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Physics and Astronomy Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Department Information

How can I get more information from the department?
Please use this form to ask for more information from the department.

What types of research are done by your faculty?
Our department’s research falls into the following main categories: Astronomy and Astrophysics, Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (AMO), Condensed Matter and Materials, Nuclear Physics, Nonlinear Dynamics and Quantum Chaos, and Shock, High Pressure and Acoustical Physics – see our research page for more information. For individual faculty research and other information, please see our faculty page.

What can you tell me about housing and life at the University?
Washington State University is based in beautiful Pullman, Washington, a small but diverse community located on the Palouse in southeastern Washington State. Some of the following links may be helpful to you:

Community life
Pullman information
City of Pullman
Communities and Schools

How can I visit the department?
We would be happy to have you visit our department, located in the Webster building on the WSU campus. Please contact the Department at (509) 335-9532 or to discuss a visit.

I don’t know what type of physics I want to pursue. Is there someone I can speak with about this?
You may speak with a department representative at (509) 335-9532. Another way is to contact a particular professor (see the faculty page) in your area(s) of interest and ask about his or her research.

Can I talk to a current student or recent alum about the department/program?
Please call us at (509) 335-9532 to inquire about this.

What degrees do you offer?
We offer a Bachelor of Science (BS), Master of Science (MS) with thesis and non-thesis options, and a PhD, all in physics. We do not offer a separate degree or major in astronomy or astrophysics, but we do offer an astronomy option in the physics major, as well as minors in both physics and astronomy. For more information contact our department at for more information.


Admissions and Financial Aid

Do I apply directly to the department?
NO. You apply to the WSU Graduate School here or Undergraduate Admissions here. Please contact with any questions.

How many graduate students do you admit?
In a typical recruitment year, we receive over 100 applications. In past years we have successfully recruited 10-15% of our applicants; normally, about half of those recruited are international students.

Are there minimum requirements for admission? What are average admissions statistics for the department (test scores, GPAs, etc.)?
Please see WSU’s requirements for undergraduate and graduate admissions. For international applicants, TOEFL minimum scores can be found at the links just mentioned, please note that some applicants are exempt from the English proficiency requirement.

Do I have to take the TOEFL if I attended an English-language university?
The basic rule is that if you graduate from an accredited four-year institution in the U.S., within the past two years, you are exempt from the TOEFL requirement.
Please click here for undergraduate English proficiency requirements and here for graduate English proficiency requirements. For verification, contact a Graduate School representative at

What is the deadline for the application?
The University’s priority deadline for Graduate School is January 10. However, our department will continue to accept and review applications into February.  Please visit the Admissions site for Undergraduate deadlines.

Do you fund students? How do I apply for financial aid?
The department offers several scholarships for graduate students and undergraduate students. You can apply for financial aid through the Office of Financial Aid.


Graduate-Specific Questions

Do you fund students? How do I apply for financial aid?
Assistantships, normally in the form of teaching assistantships (TA), are offered to a limited number of students for their first two years in the program.  The research groups in our department are well funded. By the beginning of the third year, students that have been successful and are on track to earn their PhD (course work complete and in good academic standing, identified research group and established a committee, and have completed, scheduled or planned their preliminary exam) are expected to obtain a research assistantship (RA); teaching assistantships (TA) will be offered based on department need and to those that lack research funding.

The department offers several scholarships for graduate students and undergraduate students. You can apply for financial aid through the Office of Financial Aid.

Do you give preference to PhD students in terms of funding?
We try to fund all admitted students (master’s and doctoral alike). Most funding comes in the form of teaching assistantships.

Will you evaluate my application before I officially apply so I can save money?
WSU requires students to submit an official application to the Graduate School before processing your application, so no.

Do you accept applicants who were/are not physics majors in college?
In some instances non-physics students lack only a few core courses and in these cases we may recommend provisional admission. We normally do not admit students with little to no background in physics.

For those that do not have a degree in physics, the Graduate Studies Committee recommends at least one semester each of upper division undergraduate or graduate courses in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum physics and statistical and thermal physics.

What’s the GRE, where do I take it, how do I get my scores sent to my graduate school?
A GRE is a Graduate Record Examination, a standardized test required for admission to most U.S. Graduate schools. More information can be found at the ETS homepage. You can apply to have your scores sent through ETS after you complete the exam.

What is the school code for the TOEFL? What about the GRE?
All test scores should be submitted to the WSU Graduate School, code 4705.

Do I have to send official transcripts for my application?
For the sake of evaluation purposes, no, you do not have to submit official transcripts. You are welcome to upload unofficial transcripts to the on line application website. If you are admitted, you will be required to submit finalized official documents.

  1. Transcripts from all accredited colleges or universities attended for any undergraduate coursework (including undergraduate coursework taken after the bachelor’s degree); and
  2. Transcripts from the accredited colleges or universities from which any bachelor’s degrees and/or graduate degrees have been granted or are expected; and
  3. Transcripts from the accredited colleges or universities showing any graded graduate level (including doctoral) coursework taken after the bachelor’s degree.

Fulbright applicants should check with the Fulbright Agency regarding this requirement.

I am an international student applying for Graduate School. How do I determine my GPA?
For self reporting, you may visit the Graduate School’s GPA Calculator. The Graduate School will assess your transcript and figure your GPA officially for admission.

Does the department take care of my visa financial paperwork?
The Graduate School, in conjunction with the Office of International Students, prepares the I-20 documents.

Should I contact a professor in the department for purposes of applying?
It will probably not be helpful to your application to contact professors, but please do not hesitate to ask them questions related to your/their research interests. For your application, you are welcome to send any information related to your interest in certain research/faculty/groups and an admissions officer will make a note of it in your file.

Am I limited to working with faculty members as a research advisor?

While it is typical for students in the physics department to work with department faculty, and you may choose to work with any professor officially associated with the university, even in other departments.  (Before pursuing a less-conventional approach to choosing an advisor, please first speak with the department graduate advisor.)

My recommender can’t send a letter of recommendation online. Can s/he send it via mail?
Yes, referees are welcome to send letters to If necessary, they may mail their letters to:

Graduate Admissions
Department of Physics and Astronomy
PO Box 642814
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-2814

Can you tell me which recommenders have sent in their letters of recommendation?
We can confirm receipt of letters sent by your specified recommenders – please send us a list of people who are writing recommendations for you and we will tell you which ones we have received.

How do I know when my application is complete?
Once you submit your application through the Graduate School’s online system, we will periodically email you to let you know if anything is missing in your application.

Do I have to resubmit all documents if I am reapplying to the graduate program?
In some cases we can request that your application be reopened, however, if we have denied you admission, chances are not good for a re-application.  Please contact us at to make this request.