Frequently Asked Questions - Prospective Students FAQs

According to the late, great Research Professor Emeritus James M. Palmer, optics is "light work" —

  • It's big: The UA Steward Observatory Mirror Lab casts telescope mirrors up to 8.5 meters.
  • It's small: An array of 1,600 microscopic lenses fit easily on a quarter; these lenses are used in an optical test named in part after Professor Emeritus Roland V. Shack.
  • Optics is hot: The National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will deposit 1.8 megajoules in two nanoseconds on a tiny two-millimeter tritium target, heating it to more than 100 million degrees Kelvin.
  • Optics is cool: The laser cooling and trapping performed in optical physics labs at OSC can capture and slow down individual atoms until their effective temperature is one ten-millionth of a degree Kelvin.
  • It's fast: A 9-micron optical fiber can carry data and 10 gigabits per second; using dense wavelength-division multiplexing, that means that two million simultaneous phone conversations can be transmitted through a single fiber.
  • And it's slow: Now it takes only 27 days to grow potassium dihydrogen phosphate crystals big enough for frequency multiplication, where it used to take a whole year.
  • Optics is near: Scanning tunneling microscopy at OSC can get close enough to resolve individual atoms.
  • Optics is far: The UA's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer on the Hubble Space Telescope found a galaxy 12 billion light years away.
  • It's new: LEDs are now available in three primary colors (great for displays!) and in white (for illumination). The violet laswer diode (at 400 nanometers) is a recent introduction that should lead to smaller spot sizes and denser data storage.
  • And it's old: Galileo built a telescope, based on an earlier design, in 1609 and used it to discover four of Jupiter's moons.
  • Optics is night: A Generation III image intensifier can produce a useful image under starlight. With that much power, you can see a six-foot-tall man at 580 yards.
  • Optics is day: A sulfur lamp the size of a golf ball produces nearly 100 times more light than a conventional high-intensity discharge lamp —  and nearly 1,000 times more light than a 40-watt tungsten lamp.
  • It's visible: Did you know that Revo polarized sunglasses were invented by an OSC graduate?
  • It's invisible: Heat associated with neck and back pain is easily viewed with an infrared thermograph.
  • Optics is challenging: You can create new optical devices, design optical instruments, fabricate special components and test complex systems.
  • And it's fun: Every day is a new challenge, your co-workers are great and you can make neat stuff together.
  • Optics is ubiquitous! It's in consumer products, medicine, military and aerospace applications, industry, and telecommunications.
  • Optics is big business: There are about 3,500 optics companies in the U.S., 200 in Arizona and 100 in Tucson — and there are approximately 200 educational institutions in the field.
  • Optics is booming, too: The overall market is estimated at $50 billion, and growing exponentially.
  • It's lucrative: Starting salaries are higher than in most engineering disciplines, and most graduates receive multiple employment offers.
  • And it's the portal to a wide range of employment possibilities. Recent graduates have gone on to Harvard, Yale, the University of Rochester and CREOL: The College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida; they're at Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos; and they're working at Eastman Kodak, 3M, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Raytheon.
  • Optics is the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences.

It depends.

If you are smart and hard-working, and you like gadgets, high-tech toys, science and math, then a degree from the College of Optical Sciences and a career in optics might very well be for you!

Optics isn't just telescopes and microscopes any more — we are surrounded by optics and optical technology all day. Grocery store scanners, photocopy machines, cameras, the headlights in your car, the display on your computer monitor and the readout on your calculator are all examples of optical technology. And of course, television and the movies wouldn't exist without optical technology. Optics is so critical to those industries that one of our faculty members, Arthur Francis Turner, won an Oscar for his work in developing the technology that led to the creation of special effects we see in films and television today.

Life as an Optics Student

In addition to the world-class optics education programs here, this is a great place to be a student. We have about 500 students from many countries and backgrounds working on B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees here — we are proud of our diversity and of our students. Quite a number of our students are multitalented. Some of their interests include acting, painting, sculpting, music, carpentry, travel, astronomy and photography (of course!), poetry, scuba diving, cooking, hiking and biking, running and mechanics. We have party folks and introspective folks, volunteers for community activities, parents of small children, members of foreign culture groups and — go Wildcats! — many, many sports enthusiasts. By the way, our Frisbee bunch isn't world class yet, but they're working on it!

We're located on the spacious University of Arizona campus in a small, modern city in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Come visit us and see for yourself.

The Optics Industry

The optics industry is experiencing a shortage of skilled optical engineers and scientists, and they have asked us to "grow the program" to produce more graduates. The University of Arizona has targeted our B.S. in OSE degree program for expansion, and we are actively working on increasing the scope and breadth of the program to attract more students.

