PhD: Admissions
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Welcome to the Admissions page for prospective PhD applicants. Here you will find everything you need to know about the admissions process, as well as contacts that can provide answers to any questions you might have. We wish you the best of luck in applying, and we hope to welcome you to the Bren School should you choose to pursue your PhD studies here.

Information for Prospective PhD Applicants

All applications for graduate study at UCSB are submitted online to the Graduate Division via the Online Application. Applications are not submitted directly to the Bren School.

Please note that an applicant may apply to only one department at UCSB per admissions period. In addition, the Bren School accepts applications only for fall-quarter admission. 

In addition to the admissions information found here, prospective students should review the Prospective Students section of the Graduate Division website, which includes detailed information about submitting the online application, as well as information about the overall application process.

Below, you will find information specific to the Bren School and answers to frequently asked questions that are and not included on the Graduate Division web site.

Prospective students’ primary contact for information and assistance is the Bren School's Director of Admissions and Outreach, Kristen Robinson. She can be reached via e-mail at or by calling 805-893-4886.

PhD Application Deadlines

The deadline for applicants to the Bren School PhD program for Fall 2016 admission is December 15, 2015. All application materials must be submitted online by this date to be eligible for university-wide fellowship competition. Admitted applicants who are offered recruitment incentives have until April 15, 2016 to submit their Statement of Intent to Register (SIR).

Faculty Sponsorship

The Bren School offers a mentored PhD program in which each student works closely with at least one Bren professor in his or her area of expertise. Acceptance into the PhD program requires the support of a Bren School ladder-track faculty member who agrees to be your sponsor.

Most faculty members expect that, prior to submitting an application; you will contact them to explore the possibility of pursuing PhD studies under their mentorship. You should thoroughly review faculty web pages and gain a solid understanding of the research programs of potential sponsors who have interests aligned with yours. Please keep in mind that due to the faculty members' busy lecture schedules and research schedules, it could take longer than a week for a faculty member to return a cold call or cold email.

Prospective PhD students are strongly encouraged to visit the Bren School. Please contact the admissions and outreach representatives at to make arrangements, once you have already reached out to a faculty member to introduce yourself and assess if the faculty member is currently taking on PhD students for the upcoming academic year.

Please note: the fact that a faculty member may encourage you to apply does not necessarily mean that s/he is making a commitment to sponsor you. What it generally does mean is the faculty member is considering taking on new PhD students this year and has the necessary research funds to do so, and that your background and interests are of interest to him/her.

Although a faculty member may express interest in sponsoring you, the Admissions Committee makes the final admission decision. The committee will recommend admittance only if 1) you have sufficiently strong academic qualifications, and 2) there is a high probability that your financial-support needs can be met primarily through extramural grants and/or fellowships secured by you and/or your advisor.

Required Undergraduate/Graduate Preparation for the PhD Program

The undergraduate coursework and related preparation required for the PhD program vary depending on the faculty member with whom you wish to study. Although the Bren School does not require that you have a master’s degree to apply for the PhD program, some faculty prefer that you do. Please refer to the web page of the faculty member with whom you wish to work to get a sense of his/her specific requirements. Sometimes the faculty members explicitly state whether or not they prefer an applicant have an advanced degree before pursuing a PhD; others might want to speak with a prospective PhD applicant before determining if master's-level courses would benefit the applicant.

International Applicants

The Bren School does not require international applicants to submit a pre-application. International applicants should carefully review the information for international students on the UCSB Graduate Division’s website. The UCSB Office of International Students & Scholars also offers information made available regarding admissions to the university, visa requirements, and the cost of attending UCSB for international graduate students, among other subjects.

Required Application Examinations and Materials

All applications for graduate study at UCSB are submitted online to the Graduate Division. Applications are not submitted directly to the Bren School. Please note that an applicant may apply to only one department at UCSB per admissions period. In addition, the Bren School accepts applications only for fall-quarter admission.

The following examination scores and application materials must be sent or uploaded to the UCSB Graduate Division’s Online Application portal for consideration into the Bren School PhD program:

  • Graduate Records Examination (GRE)
    Neither the university nor the Bren School has a minimum required GRE score, as it is only one of many application elements considered during the review process. The GRE score is viewed holistically in the context of all the information provided by each applicant. The Bren School does not require a subject test. UCSB’s Institution Code is 4835; please use this number on your GRE score sheets. GRE test scores are valid for five years after the testing year in which the test was taken (July 1–June 30). More information about the GRE can be found online at
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam – INTERNATIONAL APPLICANTS ONLY
    If the applicant’s native language is not English, then s/he is required to complete either the TOEFL or IELTS exam. Exceptions may be granted to applicants who have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree at an institution whose primary language of instruction is English. Scores for either examination may be no more than two years old at the time of application. The University requires a minimum score of 550 (paper test) or 80 (computer test) for the TOEFL exam. The University requires a minimum Overall Band Score of 7.0 or higher for the IELTS exam.

    The Bren School generally does not admit students to the MESM program unless they have TOEFL or IELTS scores significantly higher than the minimum required by the University. The MESM program is rigorous, and there is not time for students to develop their English skills simultaneously. In addition, the considerable amount of group work requires students to be highly proficient in English at the time they commence the program.

    All non-native English speakers who are admitted to UCSB—even those having an acceptable TOEFL or IELTS score—must take the university's English Language Placement Exam (ELPE). The Bren School expects students to have completed all English as Second Language (ESL) courses recommended by the test results prior to starting coursework at Bren.

