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Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

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Applying to Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford

PhD and Master’s Admissions Tips and Tricks

Stanford University 2020–21 Materials Science Application Information

Stanford MSE PhD Admissions

Stanford MSE MS Admissions

  • Please note that the part-time MS program cannot be completed solely online. Students must be able to come to campus.

Stanford Central Graduate Admissions

Application Requirements

Due to COVID-19, Application Requirements for 2020-21 have been adjusted. Please look for COVID-19 exceptions. These will be in bold italics.

  • Completed online application and paid application fee.
  • Three letters of recommendation. While a maximum of six letters are accepted, we usually read three
  • Online, unofficial transcript. Submit your unofficial transcript(s) from all post-secondary institutions you have attended for at least one year. If admitted to the MSE program, you will be asked to provide an official transcript(s). NOTE: An unofficial transcript(s) is all that is needed to be uploaded to the application. Official transcript(s) are ONLY required if admission is granted.
  • Please review FAQS and Tips & Tricks pdf about our GRE optional -COVID19 exception for 2021-2022 applicants. 

Application Deadlines 2020–21

Autumn — September 2021 Start Date

  • MS: Tuesday, January 5th, 2021 by 11:59pm (PST)
  • PhD: Tuesday, December 1, 2020 by 11:59pm (PST)

All application materials—including test scores—are DUE by the posted deadline.

You can submit supplemental material at any time before the deadline; material will be matched when you submit your online application.

If you are a re-applicant, all materials listed above are required again, including letters of recommendation. If test scores are less than five years old, we may be able to reinstate them. Please send an email to mseadmissions@stanford.edu for more information on reapplying.

General application requirements

Q: What are the required tests for admissions?

A:  Normally, there are two required tests for admissions, the GRE and TOEFL.  We do NOT accept any other language proficiency exams at this time.

1: GRE (Graduate Record Exam):

GRE Optional - Covid-19 Exception: We are aware that some students are unable to take the GRE test due to COVID-19. Because of this disruption, the submission of GRE scores for this application cycle is optional. All applications will receive full consideration, whether GRE scores have been submitted or are not submitted. Tip #18 in Tips & Tricks for information regarding GRE questions/submission.

  • ALL applicants have the option to submit GRE scores.
    • No subject tests are required.
    • No minimum score is required.
    • GRE scores are valid for 5 years from the test date.
    • Test scores received by Graduate Admissions prior to September 1, 2012, are no longer retained on file. If you had ETS send test scores to Stanford, but you did NOT submit an application, you must request that ETS resend the scores if you submit an application in the future.
    • Find GRE information here.

2:  TOEFL: Adequate command of spoken and written English is required for admission. Applicants whose first language is not English must submit an official test score from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Stanford accepts only ETS (Educational Testing Service) scores.

  • Scores must be submitted from a test taken within the last 18 months.
  • Exemptions are granted to applicants who have earned a US bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a college or university accredited by a regional accrediting association in the United States, or the international equivalent degree from a university of recognized standing in a country in which all instruction is provided in English. Therefore, applicants with degrees from the US, Australia, Canada (except Quebec), New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales) are exempt from taking the TOEFL and do not need to submit the TOEFL Waiver Request form.
  • Applicants with degrees from institutions in countries other than those listed above and in which English was the only language of instruction must submit the TOEFL Waiver Request form to be evaluated for a waiver to the TOEFL requirement.
  • US citizenship does not automatically exempt an applicant from taking the TOEFL if the applicant’s first language is not English. Please refer to https://gradadmissions.stanford.edu/applying/starting-your-application/required-exams for details on the minimum test score requirement. Both the GRE and TOEFL, if applicable, are required by the university and cannot be waived by the Department. For the official scores from ETS to arrive in time for the deadline, they should be taken well in advance and no later than an October test date.
  • *** Due to COVID-19, many locations throughout China have suspended the testing of TOEFL iBT. To accommodate test-takers, Educational Testing Services (ETS) is offering the TOEFL IPT Plus. The TOEFL iBT is currently required of all applicants to graduate study when English is not the first language and the applicant does not qualify for an exemption; this is a University requirement.
  • The TOEFL ITP Plus provides paper-based TOEFL iBT Level 1 with an unscored video speaking component, provided by Vericant.

