Graduate Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it okay to contact a prospective advisor about being interested in working with them?

It is strongly recommended to contact professors you are interested in working with. This will give you a chance to find out if they will be likely to take on students, discuss research opportunities and interests, and learn more about their research groups. It will also allow the faculty member to keep an eye out for your application.  Please keep in mind that faculty may not be able to reply to all inquiries, due to the volume of requests.

 Q: How much does the PhD degree program at EPS cost?

Graduate student positions include complete financial support, meaning that tuition, fees, health insurance, and a stipend are all paid while you make satisfactory progress toward the Ph.D. degree. This typically means that five years of funding are provided.  The salary is currently set to be at least $44,000 per year, with the exact amount determined by the contract between the University of California and the United Auto Workers Union, which University of California graduate students have joined.  The financial support that your advisor and the department provide for your five years of graduate studies usually amounts to around $500,000 and comes in a variety of forms, such as governmental research grants to your advisor, fellowships that might be granted to you, and compensation for teaching assistant duties.

 Q:  Do I have to take a GRE subject test?

No, but you may take one if you want to (e.g., if you think it will strengthen your application).  We do not require GRE scores, but we do accept them.

Q:  I took the GRE and/or TOEFL years ago.  Are my scores still valid?

GRE scores are optional by our department.  In general they are valid if taken within the last 5 years, and for the TOEFL, 2 years.

 Q:  When will I be contacted about a visit?

Not all applicants are invited for a visit.  If you would like to arrange a visit on your own, please contact the professor you’re interested in working with to see if they’re available.

 Q:  Should I have transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores sent directly to the department or should I send them myself in sealed envelopes?

Neither.  We do not need hard copies of any supplemental materials.  Please don’t send hard copy transcripts; we only need uploads.  Once you’re admitted the Graduate Division of the university will contact you about submitting hard copies.

 Q:  What GPA and GRE scores are required to be considered for admission?

The minimum GPA is 3.0 for all coursework completed after the first two years of undergraduate study.  We do not accept or decline admission based on standardized test scores; we review the applicant’s complete profile including research experience, letters of recommendation and academic preparation.  However, satisfying minimal standards does not guarantee admission, since the number of qualified applicants far exceeds the number of places available.  As a result, many well-qualified applicants cannot be accommodated.

 Q:  Can I apply to be a part-time student?  Does the department offer any online courses?

Our program is a full-time PhD program, and we admit students for the fall semester only.  We do not have a part-time program.

 Q:  Do you offer summer courses?  Does the department offer any online courses?

Summer courses are limited and only available at the lower division undergraduate level.  There are no graduate-level courses offered in the department.  During the summer we offer an introductory astronomy class online.

 Q:  Do you accept transfer credit from other institutions?


 Q:  Is a masters degree required for admission to the EPS PhD program?

No.  We accept applicants with masters degrees, but they are not required for admission.

Perspectives and tips from students in the EPS PhD program

  1. What made you want to apply to grad school (specifically a PhD program)?

    • “I knew that I wanted to apply to graduate school once I started participating in research as an undergraduate. I loved proposing my own research questions and figuring out what tools I needed to go about solving them; that’s when it clicked that this is something I wanted to spend my life doing, and grad school was the first step I needed to take to do that” -Claire Doody, 3rd year grad student

    • During my undergrad research experience, I became really interested in atmospheric physics and doing coding to answer research questions; I wanted to continue doing that. I also had (and still have) professors I admired, and at the time I wanted to become one as well. While my career interests have since changed, I gained many transferable skills and still really enjoyed doing research (all while getting a stipend!). -Alex Charn

    • “I’ve always wanted to further my education but didn’t know what that entailed. With no one in my family having gone to college, I thought medical school was the only path I could pursue as a student interested in the sciences. I learned about graduate school at the state university I attended after transferring from a community college into a state university. I was exposed to research and finally found a life track that didn’t seem like so much work because I enjoyed it so much. I reached out to my university's TRIO support service (a student service for underrepresented students) which led to laying out a new path of me getting into graduate school.” Tanja Kovacevic, 1st year grad student 

    • I enjoy the amount of flexibility and freedom that comes with graduate school. It's a double edged sword, since you end up taking ownership of both the successes and the failures. 

  2. What’s one thing you feel is unique about the program at Berkeley?

    • More relaxed/less stressful compared to other programmes I’ve heard about from other US universities. -Will Davis

    • A greater emphasis on research--as opposed to a set course curriculum--in the early years. Students are trusted to take the classes they themselves feel would be beneficial.

    • Very few requirements for graduation, allows you to find your path and pace. -CM

  3. What requirements are there for graduating from the program?

    • Passing a qualifying exam, where you demonstrate general knowledge of your field and present two research proposals (which you are not locked into following through on for your dissertation), at the end of your second year

    • Writing a dissertation encompassing the body of research you conduct over the course of the program.

