Graduate Study
Materials Science Engineering (PhD)

Thank you for your interest in earning a PhD in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. Please see the frequently asked questions about how to apply below, as well as additional information on the main McCormick School website.

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What factors are taken into account when evaluating my application?

We consider prior academic performance, research and other professional experience, GRE scores, and overall potential to successfully pursue graduate study in our department. Experience and potential are evaluated largely through the letters of recommendation and the statement of purpose. Foreign students from non-English speaking countries must also take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam.

What are the important dates to remember?

December 15th: Application forms must be submitted online by 11:59 P.M.
Early January: Last date that supplemental materials (e.g. recommendation letters) will be accepted.
Late January through March: General timeline for most offers of admission to be made.
March-April: Group visits of accepted students to Northwestern.
April 15th: Deadline for students to accept offers of admission.

Can I apply electronically?

You must apply electronically. There is no paper application. Letters of recommendation and transcripts from ALL schools attended after you complete high school must be submitted online.

Can you waive the application fee?

We cannot waive the application fee. The Graduate School offers a small number of fee waivers to qualified applicants. For more information, see The Graduate School website.

Do I need to submit a financial statement?

A financial statement is not necessary for the application process.

Does the materials science and engineering department require a writing sample or a resume to be sent as part of the graduate application?

The MSE department does not require a writing sample separate from the Statement of Purpose. Submission of a resume or CV is optional. 

Does an earlier application increase my chances of admission?  

All applications are evaluated the same way, as long as they reach us before the deadline.

What if I forget my PIN/password for the online application system?

Return to The Graduate School's Online Application Website. Click on the search button in the User Login section. Still having problems? Contact The Graduate School.

What is the acceptance rate of the department?

The acceptance rate depends on the number of available slots (combination of university fellowships and research assistantships), the number of applications and the likely yield. These numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year. Each applicant is unique, and we cannot assess the chance of success without knowing the full credential of the applicant.

Do you have rolling admissions?

No. With very few exceptions, we only admit students in the Fall quarter. While we occasionally admit PhD students to begin in January (Winter quarter) or at other times during the year, we strongly encourage students to apply for Fall admission. This timing provides the most flexibility in adviser selection.

How many spots are generally available for international students?

International students are supported by a combination of university fellowships and research assistantships. These numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year.

I would like to eventually get a PhD, but I might want to get a master's degree first. Should I apply to the MS program or the PhD program?

In this situation you should indicate your preference for the PhD program. The MS program refers to students who are interested only in that degree. An MS degree is not required for admission to the PhD program in materials science and engineering.

Does the department accept transfer students from other departments?

We strongly encourage students to finish their degrees from the department in which they originally enrolled. We generally do not accept students from other PhD programs.

Should I contact individual faculty members?

Not before you have been accepted. All decisions on admission and financial support are made by a committee, and individual faculty members do not influence this process. Those applicants who have been admitted are encouraged to email or telephone individual faculty members for information on research, etc.

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Recommendation Letters

How many Letters of Recommendation should I submit?

The minimum is two, but you may submit three if you wish.

Can I use paper letters of recommendation?

No. The Graduate School's policy is to only accept letters of recommendation that are submitted electronically.

Is there a particular format for recommendation letters?

No particular format, and there is no form that needs to be filled out.

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GRE and TOEFL Scores

Do I need to take the TOEFL?

All international students whose degrees are not from institutions where the language of instruction is English must take the TOEFL or IELTS exam.

Applicants who will have earned a Bachelor's or Master's degree from a university where the language of instruction is English by the quarter of matriculation will receive a TOEFL waiver.  No special action is needed; we will grant the waiver based on the transcripts submitted with the application.  This includes universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, and many (although not all) universities in India, Singapore, and Nigeria.  Please note that English must be the language of instruction for the entire university, not just the program that you are enrolled in.


Northwestern University's school code for GRE and TOEFL is 1565. If you are taking the TOEFL or GRE be sure to include this number on your test form. No specific department code is necessary for GRE scores.

Additionally, you should reference department code 01 when submitting TOEFL scores. IBT test takers should, when prompted, request that their scores be sent to the graduate office (versus undergraduate) and then select the program name that most closely matches their program of interest. If no match is available, the test taker may choose option 99.

