Graduate School Preparation

UCSC Department of Physics - Graduate School Preparation

Ideal Timeline


  • Coursework
  • Research


  • Summer REU


  • Research graduate programs
  • Prepare application materials
  • Obtain Letters of Recommendation


  • GRE General & GRE Subject Examinations by October
  • Submitting application by early January
  • Write research grants
  • Coursework
      • Differentiate Upper-division GPA versus overall GPA
      • Aim for at least a 3.0, but if you fail to attain this you can explain why in your Cover Letter
  • Research
      • Get started as early as possible.
      • Interested in something? Try it out. Hate it? Great! On to the next one.
      • Don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life at 20 years old!?  Congratulations, you are human.  Demonstrate the ability to engage in research.
  • Summer REU (Research Experience for Undergrads)
  • Research Graduate Programs
      • Funded= you work part-time (20 hours per week) as a TA or GSR.  The Department provides a tuition waiver (graduate credit hours tend to be more expensive than undergraduate hours), stipend, and maybe health insurance.
      • Unfunded= you pay tuition & fees out-of-pocket, plus the cost of living. Hello crippling student loan debt.
      • Where to look: GradSchoolShopper, Peterson’s, US News & World Report, ask faculty, google the research area you are interested in.
      • To matriculate in Fall 20xx you will probably be done applying to programs in early Winter 20xx.
  • Write research grants
      • You could potentially fund yourself throughout graduate school by bringing a NSF GRFP grant with you.  Obtain research funding while you are still in undergrad and you will be an extremely competitive applicant
  • Application Materials  
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)= more exhaustive than your typical resume and includes {education, relevant coursework, presentations, publications}
  • Diversity Statement= challenges that you have faced as a woman or person of color in physics and/or how you will give back to underrepresented minorities (where do you score on the woke scale?)
      • Cover Letter- this is where you will tell your story.  Where did you come from and where are you going?  Make sure that you mention specific information concerning the program you are applying to.  Mention at least three faculty members that you want to work with. Can be divided into: personal history statement (backwards looking) & research statement (forwards looking)
      • LOR’s & GRE Scores (see below)
  • Application costs
        • $35-150
        • Cost reduction programs- membership in certain organizations, demonstrate financial hardship
    • Networking!!!
      • Contact faculty in those programs! If you really want to work with Billy then find an inventive way to make sure that he knows who you are before you even submit the application.  Man is a political animal.  High school never ends.
    • Letters of Recommendation (x3)
        • Ideally, from tenured Physics faculty who have extensive experience working with you.
        • Faculty in closely related fields- mathematics, chemistry, etc.
    • GRE General Exam ($195)
    • GRE Subject Exam ($150)
        • Offered irregularly= April 14, 2018; September 2018; October 2018
  • Last chance October of Senior year!!!
  • How You Will Be Evaluated
      • Many physics graduate programs currently engage in holistic evaluation procedures. That is, they consider your application in its entirety, including the relevant socioeconomic, gender, and racial background information.  Many institutions are moving away from enforcing strict cutoff scores and are working diligently to increase their diversity.  Even if you have a weakness in your application: low GPA or GRE scores, lack of research experience, etc. you can still be a competitive candidate.  Tell your story, compel your reader, demonstrate your strengths as a potential graduate student.
  • Strengthen Your Application Right Now
      • Got a weakness in your application? Take a Graduate Physics Course, Attend Weekly Lab Meetings, Volunteer for a Physics Lab, Try and Publish a Paper, Present at a Poster Session
  • GAP Year?
    • It is common for students to have a GAP year.  Stay active in the field.  If you can work in a lab as an intern, then do it.  If you cannot, then volunteer in a lab.  Attend colloquiums, conferences, and build relationships with faculty and graduate students that will serve you in the future.

Physics Graduate Program Coordinator

Updated: July 2022