Admissions Information for Prospective Graduate Students
Thank you for considering the PhD program in Physics at MIT. Information regarding our graduate program and our application process can be found below and through the following webpages and other links on this page. If your questions are not answered after reviewing this information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some links to pages relevant to prospective students:
- Material Required for a Complete Application, and information about When/How to Apply can be found below on this page.
- We have an FAQ which should help to answer many questions, and we provide Application Assistance from staff and students if you don’t find what you need in the FAQ.
- Additional Guidance about the application itself, along with examples, can be found on a separate page. The graduate application is available at gradapply.mit.edu/physics.
- General information about the graduate program and research areas in the physics department may also be of use.
Statement regarding admissions process during COVID Pandemic (Updated Spring 2021)
In recognition of the significant disruptions caused by Covid-19, specifically the challenges of finding a practical testing site and date, the MIT Physics Department is not accepting Physics GRE or General GRE scores for applications received by the December 15, 2021 deadline for the academic year starting in 2022. We believe that this is necessary to avoid inadvertently privileging some applicants. All applications will be given full consideration without reference to GRE scores, either general test or Physics subject test scores.
MIT has also adopted the following principle: MIT’s admissions committees and offices for graduate and professional schools will take the significant disruptions of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 into account when reviewing students’ transcripts and other admissions materials as part of their regular practice of performing individualized, holistic reviews of each applicant.
In particular, as we review applications now and in the future, we will respect decisions regarding the adoption of Pass/No Record (or Credit/No Credit or Pass/Fail) and other grading options during the unprecedented period of COVID-19 disruptions, whether those decisions were made by institutions or by individual students. We also expect that the individual experiences of applicants will richly inform applications and, as such, they will be considered with the entirety of a student’s record.
Ultimately, even in these challenging times, our goal remains to form graduate student cohorts that are collectively excellent and composed of outstanding individuals who will challenge and support one another.
Questions or concerns about this statement should be directed to the Physics Department (email@example.com).
Also, to stay up-to-date on the latest information on MIT and the COVID-19 pandemic at now.mit.edu.
Applying to the MIT Department of Physics
We know that the application process can be time-consuming, stressful, and costly. We are committed to reducing these barriers and to helping all applicants receive a full and fair assessment by our faculty reviewers. Help is available from the Physics Graduate Admissions Office at firstname.lastname@example.org and additional assistance from current students is offered during the admissions season. Further details are described at the end of this page in our Assistance for Prospective Applicants section.
The list below describes the important elements of a complete application. Please reach out to us at email@example.com if you have a concern or logistical difficulty that could prevent you from providing your strongest application.
Required for a Complete Application
1. Online Application and Application Fee
- Application Fee: $75
NOTE: Applicants who feel that this fee may prevent them from applying should send a short email to firstname.lastname@example.org to describe their general reasons for requesting a waiver. We will follow up with information about how to apply for a formal ‘application fee waiver’. Additional documents may be required, so additional time will be necessary to process requests. Either the fee or a formal fee waiver is required with a submitted application.
2. University Transcript(s)
Unofficial transcripts are sufficient for our initial review, with final transcripts required as a condition of matriculation for successful applicants. Applicants should include a scan of their transcript(s) and, if a degree is in progress, should include a list of the class subjects being taken in the current semester. The GradApply portal will allow applicants to log back into the application after the deadline to add their Fall term grades when they are available.
Note: We will respect decisions regarding the adoption of Pass/No Record (or Credit/No Credit or Pass/Fail) and other grading options during the unprecedented period of COVID-19 disruptions, whether those decisions were made by institutions or by individual students.
3. Standardized Test Results
- GRE General Test – Not considered in 2021 under COVID-19 special policy.
- GRE Physics Subject Test – Not considered in 2021 under COVID-19 special policy.
- TOEFL or IELTS Test or a waiver is required for non-native English speakers. MIT’s TOEFL school code is 3514; the code for the Department of Physics is 76. IELTS does not require a code. Self-reported scores are sufficient for our initial application screening, with official scores required for admitted students as a condition of their offer. Applicants should attach a scanned copy of their test score report. Eligibility for TOEFL/IELTS waivers is in our FAQ section.
4. Letters of Recommendation
Letters should include any individual work applicants have done and/or areas where they have special strengths. It is possible to submit up to 6 total letters, but 3 are sufficient for a complete application and committee members may evaluate applications based on the first three letters that they read.
