Graduate Student Admissions

Why UC Santa Barbara?

Our department is a research powerhouse with cutting edge laboratory and field instrumentation. The Times for Higher Education (London), ranked us 7th worldwide in geoscience research based on citations per paper
Our graduate education has modest unit and course requirements. Instead, we are all about research—your research. Our MS and PhD programs are individually tailored to support the research project you will design with your principal advisor. From day one, you will be mentored to make your original contribution to scientific knowledge.
Our local weather is a field scientist’s dream come true, empowering you to explore and study our Earth 365-days a year. With ready access to desert, ocean, mountains, and islands, our tectonically rich and seismically active region is a natural textbook, ready to be studied. Of course, many of our students also travel the globe for their field and laboratory research.
With 50 graduate students and 25 faculty, we are large enough to offer first class research resources, but not so large as to become impersonal. 
For more information on our graduate program, see our flyer.


The deadline to submit applications
for the 2024-25 Academic Year is
Wed. Jan. 3 2024

Apply Now!

For assistance with your graduate school application, please contact:
Quinlan Dougherty, Graduate Program Coordinator, via email


Getting into our Graduate Program

Admission to our program is competitive. We receive many more applications than we have spaces for. It pains us that, every year, we have to pass on many applications from excellent students. Below are our recommendations to maximize your chances of success. 


Preparation [years before]

Degree. You do not have to hold a degree in Earth Science to join our graduate program. Environmental scientists, geographers, physicists, chemists, biologists, and mathematicians have long crossed the bridge to Earth science. So have philosophers and historians with strong motivation and proper preparation in scientific fundamentals.  We welcome curious minds from all disciplines.
Foundation. Build a solid foundation with college-level science courses. Naturally, adequate preparation for a geophysicist is different from that for a paleontologist, and that for a geochemist. For most interests, a year of chemistry, calculus, and physics is desirable.
Research. Before committing several years of your life to research, it is important to know that you truly love research. Pursue whatever opportunities are available to you to engage with and participate in research projects. 
Find your Passion. Most successful applicants have focused their scientific interests on a particular subdiscipline, so they can zero in on potential research mentors with matching interests.  

Finding a Sponsor

Because our program is highly individualized (unlike professional studies with a fixed curriculum such as a medical school), we aim for a perfect fit between each student’s goals and interests and a particular research group. Accordingly, to be considered for admission in our department, an application must be sponsored by one or more faculty members who have pledged to advise and mentor the applicant. You should not rely on our faculty “discovering” you on the strength of your application. Instead, your chances of admission will be considerably greater if you take an active role in securing a sponsor.
We recommend you use our website to carefully study the scientific interests, past research, and future direction of our faculty and their research groups, looking for individuals who are an excellent match for your own interests. Can you see yourself dedicating several years of your life investigating the very research topics described? If so, we encourage you to contact the faculty member by email to introduce yourself and inquire about opportunities within their research group. Our faculty expect to receive such emails and will respond. Your should indicate:
  • Your name, the degree you are currently pursuing, and your current institution.
  • Whether you wish to pursue an MS, a PhD, or whether you would like guidance on which path is best for you (it’s OK to ask for advice).
  • The scientific topics you are interested in. If you have strong interests, briefly explain what they are, and how you developed them.
  • Why you concluded that this particular faculty member would be a good match for you (if appropriate, you can bring up details from a paper of theirs you read, a talk you attended, or a conversation you had with a third party).
  • Attaching a CV or an academic transcript can be helpful, but do not include theses or other long documents in your first email.
Do not be discouraged if you don’t get an answer right away. Our faculty are frequently in the field, away from email.  If you do not hear back after 10 days, send a follow up. Answers range from a simple yes/no, to requests for more information, to requests for a telephone call or teleconference meeting. Always keep in mind that faculty hate to say “no” to students, but also can never promise admission, as decisions are made by committee in a holistic process.  

Fall 2024 Opportunities

For Fall 2023, our sponsors and opportunities for MS and PhD program projects include the following.
  • Crustal Geochemistry: Professor Roberta Rudnick ( is looking to recruit a motivated PhD student to study continental crust composition, origin, and evolution.
  • Prof. Matoza is accepting applications for both PhD and MS students. Prof. Matoza's research group uses seismic and infrasonic waves to investigate how volcanoes work. This research is focused on understanding the geophysical signatures of volcanic unrest and eruption, with application in monitoring and mitigating volcanic hazards.
  • Paleoclimate/Paleoceanography: Professor Weldeab ( seeks a highly motivated student interested in studying past climatic/oceanographic changes using foraminiferal chemistry (trace elements and stable isotopes). Study areas include the eastern Pacific and tropical Indian Ocean. 
  • Paleontology: Professor Susannah Porter ( is seeking a PhD student to study the evolution and ecology of early eukaryotic life.
  • Mantle geochemistry, volcanology: One student to join on a seagoing expedition to sample hotspot volcanoes in order to better understand their evolution, magma plumbing systems, and trace their origins into the mantle; please contact Prof Matt Jackson (
  • Paleoclimate: Professor Lisiecki is seeking an MS or PhD student to statistically analyze compilations of paleoclimate data. Interest in statistics and coding is required. (
  • Sedimentology/Quaternary Science: Professor Simms ( seeks a student interested in using sediment cores, coastal geomorphology, and potentially shallow geophysics (e.g. chirp, ground-penetrating radar) from coastal ponds, estuaries, and other shallow marine settings to better constrain the sea level, climate, storm, and tectonic history of coastlines across the globe. 
  • Structural Geology, Volcanology, and Tectonics. Professor Gans ( seeks one or more MS or PhD highly motivated field-oriented students to investigate different aspects of crustal deformation and magmatism (and their interrelationship) in the Cordillera through integration of detailed geologic mapping, structural and stratigraphic analysis, physical volcanology, geochronology, and geochemistry. 


