Admitted Students

If you have been admitted to the graduate physics program, congratulations! We are excited to meet you, and would be happy to answer any and all questions you have about the program, student body, and life in Atlanta.

First, check out the FAQ below and explore some other information on this website. Under the resources tab, we have the “1st year course instruction guidelines,” which is a set of rules that the instructors of your first-year, core courses have agreed to abide to. Also under the resources tab is the “TA Guidelines,” a document that details the workload expectations of TAs. If you want a technical look at graduation requirements, see the Grad Handbook.

If you still have questions, you have a few options. For technical questions about your enrollment or deferral or transfer credit, please contact Gary Longstreet. If you have questions about what it’s like to be a grad student or about specific faculty, here are two student representatives you can email (remove the brackets): Sarah Gonzalez (domestic student, sgonzalez49[@] and Zack Xiong (international student, zxiong67[@]


How many classes will I be taking my first year?
In Fall, you will take Electromagnetism 1, Quantum 1, Physics TA Prep, Seminar and RCR Training, and an elective. This sounds like a lot, but approximately 90% of your time will be spent on EM1, QM1, and your elective. The TA prep and seminar classes are to help you acclimate to your role as a grad student and find an advisor. The credit breakdown can be found in the Grad Handbook. In Spring, you will take Quantum Mechanics 2, Statistical Mechanics 1, Special Problems, and an elective. You will additionally be enrolled in Teaching Assistantship or Research Assistantship every semester you are enrolled, depending on how you are funded.

What is Special Problems?
Special Problems is how you get course credit for doing research. Starting in Spring of your first year, you will be enrolled in Special Problems every semester until you become a doctoral candidate. Special Problems will be pass/fail or for a letter grade depending on the semester, and will also change credit hours from 3 to 9 depending on the semester. The changing grade scheme and credit hours ensure that you are registered to be a full-time student even if you aren’t taking any other classes. You can change your Special Problems (research) advisor at any time, but if you change advisors mid-semester, you should consult with the Associate Chair of Student Success to make sure you are fairly graded on the work you do with your new professor.

Do I need to have a research advisor before I arrive? When do I need to have a research advisor by?
No, you do not need to walk in with a research advisor. During Seminar in the Fall semester, professors who are interested in taking students will give talks about their research in the hopes of gaining one or more students for their lab. At the beginning of each Fall semester, GAP will release a list of al the professors who are looking for students to start in the Spring. You need a research advisor by the enrollment deadline for Spring semester so that you can enroll in Special Problems with your new, tentative advisor. Technically, you can enroll in classes up to the first Friday of the Spring term, but we HIGHLY recommend enrolling by the December deadline, which can be found on the Academic Calendar.

If you know who you would like to work for or have strong ties to your sub-field, we recommend talking to professors as soon as possible. Typically a professor will only have one spot open at a time, so it benefits you to communicate with them as soon as you have made your own decision.

Can I change advisors once I arrive? How hard is it to change advisors?
Yes, you can change research advisors at any time. We recommend that you find a new advisor before leaving your old advisor. There is no penalty for changing advisors, but it may extend your time to graduation. If you are thinking of changing advisors after your first year, you should meet with the Associate Chair of Student Success to discuss your options.

Will I be a TA or an RA?
Except in rare circumstances, you will enter the program as a Teaching Assistant (TA). First-year students typically TA undergraduate Intro Physics 1 or 2, and you will take a TA prep course your first semester that will familiarize you with the expectations here and support you during your first semester. Your offer letter will describe how many semesters the department will fund you with TA positions. For PhD students, it is typically five semesters (as of 2024). That means that you can TA for five semesters before your advisor needs to support you with a research assistant (RA) position. These five TA semesters can be used at any time, not just your first and second years.

Will I have to take classes after my first year?
Yes. In addition to your first-year core classes, you are required to take two advanced physics courses and two additional courses to fulfill the institutional minor requirement. Typically, your first-year electives can fulfill one of these requirements. Your institutional minor is a set of two classes that are somewhat related but are not in the area of your research dissertation. Examples include: higher education through the Tech to Teaching program, math, computer science, computational physics, theoretical atomic physics, astrophysics, condensed matter, etc.

You can also pursue a master’s degree outside of physics; if you are interested in doing this, you should discuss technicalities with the Associate Chair of Student Success. There is no rule preventing you from taking additional classes, though it is highly recommended you only take one course at a time so you are still productive with research. You should discuss your course schedule with your advisor once you have one; they can guide you on which semesters would be too research heavy to take classes or which classes will be most relevant to your research.

TLDR; At most, you only have to take four classes after your first year, all of which can be taken at any time. Since you will likely be here another 4-5 years, there is plenty of time.

Are there Qualification Exams?
Not really. Instead of traditional qualification exams, you must maintain an A or B in all of your first-year core courses and complete the Thesis Proposal in the Fall of your third year. The Thesis Proposal is a 12-15 page document that is half literature review and half completed and proposed research, and it has an accompanying presentation. Details can be found here. Once you pass your Thesis Proposal, you become a Doctoral Candidate and enroll in Doctoral Thesis instead of Special Problems.

