Simon Fraser University

Graduate Programs - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: At what time of year can I begin a graduate program?
A: SFU Physics graduate students typically begin their MSc and PhD programs as part of a cohort commencing each September (Fall Term). Beginning a program in other terms is possible only with departmental permission.

Q: Can BSc degree-holders apply for direct entry to the PhD program?
A: No. BSc degree-holders apply to the MSc program, but may apply for transfer to the PhD program without completing an MSc degree (see next question).

Q: Can I transfer from the MSc program to the PhD program without completing a Master's degree?
A: Yes. MSc students take courses the first two semesters, allowing themselves time to familiarize themselves with the Department and select a supervisor. After a year in the program, MSc students may apply to transfer directly to the PhD program. A 3.67 grade point average, over 15 credits hours of coursework, and the support of the student's senior supervisor are required before a PhD transfer request will be considered.

Q: I have a Bachelor of Science degree in another subject (chemistry, mathematics, engineering). Can I apply to the MSc program in Physics?
A: Yes, students holding degrees in other disciplines must have a very strong background in Physics. In particular, the Admissions Committee will want to see strong performance in upper level undergraduate Physics courses including Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, and Electromagnetic Theory.

Q: Am I required to have a supervisor before I apply?
A: While it is generally to a student's advantage to have a clear plan for research with a potential supervisor who supports his or her application, it is not necessary to find a supervisor prior to applying; indeed, many of our faculty members prefer to wait until a student has been admitted before making a supervisory commitment. Students preparing applications are encouraged to read
faculty research profiles, identify potential supervisors, and make contact with them as early as possible. Once admitted, students must confirm their senior supervisors by the end of the first term of the graduate program.

Q: What are the academic requirements for admission into the Department’s graduate programs?
A: Applicants to the MSc program must have completed 80% of a Bachelor's degree with a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) equivalent to SFU 3.0 or higher. For the PhD program, applicants must have completed 85% of a Master's degree with a CGPA equivalent to SFU 3.0 or higher. Information on equivalent academic requirements for international students is available

Q: My CGPA is below the minimum required for admission. Can I still apply to a graduate program?
A: Yes. If a student's application package as a whole is sufficiently strong, the department may consider recommending admission as a qualifying student. Detailed information about qualifying admissions is available

Q: What are the English Language Requirements for Simon Fraser University?
SFU's English Language Requirements are listed here.

Q: Do I have to submit English proficiency exam scores?
A: If English is not your first language, the University requires proof of English proficiency. Acceptable tests and minimum score requirements are listed
here. If you have completed a degree in a country where English is the first language (such as the USA, Britain, or Canada) you are not required to write an English language proficiency test.

Q: Is it necessary for transcripts to be sent directly from universities that I attended?
A: We prefer transcripts to be sent directly from the issuing institutions. We will, in certain cases, accept transcripts directly from students, but they must be signed and sealed by the issuing university. 

Q: Can letters of recommendation be submitted on-line?
A: Yes, SFU uses an on-line reference system and this is the preferred method for submission of letters supporting applications. Applicants must include names and contact information of their referees in the on-line application form; referees will receive automated emails from the system with instructions on how to submit their letters. On-line references are preferred; but, if your referee does provide a hard copy letter it must be in a sealed envelope with the referee's signature across the seal, and should be directed to the Physics Graduate Secretary at the address provided below.

Q: Can I send a reference letter from someone who is not a physicist?
A: Yes, we will accept reference letters from scholars in other relevantly related fields such as chemistry, engineering and mathematics.

Q: Do I have to write the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) Physics subject test?
A: This test is highly recommended for students who did not complete degrees at Canadian institutions. Students who wish to apply for a September admission are strongly advised to write the test in the fall of the preceding year in order to meet admission deadlines because of the likelihood of lengthy student visa application waiting times.

Q: Is it possible for you to consider my application without the GRE Physics subject test results?
A: Yes, but the test is highly recommended for international applicants.