    Stanford will temporarily accept the TOEFL ITP Plus test with the Vericant interview for applicants from Mainland China who are unable to sit for the TOEFL iBT. This exception is requested only for the 2020–2021 application cycle. Applicants may be asked to re-test at a later time once the Stanford TOEFL iBT becomes available, or applicants may be asked to re-test through the Stanford Language Center. Per-current University policy, all international students, including those from Mainland China, must receive English language clearance from the English for Foreign Students program prior to becoming a teaching assistant.

Q: What is the most important part of my application?

A: Our Department does not have a “formula” for admissions. The admissions committee looks at the applicant’s background and record to determine the potential for success. We look at the whole package, including the strengths and weaknesses, as well as the availability of resources in the department for the applicants.

Obviously, the better your test scores, transcripts, letters, and experiences, the better your chances of gaining admission, but there are no guarantees. We can never admit all the students with the ability to succeed in graduate school, as there simply are not enough resources to support all of our excellent applicants.

Because of our “whole view” approach, we do not keep statistics of test scores, GPAs, etc. of those admitted in past years. Early application will not increase your chance of being accepted.

Q: My school(s) has sent an official transcript. Why does my checklist say that only my unofficial transcript(s) have been received?

A: We do not require official transcripts at the time of application. Additionally, our staff is not on campus to accept transcripts. Thus, if you do not upload your transcript in the online admission form, it may take several weeks for the checklists to be updated. They will be updated in the order that they are received AFTER the application deadline. It may take up to three weeks (15 business days) to process into your application. 

We have hundreds of applications to process, review, and mark complete. We will be in touch with you if you are missing any materials. Please do NOT call and email asking why your file is not “complete.”  Each call/email slows our process down and lengthens our review.

Q: I have taken my required tests (GRE and/or TOEFL) and requested the scores be sent to Stanford. I have also submitted my transcripts and my recommendation letters; why is my checklist saying that they have not been received?

A: You must first submit your application for Stanford to be able to see your checklist. Stanford cannot match your recommendation letters, transcripts, and test scores until test scores are sent by ETS to Stanford, and it could take up to a few weeks to match your application to your scores. The checklists will not be updated until after the December 1st, 2020 (Ph.D) and January 5th, 2021 (MS) deadline. After that, we will update them at least weekly. Do not worry, we will be in touch with you if you are missing any materials. Please DO NOT contact us requesting we update your file. Test scores are uploaded by an automated process each week. If you are concerned that your test scores have not been received, please contact the appropriate testing service office.

Transcripts will be marked as "received" once the department reviews them. 

Q: How can I send my test scores to Stanford, and where should I send my transcripts? What is Stanford’s ETS (Educational Testing Service) institutional code for sending test scores? What is the department code?

Test scores:

Official scores must be reported directly to Stanford from Educational Testing Service. Stanford’s ETS institutional code is 4704. Individual department code numbers are not necessary. As long as the institutional code of 4704 is selected (and your name in the online application and the ETS match, as well as your birthdate - Month/Day/Year), the score will be electronically delivered to Stanford. The scores will be sent to the central Graduate Admissions Office at Stanford University electronically and matched by name and birthdate to the application files. The test reporting process may take up to a few weeks.

Transcript(s)*: 

Unofficial transcripts are all that is needed to upload to the application. Official transcripts will be required only if admission is granted. 

You are required to submit transcript(s) from every postsecondary institution you have attended for at least one year as a full-time student in a degree program. You do not have to send transcripts from summer school or continuing education unless it was part of a degree program.

Please upload a scanned copy of your unofficial transcript (s) into the online application. See the transcript upload information in the File Upload Requirements section for specific instructions.

Once accepted*, you will be asked to submit your official transcript(s). You will need to arrange for your official transcripts to be sent by the institution(s) to Graduate Admission (Please do not send official transcripts, until asked to do so by Graduate Admissions or the MSE department). An official transcript must be an original document bearing the institutional seal and official signature of the Registrar or copies verified by a school administrative officer and is one that is sent to Stanford in four ways.

