Ph.D. in Optical Sciences

The Doctor of Philosophy in Optical Sciences program prepares students for extraordinary careers and unlimited opportunities in a fast-changing, high-tech world. The program prepares graduates to serve as scientists or engineers in leadership positions in academia, research and industry. Graduates may work with other OSC Ph.D. alumni who have published scholarly books, headed scientific organizations, advised United States presidents and government agencies, contributed to NASA’s space program, devised lifesaving medical technology, directed national and international corporations, and founded successful companies.

Fall Semester Ph.D. Deadline

Domestic Students: January 15
International Students: January 15
A submitted online application with all supporting documents, including submitted letters of recommendation, should be completed by this deadline. Documents submitted after the date cannot be guaranteed review.

Minimum Eligibility Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in optics, engineering, physics, mathematics, or a related field.
  • Coursework must include four semesters of calculus including vector calculus and differential equations, and should include two or more semesters of calculus-based college physics including an electromagnetism course. A course in linear algebra is also recommended.
  • 3.00 GPA
  • International applicants: TOEFL 79, IELTS 7.0, or CESL Endorsement

Review Timeline

Ph.D. admission is only offered for the fall term. Review of completed applications begins in mid-January after the submission deadline. Due to the high volume of applications, the process continues through mid-March, with initial acceptance letters sent in mid-February.  Review is comprehensive, examining all elements of your application.  We typically aim to admit about 35-40 new Ph.D. students each year.

Applications to the Ph.D. Program

1. Application

  • Complete the University of Arizona Graduate College admission application online. There is no separate application for the College of Optical Sciences.

  • Optical Sciences does not offer application fee waivers except for Optical Sciences Winter School alumni.
  • If you are interested in being considered for the M.S. program if not selected for the Ph.D., indicate “yes” on the relevant Supplemental Question on the application.

2. Transcripts

  • Upload PDF scans of institute-issued transcripts or diplomas to the online application. All submissions must be in English. Please note that these uploads are not considered your official transcript.
  • Official transcripts are required only if admitted. Information on what is considered an official transcript can be found here.

3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Scores - GRE NOT REQUIRED FOR PH.D. APPLICATIONS

  • General GRE scores are not required, but may be provided if desired.  Send your official GRE scores to the University of Arizona (code number 4832) through ETS. Scores sent to this general code will be directed to Optical Sciences. You do not need to add a college code. Also enter your scores when completing your online application. GRE scores are valid up to 5 years.
  • Subject scores are also optional. The Physics GRE is not required.

4. Three or More Letters of Recommendation

  • Recommendations are submitted electronically and should be produced on official letterhead except where prohibited by the letter writer's place of employment. Select individuals to write these letters who are well acquainted with you and who can comment on your qualifications and promise for a career in optical sciences. 
  • Letters MUST be written entirely by the recommender.  Letters drafted by the applicant are not acceptable and may cause an application to be dismissed.  Admissions Committee members may contact any letter writer for additional information, including asking whether or not they wrote the letter.  
  • Recommendation letters are submitted using the recommendation module in the Graduate College online application. You will input the recommender’s name and email address, and they will be emailed a link to upload their electronic letter into the online system. If a recommender is having problems uploading their letter, they can email  Unless prohibited by the letter writer's place of employment, email addresses should be professional rather than personal addresses.  

5. Statement of Purpose

  • Your statement of purpose should be no more than two pages.
  • There are no specific prompts for the statement of purpose. Suggested topics to discuss are: why you are interested in optical sciences, your career goals, any specific optics area or professors that you are interested to work, and why you believe you are a strong candidate for the Ph.D. program. This is also your opportunity to address any lapse in grades or other past academic or personal issues.
  • Your statement of purpose is read and taken seriously.  It will receive the full attention of the Admissions Committee.
  • Upload your electronic statement to your Graduate College online application.

6. Résumé or Curriculum Vitae

  • Your resume or CV should include any work experience, research, publications, or activities that will demonstrate your ability to be a successful Ph.D. student.
  • Upload your electronic resume/CV to your Graduate College online application.

