MS Program

This page describes many of the details about the Planetary Sciences Track within our department’s Physics MS program.

A very good source of information about the program is our Planetary Sciences Graduate Track Handbook. The most recent version is v3.0, promulgated on June 8, 2020. More info can be found at the Graduate Catalog webpage about our track and the department’s webpage the whole graduate program (not just our track).

Applying to the Program

For information on general UCF graduate admissions requirements that apply to all prospective students, please visit the Admissions and Registration section of the Graduate Catalog and the Physics Master’s/Doctoral Handbook. Applicants must apply online.

Information about admission to the Planetary Sciences track itself can be found in the Graduate Catalog’s pages about the Ph.D. and M.S. programs. There is information also on the Physics Department website.

All requested materials must be submitted by the established deadline(s). There is a page with UCF’s application requirements. Requirements for our program in particular are in the Graduate CatalogNote that we no longer require a GRE score. Our admissions committee recognizes the limitations in the ability of the GRE test to predict success in graduate school. (Background info about this topic is here and here.)

Note that the statement of goals is particularly important. Applicants should identify one or more projects/areas they would be interested in pursuing as a potential dissertation topic, and discuss their specific project interests in their applications. It helps to also have contacted beforehand faculty or researchers who might advise them. Students can always change projects once in the program, provided that another project is available. More advice and suggestions about applying to our program can be found on our Jobs page. In particular, applicants should closely follow the application essay instructions on that page! We need detail about an applicant’s research experiences to fully evaluate your application. We will want to know: what did YOU do, what problems did you face, and how did you handle them? Applicants with no research experience in planetary science, geophysics, astronomy, or astrophysics are rarely, if ever, accepted.

Note that students must be specifically admitted to the Graduate Planetary Sciences track. External applications and petitions to switch from the existing Physics graduate program are considered by the Planetary Graduate Committee.

Admission to the track requires a Bachelor of Science or equivalent, typically in physics, astronomy, geology, geophysics, geochemistry, atmospheric sciences, biology, mathematics, or planetary sciences. Those without full academic preparation in relevant natural sciences may be required to complete specified coursework in addition to the core program, as determined by the Planetary Graduate Committee at the time of admission or their Supervisory Committee at a later date. Petitions to switch from the existing Physics graduate program shall be in the form of a letter to the Planetary Sciences Graduate Committee addressed to the track’s Graduate Coordinator. The letter should include the request to join the Planetary Sciences Track, the student’s degree goal (Master’s or Ph.D.), the name of the student’s planetary sciences advisor, and a brief description of their expected area of research.

Note that just meeting minimum UCF admissions criteria does not guarantee program admission. Admission is based on the applicant’s abilities, past performance, recommendations, match of this program and our faculty’s expertise to the applicant’s career/academic goals, the applicant’s potential for completing the degree, available positions, and other factors.

The application deadlines are as follows:

Admission semester:Fall PriorityFallSpring
Domestic applicantsDecember 1July 1December 1
International applicantsDecember 1January 15July 1

We prefer to receive complete applications by December 1, so please do not wait until January 15 (international) or July 1 (domestic) to complete your application. We of course look at all applications that are submitted by the deadline, but even a great application may be rejected if it is submitted so late in the process that we simply do not have any more open slots for new students.

Note that funding for Master’s students is generally not available, but there may be exceptional cases where GTAs and GRAs are available. To have any chance of securing funding from the department or from UCF, the application for admission must be submitted by January 15. Fellowships are unlikely for applications received after this date. We evaluate applications in January, February, and March each year and make most admissions decisions and funding commitments (GRAs and GTAs) then. Officially, we can admit as late as June for Fall enrollment, and we can admit for Spring enrollment, but such cases are atypical. Since June is UCF’s official cutoff for Fall, that is listed as the application deadline, but those seeking financial support should apply by January 15.

Graduate students may receive financial assistance through fellowships, assistantships, tuition support, or loans. For more information, see Financing Grad School, which describes the types of financial assistance available at UCF and provides general guidance in planning your graduate finances. The Financial Information section of the Graduate Catalog is another key resource.

Note that UCF does have a policy regarding parental leave for GTAs and GRAs; paid leave is provided for up to six weeks.

About the Program

Curious about what it’s like to be in our graduate program? Read the interviews with some of our current grad students!

Courses in the Program

The Planetary Sciences track in the Physics MS program requires a minimum 33 hours of graduate course work as directed by the student’s supervisory committee. This must include at least 15 credit hours of required courses, 6 hours of thesis preparation with the remainder being elective courses and directed research chosen in consultation with the supervisory committee. At least half of the total credits must be at the 6000 level. No more than 6 hours of independent study may be credited toward the master’s degree. The master’s degree in Planetary Sciences includes a thesis and its defense. There is no nonthesis master’s degree in the Planetary Sciences track. Other electives are added as teaching schedules permit. The Graduate Catalog also has info about some of these courses.

Total Credit Hours Required: 33 Credit Hours Minimum beyond the Bachelor’s Degree. These are divided by by required courses (15), electives (12), and thesis (6), as follows:

Required Courses: 15 Credit Hours

The core is designed to give students a broad foundation in the planetary sciences and a rapid training in the data analysis techniques that will be necessary for a successful research and publications. Students choose 5 out of the 6 core courses listed below:

  • AST 5151 – Physics of Planetary Processes (3 credit hours)
  • PHY 6246 – Classical Mechanics (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5765C – Advanced Astronomical Data Analysis (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5263 – Advanced Observational Astronomy (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5154 – Advanced Planetary Geophysics (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5165 – Planetary Atmospheres (3 credit hours)

Elective Courses: 12 Credit Hours

There is some flexibility in choice of electives; the student usually discusses electives with their supervisory committee. Some typical options are:

  • AST 6938 – Planetary Astronomy Seminar (3 credit hours)
  • AST 6112 – Origin and Evolution of Planetary Systems (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5334 – Extrasolar Planets and Brown Dwarfs (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5038 – Astrobiology (3 credit hours)
  • AST 5145 – Advanced Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites (3 credit hours)
  • AST 6156 – Current Topics in Planetary Science (3 credit hours)

Other Electives

  • PHZ 5505 – Plasma Physics 3 Credit Hours
  • PHY 5346 – Electrodynamics I 3 Credit Hours
  • PHY 6347 – Electrodynamics II 3 Credit Hours
  • PHY 5606 – Quantum Mechanics I 3 Credit Hours
  • PHY 6624 – Quantum Mechanics II 3 Credit Hours
  • OSE 5041 – Introduction to Wave Optics 3 Credit Hours
  • EEL 5820 – Image Processing 3 Credit Hours
  • OSE 5312 – Light Matter Interaction 3 Credit Hours


AST or PHY 6971 – Thesis 6 Credit Hour

See our PhD program page for info about the courses and the typical cycle of course offerings.