Prospective Graduate Students Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective Graduate Students
Frequently Asked Questions

Please be sure to read all of the FAQs before contacting the Department. You can also see FAQs for applicants on the Graduate Division website.

Application Deadline

Materials & Processes


Financial Support


Other Questions

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Application Deadline

Q: When is the application deadline?

A: Our application deadline is December 15 by 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time. All application materials and scores must be received by this date in order for you  to be considered for admission as well as for campus-wide fellowships and departmental financial support. Please note that this deadline also includes the submission of the application fee. We will consider granting a 2 week extension for the GRE physics subject test, if approved. If you wish to request an extension of scores, please contact For more detailed detailed information on how to apply, please visit the Graduate Division Admissions webpage

Q: I want to apply to your MS program. How do I go about doing this?

A: The UCSB Physics Department does not have an MS program.

Q: Can I apply for Spring or early admission?

A: Admission is for Fall Quarter only. There is no early admission.

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Materials & Processes

Q: Can I get a hard copy of the application mailed to me?

A: Paper applications are no longer available. Online applications for graduate study at UCSB are available at the UCSB Graduate Division Admissions website. Contact Graduate Division Admissions for more information. The UCSB application is designed for use in applying to any UCSB graduate program. The Department of Physics does not have a separate application.

Q: What supporting application materials are required?

  • Three letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation should be submitted online. Do not submit paper copies of letter or coversheet by mail.
  • Statement of purpose. The statement should be submitted online. This should include three sections: your statement, your personal achievements/contributions and your resume/CV. For more information, visit this link. There is no length requirement. Normally, a statement is about 2 pages, but it can vary. Do not submit paper copies of the statement by mail.
  • If you lock your documents in your application and notice an error on your materials, you are welcome to upload an additional document under "supplemental documents" with the file name "FILE-NAME_updated." For example, you can label it "SOP-updated." Once locked, materials cannot be replaced. Be sure to double check your grammar and other information before you lock your documents.
  • Official GRE general scores (For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted.)
  • Official GRE physics subject scores (For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted.)
  • Official TOEFL/IELTS scores (when applicable)
  • Official copy of transcripts. Official transcripts with transcript key should be uploaded to your application. Please note that the transcripts for 12 or more units are required, unless the course name, grade, and units received appears on the home university transcript. If your application includes non-English transcripts, an English translation provided by the school must be included.

Important Notes on Transcripts

  • Do not submit paper copies or emailed copies. These uploaded transcripts are required to be official documents created by the university.  Applicants who are admitted and submit a positive Statement of Intent to Register will be required to send final/official transcripts to the Graduate Division. English translations are required, if applicable. Please visit the Graduate Division website and click on Education History for more information on uploading official transcripts. Be sure to black out your Social Security number, if it appears on your transcripts.
  • Do not round up your GPA, when you enter it in your application. For example, if your GPA is 3.998, please write in 3.99, not 4.0.
  • Do not email the department a copy of your official transcripts via your institution.
  • You cannot upload an updated transcript once you receive additional grades. Once you submit your uploaded transcript and submit your application, the documents are locked. We receive over 1,000 applications per year and cannot process additional transcripts. If you mail or email transcripts, they will not be processed.

An application is considered incomplete until the above documents have been submitted. For example, if an applicant uploads an unofficial transcript, rather than an official transcript, his/her application is not considered complete. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed. Please see How will I know if you have received all of my application materials? for more information.

Remember, even one missing letter of recommendation can cause your application to remain incomplete.

Q: On the application, it asks for my emphasis. What should I put down?

A: If you are interested in applying for the Astrophysics Emphasis, please select Astrophysics from the Research Interests drop-down menu.

You may have many interests in Physics. You might be interested in working in Biophysics and High Energy Theory, for example. In the Degree Program section of the online application, indicate ONE or TWO primary areas of interest from the following list, ordered by area of preference. You can also indicate all of your interests in the text of your statement of purpose.