  • Statement of Purpose
    The Statement of Purpose (SOP) should be at least one page but no more than two. Your SOP should outline past experiences (not necessarily only in academics) and how they have prepared you to succeed in a rigorous graduate program. The SOP should also include your goals and how the Bren School will help you to achieve them, and what led you to seek a career in the environmental field. You may upload this document directly to your online application.
  • Personal Achievements/Contributions
    UC Santa Barbara is interested in a diverse and inclusive graduate student population. Please describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that you feel are important in evaluating your application for graduate study. For example, please describe if you have experienced economic challenges in achieving higher education, such as being financially responsible for family members or dependents, having to work significant hours during undergraduate schooling, or coming from a family background of limited income.

    Please describe any unusual or varied life experiences that might contribute to the diversity of the graduate group, such as fluency in other languages, experience living in bicultural communities, academic research interests focusing on cultural, societal, or educational problems as they affect underserved segments of society, or evidence of an intention to use the graduate degree toward serving disadvantaged individuals or populations. You may upload this document directly to your online application.
  • Letters of Recommendation(minimum of three letters required)
    Letters of Recommendation should be uploaded electronically by the recommenders onto the applicant's online application. You will be asked to supply the name, email address, and current institution/organization of each recommender. Once supplied, the online application will provide instructions to each of your recommenders via email.

    If you are using a Letter Service (such as Interfolio or a university career center) to submit one or more letters, you will be able to indicate this information within the recommender profile. UCSB needs a rating on our rating scale from each recommender you indicate. If the letter will come from a letter service, we will only request the necessary rating from your recommender.

    For the PhD program, it is beneficial if an applicant can provide at least two letters from a faculty member who is familiar with his or her academic abilities. We realize that this may be difficult for applicants who have been out of school for a number of years. If this is not possible, students are requested to provide letters from professionals in supervisory or managerial roles who can attest to their scholarly ability and potential, creativity, dedication, and work performance, among other attributes.
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae
    Applicants should include all relevant research or professional experience, as well as any publications produced, grants secured, or labs/courses taught.
  • Transcripts
    All applicants will be required to upload “unofficial” transcripts to their application. These uploaded transcripts are required to be official documents created by the university. Applicants who are admitted and submit a positive SIR will be required to send final/official transcripts to the Graduate Division.
  • Non-refundable application fee
    Applications are not processed until this is received. All applications require anon-refundable application feeof $90 for domestic applicants and $110 for international applicants. No application will be processed until the application fee has been received. This fee can be paid bycredit cardor with a check/money orderusing the Check/Money Order Submission Form found on the last page of the application.

Contact Information

For further information regarding the Bren School admissions process, email or call (805) 893-4886.

Frequently Asked Questions


Are my GPA and GRE scores high enough?

The average GPA for admitted PhD students is generally at least 3.5, and the combined verbal and quantitative average score is generally at least 316 (new GRE score) 1350 (old GRE score).

What if my GPA is less than 3.0?

The minimum GPA Graduate Division will allow is a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0-point scale) for undergraduate or post-graduate studies.

In rare cases, the school can petition the Graduate Division to admit a student whose GPA is slightly below 3.0, if the rest of the application is extremely strong and unusual circumstances may have contributed to the lower undergraduate GPA. However, it is quite unlikely that a faculty member would agree to sponsor a student who had a low GPA. More likely, you would be encouraged to pursue a master’s degree first.

How do I send my GRE scores?

GRE scores are not sent by the applicant; rather, ETS sends them directly to the UCSB Graduate Division.

I retook the GRE. What scores will be used?

Applicants who take the GRE a second time and want scores updated must request that the new scores be sent to UCSB. UCSB will review only the most current complete set of scores reported. Applicants may not mix and match the highest scores from different tests.

I took the GRE before the application deadline, but I'm worried that official scores may not arrive from ETS until after the deadline. Will the Graduate Division consider my application to be late?

If you took the test on a date near the application deadline, you should self-report your scores to We can use these scores to begin the review process but will require official scores before communicating a final admission decision to the Graduate Division. However, should your scores arrive beyond the December 15 application deadline; you may be excluded from eligibility for the university-wide fellowship competition.

If I am admitted, by what date do I have to accept or decline the offer of admission?

April 15. UCSB abides by the Council of Graduate Schools resolution that prospective students are under no obligation to accept a financial award until April 15. For more information on this resolution, please see the Council of Graduate Schools web site.

If I am admitted, may I defer my admittance for one year?

No. The university does not allow us to defer admittance, except in the case of prestigious fellowships; however, we will keep your application materials (letters of recommendation, Statement of Purpose, transcripts, etc.) on file for one year. To reactivate your application, you must complete a new online application and pay the application fee. But because you would be competing in a different applicant pool than before, admission is not guaranteed.

Are students ever admitted without a sponsor?

No student is admitted to the PhD program at the Bren School unless a faculty member has agreed to sponsor the student and serve as the PhD advisor for the entire duration of the degree.

What is the role of the sponsor?

The sponsor normally serves as the student’s advisor and the chair of the student’s PhD Committee. The sponsor is responsible for providing intellectual support and academic and career advice, as well as assisting the student to obtain necessary financial support from Graduate Student Researcher positions, Teaching Assistant positions, and fellowships, among other areas of support.


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