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FAQs for Graduate Students

Graduate Degree ProgramsQ. Where is UMBC located?

A. UMBC has a unique location and academic environment. It is situated on a spacious 480-acre campus only a few minutes from I-95, with easy access to Baltimore (20 min) and Washington, DC(40 min).

Q. How large is UMBC?

A. UMBC has about 10,000 undergraduate and close to 3,000 graduate students.  It has the reputation of a first rate medium sized research university that combines the advantages of a research university with the intimate atmosphere of a liberal arts college.

Q. How large is the UMBC Physics Department?

A. The department is composed of 24 tenure-track faculty, two full-time lecturers and 15 research faculty. There are approximately 120 undergraduate physics majors and 50 graduate students in the Physics and Atmospheric Physics PhD and Masters programs. The Physics Department also hosts several large multi-institutional research centers.

Q. Are graduate students used to teach undergraduate lecture courses?

A. No. The only use our department makes of graduate teaching assistants is to run discussion sections in introductory courses, assist in laboratory courses and grade student assignments.

Q. What is the deadline for applications ?

A. The application deadline for fall admission is January 1 for all international students and for domestic students applying for a teaching assistantship. Applications from domestic students received after January 1 will compete for any available remaining teaching assistantships. The deadline is June 1 for domestic applicants not seeking financial support. The deadline for spring admission is May 1 for international students and November 1 for domestic students. We admit few students for the spring semester, most often with unusual backgrounds. Thus, you should inquire with the Admissions Committee Chair or the Graduate Program Director if you plan to start in the spring.

Q. I have just noticed that I missed the deadline for application.  Can I still apply?

A. Of course, however, your chances are much better if you follow the official deadlines.  Also, the number of available teaching assistantships is finite.  Nevertheless, our objective is to admit the most talented group of students possible.  Thus, we may find a way to support you even if you applied late. Not every student accepts our admission, places may free up any time, so do not give up.  Ask the Chair of the Admissions Committee to learn about the current state of matters.

Q. Is there a minimum required score on the TOEFL test for admission of international students?

A. Yes. According to the rules of the Graduate School, any applicant with a TOEFL score below 80/213/550 (internet-based, computer-based, paper-based) is automatically rejected. Although the department does not have a strict limit of its own, our experience shows that a student should be above or very close to 100/250/600 to function effectively in her/his courses and as a teaching assistant.

Q. Is there a minimum general GRE score required for admission?

A. We assess the potential of an applicant based on all the available material, not a single test score.  We automatically dismiss applications with a quantitative GRE score below 600.  Our students usually score above 750, but we have admitted students with scores below 700 with otherwise promising backgrounds.  For Applied Physics applicants, the Physics GRE is required from students who majored in a subject other than physics; it is optional for students with a physics degree.  For Atmospheric Physics applicants, the Physics GRE is optional but suggested.  We use it as a measure of general preparedness rather than a strict condition.  Of course, a high physics GRE score always makes an application stronger.

Q. Is there a minimum GPA for admission?

A. A low GPA does not automatically exclude you from the program, as long as it is explained and compensated by positive factors, such as a high GRE score, relevant research experience, etc.  According to the rules of the Graduate School, you can only be admitted conditionally, if your GPA is below 3.0. The usual condition is that you pass all your courses during the first year with an A or B. Otherwise, you are dismissed from the program.

Q. Do you admit students who plan to return to school several years after getting the B.S. degree?

A. Yes; we have had a number of successful returning students. However, these situations are always unique. The Admissions Committee Chair and Graduate Program Directors can help you decide how to get up to speed before starting the program or how to design a transitional semester or year. In some cases, it may be advisable to take graduate or upper division undergraduate courses as a special student before entering the graduate program.

Q. How important is research experience for admission?

A. Research experience is beneficial, but not necessary for admission.  We will consider your research experience as an important part of your background, especially if you made substantial contributions as documented by a publication or in some other way.

