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Earth System Science

ESS Admissions

The Department of Earth System Science offers a PhD program in a wide range of fields, including hydrogeology; 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 1 by 5 p.m. PST in order to be considered for 2021-22 admission cycle. Applications will open in mid-September. 

Applicants to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program must apply to that program by Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at 1:00 pm Pacific Time, and apply separately to the Department of Earth System Science by December 1.

Required Materials

Electronic Stanford Graduate Application

Read through the instructions and begin your electronic application on the Stanford Graduate Admissions web site. When prompted to select the program to which you are applying, select "Earth System Science PhD" or "Earth System Science MS".   

Statement of Purpose

Your Statement of Purpose should be uploaded as a Word or PDF file in the electronic application (statement should be 2 single spaced pages maximum).

Supplemental Information

The Supplemental Information is part of the online application. You will be asked to identify four faculty members with whom you want to work and why.

GRE and TOEFL Scores

GRE - The general GRE test is required (verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing) and cannot be waived. Scores must be from tests taken within the past five years. Scores must be reported directly to Stanford from ETS. The Stanford score recipient number is 4704. To facilitate preliminary review of your application, please note your scores in the electronic form. 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 is 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 the GRE and TOEFL no later than mid-October to ensure scores are transmitted by application deadline.

Letters of Recommendation

Following the instructions in the electronic application system, request that your three letters of recommendation be submitted electronically by the deadline.  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. 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.


What transcripts are required and how many?
A scanned version of the official transcript from every postsecondary institution you have attended for at least one year as a full-time student is required.  Also request that ONE official transcript from all colleges and universities listed on the application, or in which you have attended full time for at least one year be emailed/mailed directly to Earth System Science (ESS) at the address below, to be received by the application deadline. While the University states that two transcripts are required, ESS needs only one for review purposes. The second transcript will be requested from admitted students prior to matriculation.

What is an ‘official’ transcript? 
The PDF version of the transcripts you upload on line are considered "unofficial." The university requires "official" transcripts that are produced and sent directly by your university in a sealed envelope. eTranscript Service within the graduate application is available to current Stanford students and alumni who have active SUNet IDs.

Emailing/Mailing official transcription? 
The University reserves the right to require additional academic documents, if we are unable to verify the nature or authenticity of your academic documents, we may ask you to obtain an evaluation from a foreign credential evaluation service. 

Arrange for your official transcripts to be sent by the institution(s) to our department. An official transcript must be an original document bearing the institutional seal and official signature of the Registrar or copies verified by a school administrative officer and is one that is sent to Stanford in one of four ways:

  • Electronic delivery: The use of secure electronically-delivered transcripts that are pass code protected is necessary. The document's certified digital signature embedded in the document PDF assures us that it has been prepared by the college/university and that the document is original and unaltered. Please check with the registrar's office of your college/university to see if they provide secure electronic certified transcript service. Transcripts sent as email attachments are not accepted.

  • CollegeNET Document Service: Applicants from international institutions are encouraged to use the CollegeNET Document Service within the graduate application to request and submit authenticated transcript(s) and other academic documents. This service provides official certified documents to the department to which you are applying.

  • eTranscript Service: Stanford students and alumni who have active SUNet IDs can use the eTranscript Service within the graduate application. See instructions in the application.

  • Postal service: You may send official transcripts yourself as long as the envelope has not been opened, as indicated by an unbroken seal with a signature or stamp across it. Find our program's mailing address below. Note: If sending paper transcripts, two sets are required; an official transcript is one that has been signed and sealed by the college/university registrar and is received by Stanford in its original, sealed envelope.


Transcripts must bear the official seal of the institution and signature of the Registrar. 


  • Academic records should give detailed information on the content and quality of your performance, courses taken each year, and grades received. 
  • The grading scale of the institution and your rank in class should be noted whenever possible. 
  • Degrees must be verified by official copies of diplomas or conferral statements on academic records. 
  • Academic records must be original documents bearing the institutional seal and official signature of the Registrar or copies verified by a school administrative officer. 
  • If the institution does not issue records in English, original language records must be submitted with official English translations. We accept translations issued by the institution or a professional translation service. Translations must be literal and complete versions of the original records. 
  • Applicants from Chinese institutions are encouraged to use the China credential service within the graduate application to request and submit CHESICC authenticated transcript(s). This service is eco-friendly and provides validated documents to the department to which you are applying.

Emailing/Mailing address for transcripts
Attn: Jonelle Whiting - Earth System Science
473 Via Ortega, Room 140
Stanford, CA 94305-4216


Generally all Ph.D. candidates within ESS are provided full financial support for the first four years and for the duration of their doctoral work. There is limited funding for MS students.

External Funding

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 Status

Due to the high volume of applications, we cannot respond to individual inquiries about the status of documents submitted. Please view your checklist weekly for any missing materials.  We will accept letters of recommendation and official test scores after the deadline.  The office will be closed December 23-January 3.  Decisions will be made on all applications by the end of March.

University information about Graduate Admissions and the online application.

Admissions FAQs

Questions? See our FAQs

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