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Apply to the Graduate Program

Apply to the physics graduate program

Graduate applications proceed through the Graduate Division of UC Merced. Information on application requirements can be found on the Graduate Admissions website and specifically for physics below. See also more general information at


Admissions requirements and elements

  • Deadlines and timeline:
    • PRIORITY DEADLINE: December 15, 2023 (applications will receive priority review)
    • GENERAL DEADLINE: January 15, 2024 (applications reviewed after the priority deadline)
    • Any late applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis if space is available. Please email the admissions chair if you apply after Jan. 15.
    • Admissions decisions, after review by the faculty admissions committee, will be sent out on a rolling basis between January and March.
    • Accepted students' decision whether to enroll is due April 15. Note that you may also request a deferral to the next year, if desired. 
    • Application fee (or waiver form) must be submitted by the application deadline as well.
    • Applications are for beginning in the fall semester. Applications for the spring semester are considered only under special circumstances.
  • Previous degree: An undergraduate or masters degree in physics or a closely related field (e.g. applied physics) is required. We expect strong preparation in mathematics along with coursework in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics, which is not provided by typical engineering degrees. Students who did not complete a degree in physics should compare their preparation with our expected undergraduate coursework as reviewed in the course PHYS 202 to be sure they are adequately prepared for our physics PhD program. A masters degree is not required, and most of our entering grad students do not have a masters degree. Having a masters degree can increase likelihood of acceptance, especially for applicants from foreign universities, applicants who did not do any undergraduate research, or applicants who have a low undergraduate GPA. Students with a previous PhD degree are not eligible, per university-wide policy.
  • Grade-point average (GPA): Must be at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for the undergraduate degree. Exceptions can be made if a GPA above 3.0 is obtained in a masters program, for students with substantial work experience, or in other cases with compelling justification. For international transcripts, GPA will be converted by our staff to the 4.0 scale for these purposes, using an online service such as WES.
  • Transcripts: Please provide from all post-secondary institutions you have attended, including community colleges, summer courses, study abroad courses, bachelors programs, and masters programs. Unofficial transcripts are sufficient at the time of application; official transcripts will be needed if you receive an admissions offer. It is essential to submit at least an unofficial copy at the time of application, for your application to be reviewed.
  • Application fees: As listed on this page, fees are $135 for domestic applicants and $155 for international applicants. Your application will not be counted as submitted until the fee is satisfied. US citizen or permanent resident students can receive application fee waivers if they participated in programs such as Cal-Bridge, UC LEADS, California Alliance for Minority Participation, LSAMP, AISES, and SACNAS (see full list), and can also request a waiver from Graduate Division due to financial hardship. A limited number of waivers are also available to other qualified applicants with financial hardship (including international students) -- please contact the admissions chair as soon as possible to request, providing CV, TOEFL/IELTS if applicable, GPA, and brief statement of research interests.
  • Graduate Record Exams (GREs) -- not required: The general GRE and physics GRE are not required currently. Applicants may optionally submit these scores if they have them and think they will strengthen the application, but we expect to receive and accept many applications without the test scores. Unofficial score reports may be included in the application.
  • Reference letters: Submit letters from your professors, especially the supervisor(s) of any research experiences, or others who can speak to your ability and potential. Please request letters from your recommenders as soon as practical, to be sure they can arrive in time for review of your application. Check periodically on the website that they have arrived, and if not, please remind your recommenders to submit the letters. If you have done a masters degree, at least one reference should come from a faculty member at your masters institution.
  • Curriculum vitae (CV): Please provide a CV, summarizing your education and experience. Be sure to list any research or teaching experiences you have had, with dates, topics, and mentors. List any publications, conference posters, or presentations about your research, and any conferences or workshops you have attended. Note extracurricular activities related to physics, scholarships or awards, and any special training programs you have taken part in. List recent work experience, particularly if you have been working after obtaining your most recent degree.
  • English proficiency exams: TOEFL/IELTS exam scores are required for students who have been educated in a language other than English. They are not required for holders of an advanced degree from an English-speaking country, although upon arrival on campus they will have to demonstrate English competence with the English Language Institute for any appointment as a teaching assistant. Full information is available here. Those slightly below the speaking threshold can still apply and may be admitted if they can pass a Skype interview to verify spoken English proficiency. The TOEFL iBT Home Edition and IELTS Indicator are acceptable. Duolingo is not a recognized test.
  • Statement of purpose: Your statement of purpose should be approximately two pages in length, and discuss why you wish to enter our PhD program, what your research interests are, who of our faculty you are interested in working with, any previous research experience, and what your career plans for the future are. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to doing research and ability to discuss science. Prospective graduate students are encouraged to contact individual faculty members to discuss their research interests and see whether they are taking new students; however, admission is not to a specific research group but to the PhD program as a whole, and specific arrangement of a PhD advisor is typically made at some point during the first year of the PhD program. 
  • Personal statement: Describe topics such as how you got interested in physics, obstacles you overcame, extracurricular activities or work experience related to science, goals for the future, your personal journey, explanation or context for any problematic/unusual aspects of your CV/transcript. See also UC Berkeley's advice on this.
  • Supporting Documents, writing / research samples: It is optional, but encouraged, to submit other materials that demonstrate your skills in research and writing, such as submitted papers, a bachelors or masters thesis, research posters, research abstracts, etc. It is most helpful to submit documents that are not publicly available such as a submitted paper; for published papers, a link in CV is sufficient for the admissions committee to be able to see it.
  • Degree choice: We rarely admit students for the MS degree (which is simply a subset of the requirements for the PhD) and advise applying for the PhD instead. Like US PhD programs in general, we do not necessarily expect incoming PhD students to have done a masters degree already, and we do not think of our MS degree as a starting point for PhD studies, or a program that is easier to be accepted for. If you want to do a PhD program, you should apply for the PhD program. All our PhD students are guaranteed funding for 5 years, but MS students do not receive a similar guarantee. If you do choose to apply for the MS degree, please explain in your statement of purpose why you want to do the MS and not the PhD.
  • Applying for a second time: In this case, be sure to update your materials, noting anything new since your previous application (e.g. any further studies, credentials, research, or work experience).

Graduate fellowships