Applying to the EPS Graduate Program
Our close-knit community of faculty and ~25 graduate students undertakes research of global significance at our lakeside campus on the north shore of Chicago. Our program provides a competitive stipend to all accepted students, in addition to full tuition and medical insurance and support for conference attendance. We are recently invigorated with $10 million analytical labs, all new office and teaching spaces, and use of world-class, high-performance computing clusters.
Recruiting for next year is now closed. To see who was recruting for Fall 2024 see Who’s Recruiting.
We welcome students with backgrounds that span the range of STEM disciplines, including physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science, and mathematics, in addition to those whose undergraduate preparation was in geology, earth, environmental or atmospheric sciences. Students with STEM backgrounds who also pursued non-STEM majors as undergraduates (for example, studio art or political science) have also been very successful in our program. We encourage students who did not study geoscience as undergraduates to pay close attention to prerequisites for the department courses they wish to take. All students should familiarize themselves with the foundational course requirements for our program – requirements that may be met in part with coursework at Northwestern before undertaking the qualifying exam.
In addition to evaluating candidates’ academic preparation, including quantitative aptitude and communication skills, faculty take a holistic view in considering applicant’s preparedness for graduate school. We seek future Ph.D.s who are creative, highly curious, adaptable, self-motivated, organized, professional and able to handle a variety of tasks in parallel. We also value clear communication, collaboration, outreach, and community service. We encourage all applicants to consider how their application package can highlight whatever combination of academic preparation, research experience, work experience, family responsibilities, extracurricular leadership, artistic and cultural expression, or other accomplishments best demonstrates some of these key attributes.
Contacting potential advisors
Graduate students accepted to the department have usually emailed and/or talked with potential Ph.D. advisors prior to applying. Therefore, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with the research interests of EPS faculty members and contact a potential advisor whose research aligns with your interests the summer or fall before the application deadline. We recommend sending a short email briefly describing why a faculty member’s research program interests you, and your key qualifications. It can also be helpful to attach a resume or CV in any format, to provide more details about your background and accomplishments. Visit faculty and lab web pages and look through a few faculty publications prior to contacting potential advisors. These steps can help you to articulate what excites you about a faculty member’s research program.
Financial Support for Ph.D. Students
Our program provides all accepted Ph.D. students with at least five years of full support – a competitive stipend, tuition, and student health insurance – provided they maintain satisfactory progress towards the completion of their degrees. We also strongly support our students in applying for competitive external fellowships and research grants during their Ph.D. training, to enhance their professional trajectories.
Our application deadline for Fall 2024 has now passed (December 18, 2023).
Application essays: PhD applicants will be required to provide two thoughtful written statements:
Academic statements should answer the following questions (1,000 words max):
- What are your academic interests, and why do you wish to pursue graduate studies in this specific program?
- How has your academic and professional background prepared you for graduate study? (Please include any research, training, or educational experiences that align with the program you are applying to.)
- How will our program help you achieve your intellectual and professional goals?
- Please make sure to address any scholarly questions you wish to explore in the program and name any specific faculty members in this program whose research interests align with your own.
Personal statements should address the following (500 words max):
- The Graduate School values diverse backgrounds, approaches, and perspectives, understanding them as essential ingredients for true academic excellence. As a Northwestern graduate student, how could you contribute to an intellectual community that prioritizes equity, inclusion, belonging, and cultural humility? Your answer may draw upon past or present experiences, whether in academic work, extracurricular or community activities, or everyday life.
Applicants can OPTIONALLY also respond to the following short answer question (250 words max). There is no penalty for leaving this question blank:
- If there is something that you would like to highlight that you have yet to discuss in other areas of the application, please do so here. You can also use this space to address any concerns you may have in your application. If, for example, you do not believe that your academic credentials demonstrate your true capabilities, please explain why. Also, describe any gaps in your academic career and work experience or any extenuating circumstances in your profile of which the admissions committee should be made aware.
Additional Requirements for Foreign Applicants
Foreign applicants from countries in which English is not the native language must certify their English proficiency in one of the following ways:
- By providing acceptable Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores. The test must be taken no more than two years before the intended quarter of entry. To qualify for admission, students must earn a minimum score of 90 on the internet test, or a 7.0 on the IELTS.
- By earning an undergraduate and/or graduate degree from a regionally accredited institution, where the language of instruction is English. Please contact the Program Assistant to inquire about whether your institution qualifies for this exemption.
Domestic applicants and U.S. citizens apply directly to TGS for an application fee waiver during the admissions application process.
International applicants who are interested in applying for a fee waiver start by making email contact with potential faculty advisors to confirm that their research interests in pursuing a Ph.D. align with the recruiting faculty member’s program. The faculty member can then initiate the request for a fee waiver application.
Thank you for supporting an applicant to our Ph.D. program by writing a letter of recommendation. We have recently revised our Ph.D. application requirements, and as such we are providing updated guidance to letter-writers.
We have removed the GRE requirement, so if you have knowledge of the applicant’s quantitative abilities and/or writing and speaking skills, please prioritize commenting on those.
We appreciate any perspective you can provide on the applicant’s preparedness for graduate school, especially for conducting independent research. Capacity for growth in these areas is also highly valued, especially for applicants who had limited opportunities to pursue independent research as undergraduates.
In addition to evaluating traditional academic skills, we also seek future Ph.D.s who are creative, highly curious, adaptable, self-motivated, organized, professional and able to handle a variety of tasks in parallel. Commitment to collaboration, outreach, or community service is also of interest.