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Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Link to the application portal - instructions below 

General information

The department of physics and astronomy hosts a variety of Ph.D. programs. If you are interested in applying for a Ph.D. in Astronomy/Astrophysics, please refer to its separate application information page. This site is primarily meant for the Ph.D. program in Physics and for the new Master's Degree in Accelerator Science.

Broadening and Supporting Participation in Our Graduate Programs.

Over the past years, we have implemented a holistic recruiting rubric with the goal to consider more carefully the diverse backgrounds and experiences that applicants bring to the program. While academic and research achievements are important, we also consider many other factors, such as leadership experiences, contributions to the community, work experiences, a wide range of career skills, and personal experiences (for details, see Young et al., published in Physical Review PER). We strongly encourage applicants to address their broad range of qualifications in their applications.  

In Academic Year 2022-23, the Physics Ph.D. program was changed significantly. The primary goal of the changes was to ensure that students with different backgrounds, and different learning and assessment strengths and weaknesses can thrive in the Ph.D. program. The mentoring structures for students were enhanced and more support is provided for the initial course-intensive period of the Ph.D. program, for example through an exam helpdesk and summer tutorials. The core graduate courses are now more interactive and the path towards candidacy provides flexibility. Overall, there is more emphasis on learning through research activities and somewhat less emphasis on learning through formal course work. We have also removed the placement/qualifying exam and provide individualized guidance for initial coursework based on coursework taken at the undergraduate level and an advising conversation with each student.  

Program Information

Information about the research activities in the department of physics and astronomy can be found at the following site: https://pa.msu.edu/research/. Detailed information about our programs and their degree requirements can be found here. The Physics and Astronomy Graduate Student Handbook is the authoritative document on all programs and requirements.

Wondering whether MSU is the school for you - check out: Is MSU the School for Me? More information about what makes our program unique can be found at: What makes MSU unique? You can also find information about the careers that our graduates have pursued at the Careers of Alumni page.

Information about how graduate students are supported when pursuing a graduate degree in the Department of Physics and Astronomy can be found at Financial Support. Information about housing is available at Housing Information

In addition to the many facilities for education and research on campus, the Department of Physics and Astronomy has its own specialized facilities. Information about these facilities can be found at: Specialized Facilities.


Deadline for all applications to be submitted is December 26, 2023. Letters of reference should also be uploaded by that deadline. Only in exceptional circumstances will applications that arrive later be reviewed. The department does not usually process admissions to students during the spring or summer semesters.  Please apply for fall.

If you want to be considered for University Fellowships (for more information see below) please submit your application by December 15, 2023.  

We start making offers in late January/early February and continue until our positions are filled, which is usually in April. In recent years, about ~35 students join our program. Domestic students who are made an offer will be invited for a campus visit. We also plan for a virtual recruiting event that U.S. and non-U.S. based students can attend. 

MSU adheres to the April 15 Resolution regarding Graduate Scholars, Fellows, Trainees, and Assistants.


Your application will be reviewed in a holistic manner by a recruiting committee with membership from all research areas in the department. The review will consider all documents provided and be based on a rubric that includes the components focusing on academic preparation and accomplishments, research preparation and experience, non-cognitive competencies (e.g. initiative, perseverance, conscientiousness), and fit to the graduate program in our department, in a broad sense. There are no minimum GPA requirements. More information about important items to include are in the detailed instructions below. The submission of GRE scores is optional. Not submitting GRE scores will not negatively impact your application.


Domestic applicants for our Ph.D. programs 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 fee waiver, 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.

In addition to FreeApp program, there are waiver programs for McNair Scholars (apply here) and for students who participated in targeted conferences and events, such as SACNAS, ABRCMS, AISES, ERN, SROP, NSBP, etc. (apply here).

An overview of the waiver programs can be found at: https://grad.msu.edu/application-fee-waiver

Students who participated in the MSU Physics and Astronomy REU program and wish to request a waiver should contact the people listed at the bottom of this page. 

