Graduate Student Admissions


We are pleased that you are interested in the graduate program in Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Department of Earth Science offers master's and Ph.D. degrees in Earth Science. Admission is not restricted to persons with an undergraduate degree in earth science — individuals with degrees in physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, mathematics and other science-based disciplines are encouraged to apply. In fact, so are exceptional individuals with degrees in arts or the humanities who can demonstrate extraordinary motivation and a compelling argument behind wanting to pursue the study of earth science.

The deadline to submit applications
for the 2021-22 Academic Year is
Monday Jan. 4 2021

Apply Now!


For assistance with your graduate school application, please contact:
Yann Ricard, Graduate Program Coordinator, via email or telephone (805) 893-3329.

Grad Students Santa Cruz Island trip
(photo credit: Adam Ginsburg)

Application Requirements

Our Department requirements coincide with the UCSB Graduate Division requirements:
- Three letters of recommendation
- Statement of Purpose, Personal Achievements/Contributions, and Resume/CV
- A sample of your analytical writing (such as an assignment or term paper from a class you’ve taken)
- Transcripts from all academic institutions attended
- We no longer require (or will accept) GRE scores. 
Although this change may not be reflected on all of department materials, it is effective as of Fall 2020.

Adam Ginsburg collects rutilefor U-Pb dating in Western Gneiss Region in Norway
Adam Ginsburg collects rutile for U-Pb dating in the Western Gneiss Region in Norway
(photo credit: Brad Hacker)

Admission Criteria

We use the following four criteria to judge applicants, but none of the criteria are absolute. Admittance depends upon the total profile:

  1. One year of chemistry, calculus, and physics with a letter grade of "B" or better.  Applicants that do not meet this criteria may counterbalance for this deficiency with other criteria such as a competitive GPA, exceptional letters of recommendation or submission of research publication(s).
  2. Willingness of a faculty member to sponsor a student. Sponsorship is motivated by potential and/or match in research interests. You should contact one or more faculty with whom you may be interested in working.
  3. An overall GPA of 3.0 is the university requirement.  However, a competitive overall GPA of 3.4 or above is preferred. The upper-division major GPA will be  also taken into consideration.
  4. Superior letters of recommendation from other professionals who have high standards. Letters of recommendation are essential for evaluation of an applicant.These letters are one of the few means that portray an applicant in a manner other than a collection of numbers. Intangible and qualitative aspects such as dedication, inquisitiveness, and persistence can only be elucidated by letters, and many times the letters of recommendation can override every other aspect of an application. Be sure to seek recommendation letters from people who know you well and can evaluate your scholastic performance.

The Admissions and Fellowship Committee and the Graduate Advisor review all applications. Applications may fall within one of the three categories below: 

  1. Admit- Exceptional applicants are recommended for admission, nominated for campus based fellowships, and contacted by faculty in the applicant's areas of interest;


  2. Reject-Weak applicants are recommended for immediate rejection;


  3. Requires further review-The rest of the applicants that fall in neither of the categories above.  The applicant files are then circulated to faculty members and researchers whose interests are similar to those of the individual applicant. These persons are best able to judge the student's background and potential, and commonly know the persons who write the letters of recommendation. They review the files in detail, and recommend admission (with or without sponsorship and possible financial support) or rejection.  Based on the faculty evaluations, the AFC and Graduate Advisor rank the students for admission and financial support.

Final decisions on admission and financial support are made sometime in mid-March/early-April. These decisions are based primarily on quality, but also involve an element of balance within the Department's wide range of interest.

Our program only admits for fall quarter and applications are processed in the prior winter quarter.  A few exceptions have been made for those students who desire to begin in the winter quarter.  These applicants are generally financially self-supported students.  Regardless of the quarter of admission, all applications are due and processed in the prior winter quarter. 

Note To Prospective Applicants:  When you submit your application, please be sure to indicate courses that you expect to complete before entering the graduate program if you have not yet completed all requirements for your degree. This will be helpful to the persons evaluating your application. Also please submit what field emphasis you would like to study.

The UCSB application is available on-line at
Additional Admission information is available from the Graduate Division.

Andy Wyss
Department of Earth Science

Admission Timeline

Admissions Timeline

Admission FAQ

Please be sure to read all of the FAQs before contacting the Department.

Graduate Division FAQ

The Graduate Division maintains its own list of Frequently Asked Questions, which covers general issues. The following addresses issues specific to the Department of Earth Science.

Application Deadline

Materials & Processes


Financial Support


Other Questions

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Application Deadline

Q: When is the application deadline?

