Applying to the EPS Graduate Program
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. Do not be shy; we love hearing from enthusiastic future Ph.D.s!
The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences provides all of its Ph.D. students with at least five years of tuition support, Northwestern student health insurance, and a stipend, provided they maintain satisfactory progress towards the completion of their degrees. Over the course of the program, funding typically includes a combination of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, university fellowships or other departmental support. Students may apply for additional internal financial support for field research and travel to conferences and professional meetings. We strongly support our students in applying for competitive external fellowships during their Ph.D. training, to enhance their professional trajectories. To qualify for teaching assistantships, foreign students must demonstrate proficiency in spoken English.
The application deadline for Fall 2022 was December 20, 2021.
Students should review The Graduate School's application requirements. Students must complete an on-line application. The online application site becomes active in early September for admission to the following year's incoming Fall Quarter class.
Applications require the following materials:
- Application Fee of $95. Application fee waivers may be available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who meet the requirements of eligibility set by The Graduate School. Requesting an application fee waiver is part of The Graduate School application process and will not affect departmental review of applications.
- Three letters of recommendation. At least one must speak primarily to your academic abilities and aptitude for conducting future independent research. For most students, two or three letters will come from professors and be academic in nature. However, if you have devoted significant effort to non-academic activities, a letter (or for applicants with extensive experience outside academia, two letters) from a supervisor or mentor who can speak to other professional qualifications (like leadership, self-motivation, communication skills or community-mindedness) is welcome and encouraged. The Graduate School provides advice about selecting academic letter writers. We strongly recommend sharing our Note to Letter-writers with your recommenders, to help guide their writing.
- An unofficial copy of your transcript or academic record from each undergraduate and graduate institution attended. Applicants upload pdf versions online, so requesting an official transcript is not necessary (until you accept an offer of admission). Please include an official English translation to accompany any foreign language transcripts.
- Resume/CV. In addition to summarizing academic credentials, also highlight any research, employment, extracurricular and/or other experiences and accomplishments that have most contributed to your preparedness for a Ph.D. program. Your resume/CV has no formatting or length requirements.
- Writing Sample. Please upload a piece of writing of which you are particularly proud. Consider submitting a paper written for a class, a senior thesis or independent study report, a published journal article if you have one, a piece of creative writing, a report prepared at work, or anything else that demonstrates your writing capabilities. The Writing Sample may be of any length. You should provide context for this piece in your Cover Statement (see below).
- Writing Sample Cover Statement. Briefly (in one page or less) describe (a) what your Writing Sample is, (b) the degree to which it reflects your independent work (faculty feedback is common and fine; just describe the role that anyone else played in writing or editing your piece), and (c) why you chose to share this particular piece of writing. (In what way(s) does this piece best reflect your capabilities?)
- Statement of Purpose. This statement (of no more than two pages) should summarize your professional interests and reasons for wanting to pursue graduate studies in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern. In preparing the Statement of Purpose, consider answering some of these questions: What topics within earth and planetary sciences excite you most? What specific academic or other experiences focused your interest on the area of research you want to pursue? Do you have strengths that might not be obvious from other parts of your application? (And what specific accomplishments demonstrate those strengths?) Are there any parts of your application that you would like to explain in more detail, in your own voice? What do you hope to do with a Ph.D.? What makes you want to pursue a Ph.D. at Northwestern, specifically?
- Diversity Statement. The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences is committed to cultivating an environment that explicitly values diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). As we look inwards, including evaluating department policies and practices through these lenses, we also ask that our applicants consider how they can contribute to an inclusive, supportive and community-minded departmental culture. Please address this in your Diversity Statement by answering one or more of the following questions: Do you have ideas or a special passion for making earth and planetary sciences more diverse and inclusive? What activities would you like to pursue as a Ph.D. student that will contribute to a supportive and inclusive department culture? Do you have past experiences with community-building, community service, education, outreach and/or DEI efforts that you would like to build upon? What do you hope to see within the department in terms of DEI?
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.
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.
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