Frequently Asked Questions

How important is undergraduate research?
Very important. The Ph.D. is a research based degree - you will spend most of your time as a Ph.D. student engaged in research. Letters from faculty who supervised your undergraduate research are important for estimating your abilities here.

How important is the GRE?
Many schools are re-evaluating the importance of the GRE. For students admitted to our program there is little correlation between GRE scores and probability of getting a Ph.D., but students admitted mostly have around average or higher physics GRE scores. Different subfields place different amounts of emphasis on the physics and general GREs - almost none in some cases - so try talking to faculty in your areas of interest. We generally require the GRE physics subject test for physics applicants, but it is optional for astronomy applicants. Due to COVID-19, we are recommending but not requiring the physics subject test for AY 20-21 physics applicants.

Is there a minimum GPA for admission?
You must have a 3.0 GPA - an average grade of B or better. For students whose GPAs are closer to 3 than to 4, you are a stronger applicant if your advanced undergraduate physics / astronomy / math course GPA is closer to 4 than 3.

I was not an undergraduate physics major. Can I be admitted?
Yes. But we want to be confident that you can succeed, so it is important that you have taken advanced undergraduate physics courses. It is very difficult to succeed at the graduate level if you have not.

Is is easier to apply for an MS degree?
Since we do not offer or guarantee support to MS students, and research is not required to the same degree as for Ph.D. students, we do not evaluate M.S. applicants as strictly as Ph.D. candidates. We do want to be confident that M.S. candidates are able to handle the graduate course work, since courses form the bulk of their degree requirements.

What support is available to students?
Ph.D. students are supported as TAs (~40%), as GAs funded by research grants (~40%), and by a variety of external or internal Fellowship funds and other university funded positions (~15%). The unsupported students are typically senior students who have not quite finished their Ph.D.s but have despite this started a potentially permanent (non-academic) position. A few senior students are only supported as PTLs (part time lecturers, paid per course.)

M.S. students are not offered appointments as either TAs or GAs or Fellows, but they can take on PTL assignments.

TA and GA appointments include tuition, fees, and health insurance. Fellows typically get a higher stipend, but limited tuition support and different health insurance. PTLs only get a paycheck, and have to cover their tuition, fees, and insurance themselves.

Can I enter as an M.S. student and then change to a Ph.D. student?
Currently we are generally required to guarantee support to all Ph.D. students for 5 years. Thus we have in recent times been requiring M.S. students who want to become Ph.D. students to go through the Ph.D. admissions process and be compared to other applicants. As an M.S. student, you will have the advantage, or possibly disadvantage, of being well known to the faculty when you become a Ph.D. applicant.

Can I enter in January?
We usually admit for September, since the graduate course sequence starts in the fall term, and we typically do not have available resources for new Ph.D. students starting in January.

Can I apply for the Spring semester as an M.S student with no support?
You can always apply for any admission date. We are more likely to admit M.S. students in January than Ph.D. students, due to the issues of course sequence and support. Starting in January would mainly make sense for an M.S. student who should start by taking some advanced undergraduate courses.

What is an acceptable minimum score for the IELTS test (as alternative to the TOEFL test)?
Information in the IELTS and TOEFL tests, along with other information for international students, can be found at

When do I get an adviser?
You are free to make arrangements to work with faculty with mutual interests at any point, starting from the summer before you begin graduate school. New students are expected to find an adviser by the end of their first year.



Departmental Chair
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Graduate Director
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