5. Statement of Objectives
Research is central to graduate study in physics. The Statement of Objectives/Purpose should include descriptions of research projects, aptitude and achievements as completely as possible. This important part of the application provides an opportunity to describe any interests, skills, and background relative to the research areas selected on the application form. Applicants should share anything that prepares them for graduate studies and describe their proudest achievements.
Additional Application Materials
- Research, Teaching, and Community Engagement – Any special background or achievement that prepares the applicant for Physics graduate studies at MIT. This may include research at their undergraduate school as part of their Bachelor or Master degree, or summer research at another program or school. We also value our student’s contributions to their community on a variety of scales (from institutional to societal) and we encourage applicants to tell us about their teaching and community engagement activities. The “experience” questions are intended to provide a CV-like listing of achievements, some of which may be elaborated on in the “Statement of Objectives” and/or the optional “Personal Statement”.
- Publications, Talks, and Merit Based Recognition – Recognition of success in research, academics, and outreach can take many forms, including publications, talks, honors, prizes, awards, fellowships, etc. This may include current nominations for scholarships or papers submitted for publication.
- Optional Personal Statement – Members of our community come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. We welcome any personal information that will help us to evaluate applications holistically and will provide context for the applicant’s academic achievements. This statement may include extenuating circumstances, significant challenges that were overcome, a non-traditional educational background, description of any advocacy or values work, or other information that may be relevant.
- Detailed instructions for each application section, and many examples, can be found on the “Additional Guidance” page. The detailed instructions are lengthy, and are intended to be read only “as needed” while you work on your application (i.e., you don’t need to go read the whole thing before you start).
When/How to Apply
When: Applications can be submitted between September 15 and December 15 for the following year.
How: The application is online at gradapply.mit.edu/physics.
Faculty, students, and staff have collaborated to provide extensive guidance to prospective applicants to our graduate degree program. Resources include several department webpages to inform prospective applicants about our PhD degree requirements and to help applicants as they assemble and submit their materials. In addition to staff responses to emails, current graduate students will answer specific individual questions, give two admissions-related webinars, and provide a mentorship program for selected prospective applicants.
During the application season, prospective students may request additional information from current students about the admissions process, graduate student life, or department culture, either as a response to a specific individual email question or for more in-depth assistance. Applicants will benefit most from contacting us early in the process, when current students and staff will be available to respond to questions and mentor selected applicants. After mid-November, department staff will continue to field questions through the admission process.
Here are some resources for prospective applicants:
- Our website provides answers to many frequently-asked admissions questions.
- In-depth guidance is provided for several important sections of the application, with some examples of formatting also provided.
- Admissions staff are available for questions at email@example.com.
- The Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP) offers three forms of application guidance from current graduate students:
- Current students collaborate with staff to answer specific questions emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- PhysGAAP Webinars are designed to provide student perspectives on the application and admissions processes in an interactive format.
The first webinar was held on September 29, 2021, with the second to be held in early December. Registration is required. These webinars will also be recorded and will be made available from this website.
- PhysGAAP Mentoring provides in-depth guidance through the application process.
Thank you for your interest in the MIT Physics graduate program! Our department is committed to equity in admissions and we welcome your application to our doctoral program. We are eager to help prospective students submit their best materials, and we recognize that some talented applicants may appreciate further guidance as they compile their credentials into a strong application package.
Under the umbrella of the Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP), our current physics graduate students provide three forms of assistance during the admissions process:
- Answers to specific questions about culture, student life, and research areas. These are forwarded from staff at email@example.com.
- Extended Q&A and student perspectives on the application and admissions processes via interactive webinars.
- In-depth guidance via mentoring. This requires a separate direct request from applicants. Please read the details below about this program.
Student-led Q&A Service
A team of our current graduate students is available to share their experience and perspectives in response to individual questions which may fall under any of the following categories:
- Coursework/research (e.g., How do I choose between two research areas and how do I find a potential research advisor?)
- Culture (e.g., What is it like to be a student of a particular identity at MIT?)
- Student life (e.g., What clubs or extracurriculars do graduate students at MIT take part in?)
To request a response from the current students, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate clearly in the subject line or first sentence that you would like your email forwarded to the PhysGAAP student team. Depending on the scope of your question, department staff will send your email to current students.
We encourage you to reach out as early as you can to maximize the benefit that this help can provide to you. While the admissions office staff will continue to field your questions throughout the admissions season, current students may not be available to respond to questions sent after November 15.
This student email resource is designed for individual basic questions. More in-depth guidance, especially about the application itself, will be available through the PhysGAAP Webinars and/or PhysGAAP Mentorship Program described below.