Choosing a particular area does not represent a commitment on your part to eventually do research in that area. It simply ensures that your application is first circulated among faculty who might be most interested in your file. If you do happen to indicate more than one area on your application, we will use the first area listed. The department strives to match the initial interests of the incoming graduate students to the types and numbers of research opportunity that are available.  Please email if you have any questions about your emphasis.

Q: Where should I send my application materials?

The application should be completed and submitted online to the UCSB Graduate Division, including the relevant applicant fee. Do not send money to the Physics Department. It is highly recommended that you submit your application fee before the 12/15 deadline to avoid any potential problems with payment submissions. If you have any problems with your payment processing, please contact the Graduate Division at (805) 893-2278 or at Please keep in mind the normal business hours of the Graduate Division is 9 AM to 12 PM and 1 PM to 4 PM Pacific Standard Time.

Do not send any paper materials, such as, transcripts, papers or statements of purpose. All materials should be submitted online by the applicant. If you want to upload additional documents that are not required, you may upload them to the supplemental documents portion of the application. 

Arrange for your ETS to send your GRE scores (general and physics subject), and TOEFL/IELTS (if applicable) to UCSB's Graduate Division by December 15. UCSB's school code is 4835. A department code is not required, and should be left blank. 

Q: Can I have my documents faxed to you?

A: No.

Q: Can I submit more than three letters of recommendation online?

A: Yes, you may submit more than three letters of recommendation. However, we do not guarantee that we will read any additional letters. If it turns out that your original third recommender will not be submitting a letter, please send us a message to indicate this so that we make sure the correct recommenders are listed and your application is not left incomplete. If you are wondering whether to submit your application materials without a letter of recommendation because a recommender has not gotten back to you yet, please submit your materials anyway so that they are received by our deadline.

If your recommender is having technical issues with submitting your letter, please have the recommender contact the Graduate Division Admissions unit at

Q: Can my recommender send the letter by email?

A: No, letters must be submitted online. Please do not have your recommender send your letter of recommendation via email or mail. We get an extremely large amount of emails, including spam, and do not want to risk losing important letters to junk mail filters. We are not responsible for lost letters of recommendation sent by email.

Q: How will I know if you have received all of my application materials?

A: After you have completed your online application, you may return and view your application status. To view your status, use the same login and password as when you created the online application. The application status pages provide a live glimpse at the status of your application, including when your application fee, GRE and TOEFL/IELTS scores, and supplemental materials were received. If you have elected to pay via a check or money order and Graduate Division has not yet received and processed it, you will be able to retrieve a copy of the check/money order submission form. Additionally, admitted applicants are able to return their Statement of Intent to Register (SIR) online; consult the Graduate Division website for more information.

Please keep in mind that it is your responsibility to confirm your application is complete before the deadline. For tips on emailing the Department, please read: How can I email your Department?

Remember, even one missing letter of recommendation can cause your application to remain incomplete.

Q: When will I know if I’ve been accepted to UCSB?

A: Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis beginning in mid-December. Some applicants will be notified as early as January. Most will be notified during late February and into March.

Q: If I am an international applicant, can I apply for an application fee waiver?

A: UCSB does not provide application fee waivers for international students. While applying to graduate school is costly for all applicants, it can be a particular hardship on international students who are not eligible for application fee waivers or Federal Student Aid.  Foreign/International applicants are individuals who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States, regardless of how many years they may have resided in the U.S., or whether they have attended or graduated from a U.S. college.

For more information on domestic fee waivers, visit the Graduate Division's admissions FAQ page.

Q: If I am an international applicant, do I need to complete the preapplication?

A: No. The Physics Department does not require international students to submit the preliminary application. The reason our department no longer requires international applicants to complete the preapplication is because in the past, international applicants have felt that the process of completing the preapplication, waiting for our response, and then completing the full application was too time-consuming and they ran the risk of missing the application deadline.