Q. When will I choose a research advisor?

A. Typically in your second year, but it depends on whether you have a clear research interest when arriving at UMBC or whether you are undecided and need to look longer to find your field of interest.  The first year is mostly spent on general coursework, but there are research rotations to make you aware of the different research areas available in the department.  Most students start working with a professor during or at the end of their second year.

Q. If admitted will I receive financial support from the department?

A. Typically, yes, unless you are supported in some other way. Most first year students receive a teaching assistantship that carries a stipend, tuition and health benefits. Students have to pay fees that amount to about $1,000 per semester.  During subsequent years, students who are making good progress towards their degree will receive a teaching assistantship or research assistantship.

Q. Is it possible to receive a research assistantship?

A. Yes, most probably you will be a research assistant after the first one or two years. Our research programs are well supported by NASA, NSF, DOD, industry, etc. (UMBC is the second largest recipients of NASA funding.) Most students become research assistants when they choose an advisor and the advisor begins to support them from his/her grant.

Q. Does the Physics Department admit students for the spring semester?

A. Yes. Most students start in the fall, but we admit a few students for the spring semester every year. Especially for a student with an unusual background, like transferring from another graduate program or arriving with an unusually strong background or with a major other than physics, spring admission may be a viable option. Ask the Admissions Committee Chair or the Graduate Program Director about your specific case.

Q. Do you admit students with a major other than physics?

A. Yes. Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. For example, we have students whose undergraduate education was in optical engineering, materials science, meteorology, or atmospheric science. These students may be missing one or more fundamental undergraduate physics courses and we may ask them to take those courses at UMBC before attempting the corresponding graduate courses.

Q. Where can I find more information on admission deadlines and conditions?

A. Consult the web site of the Graduate School at http://www.umbc.edu/gradschool/. If you have any question specific to your situation, ask the Chair of the Admissions Committee.

Q. Can I visit the campus before applying?

A. Absolutely!  Contact the Chair of the Admissions Committee to set up an appointment. You can meet professors, current students, tour some labs and visit a lecture. If you live in the area, we suggest you make a visit as early as possible.

Q. When will I know whether I have been admitted to UMBC?

A. If you applied for fall admission on time, you may get a response as early as in February, but the final decision on your admission may be delayed until the end of April.

Q. Do I need to know what research area of physics I want to pursue to apply?

A. No, you do not need to be sure of your research interests at the start of the program, although you should have a general interest in one of the areas of research of the faculty in the Department.  During the first year of study, you will have adequate time to examine the research areas and find an advisor and topic area.

Q. Do I need a Masters degree to enter the PhD program?

A. No, you may enter the Ph D program with a Bachelor’s degree.

Q. How long is the PhD program?

A. Students average 5 ½ years to complete a PhD in our programs.  The first year or two of the program is mainly course work, with the subsequent years spent performing research and preparing the thesis.

Q. Will I have time off during the summer for vacations while in graduate school?

A. Graduate students in our programs are supported by a 12-month stipend during their graduate study.  Therefore, a full year’s commitment to the Graduate Program is expected.  Two weeks of paid vacation are available, as well as time off during the holiday break at the end of the calendar year, and over spring break.  Requests for additional time off f are approved by the Graduate Program Directors.

Q. Who do I contact if I have other questions?

A. For answers to admissions questions you should contact the Chair of the Admissions Committee and for other questions about the PhD program you can contact the Graduate Program Director of the appropriate program (Physics or Atmospheric Physics).

Q. My degree is from an International Institution.  Do I need to have my transcript and certification of graduation translated?

A. An official, notarized translation of your final transcript and certification of graduation is strongly recommended for all international students.  If a translation is not provided, it is up to the Graduate Program Director as to whether they can understand the courses you completed and the Graduate School as to whether they can understand the graduation certification.

Q. Will I get health benefits as a graduate student?

A. Yes.  Student health benefits are included in all Teaching and Research Assistantships.  Typically, there is some choice in health plans and routine health services are available on campus.  For international students, it is advised that you have an official translation of your immunization documentation.