A: Our application deadline is January 4. All application materials, letters of recommendation, writing samples  and scores must be received by this date in order for you to be considered for admission as well as for campus-wide fellowships and departmental financial support. We will consider granting a two-week extension for tests and/or letters of recommendation, if approved. If you wish to request an extension, please contact

Q: Can I apply for Spring or early admission?

A: Admission is for Fall Quarter. Early or late admissions have historically been granted, but only in truly exceptional circumstances.

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Materials & Processes

Q: Do you read sideways?

A: We can, but we don't. Please make sure your scanned documents are properly oriented for reading. If necessary, please rotate the scanned imaged before uploading.

Q: What transcripts must I provide?

A: Please provide transcripts from all post-secondary institutions where you completed at least one full term of coursework (12+ units or equivalent). If you participated in a university-sponsored education abroad program, transcripts are not required from the institution overseas as long as the study-abroad course names, units, and grades are all reflected on the home institution’s transcripts.

Q: Do the transcripts have to be official transcripts?

A: The transcripts you upload to your online application do not have to be official transcripts. In fact, they could not be official because you can't upload transcripts without opening their envelopes, which renders them unofficial. However, what you upload should be as detailed as an official transcript. It should include the name of the institution, your major, degree pursued, GPA for each term and cumulative, plus the grading scale for the institution. Moreover, it should be legible and right side up. Please note that screen dumps or phone snapshots from your class registration system are not acceptable substitutes for a proper transcript.
     Later on, applicants who are admitted and have accepted our offer will have to order official/final transcripts showing degree conferral mailed directly from their institutions to the UCSB Graduate Division in a sealed envelope from the institution with the registrar's seal intact.

Q: On the application, it asks for my Research Interests. How specific should I be?

A: You may have many interests in Earth Science. But listing every specialty will make you look scattered and not yet ready for graduate research. Conversely, only listing a single interest may convey that you are sharply focused, but may narrow your opportunities within the Department. In other words, it may make you a better candidate for fewer slots. We recommend you choose no more than three Research Interests, and will assume your research interests are listed in order of importance. Please email if you have any questions about your Research Interests.

Q: On the application, it asks for Faculty Interests. Is this important? Whom should I select?

We strongly encourage you to give careful consideration to your choices of Faculty Interests, as they will inform how your application is routed. We strongly recommend you examine our web site, become familiar with the research activities of our faculty, and ponder which are a good match for your own curiosity. As with Research Interests, we recommend you choose no more than three faculty.

Q: Can I contact the Faculty?

A: Yes! Once you have narrowed your interests to one or two of our faculty, and have familiarized yourself with their recent research, we strongly encourage you to contact them by email, introduce yourself, and ask pertinent questions. In some cases, the faculty may share with you their plans for future projects, which will further inform your decision.

Q: Can I submit more than three letters of recommendation online?

A: Yes, you may submit up to four letters of recommendation. If you are confident you have four strong recommenders, this can be particularly helpful when applying very close to the deadline. A fourth recommender can help ensure we get the minimum three letters in due time. Alternately, choosing a fourth recommender who knows you from a different perspective (perhaps an employer from outside academia) can complete the picture. However, recommenders should all be people who are professional references.

Q: Does applying early help?

A: Yes, a little. Applications are forwarded to the faculty for review as soon as they are complete. So people who apply earlier get "in front of" faculty earlier.

Q: How will I know if you have received all of my application materials?

A: After you have completed your online application, you may return and view your application status. To view your status, use the same login and password as when you created the online application. The application status pages provide a live glimpse at the status of your application, including when your application fee and TOEFL/IELTS scores, and supplemental materials were received.

Please keep in mind that it is your responsibility to confirm your application is complete before the deadline.

Q: When will I know if I have been accepted to UCSB?

A: Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis beginning in mid-December. Some applicants will be notified as early as February. Most will be notified during March. Some late decisions are made in April.

Q: If I am an international applicant, can I apply for an application fee waiver?

A: UCSB does not provide application fee waivers for international students.

Q: If I am an international applicant, do I need to complete the preapplication?

A: While applying to graduate school is costly for all applicants, it can be a particular hardship on international students who are not eligible for application fee waivers or Federal Student Aid. To help ensure you only invest in an application with a fair chance of admission, we can offer a preliminary assessment of your chances. If you send abbreviated application information to, we will do our best to give you our recommendation based on your requirements and opportunities available. Please send us test scores, unofficial transcripts, faculty interests, research interests, and a few sentences on the type of research you would like to engage in.

Q: I am an international student. Should I include an English translation of my transcripts when I upload my transcripts?

A: Yes, an English translation is required. English translations may be obtained from the Registrar's Office of your home institution. There are also organizations such as International Education Research Foundation, Inc., Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc., and World Education Services that will provide an official translation for a fee.

