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 links on this page. If your questions are not answered after reviewing this information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Application Guidance 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, Talks, Presentations, and Papers – 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, such as MIT.
- Awards, Scholarships, and Publications – This includes any current nominations for scholarships or papers submitted for publication. Once the honor has been awarded or the paper has been accepted for publication, applicants will be able to log back into this section to update their information, even after the December 15 deadline.
- 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.
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.
During the admission season, prospective students who have questions about the admissions process, graduate student life, and research areas may request additional information from our current students, whether as a response to a specific individual question or for more in-depth assistance as they compile their application materials. Most of these resources will be available throughout the application period, but early inquiries are encouraged; we may not be able to respond to late inquiries. Here are some resources for applicant:
- Our Prospective Student website provides answers to many admissions questions
- Admissions staff are available for questions at email@example.com.
- Application Guidance from current graduate students
Student Application Guidance
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. Our current physics graduate students provide two forms of assistance during the admissions process:
- Answers to specific questions about culture, student life, and research areas. These are forwarded from staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- In-depth guidance via the Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP). This requires a separate direct request from applicants at https://tinyurl.com/physgaap20; 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 perspective in responding to individual questions which may fall under one 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 get in touch, please reach out to email@example.com and clearly indicate in the subject line or in the first sentence that you’d like a current graduate student to reply to your question.
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 admission season, current students may not be available to respond to questions sent after November 15.
This student email resource is designed for one-off questions. Therefore, if you’d like to receive more in-depth guidance, especially about the application itself, please apply to the PhysGAAP program below.
Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP)
We invite prospective applicants to enroll in the newly established Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP), which is designed to pair graduate school applicants with current graduate students to assist them through the application process, provide insight into graduate school and the MIT Physics Department, provide feedback on their application, and answer any questions they might have.
The 2020 Physics Graduate Application Assistance Application has closed. Please check back in Fall 2021 for this year’s application.
Please note that enrollment in PhysGAAP is not considered during the admissions decision-making process and does not guarantee admission into the graduate program.
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.
For further details, please see our comprehensive information about degree requrements.
Can I take courses at other schools nearby?
Yes. Cross-registration is available at Harvard University and Wellesley College.
NOTE: COVID-19 policies prevent taking in-person classes by cross-registration during the 2020-21 academic year. Remote classes are still available.
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 for the last few years has averaged around 45 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 2020. 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 2021, 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?
In fairness to all applicants, we do not waive the $75 application fee directly, but 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?
It is not possible to visit the MIT campus in person for the foreseeable future, due to local COVID-19 restrictions.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.