PhD: Admissions
Prospective PhD Links
Program Details
PhD Experience
Financial Information
Visiting Bren

We recommend you review the contents of this page in its entirety if you are planning to apply to the Bren School's doctoral program; however, you might find some of these quick links to be useful:

Admissions Deadlines Faculty Sponsorship
Undergrad/Grad Preparation International Applicants
How to Apply to Bren Applications From Current UCSB Students
Frequently-Asked Questions Apply through the UCSB e-Application
Financial Information (leads to a new page)

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, though they are reviewed by the Bren School faculty-led Admissions Committee.

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. 

This page includes admissions information specific to the Bren School's PhD program. In addition to the information found here, potential students should review the UCSB Graduate Division's How to Apply page, which includes detailed information about submitting the online application.

The primary contact for information and assistance regarding admissions to the Bren School PhD program is Bren School Director of Admissions and Outreach Kristen Robinson. She can be reached via e-mail at or by calling 805-893-4886.

PhD Admissions Deadlines

The UCSB Graduate Division application for Fall 2017 is now open! The Bren School PhD program application deadline for Fall 2017 is December 15, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PST. All application materials must be submitted online by this date to be considered for admission.

The Bren School only accepts applications for Fall quarter matriculation; students cannot apply to begin in Winter, Spring, or Summer terms.

Admitted PhD applicants have until April 15, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. PDT to indicate whether or not they accept the Bren School's admission offer. Applicants may do so by logging back in to their UCSB e-application and clicking on the Application Status page to indicate a positive or negative Statement of Intent to Register. (See the Graduate Division's Admitted Applicants page for further instruction.) Students needing more time beyond this deadline need to email to request an extension.

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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. There is different admission criteria depending on the type of research you hope to do (natural science- or engineering-based research versus social science-based research), so please review this section carefully for full details. Regardless of which track you wish to pursue, it is important to thoroughly review our Faculty Research page to have a solid understanding of the research being conducted by our faculty to best align your interests.

  • Natural Science- or Engineering-based Research Interests
    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. Please keep in mind that due to the faculty members' busy lecture, research, and travel schedules, it could take longer than two weeks for a faculty member to return a cold call or cold email.

  • Social Science-based Research Interests
    Applicants intending to focus on economics or political science apply to the Bren School PhD program without a faculty sponsor and instead indicate their interest in this track by selecting the "Social Science Group (economics and political science) - PhD applicants only" option under the Faculty Interests section of the UCSB application. While applicants intending to focus on economics or political science do not have to identify a mentor at the admissions stage, they are encouraged to review faculty web pages and contact faculty for further information.

Regardless of which track they decide to apply to, prospective PhD students are strongly encouraged to visit the Bren School at some point in the admissions process. Please contact Bren School admissions and outreach representatives at to make arrangements.

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 Bren School Admissions Committee makes the final admission decision on which PhD applicants to have advance to the Graduate Division for final review. The Bren School Admissions 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.

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Required Academic Preparation for the PhD Program

The undergraduate coursework and related preparation required for the PhD program vary depending on the faculty member(s) 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 inquire with the faculty member directly to better understand his/her admission criteria. 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.

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Prospective International Applicants

The Bren School is home to a large number of international students and faculty, all of whom add to the diversity and global community of UCSB. Any applicant who does not have U.S. citizenship or permanent residence in the U.S. at the time of application is considered as international.

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.

  • Pre-application
    The Bren School does not require international applicants to submit a pre-application.

  • International applicant Grade Point Averages (GPA)
    All applicants will be required to self-report their GPAs on their UCSB Online Application. Although most institutions in the United States use a 4.0 scale (including UCSB), international students do not need to convert their GPAs to this scale. In fact, international students would be better off self-reporting their GPAs on their application in the same scale used by their home institution. For example, if your institution grades on a scale of 100, please report your GPA using this scale. See the Completed Units/Credits section on the UCSB Graduate Division's website under the Education History section of the How to Apply page.

