Graduate FAQ

These are the most frequently asked questions for admission to the graduate program:

  • When are applications due?

Applications to the Graduate Program are due Aug 15 for admission the following Spring Semester and Jan 15 for admission in the Fall Semester and for full consideration of financial assistance (see TA/RA question below). The majority of admissions are for the Fall semester because many courses are in a year-long sequence starting each fall. Exceptions can be made, especially for students who already have a M.S. degree in Physics or a closely related field. Late applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis but often won’t have the benefit of financial assistance.

  • Will you look at my resume/scores/materials before I submit an application to the program?

Applications are made to the Graduate School, not the department directly. The Department is only allowed to consider an application once it is complete. This means all the information requested by the Graduate School, including the required fees, must be paid before we may examine your application. You are welcome to email with faculty to discuss their research in advance of submitting an application. See the faculty pages for more details.

  • What do I need to include for my application?

The complete list of requirements is included at the Graduate School application website. In general, you will need official transcripts from all previously attended institutions of higher education, at least 3 letters of recommendation, official examination scores (GRE, TOEFL, etc.) based on the type of application you are filing, a personal statement about yourself and your goals for graduate education filled out at the application website, and your fee to be paid before the application is considered complete. Please see the Graduate School website for all details.

  • How much does it cost to apply?

The fee for application is fairly modest, but is required for processing the paperwork and completing your application. This is found at the Graduate School website.

  • Where do I apply?

The Graduate School website accepts all applications for the Graduate Program, including the 5 year BS/M.S. program in the department for undergraduates interested in applying to stay on for an M.S.

  • Do I have to take the GRE?

The General GRE is required for all students (except 5 year BS/M.S. students to that program here at NMT) to be admitted to the Graduate School. The Physics GRE is recommended but NOT required for the Department of Physics. The department offers its own examination of your Physics and Mathematics capabilities your first semester at NMT (see Preliminary Examination), and hence we have other ways to assess your mastery of the subject.

  • I am an international student; do I need to take the TOEFL/IELTS?

The Graduate School accepts scores from the TOEFL and IELTS for admission. Other tests may be considered on an individual basis. An applicant should contact the Graduate School admissions requirements for more details. In general, all international students must take the TOEFL or similar test, unless your country of origin and you are a native English speaker (e.g. Canada, United Kingdom).

  • What kinds of degrees do you offer?

The Department offers both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Physics. We have specialties/concentrations in Astrophysics, Atmospheric Physics and Mathematical Physics at the Ph.D. level, and in Instrumentation at the Master’s level. Students can also get a general Physics degree and complete a thesis or dissertation in a closely related field.

  • How long does it take to find out if I will be admitted?

The typical timeline for Fall admission is as follows: Review of applications begins in mid-January, with initial offers (typically via both email and an official letter from the Graduate Program) being made by early to mid February. Invitations to visit will be sent out to students (in the US) in the first round of offers. These visits typically happen for about 3 days sometime in March. First round offers generally have until April 15 to accept or reject an offer of admission, as recommended by the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society. After 1st round offers have been determined, a second round of offers to wait-listed students may be made during the last-half of April. The second round may or may not include financial assistance, though generally most students receive some assistance if admitted to the program. For Spring admission, offers of financial assistance are less common and deferred admission to the following Fall may be recommended due to the order of coursework for the program.

  • How do I get a TA or an RA?

You will automatically be considered for a TA or an RA upon acceptance to the Graduate Program for the Physics Department. A large fraction of students receive financial assistance in the form of a work contract to do teaching or research in the department – the TA or RA position. Satisfactory progress in classes, on the qualifying examination, and in your work for the department must be maintained in order to retain the TA or RA each semester.

  • I have a Fellowship, GI Bill, or other financial assistance already in place and do not need to be considered for a TA/RA. Does this change my application process?

No, the application process is the same. In your letter of interest, it is good to make clear that you do not need financial assistance as it can speed certain steps of the process.

