre-requisite course(s) during the Spring, the same time my application was due, and then could not complete the course(s) – can I still come to UNC in the Fall if accepted, and finish up my pre-reqs later in the summer or that first Fall semester?

A: Obviously this presents an uncomfortable situation for both the prospective student and UNC. Please remember, the acceptance offer was based on good faith that you would complete the required pre- requisites by the end of the Spring semester. If for some reason you were unable to complete a prerequisite course (or pass a prerequisite course with at least a C) and you were offered acceptance on good faith that you would in fact have completed all the prerequisites by the end of the Spring semester, that acceptance offer can be rescinded since you would not have met the minimum application criteria. We understand that on rare occasion there may be an extreme extenuating circumstance to take under consideration, and in that case, immediate communication with the graduate specialization coordinator and the graduate program director is necessary.

The Teaching Assistantship and Related Issues

Q: Do I have to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) to be a grad student at UNC?

A: Currently it is our policy that all Exercise Physiology students are funded via the TA mechanism. However, on occasion a student has requested not to receive a TA-ship due to having another source of income (e.g. outside employment or grant agency research assistantship). Our main concern is making sure that outside opportunity does not impede your academic progress.

Q: How many courses will I have to teach?

A: Exercise Physiology students are assigned 3 activity/Lifetime Fitness classes a semester to teach.

Q: How are the TA’s assigned activity classes to teach?

A: Students complete two forms about their abilities and teaching preferences. The Directors of the Lifetime Fitness Program and the Student Recreation Center review the forms and attempt to match you up with appropriate courses.

Q: How much money will I make being a TA? Does that cover my health insurance and my tuition?

A: Currently, the stipend for the exercise physiology student is $10,700. That stipend fluctuates depending upon the economy and number of students we accept. The TA-ship includes student health insurance and tuition remission but does not cover student activity fees. The University levies that fee upon each student assuming at some point you will make use of the variety of activities the University has to offer.

Q: What is the Student Activity Fee? Can I refuse it?

A: The Graduate Student Activity Fee currently is approximately $1,749. The total fee has seen a 3-5% increase annually since 2007. You can see the breakdown of how this sum is calculated.  You cannot refuse this fee – it is automatically tacked onto your bill – so you may as well use as many of the resources as possible, after all, you are paying for them

Q: The stipend won’t meet my financial needs. Can I work part-time outside of the University and keep my TA-ship? A: It is generally discouraged for graduate TA’s to take this route, especially during their first year where both the course load is heavy and learning the ropes of being a TA is time-consuming. That said, some students have juggled outside part-time work, their TA-ship, and their academic demands but unfortunately, usually their academic preparedness suffered (i.e., barely passing /failing grades). Remember, you chose to come to UNC for the academic rigor, not to be a part-time employee somewhere. Many students need to temporarily adjust their lifestyle to meet the reality of student-living.

Q: What practical experiences are available outside of the TA-ship?

A: There are numerous practicum and internship experiences available to the qualified exercise physiology grad student. Check the “Practicum Listing” we have posted for an idea of the potential opportunities. Research opportunities pop up in the department, across campus, and at Duke.

Q: I saw that faculty have done some research with various UNC athletes – does that mean I can do my practicum and/or thesis with the Men’s Varsity Football or Varsity Basketball Teams?

A: Probably not. Currently there are no opportunities to work with either team in any format.

Q. I was a varsity athlete. Although I graduated, I still have a year of eligibility left but I must be enrolled in school. Can I play on an undergraduate varsity sports team and be enrolled in your grad program?

A. While you may be offered acceptance into the exercise physiology specialization per standard procedures, you would likely not be able to be on a varsity athletic team and receive the TA financial package that same year due to the conflicting time demands. Our varsity teams are highly successful – to be successful, the athletes must devote a significant amount of time to their sport. The time demands of your academic courses and the TAship are often incompatible with varsity sport participation. The objective here is to ensure your academic success in graduate school.

Internships and Practicums

Q: What is the difference between an internship and a practicum?

