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How to apply

How do we review applications?

Shortly after the deadline for receipt of applications, we begin a holistic review of each application. Our goal is to assess the ability of the applicant to do research and the readiness of the applicant for graduate-level coursework, and we use all the information in the applicant's dossier to make that determination. We do not apply any cuts based on test scores or grades.

Do I need to report a General GRE score?

No. General GRE scores are not accepted, and if submitted, will not be considered in the evaluation of your application. 

Do I need to report a physics GRE score?

No. Physics GRE scores are not accepted, and if submitted, will not be considered in the evaluation of your application. 

Is there any way to waive the application fee?

Domestic applicants can apply for a fee waiver using the FreeApp program. Your chances are best if you apply for the waiver by the priority deadline of November 15. We cannot guarantee that you will receive a waiver, but our experience is that most students who apply and meet the requirements and goals of the program do indeed receive the requested waiver.

To be eligible for this program, you must have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and be a US citizen or permanent resident.

Unfortunately, we cannot offer fee waivers to international applications under any circumstances. We apologize if this means you are unable to apply to our program.

All of your application materials must arrive by December 15 to receive full consideration, including for fellowships.

If you have questions about MSU’s graduate program in astronomy, please email the astronomy graduate director, Jay Strader (straderj@msu.edu).

Step 1: Start your application

Applications for the Astronomy and Astrophysics Ph.D. program must be submitted through MSU's application portal at: http://explore.msu.edu/apply/. When first starting an application, you must create an account. 

You should only apply to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Ph.D. if you intend to have your primary advisor be a faculty member in the astronomy group (see list of faculty under "Faculty" here: https://astro.natsci.msu.edu/people/index.aspx). If your intended primary advisor is in high-energy physics, particle astrophysics, or nuclear astrophysics and is not on this list, you should instead apply to the Physics Ph.D. program. You should not independently apply to both the Astronomy and Astrophysics Ph.D. program and the Physics Ph.D. program.

Please contact the astronomy graduate director at straderj@msu.edu if you are unsure about whether the Astronomy and Astrophysics Ph.D. program is the right fit for your interests.

Step 2: Fill out the application form

After creating the account and starting a new application:

  1. Select "Graduate" when asked for the application type.
  2. In the "Personal Background" and "Personal Background - Continued" sections, enter the requested information.
  3. In the "Other Information" section:
    • Select "Fall Semester (year)" as the first semester to enroll. We will not consider applications to start in spring semester. 
    • Select  "Astrophysics and Astronomy (doctoral)" as the Major Preference. We will not consider applications for a terminal master's degree.
    • Fill out the questions about Communications and Financial Aid. 
    • Say that you want to be considered for a graduate assistantship. We provide support to all graduate students. This is usually in the form of a teaching assistantship for your first two years and a research assistantship after that. We also consider everyone admitted for recruiting fellowships.
    • If an applicant is international, a section called "Financial Support" will appear. Note that teaching and research assistantships provided through the Department are sufficient to meet the requirements.

Step 3: Write the academic and personal statements

The application has two essays: an academic statement and a personal statement. Please ensure that you address the following topics in the academic statement:

  1. Describe research you have done to date.
  2. Describe your research interests: what areas or techniques are you interested in studying at Michigan State? It is OK to be interested in more than one topic or faculty member.
  3. Describe your long-term career goals, and explain how a graduate degree in astrophysics fits into those plans.
  4. Describe your experience with computation.

Please address the following topics in the personal statement:

  1. Give an example of a time you hit a serious professional or educational obstacle or failure, and how you dealt with it. You can also describe here if you dealt with financial hardship or other adversity in pursuing your career goals. Note that this is not a request to relate personal trauma, unless you think this is essential to understand the context of your application.
  2. Describe extracurricular activities in which you've been involved, including volunteer, outreach, and community engagement efforts; in particular, give examples of activities you've led or new initiatives you have started.
  3. What professional or educational accomplishment are you most proud of, and why?
  4. Give an appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses as related to graduate study.
  5. What appeals to you the most about getting a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and why do you feel this is a good choice for you?

Both statements should be uploaded as PDF documents in the appropriate locations.

(Optional) Under "COVID-19", you can provide information about any circumstances related to COVID-19 that have affected your educational record. The admissions committee is aware that most applicants have experienced unusual challenges, so you should feel free to leave this blank if you do not have specific additional information to share that is relevant for evaluating your application.

Step 4: Finish the Form

  1. Complete the "Conduct Questions" and questions in the "Other" category.
  2. In the "Academic History" section, enter your academic record, including GPAs.
  3. The "Test Scores" section is only mandatory for international applicants, who are required to demonstrate their English language proficiency (see details at the bottom of the page).
    • International applicants do not need to demonstrate English language proficiency if they obtained a bachelor’s degree in the US or some other English-speaking countries.
  4. General and Physics GRE scores are not accepted, and should not be entered.
  5. You can skip the "Employment" and "Activities" sections of the application.
  6. In the "References" section, list three people who will submit letters of recommendation in support of your application.
    • You will be able to see which recommenders have submitted a letter and which recommenders have not responded. You can send a reminder message via the applicant portal or enter a different recommender, if desired.
  7. Complete the "Signature" Section.
  8. Use the "Review" Section to review the completeness of your application and complete/fix the application where needed. Note that the review doesn't check for optional entries that might be required by the department. Hence, please make sure to double check to all sections are complete.

Once all application sections are complete, you can submit the application. You must pay the application fee. For information about fee waivers, see above.

Step 5: Upload Supporting Documents

After the application is submitted, you have the ability to upload additional documents. The following documents must be uploaded:

  1. Unofficial copy of your most up-to-date transcripts, including fall semester grades if you have them.
  2. Curriculum Vitae (including publications, talks, and/or posters)
  3. If relevant, unofficial copy of your English language test scores.

You may optionally submit an example of your research. This could be a published or draft version of a paper intended for publication on which you are an author, a paper written for a class, a PDF version of a poster you presented at a conference, a link to a recorded version of a talk you gave at your school or at a conference that is currently publicly available, or anything else that you feel represents the research you have done to date. It is OK if it is incomplete or in draft form. This is optional and you should only submit something in this category if you have it readily available.

On the page where you can upload documents, you can also check what the status of the submission of other documents is, including the requested letters of recommendation.

(Accepted Students Only) Step 6: Official Documents

If you receive an offer and accept it, you should arrange for your College or University to send your Official Transcripts electronically to Kim Crosslan (crossla3@msu.edu).  If this is not possible they should be mailed directly to the Department in a sealed envelope. The address is:

Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
Michigan State University
Attn: Mrs. Kim Crosslan
567 Wilson Road, Room 1312
East Lansing, MI 48824 USA

Note that you do not need to submit an official transcript for the consideration of your application (the unofficial upload is fine). However, if you are accepted and there is a discrepancy between your official and unofficial transcripts or test scores, your offer of admission could be rescinded.

International students

If English is not your first language and you did not receive your bachelor's degree in the US, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in English via the TOEFL exam or equivalent (see this page for a list of requirements). For the TOEFL, the Institution Code is 1465, department code is 61 (Astronomy). In addition, you will need to pass the MSU SPEAK test before being assigned a teaching position.  The SPEAK test is given during orientation before the start of fall semester.