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Apply to the UC San Diego Astronomy Ph.D. Program

Application deadline for Fall 2025 is December 4, 2024

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We welcome applicants with undergraduate training in Astronomy, Physics, and related fields to apply to the UC San Diego Astronomy & Astrophysics Ph.D. program.  The UC San Diego Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics offers a Ph.D. program that provides a focused training in the astronomical sciences, particularly in areas of observational, experimental, and theoretical astrophysics. 

Application deadline for Fall 2025 is December 4, 2024. 

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Application Elements

Academic Transcripts

UC San Diego requires academic transcripts, including a GPA, from each college-level institution you have attended. Qualified applicants are expected to have sound knowledge of undergraduate physics (mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics) and mathematics, and have completed at least one (1) upper-division (junior/senior level) laboratory or computational course. Coursework and research experience in Astronomy is desirable but not required. You must also satisfy all requirements for graduate admissions set by UC San Diego's Graduate Division.

GRE Requirements

The GRE General and Physics exam is not required for admission to the Astronomy Ph.D. program. Applicants may send GRE scores as optional elements of their application, and these will be considered within the scope of academic preparation in our holistic review. Applicants who do not submit scores will not be penalized in any way. To learn more about why GRE scores are optional for this program, see Miller et al. (2019).

English Language Assessment Requirements

A test of English language proficiency is required for international applicants whose native language is not English and who have not studied full-time for one uninterrupted academic year at a university-level institution in which English is the language of instruction and in a country where English is a dominant language. The English language proficiency requirement may be satisfied by completing one of the following:

  • The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): The minimum TOEFL score for admission using the Internet Based Test (iBT) is 85, and the minimum TOEFL Speaking score required is 23.  The minimum score for the TOEFL Paper Based Test is 64; however, please note the Paper Based Test does not have a speaking component which may prevent appointing as a Teaching Assistant. TOEFL information and forms are available at the ETS TOEFL website.
  • The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic Training exam: The minimum IELTS score is Band Score 7 and the minimum IELTS Speaking score is 7. IELTS registration information is available on the IELTS website.

Note that international Students whose native language is not English will be required to demonstrate English language proficiency before they may serve as teaching assistants (TAs).

Letters of Recommendation

At least three (3) letters of recommendation are required, and up to five (5) letters of recommendation can be submitted. Letter writers may reflect a mix of backgrounds (e.g., academic or industry), but at least two (2) letter writers should be qualified to evaluate your academic achievements, training, and ability to carry out graduate-level research. Be sure to reach out to your letter writers early so that they have plenty of time to complete their recommendation before the application deadline.


You may upload an optional one (1) page CV/resume summarizing your academic preparation, research experience, technical skills, accomplishments/awards, leadership activities, and professional references. A CV template created by Alaina G. Levine by can be found at the Physics Today Jobs website.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose, no longer than 2 pages, allows your reviewers to learn about who you are as an individual, your goals as they pertain to a Ph.D. program, and your potential for graduate study and research. Be sure to describe in your statement of purpose (1) how your career goals and personal background inform your decision to pursue a Ph.D. in Astronomy; (2) your core research goals and how they align with the research and faculty at UC San Diego; and (3) any evidence that supports your potential as a graduate researcher. Be sure to highlight any prior research experiences and outcomes, employment or internships experiences, technical skills, and/or academic coursework that supports your application.  The Statement of Purpose can also be used to address any potential weaknesses in your application portfolio (e.g., low course grades, lack of research experience). 

COVID-19 Statement (for 2021)

We recognize that many applicants have had disrupted or impacted educational experiences during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The graduate application provides an opportunity to describe how COVID-19 has impacted your educational experience in relation to your academic performance or grading scale. For example: “For the spring semester, my university let us take two classes P/NP and I chose this because..” or “For the spring quarter, my college graded all classes as P/NP and we didn’t have an option for a letter grade."

Additional Educational Experiences

The graduate application includes a section to describe additional education experiences, including those that touch on diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are seven (7) short response (3-5 sentences) sections, any of which may be optionally completed. We strongly recommend applicants complete this section, as several University fellowships are awarded based on these questions, and these entries are considered during the application review process.

  • Leadership: Examples may include coordination of community volunteer activities, board member or officer in a student organization, residential life advisor, etc.
  • Overcoming Adversity: Examples may include overcoming educational, social, cultural, economic,  accessibility, or personal barriers, among others.
  • Community Involvement: Examples may include volunteer service, organizing, activism, teaching, mentoring, counseling, volunteer tutoring, etc.
  • Social Justice Experience: Examples of addressing systemic inequality may include education, organizing, activism, mentorship, counseling, outreach/access, survival and development work, event planning/coordination, community building and development, etc.
  • Personal or Professional Ethics: Examples may include experience with ethical code development, conduct seminars, IRB training, etc.
  • Research: Examples may include undergraduate research through REU, McNair, or similar organized programs; independent or group study with a professor or other researcher; research outside of academia (e.g., in industry); full-time research after college; etc.
  • Other: Use this question to provide any other kind of experience or information that you feel will help to create a diverse spectrum of ideas, perspectives, and experiences in the Astronomy Ph.D. program.

Fees and Fee Waivers

The graduate application fee for 2025 applications will be: 

  • US Citizens, Permanent Residents, and Undocumented Applicants: $120.00 (TBC)
  • International Applicants: $140.00 (TBC)

UC San Diego offers a fee waiver program for participants in several programs, include UCSD STARS and PATHS, UC LEADS, UC-HBCU and UC-HSI initiatives, Cal-Bridge, CAMPARE, the Meyerhoff Scholars program, REU participants, and others. A full list is provided here: Select your program under the "Other" section of the application, and provide any additional required information to request a fee waiver. 

Fee waiver requests can also be made after completion of the full application. Note that all fee waiver requests must be submitted at least one week prior to the application deadline through the application portal. Your application must be fully submitted for your fee waiver request to be processed. Please do not write the department directly for fee waiver requests.

Holistic Review

The Admissions Committee evaluates applicants using holistic review, an evidence-based approach that aims to identify potential graduate students that are likely to succeed in astronomy research, regardless of prior research opportunities. You can learn more about how holistic review reduces bias in graduate admissions in Baceló et al. (2020).


UC San Diego offers a number of fellowships to incoming graduate students as a means to increase campus diversity and excellence; see

In addition, AAS Astrobites maintains a list of fellowships and grants for graduate students interested in pursuing Astronomy; see

Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The Astronomy Ph.D. program is committed to UC San Diego's mission of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. We strongly encourage applicants for traditionally underrepresented groups in higher education and the sciences to apply. We commit to evaluating each applicant's potential for success regardless of socioeconomic background and access to resources and opportunities. The Admissions Committee is trained each year in Implicit Bias mitigation training, and commits to continuous analysis and evaluation of admissions procedures through the lens of equity, inclusion, and bias reduction. The UC San Diego Graduate Division and faculty in the Astronomy Ph.D. program are active participants in the California Consortium for Inclusive Doctoral Education (C-CIDE)a National Science Foundation-funded initiative that aims to create a network of faculty and administrators across doctoral-granting universities to diversify the demographic composition of STEM graduate programs and the scientific workforce in California.