A panel of our current graduate students will be hosting two 2-hour long Zoom webinars in late September and early December to present information about the application and admissions processes, and to respond to questions on these topics. The first webinar will address general questions about preparing the application and what the Admissions Committee is looking for, while the second webinar is designed to answer more detailed questions leading up to completing and submitting the application and the timing and next steps for the admission process.
- The first webinar was held on September 29, 2021 from 10:00am – 12:00pm (EDT)
- The second webinar will be on December 1, 2021 from 10:00am – 12:00pm (EST).
Please register for the webinars. These webinars will be recorded and will be made available from this website once complete.
Each webinar will begin with a short 15-minute presentation about an aspect of the application process, and the rest of the webinar will be dedicated to questions from prospective applicants about any related topic for current students; for example, why did you choose to apply to and enroll in MIT Physics?
All registered participants will receive the Zoom link, along with a Slido link to submit questions both prior to and during the session(s). If you cannot attend but would still like to get your question answered, we invite you to register and submit your question via Slido prior to the webinar, or directly reach out to email@example.com.
Mentorship for Prospective Applicants
In addition to the materials available through this website, answers to emails sent to the department, or from our graduate student webinars, we also offer one-to-one mentoring for students who desire more in-depth individual assistance. Prospective applicants may apply to the PhysGAAP Mentoring program, which pairs prospective graduate school applicants with current graduate students who can assist them through the application process, provide feedback on their application materials and insight into graduate school and the MIT Physics Department.
We welcome interest in the PhysGAAP Mentorship program and mentorship applications are open to any prospective applicant. However, our capacity is limited and we will give preferential consideration to PhysGAAP Mentorship applicants who would most benefit from the program and can demonstrate that they are a good fit.
PhysGAAP Mentoring may a good fit for you if you
- feel like you lack other resources to help you navigate the graduate school application process,
- find the other forms of assistance (online webinars, email at firstname.lastname@example.org) insufficient to address your needs, and
- think you could benefit from one-on-one application mentorship.
PhysGAAP Mentoring may not be a good fit for you if you
- only have one or two questions that could be answered elsewhere (online webinars, email at email@example.com, or online FAQs), or
- feel like you have already compiled a fairly strong application.
To apply, please fill out this survey (https://tinyurl.com/physgaap21). Applications open September 29, 2021.
Please note that:
- PhysGAAP Mentoring is only open to students who are planning to apply to graduate schools in Fall 2021.
- Participation in PhysGAAP is not considered during the admissions decision-making process. It helps applicants put forward their strongest materials, but does not guarantee admission into the graduate program.
- Any information you submit in the PhysGAAP Mentoring application will only be seen by the PhysGAAP team and your matched mentor.
Our Frequently Asked Questions provide further information about degree requirements, funding, educational background, application deadlines, English language proficiency, program duration, start dates and deferrals, and fee waiver requests.
The MOST Frequently Asked Question…
What is included in a strong graduate application for Physics at MIT?
Applications are assessed holistically and many variables are considered in the application review process. The following four main factors are required for a complete application.
- the applicant’s statement of objectives or purpose,
- transcripts of past grades,
- score reports of any required standardized tests,
- three letters of reference.
In addition, any past research experience, publications, awards, and honors are extremely helpful, particularly if they are in the area(s) of the applicant’s interest(s). Applicants may also include a personal statement in their application to provide context as the materials are assessed.
Applications are routed to admission committee members and other faculty readers using the “areas of interest” and any faculty names selected from the menu as well as based on the research interests included in the statement of objectives. Please select the areas of interest that best reflect your goals.
Instructions are available in the GradApply application itself, with further guidance on our webpage for Prospective Students. The Physics Admissions Office will respond to questions sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
General Questions Regarding the PhD Program in Physics
Must I have a degree in physics in order to apply to this graduate program?
Our successful applicants generally hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, or have taken many Physics classes if they have majored in another discipline. The most common other majors are astronomy, engineering, mathematics, and chemistry. Bachelor of Science degrees may be 3-year or 4-year degrees, depending on the education structure of the country in which they are earned.
What are the requirements to complete a PhD?
The requirements for a PhD in Physics at MIT are the doctoral examination, a few required subject classes, and a research-based thesis. The doctoral examination consists of a written and an oral examination. The written component may be satisfied either by passing the 4 subject exams or by passing designated classes related to each topic with a qualifying grade; the oral exam will be given in a student’s chosen research area. The Physics Department also requires that each student take two classes in the field of specialization and two physics-related courses in fields outside the specialty. Research for the thesis is conducted throughout the student’s time in the program, culminating in a thesis defense and submission of the final thesis.
