Grad School

Particularly ambitious undergrads may have a desire to go to Grad School. General advice, information, and specific stories:

General advice

Going to grad school is a big decision, and a good chunk of time so you should definitely make sure it's really what you want to do.

The majority of applications are due in mid-December, with the latest deadlines in mid-January, and all have the same format. On the application site, you will need to fill in personal data (name, address, etc), information about your education (your undergrad institution, transcript, etc), GRE scores, and then there will be a statement of purpose. You will have to take the general GRE as well as the physics subject GRE (though some programs have dropped the PGRE requirement in recent years). The statement of purpose is a roughly 2 page essay on why you want to go to grad school. You should also probably talk about any research you have done, and then have a portion where you make it specific to each school. In that part, you should talk about which professors you are particularly interested in working with, and what you find interesting about their work. Sometimes a school will ask for an additional essay, which could be more personal or about diversity, etc. In addition to the above information, you will need at least three letters of recommendation. It is best to have these come from people who you have done research with, but if you don't have three research advisors then you should ask a professor who knows you well. Ask your recommenders early, so they have time to write you a good letter.

Advice from individuals

Rough Timeline (United States)

Note: This is assuming that you want to apply to begin graduate school in the fall following your last year as an undergrad. People sometimes take time off between the two to do research, travel, work, etc. You can also apply and then defer for a year after you've been accepted, in which case you'd follow this timeline.

Summer before Senior Year - Start planning! Think about things like: Is grad school right for you? What programs might you want to apply to? Who will write your letters? What kind of research do you want to pursue in grad school?

September - Take the Physics GRE. Start writing Statements of Purpose. Think about whether you want to apply for NSF. If you do, get letters.

Late October - NSF is due at the end of the month. Get that submitted and have your letters in order. Possibly take the PGRE again.

November - Finalize the list of schools you're applying to, make sure your letter writers have been notified about deadlines, and finish up your statements.

December - Submit your first applications. The earliest deadlines are in the first week of December. For many programs, the deadlines are either the middle or end of the month.

Early January - Finish submitting applications. Some programs have deadlines as late as the middle of this month.

Late January - Potentially, have interviews and begin hearing back from schools if you're getting good news. Most programs release good news earlier than bad news, so chances are, you'll get acceptances before rejections.

Early to Mid-February - Receive decisions from most programs.

March - Visits! Go visit the departments you've been accepted to during their “Open House” days and get more information about each program.

April 15 - Deadline to accept and decline offers.

Kinda old but the general advice seems rather solid. Link

astrobites is a great resource for discussions on different topics in astronomy and for grad school advice.

I (Joe) found a decent timeline for what you should be doing in terms of applications Fall of your last year. PFP said (and I agree with him) that starting your essays in November is a bit late since you want time for feedback from your advisors.

A thorough list of questions to ask faculty and grad students during your grad school visits (transcribed from a handout given during a CalTech visit).

Applying Internationally

If you'd like to apply to international graduate schools, that is definitely an option! However, there are some key differences in the process that can be helpful to know prior to the application period. For example, the timeline for applying internationally may also significantly differ from that of domestic applications. Additionally, it is important to be aware that the programs are typically set up in a different format such that you may be expected to have a Master's degree before applying. But, do not let this deter you - if you have a strong background in research, this detail can be overlooked, and some institutes have bridge programs for students without a Master's. For more specific regional information, see the links below.

Applying in the UK

Applying in continental Europe