Advice for Graduate School Applicants

(Answers to Frequently Asked Questions) ver 2015.04.05

This document has been compiled to answer questions we are frequently asked about our program and to demystify the process of evaluating your applications.

We have no set number of students for the incoming class. Typically it is the range of 15-20. Typically about half are international.

Fall applications: We do not have a strict application deadline. However we ask that students arrange for us to receive all their application materials by 01 February. Applications are evaluated on a rolling basis beginning late January through April. Late applicants run the risk that we may have filled all the program slots for that year.
Spring applications: The application deadline for spring is 01 September. Students are admitted for spring only under special circumstances.

Our graduate college sets a minimum GPA of 3.0/4.0 over the last 60 hrs of graded course work. Typically the students we accept have higher GPA’s. In addition, qualified applicants should have a minimum US equivalent of a BS in Physics or in a closely related field. The applicant should have upper division physics courses on their academic transcript with US equivalent grades of B or higher (e.g. Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Statistical Mechanics). Most successfull applicants have more As than Bs in these upper division physics courses.

There is no set minimum GRE score. In fact the GRE is not strictly required. However we ask for it because it is an objective and standardized way for us to compare you to other applicants. It forms part of an overall picture of you. If you do not have a GRE score this will put you at a disadvantage compared to other applicants. A copy of your official GRE score from ETS will work. The same can be said for the physics subject GRE. For the GRE our institution name and code is: University of Oklahoma (6879). Select the Department and major Field Code as appropriate to your interest: Astrophysics (0802) or Physics (0808).

The graduate school requires a minimum TOEFL score of 550/213/79 for paper/computer/IB or IELTS 6.5. However, our department prefers applicants who demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency, 600/250/100 or 7.0. We have flexibility for candidates in the “gray area” between these two levels who are exceptional in other aspects. A copy of your official score from ETS will work for your initial application. If you are accepted, we will need the **official** copy from ETS for the Graduate College to complete processing of your application. For the TOEFL our institution name and code is: University of Oklahoma (6879). Select the Department and major Field Code as appropriate to your interest: Astronomy (61) or Physics (76).

Your transcripts are important. It is your academic history, showing the courses you have taken and a measure of your performance in each of them. It helps us determine how well you are prepared for our graduate program and your likely hood to succeed in our courses.

Research experience is excellent, but not everyone has had the opportunity. Research is a major part of your PhD. Demonstration that you have an aptitude for research is a strong positive.

Limit to 1-2 pages. Your statement of purpose should address your past academic and research experiences and how they have prepared you for graduate study. Undergraduate research projects are often determined by the opportunities available at the time. We are particularly interested in more detail of what research you would like to do, beyond what you have already accomplished and the check boxes on the departmental application. What are your professional goals after obtaining a PhD? The statement of purpose is your chance to tell us what you would like us to know about yourself. If you have taken a nontraditional path, the statement of purpose is your chance to describe your experiences.

Letters of recommendation are the most important single component of your application. These help us compare you to other students. They can identify students with a strong potential to succeed. Numerical scores are not predictive. The strongest letters will be from those persons, typically faculty, with whom you have worked most closely. For example, a faculty member with whom you have been involved in research or other project where you have had close personal interaction. Please ask your letter writers to be as specific as possible. The numerical portion of the form is not very helpful without the context of a detailed letter.

All admitted students are offered financial support. Typically in your first year, you will be supported on a TA. If you join a research group after that, you have the opportunity to switch from a TA to an RA, depending on that group’s funding.

Students choose their thesis advisor by mutual agreement (typically within the first year or two).

It is our desire that every graduate student we accept succeeds. We try to choose students with the highest chances of success in our program. I hope this helps put the process in perspective.

Lloyd A. Bumm 
Graduate Recruiting and Selection Committee Chair
Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy
The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019 USA