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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!

Financial Support

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.

Application Details

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:

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:

Contact Us!

After browsing our website, please e-mail us at if you would like additional information. We look forward to hearing from you!

A Note to Writers of Recommendation Letters

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.

Thank you!


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