Career Resources and Applying for Grad School


Students in their junior and senior years are encouraged to keep in touch with the Career Center (3rd floor, Baytree Building) for employment opportunities for the summer months and for permanent positions after receiving their bachelor’s degree.  Two items of importance when seeking employment:

  1.  Have a good resume ready to present.  The Career Center can help you prepare one.
  2. A good senior thesis on an appropriate topic can help convince an employer of the wide range of your knowledge and the focus of your scientific interests.  A well-written introduction can be particularly useful as a stand-alone piece.

Your faculty advisor, as well as other faculty, staff researchers, and graduate students can be good sources of information about career possibilities after graduate school, particularly in the case of careers in academic physics. 


General considerations

Many of our students go on to graduate school.  While this is often a PhD program in physics, many other options are available.  Master's programs in engineering can be particularly appropriate for students interested in a career in industry.  The Physics Office has a catalog, which you can check out for an hour or two, entitled Graduate Programs in Physics, Astronomy and Related Fields .

It pays to talk with as many people as possible, such as faculty and graduate students both at UCSC and elsewhere, about graduate schools and their programs.  It also pays to visit graduate schools, where you can wander around, observe research labs, sit in on some graduate lecture courses, talk with graduate students and faculty, and generally get a feel for a program.  Such visits can be helpful, informative, and fun.  If you know what field of research you want to work in, talk to faculty in that field as well as your faculty advisor for advice on good programs. 

Remember that a good senior thesis completed early enough can be used to help you get into graduate schools or obtain suitable employment.  Even a completed introduction can help.

Getting in

While there is some variation, most Physics PhD programs pay the closest attention to three criteria in admissions:  letters of recommendation, GPA, and your score on the Physics subject test of the GRE.  Your personal statement and other GRE scores will be looked at as well, but it is those three things that should be foremost in your mind.   If you plan to go to graduate school, you should be considering them throughout your undergraduate education.  

Letters of recommendation, as much as possiible, should come from faculty who know you outside the classroom.  Scientists you've done research with (whether in our department, in another department, or off campus) write the most meaningful letters.  Ideally you will have worked in this way with at least two faculty members long before it is time to have letters written in December of your senior year.  While this won't be possible for everyone, you should try to come as close to that goal as possible. 

Visit the ETS website ( the summer before your senior year to determine when you will have to register for the general test and the physics subject test -- they work on different schedules.  You will need to take them in the Fall to be in time to send to the schools you are applying to.  Ideally you should start practicing for the physics subject test even before your senior year.  The physics subject GRE is much more important for physics PhD programs than the general GRE test (verbal/quantitative/analytical), although of course you should still do some practicing for the general exam as well.

The department may organize some GRE review sessions.  Watch for emails to and the bulletin boards for announcements.  A group of interested students could also organize such activities themselves and ask the faculty for help.  Recently, there has also been an annual physics GRE "bootcamp" at UC Davis that our students have attended.  Use your favorite search engine to see if it is still available as your senior year begins.