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Application Information

Prospective students interested in the MS or PhD programs of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EARTH) must apply to the Rackham Graduate School for admission in the following fall term. For U-M undergraduate students who are currently pursuing an EARTH major, we also offer a fifth-year MS program. These students must discuss their applications first with the Associate Chair for Curriculum.

Deadline – A completed application form, including all three letters of recommendation and TOEFL scores, must be submitted on the ApplyWeb website. The deadline is January 7 but check here (select "Earth and Environmental Sciences") for the most recent information. Applications that fail to meet this deadline will not be considered for Fall Term admission.

Application fee – The application fee is due when the application is submitted. In 2022, this fee was $75 for US citizens and permanent residents, $90 for non-US citizens, $10 for current Rackham students regardless of citizenship.

Fee waiver – The Department waives the application fee if students had been admitted to our Fall Preview Program. See also Application Fee and Waivers. International students can request a fee waiver based on financial need by contacting the Grad Chair (earth-grad-chair@umich.edu).

How to Check your Application Status – Use the University of Michigan Wolverine Access web site. Create a "friend account" and follow these directions.

Four steps – The application and admission processes can be broken into four steps beginning with your planning in the late Summer and culminating with a visit to EARTH in the Winter term for a selection of domestic candidates.

1. Planning

An important part of planning is identifying research directions and potential faculty advisers. See Research and People to explore the research interests of our faculty, research scientists, postdocs, and students. Send an e-mail in early September to each of the faculty with whom you are interested in working. To prepare a compelling application, see "Tips for prospective students before applying" below. 

2. Application to the Rackham Graduate School

Application codes

02043  PhD in Earth and Environmental Sciences
02044  MS in Earth and Environmental Sciences

Application components – A complete application consists of 

  1. test scores
  2. transcript
  3. academic credentials from non-US institutions
  4. three (3) letters of recommendation
  5. academic statement of purpose and personal statement

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test or the subject test are not required.

TOEFL or IELTS – An applicant must take either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test if her or his primary language is not English. In 2022, the Rackham Graduate School required a minimum TOEFL score of 84 or a minimum IELTSm score of 6.5. To be competitive in EARTH, these scores must be higher than 100 and 7.0, respectively.

Applicants must request on the TOEFL web site that their scores be sent to the University of Michigan using the code 1839. The department code is not necessary, since TOEFL scores are automatically added to applicant records as long as name and birth date can be matched. The scores will be automatically included in the application. Official downloaded TOEFL scores are required. Photocopies are not acceptable. The applicant must pay for the exam and make sure that the results are sent. See the Rackham Admissions Test Page for more information about English tests.

Transcript – Scanned or electronic copies of transcripts from the university where the applicant received or will receive a BS or MS degree must be uploaded with the application online. It may be necessary to upload a scanned hardcopy of an electronic transcript. In addition to the transcript, an applicant may upload other academic transcripts related to courses transferred for credit.

All applicants must submit a self-reported Grade Point Average. Students from a university outside the United States must use the Scolaro GPA Calculator to convert grades to a GPA in the U.S. system.

The uploaded transcript is sufficient for our faculty to review the application. If the applicant has been recommended for admission, he or she will receive an email from the Rackham Graduate School Admissions Office requesting an official transcript. See the Instructions for Submitting Transcripts on Rackham's website. To connect it to the application, the applicant should send the Academic Records/Transcript Submission Form with the official transcript and include the University of Michigan ID number. See also Required Academic Credentials from Non-U.S. Institutions.

Recommendation letters – Letters should ordinarily be from professors at the student's last degree-granting institution but letters from people who could comment on the applicant's experience outside the classroom can also be helpful. Recommenders must complete their recommendations online. When the applicant registers the recommenders' names in ApplyWeb, an email is automatically sent with a link to enter the recommendation online. Applicants should check the status of their recommendations on the ApplyWeb website status page. If you or your recommender needs technical assistance regarding the application or recommendation systems please email ApplyWeb at help@applyweb.com. Include the following information: user name, full name, email address, and phone number. ApplyWeb typically responds within 24 hours.

Statement of purpose – The Statement of Purpose should highlight your academic preparation and motivation; interests, specializations and career goals; and fit for pursuing graduate study at U-M.

Personal statement – The Personal Statement should describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree.

Check your Application Status – You can check your application status on the University of Michigan Wolverine Access web site. Create a "friend account" on Wolverine Access and follow these directions.

3. Evaluation of applications by the Department

The Admission Committee is composed of the Graduate Chair and four members of the faculty. It evaluates applications in January immediately after the application deadline. Following a holistic approach, it pays attention to course work, grades, communication skills, academic and life experiences, and the applicant’s dedication to pursuing an MS or PhD degree. It scores the applicants based on three criteria:

  1. preparation for graduate work (e.g., classwork, training)
  2. aptitude for original scientific research (e.g., research experience)
  3. perseverance or tenacity (e.g., personal experience).

We do not distinguish between international and domestic students. However we acknowledge the difficulties in comparing coursework and course grades from international institutions to schools in the US and cultural differences in recommendation letters. The Admission Committee has members from different sub-disciplines in the earth and environmental sciences including international scholars. They share their insights and experiences and use feedback on the applicants from all faculty members to assure a fair and rigorous evaluation process.

We make offers to students immediately after our evaluations and aim to communicate admissions decisions to all applicants before April 1. Admitted applicants have until April 15 to reply with their acceptance of admission offers.

4. Interviews

We invite a selection of domestic applicants to visit the Department. We have a coordinated visit day on the Friday before University of Michigan's Winter Break, usually in mid February. If applicants are unable to travel or faculty hosts are unavailable on that day we will find an alternative date. We cover the applicant’s travel, lodging in a hotel, and all meals.

