Graduate Admissions and Financial Aid
The only specific requirements for admission are those stipulated by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In addition, prospective students should be well-versed in intermediate physics and mathematics. Typically, applicants will have devoted between 50 and 60 credit hours - approximately half of their undergraduate work - to physics, mathematics, and chemistry. It is desirable for every applicant to have completed at least one year of introductory quantum mechanics classes.
The results of the Graduate Record Examinations, general tests and physics subject test are normally required of all applicants. Exceptions have been made for certain students who could not take the examinations due to hardships, but it is to each applicant’s advantage to take the examinations.
A prospective student who has a marked interest in a particular branch of physics should include this information on the admission application form. Every applicant should indicate whether he or she is inclined toward experimental or theoretical (mathematical) research. This statement of preference will not be treated as a commitment to any course of study and research.
Each applicant should also submit, on a separate page, a brief description of the six most advanced courses (four in physics and two in mathematics) he or she will have completed before graduation.
Application forms will be available in September at www.gsas.harvard.edu.
For answers to frequently asked questions about applying to the graduate physics program, please click here.
The Department of Physics guarantees full financial support, on a twelve-month basis, for all its graduate students as long as they remain in good standing and complete assigned duties in a satisfactory manner. Support packages consist of Harvard scholarships and some combination of teaching fellowships, outside fellowships, and research assistantships. If a student does not have an outside fellowship, the primary source of this basic support during the first year of study will be the Purcell Fellowship, which covers the full stipend for the first two semesters (10 months) as well as tuition and all fees.
The Department's compensation package ensures that all students, whatever the stage of their graduate studies, receive at least a minimum gross (taxable) stipend for living expenses. This stipend is adjusted each year to help meet increases in the cost of living, within the limitations of available funds. The support covers tuition and fees, which include full cost of medical insurance and access to Harvard University Health Services, as well as support for professional travel.
Should a student have another fellowship offer, it will be integrated into the financial package. An external fellowship will benefit both the student and the department, as it may reduce teaching responsibilities, provide more flexibility in choosing a research field, and release departmental or research funds to support other students. If the fellowship provides fewer resources than the minimum stipend offered by the department, the Department will provide a supplement. For example, National Science Foundation fellowships provide a living allowance and partial support for tuition and fees, and the Department provides the additional funds necessary to meet the Department's minimum stipend requirements and to pay the remainder of tuition and other expenses. Alternatively, some fellowships (e.g., the Hertz) provide substantially larger stipends than the Department's minimum, in which case we simply rejoice in the recipient's good fortune.
Research assistantships are the second main source of support for graduate students. During the first year, students will have the opportunity to explore informally the activities of the department's various research groups. At the start of their second year, most students will be offered one or more opportunities to enter into formal relationships with a research group as research assistants. A limited number of Summer School teaching positions will also be available for those who do not immediately secure a research position.
Teaching fellowships, the third major course of support, usually involve supervision of undergraduate discussion sections or laboratory sessions, grading of examinations and problem sets, and similar duties. These duties vary with course level and instructor, but typically require about 20 hours of work per week, including lecture attendance and preparation. Because of the importance of teaching skills for a successful physics career, one semester of teaching is required of all physics students in the first five years of graduate study. This experience will help students develop the communication skills that are vital for careers in both academia and in industry.