I plan to take the TOEFL in late November so the score will only be available late December. May I apply earlier in November or December before I have my official TOEFL score?

You may apply early. We will not render a decision until the file is complete. This includes having an official TOEFL score.

How do I know if my TOEFL scores have expired?

TOEFL must be taken no more than two years before the intended quarter of entry. However, your application will not be disqualified if your scores are a few months out of date.

Are my TOEFL/GRE/GPA scores sufficient? What are the minimum scores?

An applicant is evaluated on the basis of the total academic performance, which includes coursework, test scores, research experience, and evaluation by faculty members or applicant’s supervisors. The only minimum we set is TOEFL, on which an international applicant must score 550 or higher on the paper-based test, 213 or higher on the computer-based test, 90 or higher on the internet-based test. On the IELTS, an applicant must score 7.0 or higher. There is no minimum requirement for GRE scores.

Can I upload unofficial copies of GRE/TOEFL to my application?

Yes, you are encouraged to upload copies of your GRE/TOEFL score reports along with your application. However, an official decision will not be made until the official scores are received.

I requested that ETS send my scores to a department at Northwestern other than materials science. Should I ask them to send the scores again?

It most cases we will be able to locate your scores from the other department and it is not necessary to resend them.

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Do I need to submit high school transcripts?


My university doesn’t offer electronic copies of official transcripts. May I submit a copy of my graduate transcript?

Unofficial copies of transcripts are acceptable for the application. To be considered, all documents not in English must be accompanied by official English translations.

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Financial Aid

How much financial aid will I receive?

Most PhD students are admitted with research assistantships and/or fellowships. Each research assistantship includes full tuition, a take-home stipend, and health insurance. The stipend amounts are adjusted annually according to inflation.

For how many years will I receive financial aid?

Most PhD students are admitted with research assistantships, which will continue as long as funds are available and students are making satisfactory progress towards their degrees.

Is the financial aid enough to cover living expenses?

Based on the experience of current PhD students, the financial aid is sufficient to cover reasonable living expenses.

Additional information about funding is provided on the PhD Program funding page.

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Visiting Northwestern

As a foreign student, I cannot visit Northwestern prior to making my decision. How can I learn more about the department?

Administrative questions should be directed to the Graduate Admissions Director for the materials science department.

Northwestern offers international students the opportunity to participate in a program called the International Summer Institute before beginning their graduate studies. For more information, please visit the International Summer Institute website.

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What happens after I am accepted?

We encourage all accepted students to visit Northwestern prior to making a decision about the offer. Most students visit during one of two group visits in the spring. Northwestern will pay for most of the expenses associated with these visits. During the visits, students speak with faculty who are of the most interest to them, and learn more about our department and the Evanston/Chicago area. The purpose of these visits is not to arrange for a research adviser, but to get enough information so that you can make an informed choice about which graduate school to attend.

When do I need to formally accept or decline an offer of admission?

The deadline is April 15th, but if you make your decision earlier than that, please let us know.

How do I choose a research adviser?

New graduate students arriving in September hear research presentations from each of the faculty members in the department. Students are then given two to three weeks to meet with the faculty whose projects are of the most interest to them. In October, students indicate their adviser preferences. Advisers are then assigned based on these preferences. Alternatively, it may be possible to select an adviser in the Spring before matriculation--see 'preselect' below.

How do I know which faculty are taking new students?

Due to the nature of research funding, we cannot guarantee that all faculty members will indeed be taking students. The picture will be clearer as the year progresses.

What are the chances that I will be able to work with an adviser of my choice?

Over the past several years, more than 80% of the students have been assigned their first choice for a research adviser, and more than half of the remaining students have been assigned their second choice.

Can I 'preselect' a research adviser prior to my arrival at Northwestern?

Our experience is that the adviser selection method described above gives students the most flexibility in finding a research group that is a good match for their own interests. However, in specific cases where the interests of a student are narrowly defined, it may be possible to select an adviser in advance. Students interested in this option should discuss it with the Graduate Admissions Director for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.