College of Science

Department of Science Illustration

Frequently asked questions

Find out more about program length, how to prepare, what to include in your portfolio, features of our classroom, and the internship component of the Science Illustration program.

Illustration of a hornbill

Illustration by Chen Zha


Program length

  • A description of courses can be found on the course catalog. The curriculum is divided into three quarters of coursework that run from September to June, followed by a 10-week internship that is to be completed within a 6-month time window. If the internship takes place promptly after coursework ends in June then the entire program can be completed within one year. If the internship is initiated later within the 6-month time period then the entire program may be completed within one year and three months.


  • To apply to the program you will need the following materials:

    • Application form
    • $70 application fee (non-refundable)
    • Transcripts
    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Statement of purpose
    • Portfolio
    • International students only: Affidavit of Financial Support

    More information on these materials can be found on our Apply page.

  • Although each applicant is unique, typical preparation begins with successful completion of your degree in a science area of interest. In addition, take art classes or attend art workshops along with your science coursework, draw as much as possible, and start building a portfolio of your best work.

    It is helpful to do some personal research about science illustration as a career choice. Become aware of the many areas where scientific illustrations are used, from science magazines and textbooks to aquaria and museums. Keep a collection of successful illustrations gleaned from publications, and identify the types of illustration that interest you to help define your goals as an illustrator. If possible, gain experience by trying your hand at doing illustration for your community museum, newspaper or college professors. Join the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators for additional information and peer support.

    We require that you have some experience in Adobe Creative Suite or equivalent digital illustration programs before you are eligible for acceptance. If you do not have experience, we recommend enrolling in a beginner's course at your local community college, online, or enroll in our Digital Painting summer course at CSUMB.

  • Applicants must have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in science, and must be able to demonstrate a strong background in representational drawing, as well as a developed sense of aesthetics. Other degrees are eligible if the portfolio exhibits keen observational skills and if the applicant can demonstrate a strong interest in and understanding of science.


  • When reviewing the portfolio portion of the application, the selection committee looks for attention to detail, accuracy, and aesthetics, as well as presentation of materials.

  • Traditional black-and-white or color media, digital illustration, and three-dimensional work will all be considered. Each piece should be labeled with a title, medium used, and date of completion. We require at least two illustrations within your portfolio that indicate basic experience with Adobe Creative Suite or equivalent digital illustration programs. An exception is granted for those without digital experience if they attend and pass the two-week Digital Painting summer course at CSUMB.

  • Your portfolio should consist of 10-20 pieces in an electronic portfolio (PDF or Word doc).

  • Yes, at this time we are only accepting electronic portfolios. You will be prompted to upload your portfolio when applying via Cal State Apply.

Visiting before applying

  • Unfortunately, we do not allow visitors in the classroom since our program is quite intensive and the class size is limited. We have found that it is too distracting given the nature of the instruction.

  • The program administrator will be happy to answer your questions. Contact the program administrator at if you would like a one on one meeting with a member of the faculty.

Student life

Three students sitting at a desk building models of animals for illustration projects.

Jess Soriano, Nick Bezio, Stehanie Kinkel, and Sienna Van Slooten ('18) work on maquettes during a model-building workshop with past graduate Reid Psaltis ('15).

  • Classes are held Monday-Thursday from 9:00AM-3:45PM. Students have 24-7 access to the classroom and typically spend 20-40 additional hours a week on assignments. Monterey and the surrounding area offer plenty of opportunities for students to recreate outdoors and explore nature after classes and on weekends.

  • Our classroom is outfitted with wifi, standing tables, and a shared kitchen space. We also have a shared printer, large format scanner, and paper cutter. Each student is assigned a flat file drawer, a locker to store artwork and supplies, and access to dissecting microscopes.

  • You may choose to bring a printer and/or scanner if you already own one. Instructors can make recommendations in the first few weeks if you would like to wait until you arrive. Some students forgo having a printer altogether, and instead use FedEx or other copy shops near their residences to produce prints of their work.

    You will receive a list of art supplies (some required, some optional) if you are accepted to the program. You may choose to purchase these supplies all ahead of time, or wait until you need them.

    Finally, we recommend you bring along any natural history objects you have collected over the years. During the first term, we encourage you to work from objects or preserved specimens, therefore it is nice to have some shells, plants, bones, or other items to choose from. We also have a cabinet with specimens if you do not have any yourself.

  • Yes. You will need a drawing tablet with pressure sensitive capabilities, as well as a laptop computer. The specifications for both of these will be sent to you in your welcome packet once you've been accepted.

  • CSUMB offers a limited number of licenses to students for free. Instructions on downloading and installing these programs will be provided in the welcome packet once you've been accepted.

  • Many students find housing on their own through Craigslist or recommendations from previous graduates. Seaside and Marina are closest to campus, but Monterey and even Pacific Grove are great options. Start looking for a place as soon as you can, but keep in mind that many places are listed only a month before they are available. Housing options are competitive in the area - some students pay for rent in August just to reserve a place for when they arrive in September.

    On-campus housing is available, however, please begin pursuing this option as soon as you receive your acceptance letter. There is often a wait-list for on-campus housing by the time you are accepted to the program. The move-in period for on-campus housing is in August so you will need to arrive early. More information can be found in your welcome packet.

  • We recommend that our students focus solely on academic training during their 9 months of coursework. Our classes are condensed and rigorous, and students often spend 60-70 hours per week in and out of class on their projects. Guest speakers and special events require occasional flexibility outside of scheduled class time.

    On rare occasions, a student has taken on part-time work while in the program, but this introduces significant schedule challenges.

  • Having access to a car is very helpful.

    Your student ID gets you free access to the local bus system. Areas close to campus are well served, but public transit in the area is not ideal for long distance travel, or commuting from nearby towns.

    An extensive bike path system leads directly from campus to nearby towns of Marina and Monterey.

  • The Monterey Bay area is rich with natural wonders and wildlife, both above and below the water. There are several state beaches/parks in the area, including Point Lobos (Carmel), Asilomar State Beach (Pacific Grove), Fort Ord (Seaside), and many parks in Big Sur (south of Carmel).

    The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on Cannery Row and student memberships are available for $75. The university often offers a one-time free pass per student each year.

After the program

Science Illustrator Chen Zha works on a project at his desk at the Smithsonian.

Chen Zha ('18) illustrates a beetle at his internship with the Smithsonian Institution.


  • Upon completion of your coursework, you will need to pursue a 10-week internship of your choice. Usually students choose an organization that will help launch them into other positions, whether it be art direction, museum curation, mural work, or a freelance career.

  • See our internships page for more information.

  • Job placement rate of program completers

    In a recent survey, 93% of program graduates had job placements or paid commissions within one year after completion.