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Q: How can I get the TOEFL/IELTS waived? 

A: Exceptions to TOEFL or IELTS testing may only be considered for those students who have completed an undergraduate or graduate education at an institution whose primary language of instruction is English. Please contact us well ahead of the deadline if you would like confirmation that you qualify for such an exception.

Q: I took the TOEFL/IELTS exam/s a few years ago. Have they expired?

A: The TOEFL/IELTS test date/s must be no more than 2 years old at the time of application.

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Financial Support


Q: If I am accepted to UCSB, what sort of financial package can I expect to receive?

A: The Earth Science Department typically provides financial support for two years to students admitted to the MS program, and five years to students admitted to the Ph.D. program, provided they continue to make satisfactory academic progress. Financial support is in the form of a teaching assistant (TA) or a graduate student researcher (GSR) appointment that covers most fees, health insurance and a salary for the 9 month academic year. Some TA and GSR appointments are available during the summer months. In addition, most non-California residents receive a fellowship to cover the Supplemental Nonresident Tuition for the first year, after which they are expected to establish California residence. International students whose first language is not English must pass the oral and written English language evaluation at the start of their first quarter in order to be employed as a TA to receive fee and health insurance fellowships.

Q: Do I need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?

A: All domestic students who are admitted to UCSB must have completed the FAFSA by the early March deadline. Although you may not know your admission status by early March, it would be to your advantage to have already submitted the FAFSA in the event you are admitted to UCSB or another public university. Only students who have completed the FAFSA are eligible to receive UCSB Graduate Division central fellowships. It is not necessary to have completed your federal and state taxes before filling out the FAFSA as you may use estimates from the previous year. Please consult the FAFSA website for deadline information and application downloads. More general information is available on the UCSB Financial Aid Office's FAFSA section.

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Q: How many applications do you receive each year?

A: We typically receive about 120 applications and admit less than 20 (mostly doctoral students). Roughly two thirds of admits accept and enroll. Please keep in mind that these are very rough numbers and are variable over the years.

Q: What is the average GPA of applicants you admitted?

A: Students admitted to our program have an average undergraduate major GPA of 3.8, but we are much more interested in what grades you earned in which classes and when. These are in turn taken in context within a holistic review. No applicant is reduced to the single number of a GPA. 

Q: I am an international student... Should I convert my university scores to a 4.0 scale?

A: No, we do not convert international scores to the 4.0 GPA scale used in the US. The average scores for competitive applicants range between B+ (Very good) and A+ (Excellent) scores.

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Other Questions


Q: How can I email your Department? I sent an email, but never received a response.

A: Email Whenever emailing the Department, make sure that your email contains a related subject heading (i.e. Subject: “Application Question”). Email received with no subjects will be considered spam and will not be read. Although we will do our best to respond promptly, keep in mind that we are handling an inordinately high number of queries during admission season. If it has been more than a week since you sent an email with all of the above qualifications, please do not hesitate to re-send.

Q: Where can I find the UCSB Graduate Division FAQs?

A: You may access frequently-asked questions about UCSB Graduate Admissions here.

Q: Can I transfer to UCSB from another graduate program? What if I already have a Master's degree or a PhD in a different discipline?

A: Yes, you can. The application process is the same for all applicants, whether they have a Bachelor's, Master's or PhD.

Q: How do I visit UCSB?

A: In February, we draft a short list of first prospects, and invite those students to our Graduate Recruitment Event, where they get to visit the Department, speak with the faculty, meet current graduate students and experience life on campus and in the Santa Barbara area.

If you wish to visit UCSB before admission decisions have been made, please contact the Earth Science Department at for assistance with your visit. We recommend you first browse through our research and faculty pages. If you are interested in a particular faculty, you may want to contact them and make an appointment to meet. However, do not expect faculty to answer questions about application status, or questions pertaining to the admissions process. Once you have arrived on campus, you may want to visit he UCSB Visitor's Center. They have campus tours Monday-Friday at noon and 2:00 PM.

Q: I am an international applicant... Is there a UCSB international resource?

A: We strongly recommend that all international applicants review the website of the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) when applying to UCSB. Although the majority of international students admitted to our program in Earth Science receive financial support, you should have a clear understanding of the cost of living in Santa Barbara as well as the cost of your education. On the OISS webpage you will find information regarding finances, visas, English language requirements and English as a Second Language classes, health matters and housing options.

Q: I didn't major in Earth Science, am I eligible to apply?

A: Absolutely. Individuals with degrees in physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, mathematics and other science-based disciplines are encouraged to apply. In fact, so are exceptional individuals with degrees in arts or the humanities who can demonstrate extraordinary motivation and a compelling argument behind wanting to pursue the study of Earth science.