Graduate Admissions

Welcome, and thank you for your interest in joining the Princeton Physics community. Here you will find a description of the application process for the graduate program. To learn what it’s like to be a Physics graduate student at Princeton, check out the Student Experience page. To apply, visit the Graduate School Admissions page.

Key dates:
  • Application deadline: December 15 - 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time

  • Admissions decisions announced: mid February-mid March

  • Offer acceptance deadline: mid April

  • Program start: September

In the evaluation of each applicant, we look primarily for the potential to perform forefront research in experiment, theory, or some combination. 

The Physics department is strongly committed to creating an inclusive, diverse graduate community whose members feel welcome and valued. However, we also recognize that the Physics community has much work to do towards improving diversity and we strongly encourage members of Historically Underrepresented Groups to apply. Click here to read our Statement of Solidarity with movements against systemic racism and to learn about our department’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative.

The Admissions Process:

Each application is read by at least two faculty members. We take a holistic approach to admissions, carefully weighing all components of the application to make the best determination about which students will be a good fit in our department. Each year we receive more than 600 applications and send out admissions offers to roughly 50 – 60 applicants. The typical class size is 20 – 30 students, roughly half of whom are international students. Admitted students begin the following September -- they never begin the program in January. Because of the small number of students in each cohort, applicants are admitted only as candidates for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. There is no separate Master of Arts program and no provision for part-time students. However, an M.A. is awarded to those who desire it after they have passed their Generals requirements.

More details about each application component can be found below.

Other departments:

Students might want to explore physics research in the following departments: Astrophysical Sciences, Plasma Physics, Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Molecular Biology, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Neuroscience, Quantitative and Computational Biology. Our research subpages list some associated faculty in other departments with official connections to the Physics department. Note, however, that you are only able to apply to one department at a time.

Questions?

For questions regarding the application process, please reach out to Kate Brosowsky, Graduate Program Administrator. For general info about the department culture and graduate life, feel free to reach out to the Physics Ambassador for your region. https://phy.princeton.edu/ambassadors-program. For information about Access, Diversity, and Inclusion (ADI) in Princeton’s Graduate School, please visit the ADI “Prospective Students” page.

Application Components:

Statement of Academic Purpose

The Statement of Academic Purpose is an opportunity to describe your past research experiences and future research interests. We look for a thoughtful statement that shows signs of creativity and a potential for research. The statement must be convincing and coherent, based on some familiarity with the proposed area of research. It is often helpful if you can relate your research and interests to the research of specific faculty and groups at Princeton. It is not necessary to describe how you became interested in physics. However, if your path to applying to the Princeton Department of Physics was unusual or compelling, please feel free to describe it. The admissions process is holistic, and we pay attention to how students have made use of the opportunities available to them. The bulk of your Statement should be about science, but if there are aspects of your application or experience that you would like to contextualize, please include that information. We are aware that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students may have dealt with unexpected difficulties while taking classes or may have taken many classes with unusual grading policies (eg, pass/fail). Additional relevant background information that will help put your transcript in context would be welcome.

A list of questions you might want to address are listed below. Feel free, however, to include additional information you consider relevant:

  • What background in math, physics, or other sciences have you had that is beyond the usual curriculum of the physics major and that you think is important for us to know?
  • What research experiences have you had? If you made important or original contributions, please explain what they are and, if relevant, how they have influenced your interest in physics.
  • Are you planning to do experimental or theoretical physics, or are you undecided? If your physics courses or research experience have influenced you in this decision, explain how.
  • What kinds of physics are you most interested in pursuing and why? What has influenced you in this decision? Why is Princeton the right fit for your research interests?
  • The research program of our faculty is on the web. Give examples of groups and faculty with whom you might be interested in working.
  • What special aspects of your personality, hobbies, interests and skills make you think that you will be a good physicist?
  • The statement should not exceed 1,000 words and must be written in English. (note the Graduate School's file upload requirements.)
Curriculum Vitae

The curriculum Vitae (C.V.) is an opportunity to share your history of employment, activities, community service, education, academic or professional honors, and publications. Talks and conferences attended should also be included. Please see the Graduate School website for details and also note the file upload requirements.

Recommendation Letters

Three letters of recommendation are required. We pay close attention to letters from people who really know you and can provide relevant information about your potential for physics research. You should prioritize mentors when selecting people to provide letters on your behalf, especially those who have supervised your research. Recommendation letters should help us evaluate your capacity for research, which is the most important criterion for admission. It is useful for recommenders to familiarize themselves with our graduate program so their letter can reflect your potential at Princeton. Please follow the Graduate School's guidelines for submitting recommendation letters and give your recommenders the following letter offering guidelines: Letter for Recommenders.

Fees and fee waivers

The application fee is $95.00. Fee waivers are available based on financial hardship (for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only) or participation in certain programs (for all applicants). Visit the  Graduate School’s website for application instructions and a list of programs. For example, membership in the NSBP, NSHP, or GRE Fee Reduction Program all qualify one for a fee waiver. We are unable to offer fee waivers for the GRE General or Physics Subject Tests. However, ETS offers a fee reduction program based on financial hardship and participation in certain programs. See the ETS website for details. Note that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the GRE General and Physics Subject tests are optional for the 2020/2021 application cycle.

Transcripts

We require a transcript at the time of application from all colleges or universities that you have attended. This transcript may be unofficial, but must include the name of the student, name of the issuing institution, name of courses taken, and the grades received in those courses, and the key from all attended colleges or universities. Additionally, if your transcript is not in English, we require an official English translation along with your transcript. You do not need to wait for fall semester grades to upload your transcript; those can be submitted separately if necessary.

Because this is an unofficial transcript and expected to be sent online, you may, for example, open a sealed copy of your transcript, scan it, and send it, or request an emailed official transcript to be sent to yourself, and upload that to the website. We will not accept screenshots of student portals as transcripts.

Note that grades, while an important component to admissions decisions, are certainly not the only one or the primary factor, and that we strongly encourage applicants to apply even if they feel their grades to be unexceptional. You will be required to submit an official transcript from every college or university you have attended if you are accepted and wish to attend.

Fall Semester Grades

If you are currently a student at a university that provides fall semester grades, we require you to upload those grades once they become available. If your fall grades were available and are included in the transcript you submitted, you do not need to submit anything. If not, once they are available, log back into the application checklist and upload them once they are available. Requirements about translation and screenshots are the same here as in the general transcript upload.

GRE General and Physics Subject Tests

The Physics Department recognizes the challenges many families have endured during this crisis. For the 2020/2021 application only, both the General GRE and Physics Subject exams will be optional.

In addition to English language tests (described below), in most years we require both the GRE general test and the physics subject GRE test. These scores are due at the time of application. We emphasize that standardized test results are only one of the many components we take into consideration when evaluating applications, top scores are not a requirement.

We recognize that there is an ongoing debate about the usefulness of the GRE exam in graduate admissions decisions. One advantage is that it provides students from less traditional backgrounds an opportunity to stand out in the admissions process, and we evaluate applications with an understanding of the exam’s limitations in mind.

We recommend studying for the Physics GRE exam well in advance. ETS publishes a few old tests, which can be used to gauge what you need to work on, and there are published books which contain relevant study material.

English Language Tests

Graduate students must be able to communicate in English to be successful at Princeton. We accept the TOEFL or the IELTS as measures of English proficiency. All students must submit TOEFL or IELTS scores unless their native language is English, or they have studied for at least three years towards a bachelor’s degree or Ph.D. in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, or Anglophone Canada. If you are unsure if you need to submit a test, this page contains more detailed information. This page also contains details on the logistics of taking and sending scores, which must be official scores.