Once a student has received a waiver and have completed their application and reached the point in the application where the payment is required (see step 14 below), they should contact the MSU graduate school at: gradschool@grd.msu.edu with the waiver information. The graduate school will then apply the waiver to the application. 


Graduate students in the Ph.D. program in Physics and Astronomy are usually supported through teaching and research assistantships. These assistantships are provided pending the availability of funding and require that the student continues to make good progress in the program. Details about assistantships can be found at: https://pa.msu.edu/academics/graduate-program/prospective-grad-students/financial-support/.

There are a variety of merit-based fellowships available for students. The deadline for most of these is early in January and to be eligible, we must receive your application by December 15, 2022. The fellowships are competitive across the College of Natural Science and the University. We will submit your application for these fellowships as soon as it is complete and based on merit. In formation about what information to include in your application to enhance your chances for a Fellowship can be found in the detailed application instructions below.  For more information about these fellowships, please visit https://grad.msu.edu/recruitment-awards. Links to some non-MSU Fellowship opportunities can be found at:

Application details and instructions

Applications for the Physics 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. 

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 2023" as the first semester to enroll
    • Select "Physics (doctoral)", "Astrophysics and Astronomy (doctoral)" or "Accelerator Science and Engineering (Masters)" as the Major Preference. Please note that we do not accept students in Physics and Astrophysics and Astronomy Masters programs. 
    • Fill out the questions about Communications and Financial Aid. As mentioned above, we usually support our students through assistantships unless they have MSU or external fellowships. Most applicants should indicate that they want to be considered for financial support, unless the education is sponsored otherwise.
    • If an applicant is international, a section called "Financial Support" will appear after the "Conduct Questions" (see below). Note that teaching and research assistantships provided through the Department are sufficient to meet the requirements, but you can contact us if you have questions about this section.
    • (Optional) Under "COVID-19", you can provide information about COVID-19 induced circumstances that have affected your education or academic records 
    • Fill out the information under "Other" if applicable.
  4. Complete the section "Conduct Questions" 
  5. For International students: complete the section "Financial Support".  Note that teaching and research assistantships provided through the Department are sufficient to meet the requirements, but you can contact us if you have questions about this section.
  6. In the "Academic History" section, enter your academic record, including GPAs
  7. In the "Test Scores" section, you can enter information regarding two types of tests
    • International students are required to demonstrate their English language proficiency. Graduate school English Language requirements can be found at this webpage, including information about alternative tests available due to COVID-19 circumstances. For TOEFL, Institution Code is 1465, and the Department Codes are 76 for Physics and 61 for Astronomy. Note that the Department of Physics and Astronomy generally requires higher scores than the University.  For example, we suggest a total average score of 100 or better on the iBT, but may accept slightly lower scores for exceptional cases.
    • If a student is international a section called "ELP Waiver" will appear after the "Test Scores" section. It is possible to request a waiver for the language test, and supporting materials can be submitted here. For details about the waivers, check here. Automatic waivers can be provided for students with a BS from a U.S. (or other english speaking) institution, BS from MSU (while on campus), or M.S. degree from an AAU institution  on a U.S. Campus. For detailed requirements and for information about non-automatic waivers, please check here.
    • For the Physics Ph.D. program, submission of physics or general GRE scores is optional - students can choose to submit GRE scores if they believe it adds to their application. There is no disadvantage if you do not submit your GRE scores. For the astronomy and astrophysics Ph.D. program, general GRE scores are not accepted, and if submitted, will not be considered in the evaluation of your application.
  8. You can skip the "Employment" section of the application, but you must upload a Curriculum Vitae with your application (see below).  Having a complete CV is usually very helpful, for example when making College and University Fellowship nominations by the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
  9. You can skip the "Activities" section of the application. Please list activities in your CV (See below).
  10. Michigan State University requires at least three letters of recommendation, so you must list at least list three people who will submit letters of recommendation in support of your application in the "References" section. Please request letters from people who can speak to your accomplishments that are relevant for your application. We certainly welcome input on a wide range of issues, similar to the topics for the personal and academic statements. Note that once you entered the details of a recommender, and press the "send to recommender" button, you can no longer revoke the request for a letter. Note that the applicant will be able to see which recommenders have submitted a letter and which recommenders have not responded. The applicant can send a reminder message via the applicant portal or enter a different recommender, if desired.