  • Is there any other kind of financial assistance besides TAs/RAs that I might be able to get?

Students are encouraged to fill out a FAFSA every year as financial aid such as loans can be secured. The FAFSA also helps with eligibility for other types of financial scholarships that occasionally become available during the course of graduate work. Some students who have strong research topics and results may be encouraged by their research advisor to write for a national fellowship available through agencies like NSF. For more information on Financial Aid at NMT see Financial Aid Office pages.

  • How do I apply to the 5 year BS/M.S. program?

The 5 year BS/M.S. program (see outline here) is a relatively new program for Physics undergraduates at NMT who are performing at a high achievement level. Students interested in this program should speak with their advisor about the expectations and opportunities associated with the program. If you are interested, the student is treated like a regular graduate applicant and must apply to the Graduate Program during the FALL SEMESTER of the Junior Year to be considered in the application pool.  Read the requirements for the BS/M.S. program carefully and talk with your advisor or the Department Chair before applying. Please note that three letters of recommendation are required to complete your application.

  • Once I’ve been told I’m admitted, when do I have to be there?

Along with securing housing and relocating to Socorro, there are contracts to sign, courses to get registered in, briefings, trainings for TAs before the start of the semester, research meetings for RAs and many other duties to start your life as a Graduate Student in our program. It is strongly recommended that you consult the NMT Academic Calendar and plan to arrive at least 1 full week prior to the start of classes.

  • How do I find housing?

Contact the NMT Student Housing office as a first step.   They have information on campus housing, including married student housing. If this does not appear to be fruitful, your next best option is to talk with the Department’s administrative assistant, Alta, as she knows many of the best options available to students. Occasionally, there are postings of students looking for roommates, which Alta and other department graduate students may be aware of already.  Typical rents in Socorro cost about $400-600 plus utilities. Many graduate students also find it useful to get one or more roommates and rent a house in the area.

  • Do I have to take any more tests — Prelims for example….?

Yes, graduate students have two more program examinations along with their regular coursework. The Graduate Physics Preliminary Examination is offered the first week of each Fall and Spring semester. Depending on what degree is being pursued, and what degree you enter with, you have a fixed number of attempts to pass the Preliminary Examination on undergraduate physics and related mathematics to be eligible to pursue the degree you are interested in. Failure to pass the examination too many times can result in being asked to leave the program, though most students pass the test within two attempts. Additionally, if you are pursuing a Ph.D., after you have completed all your coursework, you will present and defend your research proposal to your graduate committee to formally move to Ph.D. Candidacy. Passage of this Candidacy Exam will result in a raise in your stipend and the title “Ph.D. Candidate”. At this time you can begin to take dissertation credits to write your dissertation and complete your program of study. Previous preliminary examination tests can be made available to incoming students upon request.

  • What do I have to do to get registered for classes? How many credits do I have to take?

New students will meet with the Department Chair or appropriate designate upon coming to NMT, at which time advising on courses will be given based on your incoming background and the courses being offered.  In future semesters, you will meet with your advisor or the Department Chair to get further advising and an electronic PIN which can be used to sign up for courses. See the Graduate Program section of the Physics Department Catalog entry for specifics about courses. In general, full time, in residence graduate students must take 12 credits of work each semester. A 13th credit may be added to pursue a Physical Recreation course, but otherwise “the right answer” is 12 credits.

  • Do I have to buy health insurance?

All graduate students are required to carry and show proof of Health Insurance to enroll at NMT. More details can be found at the Graduate School website.

  • How long does it take to finish my coursework or degree?

Generally most students pursuing a Ph.D. have completed all their coursework within 5 or 6 semesters depending upon specialties. M.S. students generally complete all coursework in 3 or 4 semesters. Ph.D. students typically matriculate within 6 years. M.S. students typically matriculate within 2-2.5 years, though students pursuing M.S. Instrumentation Concentrations may take a little longer as they are generally building instruments and lab or field-testing them.