Submitting your Application

All applications are submitted online through the portal
We review applications once a year, starting in January, for admission the following Fall quarter.
We no longer require (or will accept) GRE scores.
The application fee is $120 for domestic applicants and $140 for international applicants. A limited number of fee waivers are available for qualified US citizens and permanent residents. McNair Scholars and California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) applicants are among those eligible. You can apply within the online application, up to two weeks before the application deadline. Late applications will not be processed. We regret that fee waivers are not available to international applicants.
Include in your application:
  • A resume or curriculum vitae
  • Transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended (submitted online). Although you can initially file your application with unofficial transcripts (transcripts you uploaded yourself, rather than provided directly by the institution to UCSB), be aware that final/official transcripts will be required for all applicants who are admitted and have indicated their intent to enroll at UC Santa Barbara. The University reserves the right to require official transcripts at any time during the admissions process, and rescind any offer of admission made if discrepancies between uploaded and official transcript(s) are found.
  • Three letters of recommendations (submitted online by the recommenders).
  • A sample of your analytical writing (such as an assignment or term paper from a class you’ve taken)
  • A Statement of Purpose (500 words max. for the entire statement), which addresses the following questions:
    • What are your current research interests and why?
    • Which faculty members at UCSB would you like to work with?
    • What would you like to do after graduate school? 
  • A Personal Achievements/Contributions Statement (1,250 max. for the entire statement), which addresses the following questions:
    • Diversity (optional). If applicable, please describe any experience of economic challenges in achieving higher education, such as being financially responsible for family members or dependents, having to work significant hours during undergraduate schooling or coming from a family background of limited income. Please describe any uncommon or varied life experiences that might contribute to the diversity of the graduate group, such as fluency in other languages, experience living in bi-cultural communities, academic research interests focusing on cultural, societal, or educational problems as they affect under-served segments of society.
    • Service (optional). If applicable, please describe any efforts you have made to serve disadvantaged individuals or populations. (250 words max)
    • Motivation. Describe how you tackled or overcame a challenge.  What was key to your success? What strategies would you use in the future to deal with challenges in graduate school? (250 words max)
    • Curiosity, breadth, creativity. Please write about another interest(s) of yours not directly related to your proposed graduate school pursuits. This could include other academic areas or non-academic hobbies. How did you become interested in them? (250 words max)
    • Collegiality, collaboration, teamwork. Tell us about a time you worked as part of a team or collaboration. What role did you play? What were the challenges of working together, and how did you overcome them? (250 words max)
International Applicants: Please send a pre-application email to the graduate program coordinator (, providing the following information: GPA, TOEFL score, degree objective (i.e. PhD or MS), area(s) of specialization, and name(s) of faculty you would like as principal advisor(s).
Applicants whose native language is not English. 

An excellent command of written and spoken English is required prior to enrollment at UCSB.

Applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the TOEFL or the IELTS, or the Duolingo English Test, and provide scores in their application. For more information see here

Exemptions will be considered for students who have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree at an institution whose verified sole official language of instruction is English. Applicants must provide final/official transcripts indicating (1) completion of the degree program and (2) English as the official language of instruction.

Minimum Criteria for Admission

The minimum requirement for admission for a U.S. student is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, with a minimum GPA of 3.0 (unless granted a waiver due to exceptional circumstances). However, overall GPA is not what we use to assess academic performance. Instead, we dig down into each application and consider which classes you excelled in, or had trouble with, taking in consideration temporal patterns and events that may be described in your personal statement. 
An international student whose post-secondary education is completed outside of the U.S. is expected to hold a degree representing completion of at least four years of study with above average/very good scholarship equivalent to a 3.0 GPA minimum, from a university or university-level institution.
For students subject to the TOEFL/IELTS testing requirement, the university minimum TOEFL score requirement is 550 when taking the paper-based test (PBT) and 80 when taking the internet-based test (IBT). The university minimum IELTS score for consideration is an Overall Band Score of 7. The minimum Duolingo English Test score is 120. Official test score dates must be within two years from the day the applicant submits the online graduate application.

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 in January (this year's exact date is shown at the top of this page). 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.