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Graduate Students

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about our 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.

Non-traditional applicants, such as those with geoscience, engineering, mathematics, or computer science backgrounds, are encouraged 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.

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.

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.

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.

It is not necessary to identify a potential research adviser or specific area of research interest before applying to Penn State's Astronomy & Astrophysics graduate program. Students are not assigned advisers by the department, and many students change advisers or work with multiple advisers. Neither a student's admission nor their financial support after matriculation is tied to any particular adviser's endorsement or financial resources. 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 and the research conducted by its faculty.

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.

No, the Astronomy and Astrophysics department no longer accepts either General or Physics GRE scores.

All international applicants whose native language is not English or who have not received a baccalaureate or master's degree from an institution in which the language of instruction is English must provide official scores of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) 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.

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 and the major field codes at both on the TOEFL website.

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.

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.

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.

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.