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Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Graduate Program in Physics.

Application

Is it possible to waive the application fee?

If the $65 application fee presents a financial hardship, please contact us by email to be considered for a fee waiver. It will help to provide some additional information about yourself, such as your undergraduate institution and degree, undergraduate GPA, GRE scores and research interests.

I would like to begin to work on my application, but it is incomplete in some categories (information is currently not available - GRE, TOEFL, etc.). How do I save my incomplete application so I can come back to it later?

Since you have listed Penn State's institution code (2660) at the testing services that administer the GRE and TOEFL, we will receive your official results directly. The online application also allows you to self report your unofficial scores as soon as you know them. You can leave these scores blank until they are available.

Is it possible to reactivate my previous application?

Since we have changed our application process this year, we request that you complete a new application through the Penn State Graduate School. You will then be able to electronically check your application status.

I am a transfer student. Do I need to do anything different than a regular applicant?

You should complete the online application and in your personal statement tell us your reasons for transferring. It is also important that you have letters of recommendation from your present school as well as from your undergraduate school.

I am a transfer student. Can I be exempted from coursework?

All students who transfer to Penn State must pass the departmental qualifying exam in addition to taking or being exempted from required coursework. An exemption request can be made to the Director of Graduate Studies. This request should be accompanied by a transcript showing that you have successfully completed the course. A syllabus of the course or an indication of the textbook used is also requested.

How do I know whether my application has been received? How may I check on missing materials?

As soon as you submit your application, we have received it. You can check the status of your application on the Graduate School website

How do I have my references submit recommendation letters?

When you fill out the fields for your recommendation letter writers in your online application, an email will be automatically sent to them with instructions on how to submit their letter.

Do I need to send official transcripts?

Copies of official transcripts will need to be uploaded with your application.  Please note: documents should not contain Social Security numbers or any other individually identifying number.  If you are made an offer and you accept, you will be sent further instructions including how to submit official transcripts.

In the "Junior/Senior Level Courses" section, which class should I enter on the application? The one that I took as a requirement for graduation or the one for advanced study?

Please use your most recent course information in this section.

I would like to apply to both the Department of Physics and the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics; is that permissible?

By Penn State rules, you are permitted to apply to only one department, so you would have to decide whether you think of yourself as more of a physicist or an astronomer. In either case, you will need to apply through the Penn State Graduate School.

My background is not in Physics but I am really interested in your program. Would I still be eligible to apply?

We consider all applicants, even those from non-traditional backgrounds. To be ready for graduate school in physics, one needs to have had exposure to some core courses like mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum physics and statistical physics. This can be gauged by your performance on the physics subject GRE test, which we strongly recommend.

If I took a summer class at a community college and already transferred the credits to my regular college, do I need to submit the community college transcripts as well as my regular college transcripts?

Yes, you need to submit the transcripts from the other university you attended for summer class. Transcripts are different from each university and in order to properly assess the transcripts, The Graduate Admissions committee will want to see the legend on the back of the transcript.

Admissions Decisions

Please explain the admission process.

The materials requested with your application for graduate admission are described at http://www.phys.psu.edu/jobs/graduate-applicants. In particular, the Graduate School application process will ask for your general GRE scores, physics subject GRE score, TOEFL score, transcripts, at least 3 letters of recommendation, statement of purpose/interest, and completed application forms. The deadline to apply for full consideration is mid-January. Our departmental website also describes the research interests of our faculty. You are welcome to directly contact any of our faculty that you identify on our web site as conducting research you think you might be more particularly interested in. All our program information is online, as is the information for applying to the Penn State Graduate School. If you have specific questions on research areas after browsing our online information, our graduate admissions chair person would be happy to try to answer them if he/she can.

When will admissions decisions be made?

The Graduate Admissions Committee will begin reviewing complete applications in early February. Preliminary offers will be made in mid to late February. Successful applicants will be notified by e-mail with a formal offer letter to follow by regular mail. Unsuccessful applicants will be notified by e-mail.

What is the number/percentage of international students admitted every year into your program?

About half of each incoming class of graduate students is international, and half are US citizens.

Is a telephone interview part of the process of admission?

No, we do not have phone interviews as part of the graduate application process. Decisions are based only on the application submitted.

