Should I apply to graduate school?

Earning a graduate degree can open up many opportunities that would not be available with just a bachelor's degree, especially if you would like to pursue a career in research. That being said, depending on your career goals, it may make the most financial sense not to attend graduate school. A Master's degree can be expensive, and while PhD's are funded, they entail years of work at a barebones salary, which presents a severe financial opportunity cost. PhD's in particular also require a 5-6 year time commitment that typically includes taking additional courses, working on one research project for years, and writing/defending a thesis about your research.

When making this decision, you should consider your career goals and financial goals. It can be helpful to look up some of your dream positions, and see what the education/experience requirements are. For example, if your dream job is to be a Senior Project Engineer at Boeing on the Laser and Electro-Optical Systems team, you will need 10+ years of engineering experience and 5+ years of leadership experience- but only a Bachelor's degree. In that listing, even the "preferred qualifications" section included laser-optics experience and security clearance- but no graduate degree.

When deciding whether to pursue graduate school, you should consider personal factors (like whether you enjoy research and your reasons for considering graduate school) in addition to financial and career goals. Dr. Ijeoma Kola has written two helpful blog posts: 6 Bad Reasons to Get a PhD and 3 Good Reasons to Get a PhD (note that her point about teaching does not apply to APS/Physics, but the rest of the advice applies). Reading through these blog posts and other first-hand accounts from people with graduate degrees may help you get a sense of whether you will enjoy graduate school.

Many students who want to ultimately earn a graduate degree choose to join the workforce for 1-3 years to gain experience and perspective before applying to grad school. Check out GoGrad's blog post for some pros/cons of this option.

Applying to Grad School

In this section of the website, we have resources and advice about various steps in the graduate school application process:

Finding Programs

How to choose what type of graduate program to apply to and how to pick specific graduate programs to apply to.

Entrance Exams

Information and study tips for the entrance examinations (Physics GRE and General GRE), and what tests you need to take for APS/Physics programs.


Advice and resources for writing Personal Statements and Statements of Purpose.

Curriculum Vitae

Resources and ideas for things to add to your Curriculum Vitae (CV).

Interviews and Visits

Questions to ask and ways to prepare for in person graduate school visits and interviews.


Fellowship/Scholarship sources and information about their deadlines, requirements, etc.

Advice for APS students

Mike Shull, former APS Professor & Graduate Admissions Chair, prepared some answers to the question of what types of physics and math courses should a person take to get into grad school. His recommendations are of course specific to the Boulder APS department, but are really applicable to any APS graduate program. Here are his words:

"So many students have asked about this issue, that I decided write up a single, standard response. Our graduate program in Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences involves a rigorous set of coursework (11 courses and 4 seminars), many of which expect students to enter with a strong math and physics background.  If your background is in Engineering, that's great experience, but you also need to pick up the math/physics to succeed here."

Click here for the complete list of subjects we expect incoming graduate students to be familiar with.


Web resources