Can I take courses at other schools nearby?
Yes. Cross-registration is available at Harvard University and Wellesley College.
How many years does it take to complete the PhD requirements?
From 3 to 7 years, averaging 5.6 years.
How will I pay for my studies?
Our students are fully supported financially throughout the duration of their program, provided that they make satisfactory progress. Funding is provided from Fellowships (internal and external) and/or Assistantships (research and teaching) and covers tuition, health insurance, and a living stipend. Read more about funding.
How many applications are submitted each year? How many students are accepted?
Although the number varies each year, the Department of Physics usually receives more than 1,000 applications and admits around 90 applicants. The incoming class in recent years has averaged around 45 students. Last year was unusual and we received more than 1,500 applications. We admitted just over 100 applicants and the 2021 incoming class has 65 students.
What are the minimum grades and exam scores for admitted applicants?
There are no minimum standards for overall grade point averages/GPAs. Grades from physics and other related classes will be carefully assessed. Under a special COVID-19 policy, MIT will accept transcripts with a variety of grading conventions, including any special grading given during the COVID-19 pandemic. GRE results are not accepted for Physics applications in 2020 under a special Physics Department COVID-19 policy.
Our program is conducted in English and all applicants must demonstrate their English language proficiency. Non-native English speakers should review our policy carefully before waiving the TOEFL/IELTS requirements. We do not set a minimum requirement on TOEFL/IELTS scores; however, students who are admitted to our program typically score above the following values:
- IELTS – 7
- TOEFL (computer based) – 200
- TOEFL (iBT) – 100
- TOEFL (standard) – 600
The Application Process
When is the deadline for applying to the PhD program in Physics?
Applications for enrollment in the fall are due each year on December 15 of the preceding year. There is no admission cycle for spring-term enrollment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for me to take tests in person. Can I still apply?
Because of the difficulty that COVID-19 presents for in-person testing, we are not accepting results of the General GRE or Physics GRE for applications received in 2021. Please do not include them in any part of your application. Non-native English speakers who are not eligible for a test waiver should arrange to take a remote/online version of the TOEFL or IELTS test.
Does the Department of Physics provide waivers for the English language exam (TOEFL/IELTS)?
An English language exam (IELTS, TOEFL, TOEFL iBT, or the C2 Cambridge English Proficiency exam) is required of all applicants who are from a country in which English is not the primary language. Exceptions to this policy will be considered for candidates who, at the start of their graduate studies in 2022, will have been in the US or in a country whose official language is English for three years or longer and who will have received a degree from a college or university in a country where the language of education instruction is English. An interview via telephone, Zoom, or Skype may be arranged at the discretion of the Admissions Committee. More information on a possible English Language Waiver Decision (PDF).
Does the Department of Physics provide application fee waivers?
We do not want the MIT application fee to be a barrier to admission. Applicants who have participated in the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), Converge, or another MIT program or an official MIT recruiting visit are eligible for a fee waiver from the MIT Office of Graduate Education (OGE). Please check MIT Graduate Diversity Programs for further details. Other under-represented or under-resourced applicants may request a fee waiver from the OGE and, if denied, may reach out to us at email@example.com to request a second review of the decision. Please allow time for this process because applications lacking the paid fee or a fee waiver on December 15 will not be reviewed.
Can I arrange a visit to the Physics Department or a specific research area?
Update as of September 23, 2021: In an effort to keep our community safe and healthy, we are not currently hosting or meeting with outside visitors in person, nor are we facilitating visits to our classrooms. Current graduate students and prospective applicants should direct any questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applicants are invited to send specific questions to the Physics Admissions Office and some questions may be forwarded to current students for further information.
Can I receive an update on the status of my application?
Candidates will receive email acknowledgments from the Physics Academic Programs Office informing them whether their application is complete, is missing materials, or if further information is needed. Due to the high volume of applications that are received, no additional emails or telephone inquiries can be answered. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that all items are sent.
When will I be notified of a final decision?
Applicants will be notified via email of decisions by the end of February. If you have not heard from us by March 1, please send email to email@example.com.
We do not provide results by phone.
Can admitted students start in a term other than the next Fall semester?
Applications submitted between September 15 and December 15 are assessed for the following Fall semester. We do not provide a separate admission review cycle for the Spring semester. Individual research supervisors may invite incoming students to start their research during the summer term a few months earlier than their studies would normally begin. All other incoming students start their studies in late August for the Fall term.
Once admitted, applicants may request a one-year deferral to attend a specific academic program or for another approved reason, with single semester deferrals for the following Spring term granted only rarely.