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  1. Application Deadline
  2. Before you Apply
  3. Required Materials
  4. Funding
  5. Application Status

The Department of Earth System Science offers a PhD program in a wide range of fields, including water resources; ocean circulation; land use change; sustainable food and water practices; climate, tectonics, and landscape evolution; ocean biogeochemistry; climate and earth system dynamics; soil and environmental biogeochemistry; molecular microbial ecology; and, geostatistics. The size and the breadth of interest of the department's faculty provide numerous opportunities for field-based research as well as laboratory and numerical experiments. We apply the most modern applications of instrumental analysis and spectroscopy to problems in the Earth sciences.

Application Deadline

Applications to Earth System Science graduate programs must be received by the deadline of Tuesday, December 5, 2023 at 5:00 pm Pacific Time in order to be considered for 2024-25 admission cycle. Applications will open in mid-September.  

Applicants to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program must apply to that program by Wednesday, October 11, 2023 at 1:00 pm Pacific Time, and apply separately to the Department of Earth System Science by December 5, 2023.

Before you Apply

Students are admitted to our graduate program specifically to work with an individual faculty member (or two, if co-advised). There is no rotation program in the first year. Therefore, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the research conducted by the departmental faculty (visit Faculty profiles and Earth System Science research groups), and contact individual faculty members to inquire about their research and discuss your background and goals.

Please feel free to visit Community DEI Resources. This is a great starting point when considering your Graduate Career. 

Want answers & experiences from an actual ESS Graduate Student?

**Please be considerate of delayed response times as students are actively enrolled in the Ph.D. Program. 

Required Materials

Electronic Stanford Graduate Application

Read through the instructions and begin your electronic application on the Stanford Graduate Admissions website. When prompted to select the program to which you are applying, select "Earth System Science PhD" or "Earth System Science MS".  Before you apply to our MS degree, be sure to check with your potential faculty advisor to determine whether they accept terminal MS students, since many do not. Please check the admissions FAQ page for more information

Statement of Purpose

Your Statement of Purpose should describe your reasons for applying to our graduate program. Importantly, you should identify one or more potential faculty research advisors and discuss what aspects of their research are of interest to you and/or any research question (broad or specific) that you would like to pursue with them. Include details about your preparation for this field of study, future career plans and goals, and any other aspects of your background and interests that may aid the admissions committee in evaluating your aptitude and motivation for graduate study.

Your statement should be uploaded as a Word or PDF file in the electronic application (it should not exceed 2 single spaced pages ).

Supplemental Information

The Supplemental Information is part of the online application. You will be asked to identify up to three faculty members with whom you want to work and why. You can simply write N/A if you have less than four names in mind.

GRE and TOEFL Scores

GRE - The general GRE test is optional. After communicating with your potential advisor, if you think that submitting GRE scores will help your case for admission, then feel free to do so. If submitted, scores must be from tests taken within the past five years, and must be reported directly to Stanford from ETS. The Stanford score recipient number is 4704. To facilitate preliminary review of your application, please provide your scores in the electronic form if you plan to submit them. If you have previously applied to Stanford (within the past five years), we have your prior test scores. We do not have a minimum GRE score requirement, and we do not track average scores for admitted applicants.

TOEFL - Applicants whose first language is not English must submit TOEFL scores from a test taken within the last eighteen months. The TOEFL is waived for individuals who have earned a U.S. bachelor's or master's degree from a college or university accredited by a regional accrediting association in the United States or the equivalent of either degree from a non-U.S. college or university of recognized standing where all instructions are provided in English. This exception does not apply if the courses were completed in a country where English is spoken but not all instruction is provided in English. Scores must be reported directly to Stanford from ETS. Your minimum score must be 100 (internet based) OR 600 (paper based). Please see the Graduate Admissions Office website for additional information about required exams. Stanford does not accept IELTS scores.

* Students are strongly advised to take standardized tests (if applicable) no later than mid-October to ensure that scores are transmitted to the department by the application deadline.

Letters of Recommendation

Following the instructions in the electronic application system, arrange for your three letters of recommendation to be submitted electronically. It is required by the University that at least one of the recommenders be a faculty member at the last school you attended as a full-time student unless you have been out of school for more than five years. Letters of recommendation that can speak first-hand about your research training and course preparation will be most helpful. Substitutions for faculty recommendations may include work associates or others who can comment on your potential for graduate work. All letters of recommendation must be received by the application deadline. Applicants are responsible for notifying references of the deadline.

Transcripts (Academic Records)

You must list and provide your unofficial transcript for every post-secondary institution where you were enrolled — or are currently enrolled — in an undergraduate or graduate degree program.

  • Stanford considers unofficial transcripts to be sufficient for the review process. If you are offered admission to Stanford and accept the offer, you will be required to submit official transcripts/degree conferral documents.
  • Your academic records should give detailed information on the content and quality of your performance, titles of the courses you took each year, and the grades you received (including any legends/keys for the institution’s grading scale).
  • If your institution does not issue records in English, you must submit original language records with official English translations. We accept translations issued by the institution or a professional translating service. Translations must be literal and complete versions of the original records.

For additional information about transcripts, please click here


Generally, all Ph.D. candidates within ESS are provided full financial support for the first five years. Support typically covers up to 10 units of tuition and a quarterly stipend.

  • External Funding -- Funding is limited, therefore prospective students are strongly encouraged to apply for external fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation or equivalent funding opportunities. If the external fellowship is not sufficient to cover the standard department support level, a supplement will be provided by the University, the department, or a research advisor. These fellowships strongly enhance your resume for your future career.

  • Knight-Hennessy Scholars -- Knight-Hennessy Scholars develops a community of future global leaders to address complex challenges through collaboration and innovation. Each year, the program awards up to 100 high-achieving students with full funding to pursue a graduate education at Stanford, including full-time master’s and doctoral students. To be considered, you must apply to Knight-Hennessy Scholars by early October, and separately apply to the graduate degree program you wish to pursue. Information on this year’s application process, eligibility, and deadlines is available on the Knight-Hennessy Scholars website.

  • Application Fee Waiver -- Waiver deadline is 10-15 days before the application deadline, depending on the type of waiver. Please use this link for more information on the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability fee wavier. 

Application Status

Due to the high volume of applications, we cannot respond to individual inquiries about the status of an application or of documents submitted. We will accept letters of recommendation and official test scores after the deadline. The office will be closed from December 21, 2023 - January 3, 2024. Decisions will be made on all applications by the end of March.

University information about Graduate Admissions and the online application.