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In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington is temporarily suspending the use of the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) for all applications to our graduate programs for the Autumn 2021 admission cycle. Applications for Autumn 2021 will open in August 2020.

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General Informationback to top

The Department of Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) offers both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. There are typically 80-100 graduate students in our programs.

All students are expected to start their graduate program in Autumn Quarter. We receive approximately 250 applications each year. Applicants can expect to find out the status of their applications by the end of March. Our entering class is typically 15 graduate students.

Each year, some of our applicants also express an interest in one of our affiliate programs. If you are interested in applying to the Astrobiology Graduate Program, please contact the Program Manager at or 206-685-9237. If you want to join the Program on Climate Change , please contact Miriam Bertram at

Ph.D. applicants admitted to one of our graduate programs are offered financial support in the form of an Academic Student Employee appointment as a Teaching Assistantship (TA), Research Assistantship (RA), and/or Fellowship funding. Please note that a separate application for financial support is not required for our department. TA and RA appointments require 20 hours of service per week, the current salary is approximately $2388 per month, and include a tuition waiver and health insurance benefits . The rate is higher for students who have previously earned a related Masters degree, approximately $2567 per month. Students are responsible for paying approximately $400 each quarter in student fees. Occasionally, applicants bring with them outside fellowships and grants. Applicants who have received outside funding or who have an application for outside funding pending, should indicate the name of the program and the number of years of funding provided by the program in their online application.

MS students do not receive guaranteed funding, however Research Assistantships, Teaching Assistantships or other funding may be available from your advisor.

Applicants are encouraged to learn more about ESS Research Groups and Affiliated Departments and Programs by reviewing information on our website and by contacting the appropriate ESS Faculty. If you have any questions, please contact us at [javascript protected email address]. We look forward to receiving your application!

International Applicantsback to top

International applicants hold or expect to hold a temporary U.S. visas. International applicants must submit the University of Washington Statement of Financial Ability form to show adequate financial support along with other application materials required by the UW Graduate School. When international applicants are admitted to our graduate programs, we notify the UW Graduate School of the details about financial support offered to the applicant. This is so that the financial support can be considered in determining financial ability. For more information, see Financial Ability for International Applicants on the Graduate Admissions Information web page.

Deadlinesback to top

Applicants must complete the UW Online Application for Graduate Admission by 12:00 midnight (Pacific Standard Time) on January 5. Official TOEFL (or equivalent) scores must be received no later than January 5. Students are required to submit unofficial copies of their transcripts before the deadline (Jan. 5) and official transcripts only if accepted.

It is recommended that international applicants complete the UW Online Application for Graduate Admission by December 1 to allow additional time for processing. The final deadline is 12:00 midnight (Pacific Standard Time) on January 5.

Required Testsback to top

Official test scores from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) must be received no later than January 5. The institution code for the University of Washington is 4854.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or Equivalent
Official TOEFL (or an equivalent test) scores are required of international applicants, permanent residents, immigrants and transfer students, who are not citizens of the United States on the date of admission, and whose native language is other than English. For further details, including exemptions and a list of other accepted tests, please read Graduate School Memo #8, "English Language Ability for Admission to the Graduate School." Score reports over two years old (from the test date) are no longer valid. The department code is 71 (Geology).

International graduate students who wish to be appointed as teaching assistants (TAs) must meet the English language proficiency requirements specified in Graduate School Memorandum #15, "Conditions of Appointment for TA's who are not U.S. Citizens."

How to Applyback to top

Applicants apply to the Department of Earth and Space Sciences and to the UW Graduate Admissions Office by completing all steps outlined in the UW Online Application for Graduate Admission and by completing these additional steps.

Additional Steps:

  1. International Applicants only: Request Educational Testing Service (ETS) forward your official TOEFL score report to the University of Washington, institution code 4854. Score reports over two years old (from the test date) are no longer valid. Your official TOEFL score report must be received by January 5. (To confirm receipt, please return to the online application.)

Frequently Asked Questionsback to top

Q: Are official transcripts required for the application?
A: No, please submit unofficial copies of your transcript for initial admissions review. You will be notified if you are required to submit an official copy of your transcript.

Q: Am I eligible to apply if I don't have an undergraduate degree in ESS/geology/geophysics?
A: Yes. Many of our graduate students in Earth and Space Sciences have undergraduate degrees in geology; however, our students also come with degrees in anthropology, atmospheric sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, geography, mathematics, oceanography, and physics to name a few.

Q: What science courses do I need to take before I apply?
A: Math, physics, and chemistry are fundamental to the study of Earth and Space Sciences. All applicants should take courses in these subjects before they apply at a minimum of the level we expect of students in our undergraduate program: one year of calculus with analytical geometry (UW MATH 124, 125, 126); at least two quarters of calculus-based Physics (UW PHYS 121, 122); and two quarters of general Chemistry (UW CHEM 142, 152).