Q: I am an international student. Should I include an English translation of my transcripts when I upload my transcripts?

A: Yes, an English translation is required. English translations may be obtained from the Registrar's Office of your home institution. There are also organizations such as International Education Research Foundation, Inc., Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc., and World Education Services that will provide an official translation for a fee.

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Q: How do I update my GRE/TOEFL scores on my application?

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. 

How will I know if UCSB has received my GRE/TOEFL/IETLS scores?

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted.

Q: How can I get the TOEFL/IELTS waived? 

A: Exceptions to TOEFL or IELTS testing may only be considered for those students who have completed an undergraduate or graduate education at an institution whose primary language of instruction is English.

Q: What if my name on the GRE/TOEFL scores is incorrect?

A: If your name on the graduate school application is different from the name on your GRE/TOEFL registration/score/report card, please follow the instructions above. This will link your application to your GRE/TOEFL scores.  

Q: When should I take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)?

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. For future years, other than 2023, plan to take the GRE general and physics subject tests no later than November 15 to ensure receipt of your scores by the December 15 application deadline. When you receive your scores, be sure to follow the instructions listed above in: How do I update my GRE scores to my application? How will I know if UCSB has received my scores?
Please note that the GRE physics subject test is optional for applicants whose primary area of study is astrophysics.  

Q: I am an international student... What if I missed the GRE registration deadline? The exam isn't offered until January or April in my country.

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. For future years, other than 2023, exams taken in January or later are much too late to be applied toward the upcoming Fall admissions cycle. Some decisions are made by the committee in January, and February, with the remaining decisions being made in early March. GRE scores (General, and Subject) are required for an application to be considered complete, and admissions decisions are only made on complete applications. Therefore, a decision will not be made without the receipt of these scores.

Q: Does your university require a department code for sending the GRE scores?

A: No, a department code for sending the GRE/TOEFL scores is not necessary. Simply use UCSB's school code: 4835; the department code should be left blank. If you did however enter a department code, you can verify if UCSB has received your scores by updating your online application. Please review: How do I update my GRE/TOEFL scores to my application? How will I know if UCSB has received my scores? (For 2022 applicants, the GRE is not accepted.)


Q: What if my scores for the GRE are not available until after the December 15 application deadline?

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. If you take the GRE in early December, we will not receive your official scores by the application deadline. Provided the rest of your application (including the application fee) is complete and received by the deadline of December 15, we will grant a two week extension to allow for receipt of your GRE scores from Educational Testing Service (ETS). However, please keep in mind that we will begin to review complete applications beginning December 15. If you delay taking your GRE until after December, it will be too late for you to apply. Apply for the following year. When you receive your scores, be sure to follow the instructions listed above in: How do I update my GRE scores to my application? How will I know if UCSB has received my scores? (For 2022 applicants, the GRE is not accepted.)


Q: What are your minimum GRE score requirements? Are my scores competitive?

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. For future years, other than 2023, the Physics Department does not require a minimum GRE score. Admission decisions are "holistic" and take into account all components of the application (GPA, GRE, Statement of Purpose, Letters of Recommendation).  The average Physics GRE score of admitted students is roughly at the 80th percentile.  The UCSB Graduate Division does have sharp cutoffs for TOEFL and IELTS scores, as shown below.

  • Minimum TOEFL Score Accepted: 550 (paper-based: PBT) / 213 (computer-based: CBT) / 80 (internet-based: IBT)
  • Minimum IELTS Score Accepted: Overall band score of 7 or higher

Q: I have taken the GRE exams more than once. Can I mix and match the results?

A:For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. GRE scores can not be mixed and matched. We will review only the most recent scores, regardless of the outcome.

Q: I took the GRE/TOEFL/IELTS exam/s a few years ago. Have they expired?

A: For 2023 applicants, the GRE is not accepted. The GRE test date must be no more than 5 years old at the time of application, or ETS will not release them. The TOEFL/IELTS test date/s must be no more than 2 years old at the time of application.