Q: What score is required for the GRE Physics subject test?
A: As the Physics GRE is not an admission requirement, there is no specific minimum score requirement. However, the Graduate Admissions Committee does look for scores above 700 for Experimentalists and above 850 for Theorists.

Q: Do I have to write the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) general test?
A: We do not require GRE general test results. Applicants who have written the test may include results in their application packages if they wish.

Q: What are the Institution and Department Codes for GRE and TOEFL?
A: Department of Physics Institution code is 0999
Department code for TOEFL is 76
Department code for GRE is 0808

Q: Can I send copies of documentation such as GRE and TOEFL scores?
A: Yes, applicants may send copies for use in the department's initial application review stage; however, original copies sent directly from ETS (Educational Testing Service) are required before any admission offer can be made.

Q: I do not have the money to pay for the GRE Physics Subject test and TOEFL test. Can you pay for these tests on my behalf?
A: Due to the volume of international applications we receive, we cannot pay for any tests for applicants.

Q: I do not have the money to pay the application fee. Can it be waived?
A: We are unable to waive application fees.

Q: Where should I send my application materials?
A: Please send all official hard copy documents and application materials directly to:

Graduate Secretary
Department of Physics
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC     V5A 1S6

Q: When are the application deadlines?
A: Applications are accepted at any time; however, completed applications must be received by January 15th of each year for the following Fall term if you wish to be considered for internal SFU graduate entrance scholarships.
SFU Physics graduate students typically begin their MSc and PhD programs as part of a cohort commencing each September (Fall Term). International students should note that wait times to obtain student visas may be significant. International applicants should contact their local Canadian embassy or consulate to determine average wait times to obtain permits and visas. This process may take several months; we encourage international applicants to apply at least six months in advance of their desired start date.

Q: How long is the MSc program and how many courses am I required to take?
A: We expect students to complete the MSc programs within two years. In addition to thesis completion, students are required to complete 15 graduate units of coursework, including four 3-unit courses, a 2-unit graduate research course, and a 1-unit seminar course.

Q: How long is the PhD program and how many courses am I required to take?
A: We expect students to complete their PhD program within 3 to 5 years after their MSc. In addition to thesis completion, students are required to complete
24 graduate units of coursework, including seven 3-unit courses, a 2-unit graduate research course, and a 1-unit seminar course. Equivalent course credit may be granted for graduate-level courses taken at other institutions (e.g. courses taken during the student's MSc program). Equivalent credit is approved at the discretion of the Physics Graduate Program Committee.

Q: Will I be required to write a Qualifying Exam during my program?
A: No, our department does not require students to write a qualifying exam. Our students' success will be gauged on the basis of their coursework and the quality of their theses.

Q: What type of financial support do you offer and how do I apply for it?
A: The Department’s current levels of financial support for graduate students are shown
here. Financial support is normally in the form of a Teaching Assistantship and Research Assistantship package. We only offer admission in conjunction with financial support; therefore, there is no separate support application.

Q: Does the financial support you provide cover tuition fees and overall living expenses in Canada?
A: Yes. More information on graduate fees and costs of living is available

Q: What are the graduate tuition fees at SFU?
A: Currently, annual tuition and fees are approximately $6,200 (Spring 2012). The current SFU graduate fee schedule is available

Q: Do International students pay higher tuition fees at SFU?
A: No. We are one of the only universities in Canada that does not differentiate between Canadian and International students. All graduate students pay the same tuition fees.

Q: Can International students become permanent residents?
A: Students who complete a graduate degree in Physics may be eligible to apply for permanent residency in Canada through the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program. This program provides support to applicants and fast-track status through the process of obtaining permanent residency.

  • Further information about permanent residency is here.
  • Information about studying in Canada is here.

Q: How long will it take me to obtain a student visa?
A: Our department has no control over the student visa process, which is the jurisdiction of the Canadian federal government. It is the applicant's responsibility to contact the closest Canadian Consulate/Embassy to inquire about waiting times and required documentation for student visa applications. More information on work and study permits for international students is available from the
Dean of Graduate Studies website.

- last updated February 2014