  11. In the section "Physics Supplemental Questions" please provide the following:
    • Personal Statement: Please address the specific items listed in the application portal. For completeness, they are also listed here:
      • Leadership experiences and other experiences that demonstrate your potential for distinctive professional or scholarly contributions. Such experiences can be academic, community-focused, or professional,
      • Contributions to a diverse (educational) community: these could relate to your personal history and experiences, research goals, and/or the promotion of understanding among persons of different backgrounds and ideas
      • Record of overcoming obstacles: these could be academic, social, economic, personal.  There is no need to share detailed personal information and you shouldn't share anything on your application that you wouldn't be comfortable sharing with someone otherwise.    
    • Academic Statement: Please address the specific items listed in the application portal. For completeness, they are also listed here. Note that the items requested for applications to the MS program in Accelerator Science and Engineering are slightly different than listed here.
      • Motivate the subfield(s) you wish to focus on in graduate school (accelerator science and engineering, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, high-energy physics, physics education research, biophysics, astrophysics, astronomy, or other) Are you interested in theoretical research or experimental research, or both? Are you interested in computational aspects of research?
      • How are your research interest related to opportunities in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at MSU? Motivate which research groups you are interested in working in? Be specific, but do not limit yourself to the research group of one faculty member. You want to show you have really thought about this, but not constrain yourself to one group which might not have many openings in a given year.
      • What are you research experiences? Included duration and type (e.g. REU) of experience and include products (a paper, presentations/posters, report etc). How have these experiences shaped your decision to apply to MSU? If you do not have many research experiences, explain what has shaped your decision to apply to MSU and perhaps why it was hard to perform research.
      • What is your overall academic record? Since you will submit your transcripts, you do not have to give detailed information about grades and GPA, but you can certainly highlight specific accomplishments (awards, prizes, fellowships) or explanations of your academic record.
      • Please note that there are strict rules about transferring credits from other institutions or using lifelong learning credits towards a graduate degree. In addition, using transfer and lifelong learning credits obtained prior to entering the graduate program affect the date by which a degree needs to be completed. If you plan to transfer credits or use lifelong learning credits towards your graduate degree, we strongly encourage you to provide us with details in your application and/or to ask us prior to submitting your application by using the contact information below.
    • (Optional) List specific faculty members whom you might be interested in working with. You do not have to provide names here and not listing specific faculty does not exclude the potential opportunity to work with other faculty. Listing some names makes it easier for us to identify your research interests. Note that not all faculty are seeking for students to join their groups every year, so being flexible is also important. You can refer to the graduate brochures linked to at the top of page for 1-page overviews of research by our faculty.
    • Indicate whether you will (likely) have obtained a M.S. degree by Fall of 2023.
    • Also select your research area(s) of interest. This is important, as it help us make sure your application is reviewed by faculty in the relevant research area(s). You can select more than one. If you select other, please detail what other interests you have in your academic statement. 
    • Finally, you can provide some details about external fellowships you have been awarded or applied for, if any.
  12. Complete the "Signature" Section
  13. 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.
  14. Once all application sections are complete, you can submit the application. You must pay the application fee. For information about fee waivers, see the "Waiver Information" above.
  15. After the application is submitted, you have the ability to upload additional documents. The following documents must be uploaded: 
    • Curriculum Vitae
    • Unofficial copy of your most up-to-date transcripts
    • Unofficial copy of your test scores, if relevant (GRE (general/subject) and Language test)
    • You are welcome to upload additional materials if you believe they benefit our ability to assess your application

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.

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

If you have fewer lines in your form, you can use:

Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, M.S.U.
Attn: Mrs. Kim Crosslan
567 Wilson Road, Room 1312
East Lansing, MI 48824 USA


For questions about your application, please contact:

Remco Zegers, Associate Chair and Graduate Program Director

Kim Crosslan, Graduate Secretary
tel: +1 517-884-5531