Admissions Criteria and Process


Admission to the Graduate Studies in Physics program at Duke University is based on a number of factors. These include recommendation letters, personal statement, course grades (especially those in physics courses), quality of applicant's undergraduate education, GRE scores (general and subject), TOEFL scores (if applicable), research publications, research experience, and areas of research interest. Criteria such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin do not play any role in the admissions decision.

Physics Background

Applicants for admission are normally expected to have completed an undergraduate degree with a major in physics, or in a related field with a strong concentration in physics by the time they are admitted to the graduate program. Undergraduate courses in general physics, mechanics (at the level of Marion), electromagnetism (at the level of Griffiths), optics (e.g., Hecht/Zajac), modern physics (e.g., Bernstein, Fishbane, and Gasiorowicz), quantum mechanics (at the level of Griffiths), and thermodynamics (at the level of Reif) are assumed, in addition to appropriate mathematical training (i.e., linear algebra plus tools at the level of Hildebrand). It is expected that the applicant's grade average in physics and mathematics will be at least "B". Students lacking one or more of the important undergraduate courses will be asked to remedy this deficiency by self-study or by enrolling in the corresponding courses at Duke. If you have any questions about the background expected of an incoming graduate student, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

Standardized Tests

Since applicants come from a variety of backgrounds, all four parts of the Graduate Record Examination (including the physics test) are used as important benchmarks for students' abilities. While there are no acceptable minimum scores, on an average accepted applicants get about 153 in verbal, about 166 in quantitative and 3.5 in writing.  For the Physics subject score most students obtain a score of 700 or above. Students from non-English speaking countries are required to demonstrate proficiency in English via the TOEFL exam; the minimum acceptable score is 90 (internet-based test), or a minimum IELTS score of 7.0. Information about these examinations can be obtained from Educ ational  Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey 08540.

Field of Research Interest

In their statement of purpose, applicants are expected to discuss the field of their research interests and mention the names of Physics Faculty under whose direction they wish to work. Applicants who remain undecided must clearly state this in their statement. Although it is the policy of the department to admit the very best students irrespective of their research interests, faculty needs and availability of funds usually limit the number of students that  can be admitted in a particular field of research.


The departmental deadline to receive all the materials, including the letters of recommendation is December 10. While all applications received by the departmental deadline will be reviewed carefully by the admissions committee, it is advantageous to apply early (about 2 weeks before the departmental deadline) since more members of the departmental faculty will have a chance to provide input.

Review Process

A student is admitted to the program by the Dean of the Graduate School and not by the department. However, the department is responsible for recommending applicants to the Dean. Based on the decisions of the Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC), the Director of Graduate Studies makes these recommendations to the Dean. The GAC is composed of about 6 (or more) Physics Faculty members representing the entire spectrum of research in the Department. In addition to reviewing the entire application carefully the GAC also requests input from the Physics Faculty before making decisions. For this reason, although the deadline for applications is December 10, it is advantageous to apply early. It is also recommended that in their personal statements applicants give names of Physics Faculty whom they wish to read their applications. Students with prior research experience in a particular field and who wish to pursue research in the same field may benefit from contacting Physics Faculty working in that field of research so that faculty familiar with student's accomplishments can provide input to the GAC. The first round of decisions are usually completed by mid February.

Incomplete Applications

A complete application must include 3 letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions attended, GRE scores (general and Physics), TOEFL scores (if applicable), Curriculum Vitae along with a list of research publications if any. If any of this material is missing, the application is considered incomplete and is usually not processed further. However, the Graduate Admissions Committee will at its discretion, consider exceptional applications with missing materials. For example, the GRE Physics test is essential. An application is considered incomplete without it and will normally not be considered for admission. However, if you still wish to apply without the GRE subject score, you can do so at your own risk. Make sure you provide a clear explanation for not providing the score. In certain cases you can include copies instead of official or original documents. Please follow the instructions given by the Graduate School Admissions Office.


Last year (2015/16), 52 applicants were accepted out of 291 applications. Average GRE scores and undergraduate GPA among the applicants was as follows:

  • Applicants: 291
  • Accepted: 52
  • Admitted: 15
  • GRE Verbal (Avg): 159
  • GRE Quantitative (Avg): 167
  • Undergraduate GPA 3.7

The Graduate School has some other statistics for the Department of Physics.