Graduate Applications and Admissions

Why Illinois?

Illinois boasts strong theoretical, observational, and computational groups that study the Universe as revealed through multiple "messengers": high-energy particles and electromagnetic and gravitational waves. We pride ourselves on working closely with students, and we support them with teaching or research assistantships and stipends throughout their time here and engage them as scholars-in-training. Our department members participate in and make use of world class observational facilities, described in our Instrumentation and Observation pages, and leverage expertise in computing and survey science at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications through the Center for Astrophysical Surveys (CAPS). We also work closely with our colleagues at Illinois Physics, through units such as the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe (ICASU).  Our students lead research at the cutting-edge of astrophysics and go on to successful careers, both in academia and industry.

Admission Requirements

  • Submission URL: https://grad.illinois.edu/admissions/apply
  • Deadline: December 15
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in physical science or engineering. Transcripts issued to you by your undergraduate institution(s) may be uploaded with your application. Official transcripts and degree certifications are only required after admission.
  • Minimum Grade-Point Average: 3.0 (A = 4.0) for the last two years of undergraduate study; this is a university requirement.
  • Resume or CV: Up to two pages, highlighting your work experience and research achievements. Please do not include your GRE scores in your CV.
  • Exactly three (3) Letters of Recommendation, from people who know you well and can attest to your suitability for graduate study.
  • Personal Statement: A narrative statement, up to three pages, of your motivations for pursuing graduate study, past research experiences, and future goals. Briefly summarize your undergraduate physics preparation and describe your intended research focus at Illinois and your preferred faculty advisors (see also the Research Overview and Student Research Opportunities pages). Highlight challenges you have overcome and give us context for your record. Tell us about you!
  • Use of GRE Scores: The GRE General Test and Subject Test in Physics are not required for admission, and most applicants do not provide GRE scores.  Scores on the General Test will not be considered at all.  Scores on the Physics Test, if provided, will only be used to help interpret your physics preparation, and will only be made available to the review committee after the initial screening of applications has been completed.  If you wish to provide a Physics score you must ask ETS to send official score reports to Illinois (institution code 1836).

We evaluate the entire application package, with no predetermined thresholds on any single component. While we may consider your fit with the overall research profile of the department, your admission is not tied to any particular research group. Please pay particular attention to the page limits on the Personal Statement and the maximum allowed number of letters of recommendation.

COVID-19 impacts: We recognize that academic performance in Spring 2020 through Spring 2021 may have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  We will assign lesser weight to grades obtained during this period, and encourage applicants to highlight special circumstances in their Personal Statement.  See this page for additional advice from the Graduate College, including important information about official transcripts and alternatives to TOEFL.

Additional Requirements for International Applicants:

Please refer to the Graduate College website for a more complete summary of requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many new students do you enroll each year?

In an average year we will welcome 5 students, though the number does fluctuate.

Do you admit students for the spring semester?

Admissions reviews are only conducted once per year, but students may be permitted to defer their start date until the following spring. On the application, the Fall term should be selected as the admit term unless prior approval has been obtained.

Do you require proof of financial resources?

As our students are typically supported by teaching or research assistantships, we do not require evidence of financial resources for Astronomy applicants. However, international students will need to submit funding documentation in order to obtain a visa (see bullet list above). This can be done after you are admitted.

Do I have to be an undergraduate Astronomy or Astrophysics major?

No! Many of our graduate students arrive with degrees in physics, and some have come from mathematics or other science and engineering fields. These students often thrive by bringing their additional expertise to their astronomical research. However, successful applicants will have completed (and done well in) intermediate and advanced undergraduate physics. Those arriving with less background in astronomy and astrophysics typically take our 400-level courses to fill in any gaps.

Do I need to find an advisor before applying? How are advisors assigned?

All astronomy applications are placed in a common pool before review, and so you will not be admitted into an individual research group. You should describe your research interests and name one or more potential advisors in your application, but you do not need to obtain commitments from them to advise or support you. Most students choose an advisor after they start the program, and working with more than one advisor over the course of the program is encouraged.

I took the Physics GRE test.  Should I report the score?

For several years now, the GRE Physics score has been optional.  If you believe it will strengthen your case, you are welcome to provide it, but note that we will not even look at it until after the initial round of screening has been completed, and it will only be used to help interpret your preparation in physics.  You should not refer to your score anywhere else in your application.  We generally place greater emphasis on your overall performance in physics courses than on any single test.

Is there a qualifying exam?

There is a set of proficiency exams that you may pass to demonstrate your knowledge of undergraduate-level astronomy. The exams are waived for students who can demonstrate prior coursework or elect to take our 400-level courses. There is also a written report and oral presentation to a thesis committee for Ph.D. candidacy, called the Preliminary Exam ("prelim"). We expect all admitted students to pass these milestones, so don’t panic.

Is the Astronomy Department separate from Physics?

Yes, the Astronomy Department is a completely separate department, with its own degrees and admissions process. However, many of our faculty are cross-listed and can advise students in either department. Our students also frequently take courses and attend seminars in Physics. Note that you may apply to both departments but may be required to pay an extra application fee.

Does Astronomy offer a Masters degree?

Yes, students may obtain a masters degree en route to the PhD. However, we focus our application process on doctoral candidates. Applicants are strongly urged to first seek approval from the department before selecting the MS degree on the application.

Can I do research before starting grad school?

Yes! Students from underrepresented minorities can apply to join the Summer Predoctoral Institute (deadline April 24). It is a great opportunity to get acclimated to campus and the department and make connections with your cohort. Please let us know if you apply to the SPI, and the department will support your application. Please do get in touch with our faculty about other research opportunities for pre-doctoral students!

Are there Scholarships and Financial Aid available?

Yes! All students can expect to receive TA or RA support and a stipend for the entire duration of study at Illinois Astronomy (based on student progress and fund availability). See the Financial Aid page for approximate dollar amounts (these are subject to change). The department can also nominate admitted students for 3-year campus-wide fellowships. Additionally, we can nominate students from underrepresented minority groups for financial and mentoring support from the Sloan UCEM.

Can I get application fees waived?

Yes, in some cases. Eligible domestic students applying through the Big Ten Academic Alliance FreeApp are not charged any application fee. For more information about possible fee waivers offered by the Graduate College, see the Graduate College website. Unfortunately we cannot offer additional fee waivers.

What if I have more questions about the graduate student experience?

Please also check the Prospective Student FAQ page, which is run by the current graduate students!

Contact Addresses

If you have questions which are not addressed by the information provided above, you may contact the Graduate Admissions Committee at:
e-mail: grad-admissions@lists.astro.illinois.edu

 

Address written correspondence to:

Chair, Graduate Admissions Committee
Department of Astronomy
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
103 Astronomy Building
1002 W. Green Street
Urbana, Illinois 61801

last updated 7/28/2021