Can I apply for admission to the M. S. program in physics?

The Department of Physics does not normally accept students for a terminal M.S. degree. Typically our incoming graduate students plan on doing research in our department and are working towards their Ph.D. in Physics.

What undergraduate degree is required for admission?

A baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution earned under residence and credit conditions substantially equivalent to those required by Penn State is required for admission to a graduate program at Penn State. International applicants must hold the equivalent of an American four-year baccalaureate degree.

How do I request financial support (TA/RA/fellowship)?

There is no separate application for financial support. Every student admitted to our department is offered financial support, usually in the form of a teaching assistantship at first, evolving after a couple of years into a research assistantship as you work with a research advisor. Please indicate if you are planning to support yourself; otherwise, we automatically assume that you are requesting to be considered for assistantship support.

I would like some information in a specific concentration/research area, how do I get more information?

A specific concentration/research area can be researched by referring to our website, http://www.phys.psu.edu/research/. From this site you can review our areas of research and find the contact information of our faculty members who work in your field of interest. Please feel free to contact our faculty members to ask about your area of interest.

Scores (GRE & TOEFL)

What is the GRE/TOEFL code for your Institution?

The Institution code is 2660.

If I provide my GRE score and/or GPA, could you let me know whether I will be accepted?

Acceptance is not based on the GRE score alone. Decisions involve many factors and every aspect of the application is evaluated.

Does your department require the GRE subject test in physics?

While the GRE subject test is not required, it can strengthen an application and we strongly recommend all applicants to take the test.

What is the significance of the TOEFL score?

All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) with exceptions described below since most new graduate students spend at least two years as teaching assistants and must be successful at communicating in English to do so. The minimum acceptable score for the paper-based TOEFL test is 550, 213 for the computer-based test, and for the Internet-based test (iBT) a total score of 80 is required, preferably with a 19 on the speaking section. Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission. As for the IELTS, the minimum composite score is 6.5. A preferred score for the paper version of the IELTS would be more than 600, more than 250 for the computer-based test or 100 for the Internet-based test (iBT), although this is variable.

Exceptions:  International applicants are typically exempt from taking the TOEFL/IELTS if they have received a degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following countries: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

I haven't taken the TOEFL exam yet and the earliest date that I can take it is after the application deadline of January 15. Will my application still be considered?

If you submit your application without taking the TOEFL, your application will be reviewed. But the score is needed as soon as possible. Please send it as soon as you are able.

I took classes in English. Do I really need a TOEFL score?

The Graduate School requires TOEFL scores from all applicants whose native language is not English. International applicants are typically exempt from taking the TOEFL/IELTS if they have received a degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following countries: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

What is the difference between provisional admitted students and fully admitted students?

The one difference between provisional and fully admitted students might be that provisional students will have more English training once they arrive here. The assigned teaching assistant duties may be adjusted based on a language placement test that all incoming foreign students take upon their arrival here. If necessary, additional English training is completed and their teaching duties are adjusted. For instance, a student may be asked to do more grading and have less face-to-face interactions with the undergraduate students until the graduate has achieved the requisite level of English competency.

Do I need to provide official score reports or are photocopies sufficient?

Photocopies are acceptable but official score reports are preferred. An official score report should be sent electronically to Penn State using the institution code 2660 if an offer of admission is made and accepted.

What is your minimum GPA and in which way do you calculate GPA. Is it major GPA or overall GPA?

The GPA is based on a 4.00 scale. The department does not have a cutoff point while considering graduate applications. All supporting materials are taken into consideration for admission. The application asks for the GPA of classes during junior and senior level, but listing your overall GPA is acceptable. The conversion from a foreign system is not uniform. You may prorate your score appropriately and we will assess.

Passwords

What happens if I forget my password?

Please check carefully to make sure you did not make a spelling error in your user name or password. Then, if you are applying from outside Penn State, follow the directions available on the Friends of Penn State website. If you are applying from within Penn State and need your university password reset, you will have to contact the ITS Help Desk.

Visiting Penn State

Can I visit the Department of Physics?

A visit to prospective graduate schools is a good idea but normally occurs after an offer of admission. We hold an open house for students who are currently in the country and who have been offered admission. Students who are invited to the open house usually receive financial support for travel costs.