Q: My GRE scores don't reflect my ability. How important are they?

A: As mentioned above, we consider all of your application materials as a whole. GRE scores are just one component; your overall academic record reflected in your transcripts, letters of recommendation, prior research experience, and statement of purpose carry significant weight when considering applications to graduate school as these are reflections of your overall achievements.

Q: I am an international student... If I received a degree at an English speaking institution, do I have to submit my TOEFL/IELTS scores?

A: Foreign students who have earned a degree (Bachelor's and/or Master's) from an accredited US institution, or from an accredited institution in a country where the primary language is English, are not required to take the TOEFL/IELTS for application purposes. If your application has been admitted to the Physics Department and you have not yet been awarded a degree, but plan on graduating before the Fall Quarter that you are applying for admission, you will be admitted provisionally. If for some reason you are not able to complete your degree, you may be required to take the TOEFL scores before you enroll at UCSB.

Q: I am an international applicant... Which exam does UCSB prefer, TOEFL or /IELTS? What is the difference between the exams?

A: Depending on location, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL exam comes in two different formats: Internet-based (IBT) and Paper-based (PBT).  The Internet-based test is the first TOEFL exam to test speaking, along with writing, listening, and reading. The speaking section is done through a voice-recorder online. The Paper-based exam tests listening, reading, writing, and something called “structure,” which tests how students recognize English sentence structure and idiomatic word usage.  Scores can be sent either in paper-based form or electronically. For more information on the TOEFL, visit>

The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS is a newer exam and has recently become a competitor for TOEFL.  It also tests speaking, reading, writing, and listening.  However, whereas TOEFL is offered through ETS, IELTS is its own organization connected with Cambridge University and test registration is handled through them.  Scores are usually mailed to the Graduate Division, where they are then entered into the online application. Applicants can opt to have them sent electronically, but this rarely happens.  The two tests are quite similar, and the Graduate Division does not have a preference--it really depends on how the student wishes to be tested, considering his or her strongest areas of language. For more information on the IELTS, visit>

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Financial Support


Q: If I am accepted to UCSB, what sort of financial package can I expect to receive?

A: All students are supported through a combination of fellowships, teaching assistantships and research assistantships.  At least five years of support is usually guaranteed for students making satisfactory progress towards completion of the PhD degree.


Q: What other fellowships does the department offer?

A: The Physics Department and the UCSB Graduate Division offer a number of competitive fellowships to supplement the basic financial package. All applicants who have met the December 15 deadline are considered for departmental- and campus-wide fellowships at the time of application. Several of these fellowships are reserved for domestic students (US citizens and US permanent residents) and will only be awarded to students who have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA must be completed by early March for eligibility for Graduate Division Fellowships. For more information see the Graduate Division's Financial Support and Fellowships section.

Q: Do I need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?

A: All domestic students who are admitted to UCSB must have completed the FAFSA by the early March deadline. Although you may not know your admission status by early March, it would be to your advantage to have already submitted the FAFSA in the event you are admitted to UCSB or another public university. Only students who have completed the FAFSA are eligible to receive UCSB Graduate Division central fellowships. It is not necessary to have completed your federal and state taxes before filling out the FAFSA as you may use estimates from the previous year. Please consult the FAFSA website for deadline information and application downloads. More general information is available on the UCSB Financial Aid Office's FAFSA section.

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Q: How many applications do you receive each year?

A: We typically receive 1,000+ applications and admit about 120. Roughly, one quarter of these admits accept and enroll. Please keep in mind that these are very rough numbers and are variable over the years.

Q: What is the average GPA of your applicants? What are the minimum GRE scores? TOEFL? IELTS?

A: The average GPA of applicants is around 3.7. See the GRE score FAQ section of this page for GRE, TOEFL, and IELTS information.

Q: I am an international student... Should I convert my university scores to a 4.0 scale?

