You are here: Home / Jobs / Graduate Applicants / Strengthening Your Application

Strengthening Your Application

Main Content

Here's a list of suggestions that will strengthen your application in the competitive field of graduate admissions to the Department of Physics at Penn State. (Based on a guide for graduate student applicants written by Dr. Carla Trujillo, UC Berkeley College of Engineering. This advice is valuable to all applicants.)

  1. General Tips 
    Plan ahead and be organized. Find out which faculty are doing research in an area which interests you. Everything you need to apply is online- the application, brochure, recommendation forms, etc. You can also email, call, or write us and we will mail you application materials and a departmental brochure. The earlier you apply, the better the chance to be admitted with financial aid.

  2. Letters of Recommendation
    Letters of recommendation are very important. Letters from faculty are best, as they can usually best ascertain your true intellectual and graduate student potential. Try to get all three from faculty with whom you've taken a class or done research. Choose these people with care- the letters are most helpful when the writer has a detailed knowledge of your skills and abilities. Provide the recommender with additional information such as your transcript, your statement of purpose, and a few notes (if necessary) about any pertinent personal history.

  3. GRE
    It is highly recommended to take the GRE General AND Subject Physics test early in the fall so that your scores can reach the department as soon as possible (we begin reviewing applications in December or January). The test may be taken more than once, and the scores you select on ETS will be reported to the admissions committee. It helps to familiarize yourself with the format and timing of the test, for example by trying practice tests in a GRE study guide. Check that you have taken all the requisite coursework before taking the subject test. The Subject test is the most important part of the GRE. If possible, try not to take the subject test on the same day as the general test, as it can be tiring.

  4. The College GPA
    The college GPA (in physics, mathematics and related courses such as chemistry etc.) is very important as well; upwards trends in GPA are also taken into account.

  5. Research/Work Experience
    Part-time or summer undergraduate research experience can be a very valuable part of your application. You will gain some insight into your own future research interests and also improve your research skills. The admissions committee strongly values a serious display of commitment to research. 

  6. Statement of Purpose 
    The statement of purpose is one of the most important parts of the application process. The admissions committee uses your essay to discern the seriousness of your intentions, your experience, and your motivation for graduate school. Your statement can be divided into three broad sections. The first describes your research focus. The second summarizes your experiences as an undergraduate: describe any research experience, including your role in the project and your findings (particularly if presented at a conference or in a publication). Be specific as possible, since your application will be read by professors who specialize in your field of interest. Finally, and most important of all, discuss why you want to go to graduate school, what you wish to study (research), and ideally, whom you would like to work with.