  • English Language Proficiency Requirements
    If the applicant’s native language is not English, then s/he is required to complete either the TOEFL or IELTS exam. 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. Foreign language proficiency exam scores can be no more than two years old at the time of application.

    Exceptions to the English language placement exam may be granted to applicants who have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree at an institution whose primary language of instruction is English. Applicants who think they qualify for this exception will need to upload unofficial transcripts from their institution and indicate on the online application that it is an English instruction-only institution. There are no additional forms or steps necessary at the time of application.

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Current UCSB Graduate Students Applying to Bren's PhD Program

If you are currently a UCSB graduate student in a terminal master's degree (like the MESM degree) and are looking to add the PhD in Environmental Science and Management, or if you're currently pursuing a PhD in another department at UCSB and wish to transfer to the Bren School, you will still need to complete the UCSB Graduate Division's electronic application to be considered for admission. Please select the "Current UCSB Graduate Students" application type on the landing page menu of the Graduate Division's e-application to complete the correct application.

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How to Apply to the Bren School PhD Program

All applications for graduate study at UCSB are submitted online to the Graduate Division. Applications are not submitted directly to the Bren School; instead, all materials are uploaded directly on to your UCSB e-application. 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 uploaded to the UCSB Graduate Division’s Online Application portal for consideration into the Bren School PhD program:

  • Statement of Purpose - REQUIRED
    The Statement of Purpose (SOP) should provide evidence of your promise as a member of the academic community and should summarize your past research experience, discuss the current state of your research, and explain the future work you hope to pursue. It should also address why the Bren School is the most appropriate place for you to pursue your studies. The SOP should be at least one page but no more than two. Formatting style (e.g., line spacing, typeface, or font size) is up to the discretion of the applicant. This document should be uploaded directly to the UCSB e-application. The UC Berkeley Graduate Division provides advice on Writing the Statement of Purpose.
  • Personal Achievements/Contributions - REQUIRED
    UC Santa Barbara is interested in a diverse and inclusive graduate student population. In your Personal Achievements/Contributions (PAC), 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.

    In your PAC, you may also 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.

    The UC Berkeley Graduate Division provides
    an online resource called Writing the Personal Statement which is especially helpful in guiding applicants on this document. The PAC should be at least one page but no more than two. Formatting style (e.g., line spacing, typeface, or font size) is up to the discretion of the applicant. This document should be uploaded directly to the UCSB e-application.
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae - REQUIRED
    Applicants should include all relevant research or professional experience, as well as any publications produced, grants secured, or labs/courses taught.
  • Letters of Recommendation (minimum of three letters required) - 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 faculty members who are 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.

  • Transcripts - REQUIRED
    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.

  • Graduate Records Examination (GRE) - REQUIRED
    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 (a department code is not necessary to have these scores sent to UCSB); 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
  • English Language Competency Exams - REQUIRED OF INTERNATIONAL APPLICANTS
    If the applicant’s native language is not English, then s/he is required to complete either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (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 and can be submitted to UCSB by using the UCSB institution code 4835. 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 PhD program unless they have TOEFL or IELTS scores significantly higher than the minimum required by the University. The PhD program is rigorous, and there is not time for students to develop their English skills simultaneously.

    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.

  • Non-refundable application fee - REQUIRED
    Applications are not processed until this is received. All applications require anon-refundable application fee of $105 for domestic applicants and $125 for international applicants. This fee can be paid by credit card or with a check/money order using the Check/Money Order Submission Form found on the last page of the application. Students who think they are eligible can submit an application fee waiver. Visit the UCSB Graduate Division's How to Apply page for information.

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Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs) from Prospective Applicants


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?
Students focusing on economics or political science are admitted without a sponsor.  All other students are admitted to the PhD program at the Bren School only if a faculty member has agreed to sponsor them 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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Page last updated November 28, 2016. All rights reserved.