In the 40 years we've been educating optical scientists and engineers, our alumni have gone on to quite a variety of careers. Many love the academic life and are employed as teachers and researchers in universities in the United States and many other countries. Medical optics is a booming field;  optical technology is saving and improving lives by means of laser surgery, CAT scans, MRI technology, digital monitoring of life support systems, noninvasive equipment for fetal monitoring and glucose testing and the optical detection of cancers and tumors. Our space program is built around the importance of optics. With new designs for telescopes and other imaging systems, we are learning about the origins of our universe and are applying that knowledge to improve life for all of us. One of our graduate students recently won an award from NASA to study the design of thin optical flats that have the potential to be launched into space and used to detect small Earth-like planets outside our solar system. Computer technology, too, is another growing and in-demand optical specialty. In the near future, conventional computer technology will have exhausted its ability to build smaller and smaller chips to perform this work, so we are looking to optical technology — specifically quantum physics — for solutions. In theory, a quantum computer could simultaneously perform a thousand billion billion billion different computations.

The Job Market

Salaries in the optics industry are extraordinarily high and, even now, jobs are plentiful. Every week we receive an average of five or six messages, and sometimes many more, from colleagues in academia and industry telling us about job openings and asking us to circulate those messages to our soon-to-graduate students and to our alumni. If you'd like to take a look at recent openings, please check the employment section of our website. OSA and SPIE, the two major professional organizations in the optics field have excellent sites that include employment sections, so please take a moment to visit their sites also.

If this sounds exciting to you, then think about preparing for a career in optics with us.

The college's undergraduate degree, the Bachelor of Science in Optical Sciences and Engineering, is ABET-accredited, which serves to notify:

  • Parents and prospective students that a program has met minimum standards.
  • Faculty, deans and administrators of a program’s strengths and weaknesses and of ways to improve the program.
  • Employers that graduates are prepared to begin professional practice.
  • Taxpayers that their funds are spent well.
  • The public that graduates are aware of public health and safety considerations.

There is no accreditation process for graduate programs, but ours are regarded among the best in the field. Just ask our alumni, who are successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and distinguished researchers — thanks in part to their OSC education.

The field of optics includes information technology and telecommunications, health care and life sciences, remote sensing, lighting and energy, national defense, industrial manufacturing, manufacturing optical components and systems, and (our favorite because it's what we do here) optics research and education.

Opportunities in these specialties and others are nearly unlimited, and some optical engineers and scientists cross boundaries to work in several fields at once.

The outlook is favorable. Even amidst economic uncertainty, the industry demand for optical scientists and engineers is high, and so are salaries.

In its latest poll of recent alumni, the college learned that a new graduate with a bachelor's degree will earn, on average, over $56,000 per year. With a master's degree, that number jumps to more than $72,000 per year — and with a Ph.D., an optical scientist just a few years out of college is likely to be making nearly $100,000 annually.

We've prepared a summary of our respondents' salaries, which is available for your review (PDF).

If you have any questions about applying to the bachelor's degree program at the College of Optical Sciences, please contact Ted Gatchell or Rebecca Myren at the UA College of Engineering at 520-621-6032, or

To review your application, in progress or complete, please visit the UA Graduate College Online Application. You will need to log in to access your application. You may confirm which documents have been successfully submitted.

We receive around 250 applications each year. Unfortunately, we are only able to offer admissions to approximately 60 on-campus full-time M.S. and Ph.D. applicants.

Each year our entering graduate class includes students from outside the U.S., including Asia and Europe. We welcome applicants from all countries, and we do not have quotas for applicants from any particular country or region.

Yes, you must submit a new complete application to be reconsidered for admission.

Our application deadline for fall admissions consideration is Jan. 1. It is to your advantage to submit your application on time, early if possible; however, we will accept late applications for consideration. Unfortunately, it is possible that our facility will be fully committed by the time late applications are received and no funding will be available to award.

Graduate Certificate and M.S. in Optical Sciences applications are accepted after the Jan. 1 deadline and often are considered for spring admission, particularly if the student has successfully completed graduate-level optics classes in nondegree status.

Please note that we only admit students to begin in the spring semester in extremely rare circumstances. For additional information about spring applications and admissions, contact

You can apply to be a nondegree graduate student on the Graduate College website. This is only open to U.S. citizens or international applicants not needing an I20 or visa (completing by distance). Complete and submit your application for the next application and admissions period. If you are offered admission, up to 15 units completed in nondegree graduate status will apply toward the graduate program requirements. Please note that, if you are interested in the Professional Graduate Certificate in Optical Sciences, six units completed in nondegree graduate status will apply toward the certificate requirements.