Q: How do I know what additional courses to take before I apply?
A: We expect new graduate students to be ready and able to begin doing research in their chosen field. As research interests in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington are so varied, we do not have one set of standard expectations. For example, applicants interested in seismology, space physics, atmospheres, mineral physics, or glaciology generally need a stronger background in mathematics and physics to be competitive. Researchers in surface processes and geomorphology regularly use calculus-based process models and statistics in addition to geological concepts, applicants will likely be more competitive if they have training in these areas. If you are concerned about your background preparation, you should pay close attention to the current interests and directions of the research group that you would like to join and if you have questions, you should contact faculty members in that group to ask them what they expect of their new graduate students.

Q: How do I learn about research opportunities within ESS for new students?
A: We encourage prospective applicants to review information on our department website about ESS research and then, to contact ESS faculty. Prospective applicants should share their research interests, aspirations, and career plans with faculty and ask about present and future research opportunities. These early conversations often help prospective applicants clarify their goals and plan for graduate study.

Q: Should I apply to the Master's (MS) or Doctoral (PhD) Degree Program?
A: Applicants who have earned an undergraduate degree may apply to either program. (Applicants do not need an MS degree before they can begin working on a PhD degree.) Therefore, the decision should be based on an applicant's professional and personal goals. Both our thesis MS and non-thesis MS degrees are research-based, academic and research activities during the first year are very similar for students seeking either MS or PhD degrees. Students who ultimately want a PhD should select that option when applying.

Q: How do I apply for a Teaching or Research Assistantship (TA or RA)?
A: The Department of Earth and Space Sciences does not require a separate application for financial support. MS students typically do not receive funding, however their faculty advisor may have funding available. PhD applicants who are admitted are offered a TA or RA for the first academic year. Financial support for successive years is contingent on satisfactory progress and the availability of funding. In total, PhD students are awarded support during the nine-month academic year for five calendar years.

Q: What are the salary and benefits for TAs and RAs?
A: TA and RA appointments require 20 hours of service per week. For 2019-2020 the gross monthly salary was $2388 (pre-General Examination) and $2567 (post-General Examination, or with a related M.S. degree), and include a tuition waiver and health insurance benefits. Current salaries can be found at Salary Schedules . Students are responsible for paying approximately $400 each quarter in student fees. TAs and RAs with eligible appointments are covered by the Graduate Appointee Insurance Program (GAIP) and currently do not pay a monthly premium. The UW pays 65% of the monthly premium for dependents. TAs and RAs at the UW are represented by UAW Local 4121, which negotiates salary and benefits, see UW/UAW Contract.

Q: What is the average GPA of admitted applicants?
A: Average GPA changes from year to year, but is around 3.2 and the median GPA is around 3.5. The Admissions Committee practices a holistic review process andgives comparable weight to each item submitted as part of the application so an applicant will not be denied admission based solely on GPA.

Q: Why must I select and prioritize areas of interest on my application?
A: After the Admissions Committee has determined that an applicant is admissible (likely to succeed in our graduate program), the application is forwarded to faculty doing research of interest to the applicant. Applicants will be admitted if they can be matched to a faculty member looking for new graduate students to join his or her research group and if there is funding available. While we make every effort to match applicants with faculty advisors at the time of admission, students are free to change advisors or research groups at any time, subject to identifying a faculty member willing to be advisor, and subject to availability of funding.

Q: How do I make arrangements to visit the Department of Earth and Space Sciences?
A: The Department of Earth and Space Sciences hosts an invitation-only Open House for Prospective Graduate Students in late February each year. Applicants who visit at other times should contact faculty with whom they are interested in doing research before they arrive in Seattle to schedule individual meetings. Applicants may also contact the ESS Student Services at [javascript protected email address] or at 206-616-8511 to schedule a meeting to discuss general admissions questions.

UW Equal Opportunity & Disability Services Statementback to top

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam era veteran. This policy applies to all programs and facilities, including, but not limited to, admissions, educational programs, employment, and patient and hospital services. Compliance efforts at the University of Washington are coordinated by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, University of Washington, 231 Gerberding Hall, Box 351240, Seattle, Washington, 98195-1240, telephone 206.543.1830 or email

The University of Washington is committed to providing access and reasonable accommodation in its services, programs, activities, education and employment for individuals with disabilities. To request disability accommodation in the application process, contact the Disability Services Office at least ten days in advance at: 206.543.6450/V, 206.543.6452/TTY, 206.685.7264 (FAX), or .