A: In the broadest sense, nothing really. Many sites (and faculty) use these two terms interchangeably. The distinction usually resides in the amount of hours required. Generally, an internship is most like a “real job” in terms of hours required and responsibilities assigned. They also often come with stipends (lump sum payment) , an hourly wage, housing, and/or transportation reimbursement. Practicums generally require less hours and are not paid. Both types of opportunities require excellence in the classroom and on-the-job.

Q: Do I have to do an internship or practicum?

A: No. We don’t have an “Internship” course, but we do have a selective called “Practicum.”The Exercise Physiology Specialization offers practicum credit every fall as an optional selective. It simply depends on what your past experience/training has been and what your future goals are – and whether a practicum (research or industry) is right for you. You can discuss this selective option with your academic advisor.

The Thesis

Q: What is the difference between an academic advisor and a thesis advisor?

A: Upon acceptance into the exercise physiology specialization, each student is assigned a faculty member as his/her academic advisor. This appointment is based upon your stated research interests in your personal statement as well as your personal interview. The academic advisor guides you through your first year to make sure you are taking the required courses, assists you with your transition to UNC, and advises you regarding progression towards your thesis. During your second semester (Spring term), you officially select your thesis advisor based upon your thesis intent. That person may not necessarily be your initially appointed academic advisor as your research interests may have changed due to exposure to many new ideas – after all, isn’t that what a graduate education is all about? Students occasionally “switch” advisors at this point. Our goal is to ensure the student studies a meaningful topic and progresses in a timely fashion towards graduation.

Q: But if I switch, will my appointed academic advisor be mad at me or take it out on me during grading?

A: Absolutely not! Rest assured, there are no hard feelings on either side of the fence nor between faculty members. They simply pass your academic file on to your desired thesis advisor.

Q: What if I don’t like writing and don’t want to do a thesis? Can I just take more courses and substitute credits?

A: Frankly, if you don’t want to do a thesis (or can’t do a thesis for whatever reason), then UNC-Chapel Hill is not for you. This is a non-negotiable aspect of the Masters of Arts Program for all specializations.

Life at UNC

Q: Will I be able to get tickets to UNC sporting events?

A: Exercise physiology specialization students are not given special attendance privileges for any campus event. You must go through the regular channels of purchasing student tickets.

Q: Where do graduate students live? Are there dorms available?

A: While there are a few graduate dorms available (see “University Living”), most exercise physiology graduate students live in apartments/houses off campus and commute in.

Q: Will I be given a parking space since I will be teaching at the University?

A: Unfortunately, no. You can go to UNC’s Transportation Office and apply for a student parking permit or do as most of our students do, and take the bus in to eliminate parking hassles. There is a covered parking garage nearby (Ramshead Lot, next to the Football Stadium) and parking is usually available there at a rate of $1.25/hour. This can get steep if you are on campus from sun-up to sun-down. Few “free spots” are available as most residential areas either have residential parking stickers or limited-time parking meters (about $0.25/half hour or 15 minutes – depends on the meter). Currently, busing within Chapel Hill is free, and there is a bus stop right outside of the Student Recreation Center, adjacent to Fetzer Gym.

Q: Is the bus transportation system reliable?

A: Usually – but as with any public transportation system, reliability is dependent upon traffic conditions.

Q. Where do grad students live?

A. Grad students usually live near by in off-campus apartments. Of course, the current grad students are your best resource for this. We send out a contact list to all of the new incoming exercise physiology grad students so they can find out who needs a roommate and get the scoop on housing situations. We also send out a listing of potential housing options. The local grocery stores also have free apartment brochures that you can pick up during your interview on campus.

Q: What kind of a job can I get once I graduate from this program?

A: There are a variety of jobs, ranging from academic teaching to personal training to research to enrolling in another professional degree program. Check out our “Alumni Listing” to see where past graduates of our exercise physiology specialization have been hired. We are quite pleased that most of our exercise physiology grad students have become gainfully employed or pursued higher academic training upon graduation.

DIDN’T FIND AN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION? Just email Dr. Marks (marks@email.unc.edu).