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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 suburban campus with easy access to Baltimore (20 min) and Washington, DC (40 min).

Q. How large is UMBC?

A. UMBC has roughly 11,000 undergraduate and 3,000 graduate students. The University has 24 different PhD programs.  UMBC has a reputation as a top mid-sized research university that combines the advantages of a larger 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 22 tenure-track faculty, and 15 research faculty. There are approximately 150 undergraduate physics majors and 50 graduate students in the Physics and Atmospheric Physics PhD programs. The Physics Department also hosts several large multi-institutional research centers.

Q. What is the deadline for applications ?

A. The application deadline for Fall admission is January 1. Spring admissions are rare, and usually limited to students with unusual backgrounds.  Students interested in special Spring admissions should contact the Graduate Admissions Committee Chair or the Graduate Program Director before applying.

Q. I have just noticed that I missed the January 1 deadline for application.  Can I still apply?

A. Of course, however, your chances are much better if you follow the official deadlines.  Our objective is to admit the most talented group of students possible, and we may find a way to support you even if you apply late. Not every student accepts our admission offer and, spots may free up any time, so do not give up.  Ask the Chair of the Graduate Admissions Committee to learn about the current state of matters.

Q. Is it possible to have the application fee waived?

A. A limited number of application-fee waivers are available for well-qualified students with demonstrated financial need, including lower-income international students. Please contact the Graduate Admissions Committee Chair if you would like to inquire about a fee waiver.

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 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 95 to function effectively in her/his courses and as a teaching assistant.

Q. Are GRE scores required or recommended for application?

A. Because COVID-19 shutdowns have made it difficult or impossible for many students to take the GRE exams, the UMBC Department of Physics is not requiring or recommending GRE test scores for applications for admission in Fall 2021. Any students who are experiencing other difficulties completing the application for reasons related to COVID-19 should contact the Graduate Admissions Committee Chair.

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 strong letters of recommendation, 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 Graduate 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. 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 offer a Master’s program?

A. All students enrolled in the PhD program can earn a non-terminal MS degree en-route to the PhD. Direct admission into the MS program is rare and usually limited to students with unusual backgrounds. Students interested in this option should contact the Graduate Admissions Committee Chair or the Graduate Program Director before applying.

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. 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 had graduate 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. Can I visit the campus before applying?

A. Absolutely!  Contact the Chair of the  Graduate Admissions Committee to set up an appointment. You can meet professors, current students, tour some labs and visit a lecture.

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

A. Admissions decisions are typically made in early February.  You’ll receive a letter indicating that you have been admitted, or placed on a “waitlist”, or rejected. If you have been placed on the “waitlist”, it means that we have positively evaluated your applications, but simply do not have enough open spots in the cohort.  Students placed on the “waitlist” may be offered admissions at a later date as spots open up.

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 PhD program with a Bachelor’s degree.

Q. How long is the PhD program?

A. Students average 5 – 6 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 PhD dissertation.

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

A. Graduate students in our programs are typically 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.

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

A. For answers to admissions questions you should contact the Chair of the Graduate 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.