Applicants will spend a significant portion of the day in the Department and on campus to learn about our program, research and teaching opportunities, graduate coursework, and various (student-organized) academic and social activities. The coordinated visit day may look like this:

8:30 am     breakfast with your faculty host and lab
10:15 am – 11:00 am     introduction by the Grad Chair / q&a
11:00 am – 2:30 pm     time with faculty host and lab members / off-campus lunch
2:30 pm – 3:30 pm     campus tour
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm     Smith (Departmental) lecture
4:30 pm – 5:30 pm     reception
5:30 pm –     dinner with graduate students / exploring town

Tips for prospective students before applying

Talk to graduate students – Answering whether, when, and where to go for graduate school requires some exploration and self-reflection. Students have different motivations so there is no “one size fits all” plan. If your department has a graduate program, get perspectives from graduate students. Find out what motivated them to go to graduate school, what they like and find difficult, and what they wish they had known before applying.

Explore research directions – You have probably narrowed down your interests to sub-disciplines like environmental science, geophysics, or paleontology. However, every sub-discipline has many sub-sub-disciplines with interesting research questions and different approaches that involve field work, computer programming, and experiments in the laboratory. Think how you have chosen your major, about the courses you have found most inspiring, and the course assignments and independent research projects you have enjoyed the most. If your institution organizes research seminars, attend them regularly to hear local and visiting scientists explain their discipline and work. Ask faculty in your department about their research and labs. Ask graduate students how they have chosen their programs and thesis advisers, and how they are spending their days in the lab.

Contact potential supervisors directly and early – Unlike departments who admit a cadre of students "at large", EARTH admits applicants only if a faculty member or researcher agrees to advise and mentor them. This means that your chances of admission will be highest if you have contacted one or more faculty members in advance. Explore the research pages of EARTH faculty and researchers, and read a few of their papers. Email your CV to potential academic and research mentors. Tell them about yourself, your prior research experience, why you are interested in graduate school, and why you want to pursue a MS or PhD with them. Ask them to explain their potential projects, funding, mentoring styles, and lab cultures. If you receive a positive reply, send follow-up questions and suggest a phone or video call or a meeting at an upcoming conference like GSA or AGU. See this and this document for tips on correspondence.

Take quantitative courses while you can – Many institutions, including our department, recruit students who have taken advanced courses in math (calculus, linear algebra, statistics) and supporting sciences (biology, chemistry, computer science, physics). It is difficult to catch up on missed foundational coursework in graduate school. A high GPA is helpful but a transcript without quantitative coursework is not. Do not let "poor" grades stop you from applying to graduate school. Grades reflect how well you understand the course material but we understand that grades can be affected by external circumstances and that almost all students struggle in some semesters. Use your personal statement to explain your academic preparation and to demonstrate your readiness for graduate school.

Choose your references carefully – Your reference writers should be academics, and at least one person should be familiar with the field of your interest. Someone who knows you well and can speak to your abilities and motivation can write a more informative recommendation letter than someone who is more senior but does not know your academic background. Ask potential reference writers early whether they would be willing to write a letter for you. Share your CV and statements with them and ask for feedback.

Start the preparation of your application materials as early if possible – Your statements are important components and are evaluated as writing samples. Faculty have read many statements; surprise them with fresh and genuine write-ups. Ask fellow students and mentors for feedback on content and style. Be prepared for several rounds of editing.

  • In your Academic Statement of Purpose, describe research directions that you might pursue in graduate school, including any ideas that you have discussed with a potential adviser. You want to demonstrate your track record for independent work and highlight your research experience and academic contributions. Explain your role in the work, what you have learned, and what you have enjoyed the most.
  • The Personal Statement should complement the content in the Statement of Purpose. Describe how your personal (e.g., educational, familial, cultural, economic) background and experiences have informed your decision to go to graduate school.

See also this guide.

Our offer

Graduate students are supported for the full length of the program (2 years for the MS program, 4 or 5 years for the PhD program). They are appointed as instructors (Graduate Student Instructors, or GSIs), as researchers (Graduate Student Research Assistants, or GSRAs), or receive fellowships .

Financial support includes

  • stipend – currently $34,794 for 12 months.
  • a tuition waiver – currently $50,136 per academic year for an out-of-state student.
  • signing bonus – $2,000.
  • a research start-up fund – $2,500 to support research expenses in addition to funds available from your research adviser. See also Research and Travel Funding.
  • health and dental insurance options – see Insurance Options for Rackham Students.

See the Rackham Life and professional development pages for additional resources.

Program ranking

EARTH is recognized for excellence in higher education and research and as one of the top earth and environmental science programs in the United States. In 2022, US News and World Report gave EARTH a #6 ranking overall and top rankings for all of our specialties – Environmental Sciences, Geochemistry, Geology, Geophysics, and Paleontology.

Make your own ranking!

Reputation of the faculty – Check the academic credentials and research activity of faculty. Browse the Google Scholar pages.
Quality of the program – Consider the program size and the diversity of the student body. Do students graduate in time? Do they publish?
Available course offerings – Are courses necessary to fulfill degree requirements frequently offered and will they help you meet your goals?
Financial support – Are students fully funded (stipend and tuition) and for how long?
Admission requirements – Apart from academic credentials, what does the admissions committee look for in an application?
Facilities – Consider the quality of on-site labs (e.g., high-performance computing and analytical lab facilities). Are there opportunities for students to obtain research and travel funds?
Student life – Explore student organizations and campus support services. Check the cost of living and what goes on in town.
Employment – Where do students go after graduate school?

Questions? – Email michigan-earth@umich.edu.