The Admission Process

The Admission Process

The Admission Process

Applying to the GGE

Apply to the Graduate Group in Ecology using the convenient online UC Davis Graduate Studies admissions application system. The application system is open in late September/early October.

You may apply to multiple graduate programs during a single admissions period. You must file a complete application for each program, including a new online application and application fee. If interested in applying to the GGE, make sure you select “Ecology” from the major list when applying. Every year, students mistakenly select "Ecology (Joint Program with San Diego State University)” when intending to apply to the core GGE program and this mistake can not be changed after the fact. 

The Joint Degree Program in Ecology at San Diego State University

The GGE offers a joint doctoral program in ecology with San Diego State University. More information on San Diego State’s joint doctoral program in ecology can be found here. If you are applying to this program, you file the main UC Davis graduate application and if you are accepted, you would complete a supplemental application to San Diego State’s program. If interested in this program, make sure you select “Ecology (Joint Program with San Diego State University)” from the major list when applying. Every year, students mistakenly select “Ecology” when intending to apply to the San Diego State University program, and this mistake can not be changed after the fact. 

For information on fee waivers, please visit this link and see the "Application Fee Questions" section.


The deadline for application to the Graduate Group in Ecology (GGE) and Joint Degree Program in Ecology at San Diego State University is December 1st. This deadline includes the receipt of all letters of recommendation and required materials. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed.

Major Professor

Like most ecology and evolution graduate programs, the GGE requires that incoming students have a major professor willing to accept them. Because this is a critical step in your application, we recommend contacting faculty that interest you in early summer or fall of the year you will be applying and communicating with them consistently throughout the application process. Here is a link of faculty in the GGE who are currently considering accepting students (note that this list is updated regularly): Here is a helpful resource provided by the UCD Animal Behavior graduate group with suggestions on how to approach a potential major professor (page 2). You can submit your application without the commitment of a major professor but the Admissions Committee will not recommend admission to the GGE unless a major professor has agreed to accept you as a student.

Holistic Review 

As of Summer 2020, the GRE is not required or considered for admission to the GGE.

The GGE evaluates applicants using holistic review, which is an evidence-based approach to identify people that are likely to be successful in ecology research, regardless of what ecology research opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application. You can increase your likelihood of being admitted by specifically addressing the following criteria in your application essay. Criteria considered include:

  • Creativity and innovation. Applicant proposes and/or demonstrates a history of creativity and innovation in approaching science and/or problem-solving.
  • Long-term goals and commitment. Applicant demonstrates ability and willingness to work hard and steadily towards long-term goals.
  • Contributions to diversity. Applicant has the potential to contribute to diversity in higher education/ecology as evidenced by life experiences, educational background (e.g. non-traditional paths) and/or ability to articulate the barriers facing underrepresented communities in higher education/science (Wording for ‘Contributions to Diversity’ trait is adapted from UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program).
  • Outreach and inclusion. Applicant shows commitment and/or motivation to making science accessible and inclusive of communities both within and outside the University.
  • Academic preparedness. Applicant demonstrates academic preparation and “toolbox” that equips them well for graduate coursework and research
  • Resilience and adaptability. Applicant demonstrates ability to push past obstacles and/or to take in new information/events and adjust accordingly. Has clear understanding of uncertainty in a way that will equip them to weather the ups and downs of research and graduate school (Wording for ‘Resilience and Adaptability’ trait is adapted from Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program). 
  • Research experience. Applicant has taken advantage of relevant research opportunities available to them, given socio-economic background and previous schools attended. Has a realistic perspective on how to conduct and/or complete research projects; strong ability to work independently and problem solve.
  • Leadership and work experience. Applicant demonstrates maturity through clear communication, ability to work collaboratively and as part of a team, strong organizational skills, and/or ability to juggle multiple tasks at once.

To read more about some of the research behind holistic review, please see Strassun et al. (2010)Stassun et al. (2011)Powell (2013)Victoroff and Boyatzis (2013)Miller and Stassun (2014).

English Language Exam Scores

All international students not having English as a first language, or who have not studied at an institution where English is the language of instruction, must submit an official TOEFL or IELTS score. The minimum acceptable TOEFL score is 550 (paper based test) or 80 (internet based test). The minimum acceptable IELTS score is 7.0. If admitted, an international student may also be required by the university to complete an English proficiency examination upon arrival at the university and, depending upon the result of this exam, may be required to take English language courses.


UC Davis requires academic records (i.e. transcripts including a GPA) from each college-level institution you have attended, and these transcripts are used as one metric of academic merit within the holistic review. You are also encouraged to use your other application materials to frame your grades in a context that best reflects you. For instance, working full time to support yourself or your family may have lowered your grades, but it also demonstrates work ethic, adaptability, and perseverance in the face of life challenges, so would be a welcome topic in your personal history statement, your statement of purpose, or your letters of recommendation. You will be instructed to upload scanned copies of your transcripts after you have submitted your online application. For more details visit

Letters of Recommendation

Writers of recommendation letters may reflect a mix of backgrounds (e.g., academic or employment). Three letters of recommendation are required, but you should seek to include at least two who are qualified to evaluate the quality of your scholastic achievements and academic training as well as your ability to carry out independent research. This is especially important if you have previous research experience. It is helpful to ask your references to address those characteristics that are important to your admission (e.g., the traits outlined above that are considered in our holistic review).

Personal History & Diversity Statement

As stated on the graduate admissions website:

The purpose of this essay is to get to know you as an individual and potential graduate student. Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. You may include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, community service, outreach activities, residency and citizenship, first-generation college status, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field; or how you might serve educationally underrepresented and underserved segments of society with your graduate education.

Statement of Purpose

In this essay, you should describe (1) what is motivating you to attend graduate school at UC Davis (i.e., your career goals), (2) your core research interests, and (3) how your background makes you a good fit to the Ecology program and the lab to which you are applying. When discussing your background, be sure to highlight any prior research experiences, employment/internships, or academic coursework that make you a competitive applicant.


The GGE is committed to the university's mission of diversity and equality in higher education and will evaluate each applicant's potential to contribute to diversity in our program and field. Applicants can reflect their leadership in diversity in the Personal History/Diversity Statement portion of the application.