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Strengthening Your Application to the Penn State Physics Ph.D. Program

Here's a list of suggestions that will strengthen your application in the competitive field of graduate admissions to the Department of Physics at Penn State. (Based on a guide for students from historically underrepresented groups written by Dr. Carla Trujillo, UC Berkeley College of Engineering. This advice is valuable to all applicants)

  1. General Tips
    Plan ahead and be organized. Find out which faculty are doing research in an area which interests you. Everything you need to apply is online- the application, brochure, recommendation forms, etc. You can also email, call, or write us and we will mail you application materials and a departmental brochure. The earlier you apply, the better the chance to be admitted with financial aid.

  2. Letters of Recommendation
    Letters of recommendation are very important. Letters from faculty are best, as they can usually best ascertain your true intellectual and graduate student potential. Try to get all three from faculty with whom you've taken a class or done research. Choose these people with care- the letters are most helpful when the writer has a detailed knowledge of your skills and abilities. Provide the recommender with additional information such as your transcript, your statement of purpose, and a few notes (if necessary) about any pertinent personal history.

  3. GRE
    It is highly recommended to take the GRE General AND Subject Physics test early in the fall so that your scores can reach the department as soon as possible (we begin reviewing applications in December or January). The test may be taken more than once, and all scores will be reported to the admissions committee. It helps to familiarize yourself with the format and timing of the test, for example by trying practice tests in a GRE study guide. Check that you have taken all the requisite coursework before taking the subject test. The Subject test is the most important part of the GRE. If possible, try not to take the subject test on the same day as the general test, as it can be tiring.

  4. The College GPA
    The college GPA (in physics, mathematics and related courses such as chemistry etc.) is very important as well; upwards trends in GPA are also taken into account.

  5. Research/Work Experience
    Part-time or summer undergraduate research experience can be a very valuable part of your application. You will gain some insight into your own future research interests and also improve your research skills. The admissions committee strongly values a serious display of commitment to research.

  6. Statement of Purpose
    See the separate page on the statement of purpose.

  7. Application Fee
    We do not charge an initial application fee (if you are admitted and matriculate, then there is a fee required by the graduate school).

  8. Financial Support
    You can find lots of information on financial support from the following links: If you are a historically underrepresented students of color and do not yet have financial support, then you should apply to the GEM fellowship program. (Deadline for application is December 1. U.S. citizenship is required.) This program provides tuition, a stipend, and a summer job in industry. Also make sure you apply for graduate admission by mid February, the deadline for the Penn State minority fellowships. Go to your graduate fellowship offices to find other fellowships which you might qualify for.

    Good Luck!

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