Graduate Program

Our Graduate Program

We offer a two-year M.S. in Physics. About half our students continue to a Ph.D. program in physics, the other half take their physics experience to industry or an advanced degree in another science or engineering field.

Our program is limited to between 16 and 20 students total. That means exceptional opportunities for starting research projects right away. We support projects in the physics of large lake environments, biophysics, condensed matter, experimental particle physics and neutrino astrophysics, microfluidics, and gravitational physics. If it matches your career goals, some projects can be made very interdisciplinary.

We offer foundation courses and elective specialty courses. Most importantly, we also offer three methods courses emphasizing application of computation to numerical, analytical, and experimental techniques. In addition, students are required to take two courses outside the department. Electrical engineering, computer science, chemistry, and math are popular choices, but there is flexibility to design a degree plan around your career goals.

Research Is Key

Getting involved in research right away is a huge advantage. It gives you a step up against otherwise similarly prepared third year Ph.D. students in physics and gives you a chance to steer a project, building skills and experiences that are valued in industry. Both go beyond what may have been available to you as an undergraduate.

For more information regarding our graduate program, please contact Prof. Alec Habig, our Director of Graduate Studies.

You can also view faculty research interests.

While all students participate in faculty-guided research, there are two routes to completing the degree with different levels of research expectations. Students elect to satisfy degree requirements with either a thesis-based research component (Plan A) or additional course work and a smaller research project (Plan B). Students typically complete the program in two years. Several of our faculty may advise Ph.D. students in related programs within the University of Minnesota, particularly the Water Resources Science program and the Physics and Astrophysics programs on the U of M Twin Cities campus.

To Apply

Admission Requirements 

The prerequisite for admission is a four-year undergraduate degree in physics or its equivalent. Students with degrees in closely related fields with significant physics and mathematics background and a keen interest in further physics training are routinely considered. In making admissions decisions, several measures are taken into account. Among these measures are undergraduate grade point average (the Graduate School prefers an undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 on a 4 point scale), undergraduate course selections, and performance on Graduate Record Exams (GRE) when available. While the GRE general and subject results are not required, their submission is encouraged for students seeking financial support.

For international students, performance on the TOEFL exam is also considered. The Graduate School sets a minimum score for admission of 79 overall with minimum scores of 21 and 19 in the writing and reading sections respectively.

International applicants seeking financial support through assistantships are normally expected to achieve significantly higher scores than the minimum and are also strongly encouraged to provide GRE general and/or subject test results. The results of IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are accepted as an alternative to the TOEFL. The University of Minnesota has established 6.5 as the minimum score for admission. View more details on the Graduate School's English Proficiency Requirements page. International applicants seeking financial support through assistantships are normally expected to achieve significantly higher scores than the minimum and are also strongly encouraged to provide GRE general and/or subject test results.

Applying through the online system

Please apply via the link on the Graduate School instructions to apply page. Make sure you submit all the required parts of the application. Use your Personal Statement to tell us about your academic interests, your past achievements, and your future plans. Submission of the optional Diversity Statement is encouraged.  

We also encourage you to check the research interests of our faculty by visiting their web pages. It is a good idea to communicate with one or several faculty members in the department before applying, to assess the potential match or selecting a prospective research advisor. 

Some notes on the online application system: The University of Minnesota has several campuses. In the second online form, "Application Information", be sure to select the "University of Minnesota Duluth" option to the question "What Campus will you be attending?"

Part of the online application asks you for contact information for three people to write you letters of reference: they'll get an email from the system with instructions for how to upload their letters.

Optional items that can be uploaded into the "Materials" section of the application include:

  • Writing Sample -This is optional, but if you have a physics paper that you wish to share with the admissions committee, this is the place to include it.
  • Graduate Program Additional Material - This is NOT required.

Prospective students intent on pursuing a Ph.D. degree directly should investigate the graduate program in physics on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

Applications that are completed by April 1 will receive full consideration.

Goals of UMD Physics

Institutional goal 1: Knowledge and Scholarly Formation

Physics goal 1: demonstrate knowledge of core physics topics

Outcome 1: students will demonstrate knowledge of classical mechanics, classical electrodynamics, and quantum physics at the graduate level, and the mathematical techniques intrinsic to the study of these topics.

Institutional goal 2: Research and Methodological Skills Relevant to Field

Physics goal 2: will have developed research and methodological skills relevant to physics.

Outcome 2a: students will develop skills in one or more methods used by practicing researchers in academia and industry: experimental, numerical, and data analysis methods.

Outcome 2b: students doing a thesis will apply one or more methods to their thesis or project. Students doing a project demonstrate knowledge of one or more methods if their project doesn't require application of such methods. Where do students progress: methods courses, thesis/project

Institutional Goal 3: Communication Skills

Physics goal 3: communicate physics ideas and research in a variety of contexts.

Outcome 3a: students will improve/demonstrate the ability for oral communication in chalk-talk/instructive situations for both peer and novice audiences, plus formal presentations.

Outcome 3b: students successfully justify their research in a proposal and present the outcome of their thesis/project in writing. Where do students progress: seminar course, thesis, TA duties

Institutional Goal 4: Leadership and Collaborative Skills

Physics goal 4: collaborate with peers and experts in their field outside UMD

Outcome 4: will have one or more interactions with an expert in the field outside UMD. Where do students progress: during thesis work or internship or career exploration experiences

Institutional Goal 5: Cultural Competence and Global Context Formation

All contemporary research in physics necessarily draws on international physics research activities, collaborations, and publications. This assessment substitutes for a per-student assessment.

You can also find more details in an easy-to-compare format at our entry in the American Institute of Physics website.

As required by Title IX, the University does not discriminate on the basis of sex in any of its education programs or activities, including in admissions and employment.  Inquiries about the application of Title IX can be directed to the University’s Title IX Coordinators or to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.  Please see the University of Minnesota’s Title IX Statement and the University’s policy for information about: (1) how to contact the Title IX Coordinators on the University’s campuses; (2) how to report or file a formal complaint of sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, sexual assault, stalking or relationship violence; and (3) the University’s procedures for responding to reports and formal complaints.