7. Proof of English Proficiency (International Applicants Only)

All international students applying to an Optical Sciences graduate program must submit English proficiency test scores (TOEFL, IELTS, or CESL Endorsement). This includes students applying to online and on campus programs.

  • TOEFL scores are required for international applicants. Applicants to the College of Optical Sciences must have a score of at least 600 paper-based (PB) or 79 Internet-based (iBT). Submit your scores to the University of Arizona (code number 4832). All reported scores must be dated within two years of the proposed date of enrollment.
  • Those who completed the IELTS must have a minimum score of 7. Have IELTS send official scores to Graduate Admissions, Administration Bldg. Room 322, The University of Arizona, P.O. Box 210066, Tucson, AZ 85721.
  • Optical Sciences accepts CESL Endorsement. The student must receive the endorsement during or close to the application deadline.
  • Applicants who have completed a bachelors or graduate degree at a regionally accredited institution in the United States, or an approved institution in an official English speaking country.  
  • Exemptions for submitting English proficiency scores are explained on the Graduate College website.
  • Other options may be available as explained on the Graduate College International Applicants website.  

8. Supplemental Documents

Applicants who have publications should not include the actual papers with their application. Instead, applicants can include the publishing information in their resume.


First year Ph.D. students receive full funding covering tuition, health insurance, and a stipend if they are not otherwise covered by an employer or or other external source of support such as a national fellowship.   Funding may come from an Optical Sciences scholarship, a research associateship, or a UA fellowship.  After the end of the first academic year, students in good academic standing secure research and teaching assistantships. Applicants do not need to submit any additional fellowship or scholarship applications to be considered for funding.  If an applicant has an external source of funding, such as through an employer or national fellowship (but not personal or family funding), this should be stated in the Statement of Purpose.


For more information about graduate degree program requirements or completing an admission application, please email or call (520)621-8418.

Graduate Student Handbook

Core Coursework

  • The Ph.D. requires every student to complete graduate courses in Optical Design, Electricity & Magnetism, Interferometry & Diffraction, Quantum Mechanics & Optical Physics, Solid State Optics or Imaging Devices, and Introductory Laser Physics. 
  • Students must also complete additional coursework in mathematical topics that are fundamental to optics courses, and a broad introductory course relevant to their research area of interest
  • Two laboratory courses must also be completed.
  • The Ph.D. core coursework comprises approximately 50% of the total coursework that is to be completed by each Ph.D. student, and can be completed in the first two years of the program.  The remaining courses are electives.
  • The Graduate College allows up to 30 units of transfer credit to be used on a Ph.D. Plan of Study, subject to department and advisor approval and other restrictions.  The actual number of units that an Optical Sciences Ph.D. student may transfer depends on one’s background and chosen study program. Subject to department and advisor approval, as many as 12 (rarely up to 18 or more) units may be transferred (usually from math, physics or engineering courses). 

Qualifying Examination

  • A qualifying examination is required to demonstrate sufficient mastery to pursue the doctorate as well as to determine areas of study where further course work is necessary.
  • All College of Optical Sciences Ph.D. students will be required to complete and pass a written qualifying examination that covers Optical Design, Electricity & Magnetism, Interferometry & Diffraction, and Quantum Mechanics & Optical Physics.
  • The exam must be taken in the week before the beginning of the fall semester of the second year in the Ph.D. program.  

Comprehensive Examination

  • After completion of the qualifying exam, each student must pass a written and an oral doctoral comprehensive examination before admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree. This examination is intended to test the student's comprehensive knowledge of the major and minor subjects of study, both in breadth across the general field of study and in depth within the area of specialization.
  • The written portion of the comprehensive exam is a report that describes research in the student's area of research interest, and how that area of research involves other topics across the breadth of optics.  
  • The oral portion of the exam is a presentation to a faculty committee on the subject of the report, with questions from the committee.

Doctoral Dissertation and Examination

  • After the completion of all other requirements, the final remaining major requirement for Ph.D. students is the completion of the doctoral research, the completion of the dissertation, and the Ph.D. oral examination.