Where do most grad students live?
Going from cheapest to most expensive: Home Park, West Midtown, Midtown. All of these areas are neighborhoods in metropolitan Atlanta and are walking distance from campus. You can also live further out of the city and commute. Campus is easily accessible from I-75/85. People who live outside of walking distance typically live north of Atlanta in areas such as Collier Hills or Lindbergh. If you commute via car, you will have to purchase a parking permit or park on one of the free parking streets in Home Park and walk the rest of the way (10-20min).

Another option is to live in graduate student housing through Tech. Currently, there is a waitlist, but you can apply and join the waitlist here. Joining student housing may be more convenient because you don’t have to organize a roommate or pay separate utilities. The GaTech bus system also goes to grad housing directly. GaTech also offers an off-campus listing website where you can explore popular off-campus student options. This website also shows where each housing option is in relation to GaTech bus routes, but you should check the actual shuttle website for an idea of where the stops are and when each shuttle runs (the dots on the bus routes on the housing website are NOT the bus stops).

What is it like living in Atlanta?
Atlanta is a fast growing city and the largest in Georgia. We have a very active, walkable Midtown and a rising West Midtown area, both of which are walking distance from campus. There is a large variety of bars, restaurants, and other things to do around the city. Local tourist activities include the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca Cola, the High Art Museum, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Walking Tour. Though Georgia Tech is embedded right in the middle of Atlanta, we are a residential campus. There are hiking opportunities approx. 30 minutes outside of the city and a walking/biking trail within the city called the Beltline. Many students walk, bike, or use alternative micro-mobility devices (skateboards, scooters, unicycles, etc) to travel to and around campus. Over 10% of the metropolitan Atlanta population is students, and we have additional colleges outside the city limits, including Spelman, Agnes Scott, Oglethorpe, Emory, and Morehouse.

Atlanta has a limited subway system called MARTA, which can be reached from the GaTech bus system. MARTA is most useful in reaching the Hartsfeild-Jackson Atlanta Airport, though you can also use it to travel to Buckhead for shopping (like the Lenox Square Mall) or to reach the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for soccer or concerts. The GaTech bus system extends into the Home Park and Atlantic Station residential neighbors north of campus and also goes into Midtown.

Is the grad student salary enough to live on?
Yes. The 2023/24 academic year salary is $33.5k a year, which means that my net pay (after state and federal taxes are withheld for a domestic student) is $2,523.91. The GaTech College of Sciences has scheduled graduate student salary pay increases for the next five years. Here is the proposal. The best way to save money is to have a roommate. In Home Park, you can rent a room in a house for as low as $600 a month. Studios or 1-bedroom apartments in nearby West Midtown or Midtown can go for $1200-$1500 as of Jan 2024.

When do you get paid?
Grad students get paid once a month, on either the last day of the month or on the last Friday of the month. That means that your first paycheck, which will pay you for the last half of August, will arrive around Aug 31st. We strongly recommend that you set up direct deposit when you compete your hiring paperwork so that you can receive your paycheck in a timely manner.

Are there student fees?
Yes. Though the department (for TAs) or your advisor (RA) pays for tuition, there are still student fees each semester that are not covered. For Spring 2024, student fees were just under $800, not including student health insurance. Since these fees are required, we recommend you take advantage of the services that are included in them: free access to the Campus Recreation Center (gym, recreational pool with water slide, indoor and outdoor track, extremely discounted fitness classes, discounted personal training and massage services, free body composition screening), one free annual physical at STAMPs each year, one free Women’s Health or Men’s Health visit each year, free STD screenings, discounted pharmacy for students not on the student health insurance and free prescriptions for those who are, the bus system, discounted or free tickets to GaTech athletic events, yearly travel grants through the Graduate Student Government Association…

If you are concerned about paying for your student fees, you can work with the Bursar’s Office to have the student fees taken out of your paycheck for some number of months.

Do I have to pay for health insurance?
All students must have health insurance, one way or another. Graduate students are automatically enrolled in the student health insurance, which you are billed for with your student fees at the beginning of Fall and Spring semesters. For the entire year, health insurance is approx. $730 (as of 2023/24). If you are a domestic student covered by your parent’s health insurance, you can waive the health insurance. You must waive the health insurance every Fall and Spring semesters or you will be automatically enrolled.

Is there a grad student union?
No. We fall under the scope of the United Campus Workers of Georgia, which is a union including all employees of the state university system that represents our interests at the school and state level. If you have concerns about an aspect of being a graduate student here and don’t feel comfortable approaching the administration, you can approach GAP, who will represent your interests to the Department. GAP has instituted the 1st year guidelines and the TA guidelines, both of which were negotiated with the School of Physics faculty.

Are there resources for international students?
Here is some information from the Office of Graduate Education on what do if you accept a position at Tech. Here is some information from the Office of International Education about student visas. When you arrive on campus, there will be an orientation for all international grad students. We highly recommend that you attend this orientation, since they have a lot of technical information that will not be covered in the orientation hosted by the School of Physics. There are student groups on campus that you can join, such as India Club or the Latino Organization of Graduate Students. A full list of student organizations can be found here.