Submitted by sws139 on Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:19 Graduate Students Frequently Asked Questions Breadcrumb About Graduate Frequently Asked Questions Frequently Asked Questions about our graduate program Expand All How selective is admission to the Penn State Astronomy & Astrophysics graduate program? Admission to the Penn State Astronomy & Astrophysics graduate program is very selective; we typically offer admission to around 10-15% of applicants. Typical successful applicants have: - a high junior-senior GPA (above 3.0 on a standard U.S. 4-point-scale) - a strong math and physics background (most admitted applicants are physics or astronomy majors) - research experience, preferably in physics or astronomy - strong letters of recommendation from those who can attest to their academic and research abilities Successful applicants without one or more of these criteria can typically identify extenuating circumstances in their personal statements or letters of recommendation, or demonstrate exceptional strength in others. My undergraduate degree is not in astronomy. Can I still be considered for admission? Non-traditional applicants, such as those with geoscience, engineering, mathematics, or computer science backgrounds, are encouraged to apply, provided that they can demonstrate the math and physics background required for success in our program. This might come from physics coursework outside their major, demonstrated aptitude for research in physics (such as a peer-reviewed paper), or strong letters of reference that credibly attest to their strength in these areas. Students without such background may wish to apply to a program at Penn State better aligned with their preparation, and then seek to work with astronomy faculty after matriculation in that program. Do I already need to possess a master's degree to apply for a doctoral degree? No, you can and should apply directly to the Ph.D. program. All applicants to the graduate program must be on track to have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree (four years of post-secondary instruction) with a focus in physics, astronomy, or a closely related area upon their arrival at Penn State the following fall. Students entering with master’s degrees or other advanced coursework may apply for limited course credit after arrival but will still need to take all required examinations. Does the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics of Penn State University accept applications solely for a master's degree? No. We only accept students into our Ph.D. program. Students may obtain a master's degree en route to the Ph.D., but the ultimate goal of our training is a doctoral degree. How do I apply to Penn State's Astrobiology dual-title Ph.D. program? Students seeking a Ph.D. in Astrobiology should apply to a graduate program in one of the affiliated fields, which includes Astronomy & Astrophysics. Once matriculated, students can opt to enroll in the Astrobiology dual-title program to earn their Ph.D. in both Astrobiology and their chosen field of study. Such students have some additional coursework requirements, and their examinations will include topics in astrobiology. Do I need to contact a professor to determine whether there is an available opening for me in a research group prior to applying? Graduate admissions are not based upon openings or support in specific research groups but overall accomplishments and potential. Neither a student's admission nor the department's commitment to financial support after matriculation is tied to any particular adviser's endorsement or financial resources. Students are not assigned advisers by the department, and many students change advisers or work with multiple advisers. Therefore, it is not necessary to contact a faculty member to secure an endorsement or check for research openings prior to applying. That said, applicants should clearly describe in their personal statement their reasons for wishing to attend Penn State, and they should explain why their research interests and career goals are a good fit for the department. Prospective applicants should therefore carefully consider the listed research programs on the department's web pages, and may wish to discuss the prospects for specific research areas with our faculty prior to applying to ensure their applications are consistent with research being actively conducted by its faculty. Can I apply to enter your program in the Spring semester? Most of our courses have Astro 501 (Fundamental Astronomy) and Astro 502 (Fundamental Astrophysics) as pre-requisites. Those courses are only taught in the fall. Thus, it is usually not possible to admit students for the spring semester. Do I need to take the General and/or Physics GRE exam? No, the Astronomy and Astrophysics department no longer accepts either General or Physics GRE scores. Do I need to take the TOEFL exam? International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: 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. International applicants whose baccalaureate or graduate degrees were granted by institutions located outside of the countries listed above must provide TOEFL scores with their application materials to be considered for admission. What is your department's institutional code and major field code for reporting TOEFL scores? Our institutional code is 2660, the Penn State University Park campus. The major field code for Astronomy is 61. You can find the institutional codes at https://www.ets.org/s/praxis/pdf/attending_inst_recipient_codes.pdf and the major field codes at https://www.ets.org/s/toefl/pdf/dept_code_list.pdf both on the TOEFL website. What TOEFL score do I need to be considered for admission to the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics? Penn State University requires a minimum TOEFL score of 550 on the paper test, 213 on the computer-based test, or 80 on the internet-based (iBT) test. In addition, the University requires a minimum of 19 points on the new speaking portion of the iBT test. (Note, however, that scores between 15 and 18 may still be considered for provisional admission.) The Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics views scores of at least 620 on the paper test, 260 on the computer test, and 105 on the iBT most favorably, but lower scores do not exclude an application from consideration. What is the application deadline and do you accept late applications? In order for an application to be given fullest consideration, all materials must arrive by January 21. Late applications may be considered, but first consideration for admission and financial aid will be given to those which arrive by the deadline. The same deadline applies for receipt of letters of reference. The Graduate School system will not send out a request for those letters until the application is complete. Applicants should thus coordinate with their letter writers and submit their applications far enough in advance for their letter writers to meet the deadline. What about financial aid? In general, the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics will support students that are in good academic standing with tuition waivers and a stipend, typically provided by a fellowship, a teaching assistantship, or a research assistantship. All entering students are guaranteed support. Is a waiver available for the graduate application fee? The application fee is $65. If it presents a financial hardship, you are welcome to apply for a fee waiver by contacting the chair of graduate admissions, Jason Wright. Please include your CV.