A: No, we do not convert international scores to a 4.0 GPA scale used in the US. The average scores for competitive applicants range between B+ (Very good) and A+ (Excellent) scores.

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Other Questions


Q: How can I email your Department? I sent an email, but never received a response.

A: Email Whenever emailing the Department, make sure that your email contains a related subject heading (i.e. Subject: “Application Question”). Email received with no subjects will be considered spam and will not be read. Do not send attachments unless we have indicated that you do so, or your message will be automatically considered spam and deleted without being read, regardless if there is a subject line or not. In addition, sometimes e-mail sent to multiple recipients can accidentally be considered spam by our security systems. It would be wise, if you have an email account such as hotmail or yahoo, to be sure to our email address to your “safe senders ” list or contacts to make sure our responses make it to your inbox, and not your bulk/junk box. If it has been more than a week since you sent an email with all of the above qualifications, please do not hesitate to re-send.

Please note that the department will not give feedback as to whether or not an applicant should apply. There is no preapplication. If you are interested in applying, you are welcome to apply.

Q: Where can I find the UCSB Graduate Division FAQs?

A: You may access frequently-asked questions about UCSB Graduate Admissions here.

Q: Can I transfer to UCSB from another graduate program? What if I already have a Master's degree or a PhD in a different discipline?

A: The application process is the same for all applicants, regardless of whether you have completed graduate level coursework or the master's degree at another institution. Since we do not offer a Master's program, all incoming students will have the same objective of the Ph.D. in Physics. If admitted to our program, students who have already completed graduate level coursework may not be required to re-take certain core courses if the equivalent has already been met at another institution. These evaluations will be done on a case by case basis after the admissions process is complete.

Q: How do I visit UCSB?

A: We hold an Information Day for Admitted Students every March or early April. This is an opportunity for students admitted to the program to familiarize themselves with the campus and department, to attend activities geared toward presenting the students to the various areas of research, tour department research facilities, visit Santa Barbara, and meet individually with faculty in their areas of interest. 

If you wish to visit UCSB before admission decisions have been made, please contact the Physics Department at for assistance with your visit. You may also browse through our research and faculty pages to see what type of research is done in our Department at UCSB.

Q: I would like to visit UCSB, but have not yet been admitted. How do I go about doing this?

A: If you have not yet been admitted to the Physics program at UCSB, but you would like to visit UCSB, please visit the UCSB Visitor's Center. They have campus tours Monday-Friday at noon and 2:00 PM. This is the best way to see the campus. You should also feel free to come to the campus and visit the Department, although we do not set up any kind of formal visit. It is best for you to visit our research pages, and contact individual faculty directly if you wish to speak with them about a specific area of interest. They will not however be able to answer questions about application status, or questions pertaining to the admissions process.

Q: I am an international applicant... Is there a UCSB international resource?

A: We strongly recommend that all international applicants review the website of the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) when applying to UCSB. Although the majority of international students admitted to the Ph.D. program in Physics receive financial support, you should have a clear understanding of the cost of living in Santa Barbara as well as the cost of your education. On the OISS webpage you will find information regarding finances, visas, English language requirements and English as a Second Language classes, health matters and housing options. Additionally, the Physics Department has prepared a document for newcomers to the area, Relocating to Santa Barbara


In addition to these resources, the Graduate Division has information for international students here.

Q: I didn't major in physics, am I eligible to apply?

A: Applicants must have a physics degree or have completed an equivalent coursework.

Q: How can I transfer my application to another program?

A: If your application is not advanced by the Physics Department but deemed a potential fit to one of the Departments/Programs listed below, you may use the transfer permission form to consent for your application to be transferred for possible consideration by up to two other programs. Complete the transfer permission form and upload it with your application.

  • Biological Engineering PhD Program
  • Biomolecular Science and Engineering (BMSE)
  • Dynamical Neuroscience (DYNS)
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Molecular, Cellular, and Development Biology (MCDB)

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