The below information can be found Stanford’s Graduate Admission Page: Transcripts (Academic Records)

  • If official final transcripts/degree certifications showing the award of a degree are required, Graduate Admissions, Student and Academic Services, must receive the documents through one of the delivery methods listed below. Note that transcripts uploaded with the online application are not considered final official.

Stanford does not consider transcripts that come from applicants or that have been in the applicant's possession as official. Transcripts submitted by the student as email attachments are also not considered official.

Final official transcripts must contain the following information:

  • Completion of coursework required for the degree
  • Degree earned and date the degree was conferred
  • Official stamp, seal, and/or embossed marking from the school
  • Transcripts and degree documents that are in a language other than English must be accompanied with an official English translation.

Delivery Methods

  • Certified Electronic Transcripts: Secure electronically-delivered transcripts that are passcode protected, digitally signed, and properly certified by the issuing institution are required and is sent to us only from the issuing institution or its authorized agent. Send to: gradadmissions@stanford.edu. Transcripts sent as an email attachment or by the student will be rejected. 

  • CollegeNET Document Service: (ApplyWeb CertiFile Service) International and domestic final official transcripts/degree certifications delivery method is via the ApplyWeb CertiFile Service. To submit the order fo to your ApplyWeb Applicant Activity Page by clicking on the Review Your Activity link here. There is a fee for this service.
  • eTranscript service: Stanford students and alumni who have active SUNet IDs can use the eTranscript Service within the graduate application. See the instructions in the application.
  • Postal Service: If your institution will be mailing a traditional paper transcript, it must be in an official sealed envelope that is signed and stamped across the envelope flap by the appropriate academic officer at the institution issuing the document. If the envelope has been opened or there is no stamp or signature across the envelope flap, it will not be accepted. Have the institution send it to the address below.

Graduate Admissions
c/o Bechtel International
Attn: Transcripts
584 Pistrano Way, Stanford CA 94305

Please use the address above through the end of Autumn quarter, 2020. Please check Graduate Admissions Website for an updated address after January 1, 2021.

Note: If sending paper transcripts, one set is required*; an official transcript is one that has been signed and sealed by the college/university registrar and is received by Stanford in its original, sealed envelope

*Graduate Admissions will require (1) copy of your official transcript(s) once admitted to the program.

Chinese students are encouraged to use CHESICC; however, it is not required in the application stage — only OFFICIAL, sealed transcripts are required.  If you are offered admission and accept the offer, then your final transcript and your graduate and degree certificates must be submitted to Stanford via the CHESICC method as a condition of your admission. This question is answered on the Graduate Admissions website.

Q: What if my test scores are not received by the deadline?

A: Your file will not be considered complete until all required application materials are received. We may do a preliminary review of your file with unofficial (self-reported) test scores, but we will not make a final decision until we have official test scores.

*Reminder: GRE is optional (COVID-19 exception for 2021-2022 applicants). Therefore, applications submitted with/without GRE scores will be marked completed. 

Q: Would it be possible to modify my application after it has already been submitted?

A: No, you will not be able to modify your application once it’s submitted. Official test scores to back up the self-reported ones, online letters of recommendation, and official transcript are the only things that can be added to your application after the deadline.

Q: What are the minimum GRE scores and/or GPAs required for admission?

A: We do not have published minimum test scores or GPAs. We encourage all students to apply as we review application packages as a whole. However, our program is competitive and successful applicants tend to score well on the GRE, especially the math section.

Reminder: GRE is optional (COVID-19 exception for 2021-2022 applicants). Therefore, applications submitted with/without GRE scores will be marked completed. 

Q: Is there a preferred background for acceptance to the Stanford graduate program?

A: Any engineering discipline or related science discipline (such as physics, chemistry, etc.), or mathematics is a good base for graduate study in materials science and engineering.

Q: What are the minimum TOEFL scores required for admission?

A: Stanford University requires a score of 89 for the MS program, and 100 for the PhD program.  Based on the number of applicants with strong TOEFL scores, however, these are just minimums — you should do your best to score above 100.

Q: How long are my TOEFL scores valid for admission?

A: Scores must be submitted from a test taken within the last eighteen months (ex. PhD deadline is December 1, 2020, so TOEFL scores from June 3, 2019, or later will be accepted).

Q: What if my official transcripts are not received by the deadline?