  4. What's one piece of advice you would give a prospective applicant?

    • Research is a long process; experiments/simulations are not guaranteed to produce intended/expected results. But the program gives you the opportunity to explore, make mistakes, come to new conclusions, and really experience the research process. -Will Davis

    • The (relatively short) period of time where everyone is filling out applications can be very stressful, both in terms of the time and resources required and because everyone is trying to summarize their greatest life achievements onto a few pieces of paper that will be compared and evaluated by some anonymous set of strangers somewhere. Focus on what you are (which is, for starters, an amazing and unique person) rather than on what you aren’t. -Katie Latimer

    • Identify someone in the department that you want to work with and reach out to them if they are interested in taking on a new graduate student. You are not applying so much to the department, as you are applying to work with a certain faculty member. -CM

    • Don't focus too much on your grades during application, focus on why you want to do research and your experience with it. Your motivation is key to making it in grad school, good grades are only a loose indicator for success in graduate school - CM

    • The best advice I’ve ever received about applying to graduate school was “You don’t apply to a job that isn’t available”. So as Chris has stated above REACH OUT TO FACULTY and see if the professors are seeking graduate students for their lab. -Tanja K.

  5. How did you go about finding an advisor?

    • Talked to professors in my previous department and asked them who is good to work with, considering my research interests. -Will Davis

    • A lot of internet research and cold emails to try to set up introductory meetings. -Katie Latimer

    • Look at the research that is conducted at the university and see if it fits your interests. There are usually subsections of research focuses for each department, if not read each professor’s blurb about their research. Because not every professor updates their pages, I would then go to google scholar and type in the professor's name and see what current research they have published and if my interests fit their interests. I also reached out to postdocs and other graduate students to get a sense for lab culture/community to see if I could see myself fitting into the group. - Tanja K. 

    • I knew I wanted to do planetary science, and tried to narrow down as much as I could what I wanted to work on. Based on that I found faculty members that did research in that direction and tried to reach out to them. -CM

    • Internet research and clumped emails (for Berkeley, I emailed three professors in the same email, and one actually helped me reach another.) I described what projects I found interesting and asked whether they were taking students, and I attached my resume to make it easy for them. Also, if you have the ability to attend a conference and meet a professor in person, do. It makes a great impression. Right now, many conferences are virtual, which removes many of the distance barriers. -SP

  6. How do I find out about current research in a prospective advisor’s group?

    • Read through some of their (not necessarily recent) papers that interest you. Email them expressing interest, maybe ask to chat on a conference call (or visit if you are nearby) -Will Davis

    • Graduate students are often more likely to answer emails than faculty. -CM

    • If possible, talk to students / postdocs / staff scientists in the group. No one person is going to be able to give you a complete picture of what it’s like to work there so the more perspectives you can hear from, the better. -Katie Latimer

    • Oftentimes a professor’s website won’t be up to date, but it’s a good launch point to look into their background. Many professors will have a CV with a list of publications you can go find on Google Scholar. -SP

  7. What's one thing you wish you would have done differently when applying to grad school?

    • I wish I had put more time and intention into visit days...I didn’t really go into them with much of a plan. It would have been good to prepare a list of standard questions to ask everyone I met, as well as specific ones for two or three PIs who I thought I would potentially want to work with. -Katie Latimer

    • Slept on my red-eye flight so that I wasn’t falling asleep at the dinner table with my potential future department. -Anonymous 

    • I should have stressed less about the official requirements such as GRE and TOEFL, and focused more on why I wanted to do research. -CM

    • Not submitted my application 3 days before the deadline. So much unnecessary stress. -SP

  8. If I don’t like my advisor/the project I work on, can I change to a different advisor?

    • Yes, this happens sometimes. You will need to find an advisor who is able (i.e., with funding) to take you as their student. You can also potentially look for an advisor in a different department, but you would need to switch departments entirely and basically start over on your degree progress, I’d recommend staying within the department to avoid the possibility of needing to go through the application process again

  9. What qualities should you consider when picking a grad school?

    • What the current students say about the working environment (of the university/department/research group/principle investigator). -Will Davis

    • Don’t try to separate the academic qualities of a school too much from its cultural / environmental / political / social ones. They will all diffuse into one another once you get into the thick of a grad program. -Katie Latimer 

    • Focus on the research group environment more than on the overall university environment. You will interact mostly with people in your research group and they will be a major part of your experience. If you like the group, and you like the research, it's more important in the long term than the prestige of the university -CM

    • Seek an advisor + lab group whose mentorship style suits the way you learn. Some people thrive better with hands-on help with the nitty gritty, and others like to be more independent. Some require a collaborative lab group to thrive and others are happier working alone. There is no ‘better way’ to do research, so don’t be shy to seek an environment that is the most likely to support your ability to be successful. You’re not somehow ‘lesser’ if you genuinely work better in one situation vs another. - SP

  10. Do you need to have majored in Earth Science to apply for a PhD in Earth Sciences?

    • No! Only a sufficient background in math and the general sciences is expected. Many EPS graduate students have undergraduate degrees in fields such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and astronomy.

    • Nope. I majored in chemistry and am now a graduate student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences :) -Tanja K.

    • My background is in engineering. You will have time to catch up in the basics, but make sure to discuss that with your advisor. -CM

    • Nope, everybody arrives with holes in their knowledge that they fill with classes when they arrive. If your ‘hole’ is earth science, that’s no problem - as it turns out, EPS has classes to help :P   -SP