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Advice for Graduate School Applicants

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions: VER 2021.07.16

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: January 15  Late applications can still be submitted; however, they run the risk that we may have filled all the program slots for that year.

Spring applications: The application deadline for spring is September 1. 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.  Applicants should have a minimum US equivalent of a BS in Physics, Astronomy or in a closely related field. 

We do not require general or physics GRE scores.

The graduate school does NOT require English proficiency scores if you receive a BS degree from a US-based university or if you reside and have graduated high school from one of these countries: https://ou.edu/admissions/apply/international/ou-approved-native-english-speaking-countries    Comprehensive details about OU's English proficiency requirements can be found here: https://www.ou.edu/gradcollege/admissions/international-applicants/english-proficiency

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 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. We specifically ask that you discuss why you are interested in attending graduate school, what are your professional goals after obtaining a PhD, and why is OU's physics and astronomy department in particular a good fit for you.  If you have participated in or led education/public outreach activities, or participated/led student groups/organizations as an undergraduate please also discuss this.  We welcome applications from people who have taken a nontraditional career or educational path, and encourage such applicants to use the statement of purpose to describe your experiences.

Letters of recommendation are an important component of your application. 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. 

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).

All applications are reviewed by the Graduate Recruiting and Selection Committee using the same assessment rubric, that evaluates applications in a holistic manner.  The categories we evaluate include: 1) Academic Preparation and Research Potential (this includes your academic performance, the trajectory of your academic performance, and your research if you've had the opportunity to participate in research); 2) Non-cognitive skills (this includes your motivation for attending graduate school, especially at OU, and your communication skills); 3) Community engagement; 4) Alignment with current departmental research

Thanks again for your interest in our graduate program.  Should you have any questions about our program or the application process, please feel to contact us at PA-Grad@ou.edu.

Prof John Wisniewski
Graduate Recruiting and Selection Committee Chair
Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy
The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019 USA