The College of Optical Sciences and the Graduate College at the University of Arizona require a 3.0 GPA. We understand there are circumstances when an applicant might have a GPA below the 3.0 requirement. You can submit your application for consideration, but please include a written explanation of the circumstances for which you did not achieve a 3.0, and why you now are able to maintain at least a 3.0 (required for all graduate students admitted to the University of Arizona Graduate College). Another option is nondegree graduate application and completing 9-15 units to raise your overall GPA.

For your application, an unofficial transcript is acceptable. However, if you are offered admission, you will need to submit an official transcript as soon as possible.

No, credential evaluation is based upon submission of transcripts from the issuing institution only.

The general GRE is required, although the subject GRE is optional. Except in rare circumstances, the general GRE score is required as part of your application. Please be sure to take this exam and arrange to have your score sent to us as part of your completed application. The Admissions Committee looks at several factors in evaluating applications, including the GRE scores.

A rare circumstance might be a Ph.D. applicant who has been awarded a previous Ph.D. or M.S. degree. If you feel your circumstance warrants consideration of waiver of GRE general exam, submit an explanation in writing to the associate dean for academic programs.

Please note that University of Arizona undergraduates applying to graduate programs are required to complete and submit the GRE general test scores.

You can note in your application the anticipated date that you will have your general GRE scores.

All international applicants must meet this requirement. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) can be submitted in lieu of the TOEFL. If the TOEFL, TOEFL iBT or IELTS is not offered in your country, you will need to travel to another country where one of these tests is offered.

Yes, all international applicants must submit a TOEFL score. The only exceptions to the TOEFL score requirement are on the Graduate College website.

The application fee is collected by the University of Arizona Graduate College. The College of Optical Sciences is not in a position to waive the application fee. Incomplete applications will not be evaluated by the Admissions Committee. In order for your application to be complete, you must pay the application fee.

Yes, we accept students who have begun graduates studies elsewhere. You will need to complete the same process as any other applicant.

If you are offered admission, some of your previous graduate-level work may be approved toward our program requirements, contingent upon permission from the associate dean for academic programs. Generally, we do not evaluate transfer coursework for applicants until after they have been admitted; however, we understand that your decision to apply may depend upon the transfer of previous work. If this is your situation, please contact the associate dean for academic programs.

Yes. You will need to submit the same application as any other applicant.

Once you are offered admissions, we look forward to having you join us; however, we do occasionally grant deferments to students who are able to explain their goals and reasons for deferring. If approved, a one-semester or one-year deferment is possible.

All international students are required to submit a Financial Guarantee Form to the Graduate College; however, you can wait to submit this form until after you are offered admissions to a graduate program. If your admission offer includes funding, we will submit to the Graduate College your funding award. Your funding may or may not cover the anticipated costs reflected on the Financial Guarantee Form. If it is not entirely covered, you will then need to submit a Financial Guarantee Form for the difference.

Nearly all Ph.D. applicants offered admissions to the College of Optical Sciences are awarded funding, generally as a graduate research assistant, which includes a tuition and health insurance benefit; however, there are some scholarships and fellowships awarded as well. M.S. students are generally awarded a Graduate Tuition Scholarship which waives the out-of-state tuition. There is no funding available for the Professional Graduate Certificate in Optical Sciences or the M.S. distance programs. You will be asked about financial assistance and funding when completing your application. You can also consider a FAFSA application, as scholarships and fellowships often require FAFSA completion. Other scholarships may become available as well.

You can find more information under Tuition, Fees & Funding.

Prospective graduate students are free to contact professors; however, most professors will respond that they will discuss research and employment opportunities with you once you have been offered admissions to one of our graduate programs.

The Admissions Committee review and evaluation process for fall semester admissions consideration is ongoing from January to March. As soon as the Academic Programs office is notified, you will receive an email. Only complete applications are forwarded to the Admissions Committee, so be sure your application is complete. Spring applications are considered in November each year.

We coordinate prospective applicant and student visits as requested. Unfortunately, we cannot assist with travel costs, but sometimes we can provide overnight accommodations with a current graduate student and assist with transportation to and from the airport. To arrange your visit, please contact the Academic Programs office to coordinate a tour and schedule a time to meet with a professor of your choice. You are also welcome to attend an optics class while visiting.

Please note if you are among the top 20 applicants being offered admission, you will be invited to visit the College of Optical Sciences with all expenses paid. Recruitment weekend is generally scheduled during March or April.