Frequently Asked Questions

What degrees are offered by the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy?

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers both MS and PhD degrees in Physics. If your career plan is to do research, you should apply directly to the Ph.D. program – not the MS Program. Almost all of our prospective students directly enter the Ph.D. program after earning their BS or equivalent degree.

Astronomy students receive an “MS/PhD in Physics with a specialization in Astronomy”. Precision timing students receive an “MS/PhD in Physics with a specialization in precision timing”. Students in all other areas of Physics receive an  “MS/PhD in Physics”. For details, please refer to our current graduate handbook.

For application requirements and further information on how to apply to our graduate program, please visit our admissions site.

TOP

What is the due date for applications?

For a Fall start, the application deadline for domestic and international students is January 15. In order to be considered for all university fellowships complete applications should be received by December 15. To receive full consideration for departmental support via graduate teaching or research assistantships, all application materials should be received by January 15. We will continue to accept applications after January 15, although there is no guarantee that we will have positions available after this date. We strongly encourage applicants to apply as early as possible.

For a Spring start, the application deadline for domestic students is November 1 while for international students it is June 1. Please note, while we do accept applications for Spring, we make most new offers for the Fall.

TOP

Are graduate application fee waivers available?

Individual departments do not decide application fees or waivers. The UA Graduate School decides the graduate application fee, currently $65 for U.S. citizens and permanent residents and $80 for international students. The UA Graduate School does not offer a waiver of application fees to either domestic or international students, with some notable exceptions. Veterans and current members of the U.S. military can qualify for a fee waiver as can Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program students, applicants previously enrolled in the UA Graduate School, and UA undergraduates applying to the same program at the graduate level. Students who think they may qualify for a fee waiver should contact the UA graduate school. For details, please visit: https://graduate.ua.edu/prospective-students/apply-now/supporting-documents/.

Note: recently the UA Graduate School has run a “Free Graduate Application week” sometime between mid-October to early November. Please contact the UA graduate school directly about if/when they plan to run a free graduate application week. Visit: https://graduate.ua.edu/contact-us/

TOP

When are admission decisions made?

Decisions are normally made in multiple rounds. University fellowship candidates are selected and offers made between mid-January to end March. Department assistantships and fellowships are decided and offer emails sent by end-March. Students have until April 15th to accept offers. However, we strongly encourage students to accept/reject offers once they have made a decision. Late offers to waitlist candidates are possible after April 15th. If you have not received a decision by April 15th then you may be on a wait list. Decisions on wait-listed candidates are normally made by end of May.

TOP

What factors are important in securing a graduate position at UA?

The graduate admissions committee bases decisions on your entire application package. In general, a weakness in any one or two areas can be remedied by stronger performance in other areas. Specific criteria:

– The committee looks for proficiency (As or Bs) in undergraduate physics, especially upper level physics courses (electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, thermal physics, and classical mechanics).

– The committee looks for GRE scores higher than 300. A strong performance in the quantitative section is beneficial but not necessary. For Spring 2022 and Fall 2022 applicants, GRE requirements have been waived.

– We do not require the Physics GRE (PGRE). However, you may submit a PGRE score if you feel it can support your application. Please note, a PGRE score of 70th percentile or higher allows us to waive the qualifying exam requirement of 1st and 2nd year graduate students. For details on the qualifying exam, please refer to the current graduate student handbook.

– Previous research experiences, especially those which lead to presentations at regional or national conferences or publication of papers, are looked upon very favorably and can balance lower grades. Programming experience is also looked upon favorably. Please note that we have admitted students without previous research experience but who display a clear understanding of the research areas they would like to pursue at UA.

– Reference letters by research advisors and upper level physics instructors are very important.

– Your statement of purpose is very important. It should clearly describe how an advanced degree in physics or astronomy relates to your research and career goals. Your SoP should clearly summarize your undergraduate and, if relevant, previous graduate career including any research you conducted.  You should state if you have a clear preference for a particular area of research. You should show awareness of the research being conducted in our department by our faculty to make sure your interest matches. The SoP should also address any weaknesses in your application package.