A: We will review your application with the unofficial transcripts upload to the application. Official transcripts are not needed at the time application deadline. 

Q: What is an “official” transcript?

A: The PDF version of the transcripts you upload online is considered “unofficial.” The university requires “official” transcripts that are produced and sent directly by your university in a sealed envelope. You may also send official transcripts yourself as long as the envelope has not been opened, as indicated by an unbroken seal with a signature or stamp across it. You can also request your school to send an official electronic transcript to Graduate Admissions: gradadmissions@stanford.edu.

Q: I am an international student. Do my transcripts need to be translated into English?

A: For the admissions committee and university to read your transcripts, any text must be translated into English. Please see the Office of Graduate Admissions’ page on international transcripts.

Q: I am an international student (or student at a US school that doesn’t use a 4.0 scale), and my grades are not on a 4.0 scale. Should I compute my GPA to compare to the US 4.0 grading scale?

A: Yes, and no. First, enter 0.00 in the GPA fields of the online application if your institution did not use a typical United States’ 4.0 scale. Next, please use WES (http://www.foreigncredits.com/Resources/GPA-Calculator/) or Back to College (http://www.back2college.com/gpa.htm) and send us your initial GPA calculation on a 4-point scale via an email to mseadmissions@stanford.edu (include your name, birth date, and a screenshot of the calculation).

Q: What happens if my letters of recommendation are not received by the deadline?

A: We will not review your file unless we have three letters of recommendation.

Q. What if my recommenders did not receive the invitation to submit their letters, or what if they are having issues?

A: First, have your recommenders check their SPAM or JUNK mail.  Often they will find the invitation there.  If they have the invitation, within the recommender request there is a link for recommenders to use to check the FAQ or get online help. The link is also accessible through your account after it is established and your recommenders indicate there is an issue.  This cannot be resolved at the department level. This question is answered on the Graduate Admissions website.

Q: What happens if I need to remove or change a recommender?

A: Once you have submitted your application, you will not be able to revise your list of recommendation letters. If you need to update your list or let us know that a recommender will not be submitting a letter, please send an email to mseadmissions@stanford.edu. In the email, please state your full name and what changes you need to be made to your recommenders.

Q: How can I request financial aid?

A: Financial aid is administered somewhat differently in graduate school than it is in undergraduate school. We offer financial aid only to PhD students. You may feel free to check the box on the application form that asks if you wish to be considered for aid; however, it has no bearing on the application.

Q: What degrees can I apply for?

A: Applicants may ask to be considered for either an MS degree or a PhD degree. We do not accept applicants directly to the Engineer degree program, so please do not put this on your application form. If you expect to obtain both an MS degree and a PhD degree, apply to the PhD program only. Use the MS program ONLY if you expect to obtain a terminal MS degree and not continue your education.

Q: Can I apply to more than one department at Stanford?

A: No, you may apply to only one department. If the department to which you apply does not admit you, you may request to have your application be considered by another department, pending the second department agrees to review your application.

Generally, financial aid is already awarded by the time another department agrees to review such applications; therefore, even if you are admitted, you would need to be prepared to fund yourself for at least the first year.

Q: What is meant by the question in the application, “If you applied to the PhD program but are not admitted to it, do you want to be considered for admissions to the Master’s Degree Program?”

A: We have a limited number of spaces available for PhD admits. Sometimes we offer an MS program admission to someone who has applied to the PhD program. Please indicate in your application that you wish to be considered for an MS if you are not offered a position in the PhD program.

Q: I am reapplying to the program. Can I reuse any application materials?

A: All materials, including letters of recommendation, must be resubmitted. Test scores are good for five years.

Q: Is it possible to request an application fee waiver?

Please refer to the grad admission site for more information about application fee waivers.

Q: Can I connect with you on LinkedIn?

A: The mseadmissions@stanford.edu address is an organizational email and does not have an active LinkedIn account.

Program Specific Questions and Answers

MS Program Q&A

PhD Program Q&A

Need more information?

If you have any questions not answered on the website or in our tips and tricks, please email mseadmissions@stanford.edu or write to:

Attn: Student Services
Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Stanford University
496 Lomita Mall, Room 113
Stanford, CA 94305-4034

Email is the best option for communication, as we cannot return long distance or international phone calls.