For application requirements and further information on how to apply to our graduate program, please visit our admissions site.

TOP

What are my chances for admission?

We are not able to consider any prospective student for admission until an application and all required documents have been submitted. The average (range) of scores of a recent group of incoming students are given below:

Average undergraduate GPA:  3.6 (3 – 4) — on 4 point scale.
Average graduate MS GPA:   3.7 (3.4 – 3.9) — for international/transfer students
Graduate MS percentage:  > 70% — for international students
Average GRE general score:  319 (304 – 335)
Average GRE quant. score:   85% (47% – 97%) percentile
Average Physics GRE score: 830 (660 – 990) — not required for admission*.
Average P-GRE percentile:  73% (42% – 94%) — not required for admission*.
Average Toefl: 102 (89 – 116)

*Half of the incoming students took the Physics GRE. This fraction has varied significantly over the last 5 years.

Please note, students with low scores in one or more area normally have high scores in another and/or strong letters of reference and/or research experience. Please review the minimum criteria for admission on our admissions site.

TOP

Do I need to contact a potential supervisor before applying?

No, you are not required to contact a potential supervisor. However, you should review the research being conducted by our department to determine if it is of interest to you. Our Research Overview page summarizes departmental research projects and collaborations; individual faculty members’ research interests are described on their webpages, which you can find via our department directory.  You can contact individual researchers to find out more about their work. However, please note that admission decisions are made by the graduate admissions committee.

TOP

How are graduate students supported financially?

Continuous financial support is usually available for PhD students in good academic standing either through teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships. Payment of tuition is included. Graduate students who are supported by a teaching/research assistantship or a fellowship also receive health insurance. Salary/stipends range from $19,080 (9 month) to ~$25,440 (including summer support) for TAs and can be similar or higher for research assistants or fellowship students. Graduate PhD students on assistantships/fellowships are guaranteed summer TA support for their first year. In subsequent years, students generally receive partial or full summer support either through TAs or through their research advisor. The average yearly salary for current graduate students is ~$24,000.

Prospective students do not have to apply separately for financial support. All prospective students with complete applications are considered for available assistantships or fellowships positions.

Students are also strongly encouraged to apply for external graduate fellowships, like the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. For further details, please visit the Financial Support page.

Financial support for Masters only students is not guaranteed and normally unavailable.

TOP

Do I need to have a bachelor’s degree in physics or astronomy to be eligible for admission?

While we do not automatically require a bachelor’s in physics to be eligible for admission, we are looking for evidence that our applicants are prepared for graduate level physics. This is usually indicated to us by good grades in upper level undergraduate physics classes — two semesters of electricity and magnetism, two semesters of quantum mechanics, thermal physics, and classical mechanics. If you have not taken these classes as part of your degree, but have studied upper level physics on your own, we would require a Physics GRE score (most likely at the 50th percentile or higher) to consider your application in order for us to be assured that you are ready for graduate level physics. If you have not taken the above undergraduate physics courses nor the Physics GRE then it is unlikely that we would consider your application for admission.

TOP

Do I need to take the GRE or TOEFL exams?

The GRE requirement has been waived for Spring 2022 and Fall 2022 applicants. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.

Non-native speakers are required to submit TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo, or PTE scores unless they meet at least one of the following criteria: 1) at the time of initial enrollment, they will hold a degree from a U.S. institution or an institution in one of the English speaking countries or regions listed on the graduate school international admissions website; 2) at the time of initial enrollment, they will have been enrolled in coursework for at least two years at a U.S. institution or an institution in one of the English speaking countries or regions listed on the graduate school international admissions website; 3) they are a citizen or legal resident of one of the English speaking countries or regions listed on the graduate school international admissions website.

For applicants who are required to submit an English language score, the UA Graduate School requires either a TOEFL score of at least 550 on the paper-based test (PBT) or 213 on the computer-based test (CBT) or 79 on the internet-based test (iBT) or an iELTS score of at least 6.5, or a score of 105 for the Duolingo English test. These scores need to be less than two years old at the time of enrollment.

Please note that during the application process we only need unofficial language score reports. Official reports must be sent on admission. Please check the UA graduate school website for additional details.

TOP

Do I need to take the Physics GRE exam?

We do not require the Physics GRE (PGRE) exam. However, you may submit a PGRE score if you feel it can support your application. For example, if you have a degree in Engineering instead of Physics, you can take the PGRE to demonstrate your proficiency in undergraduate Physics. Please note, a PGRE score of 70th percentile or above allows us to waive the qualifying exam requirement for incoming students. This allows you to start research sooner.  For details on the qualifying exam, please refer to the current graduate student handbook.

TOP

Can I apply to your program even if I have not completed all the requirements of my previous degree?

Yes, you can, but you will need to submit all materials demonstrating completion of your previous degree before you enroll here in January/August.

TOP

Prospects after Masters or PhD?

Students who graduate with an MS or PhD in Physics/Astronomy from UA have moved into multiple career paths, including academia, national labs, industry, teaching, as well as non STEM fields.

Please see our Alumni page for information on career paths taken by our recent graduates.

The University of Alabama Career Center provides career resources for all UA students and postdocs. The resource is especially useful for those wanting to move into industry.

TOP

What should I select under the options “Concentration” and “Area of Focus” in the online graduate application?

Please leave the “Concentration” section blank unless you are applying for a degree in Precision Timing.

If you are interested in a particular area of Physics, please list it under the “Area of Focus” section of your graduate application. Please state one of the following: condensed matter experiment, condensed matter theory, precision timing, experimental particle physics, high energy theory, astroparticle physics, observational astrophysics, theoretical astrophysics. If you are open to multiple areas of physics and astronomy then you can state “open” or leave the specialty area blank.

TOP

What are the different options under “Status” in the online application?

Incomplete, Awaiting Review — Some parts of your application are missing or have not been received yet.
Grad School Evaluation — The grad school verifies that the min GPA thresholds, English language proficiency scores (if required), etc have been met.
Referred, Evaluations, Dept Review — Departments review applications.
Decision — Accepted or Rejected.

Most applications stay under “Grad Review” or “Dept Review” until April. This can be because some scores/transcripts have not yet been received or some letters are missing. The department reviews applications once they are complete, as long as scanned copies of all required documentation have been uploaded. The review process will take time. Please make sure to remind your letter writers to submit letters by the application deadlines.

TOP

I have accepted another offer. How do I withdraw my application from consideration?

If you have accepted another graduate offer then you can withdraw your application from consideration through your UA graduate application portal. Once we review all applications and decide on candidates to accept or waitlist, then all other applications will be rejected by around early May. Decisions on wait-listed candidates are normally made by the end of May.

TOP

I am an international student. My bachelor’s program is only three years. Am I eligible for admission?

Students from certain countries, such as Nepal and some universities in India have a 3-year bachelor’s program plus a 2-year master’s program in physics. The UA Department of Physics and Astronomy requires students at these universities to complete the 2-year master’s program to be eligible for admission in our program.

TOP

I am an international student. Do I need to submit an I-20 form when I apply?

No, this step is not necessary until after you receive an offer from us and intend to enroll.

TOP

I am an international student. Will I be able to get help navigating the visa process?

Yes. There is a significant international presence in the community, and help is available in obtaining visas. The UA International Students Center and the UA Graduate School will contact all international students on admission with details on next steps.

TOP

I am an international student. Am I eligible for funding?

Continuous financial support is available for all PhD students in good academic standing either through teaching assistantships or fellowships.

TOP