Overview | Frequently Asked Questions
Each year, the ESD faculty selects leading students from around the globe to take part in their interdisciplinary doctoral program. We are seeking students who want to work on large, complex, sociotechnical problems that cross discipline boundaries.
The ESD PhD Program is competitive. Successful applicants to the doctoral program have, in general, very strong academic records and test scores, an undergraduate degree in engineering or applied science, some introduction to and interest in policy, management, and/or social science subjects, and usually some professional experience beyond academic work. Successful applicants also have a research-based masterís degree. Those without
an appropriate masterís degree are encouraged to apply through the predoctoral path.
The doctoral program is a full-time, residential program. It is our collective belief that doctoral students learn a lot about how to think deeply about issues, and how to do research, when they have sustained interactions with the faculty and their peers.
ESD PhD applications are reviewed once a year and are due by December 15th for admission beginning the following Fall semester. All applications are reviewed at the same time to select not only the best candidates, but also to ensure the selection of the most diverse cohort possible. Diversity in the student body is an important precondition for developing the capability to deal with complex problems worldwide.
COMPLETING THE APPLICATION
GETTING TO KNOW US
What type of undergraduate degree should I have?
Applicants should have an undergraduate degree in a technical field, usually an engineering or science
Must I have a masterís degree to apply to the PhD program?
If you don't have a research-based master's degree, and your goal is to earn a PhD in Engineering Systems,
you should apply through the Predoctoral Path. If youíre admitted through the Predoctoral
Path, youíll start in one of our masterís programs (the Technology and Policy Program
or the Master of Science Degree in Engineering Systems) and can continue-on
directly to the PhD Program, without reapplying, as long as you maintain your eligibility. In total, we expect this path will take most students about
Here's how to apply to the Predoctoral Path. In the "Application Information" section:
- Apply to the "S.M. in the Technology and Policy Program" or the "S.M. in Engineering Systems" – whichever one is right for you.
- Indicate that your degree objective is a Ph.D.
- Check "Consider me for the Predoctoral Track in ESD"
Must I have prior work experience?
No. However, prior work experience is a plus and most ESD students have worked for a year or more.
ESD values work experience because it helps students define the research that is most important for them and
get the most out of their experience with us.
What additional preparation should I have when applying for a PhD?
The curriculum presumes that all students have technical degrees and will either have or make up basic competence in:
- computer programming
- probability / statistics
- optimization / systems analysis
- ability to communicate technical material
COMPLETING THE APPLICATION
How do I apply to the ESD PhD program?
What is the application deadline?
Applications are due by December 15th. When December 15th falls on
a day MIT is closed for regular business (e.g. the weekend), application materials will be accepted through the next workday.
There is only one round of applications for the doctoral program, and all applications are reviewed at the same time.
What materials should I submit with my application?
A complete Application includes:
- A Statement of Objectives that indicates the area of interest in engineering systems and general
- Predoctoral Path applicants who are applying through TPP should also be sure to complete the Technology & Policy Program Supplement.
- Transcripts from all the universities, colleges, institutes of higher-learning, etc., you have attended.
- Three evaluations. Your evaluators should be able to
testify in useful detail about your professional and research capabilities.
Two evaluations must be academic (at least one of these from a professor), and the final
reference may come from employers or other professional or research contacts.
- GRE general examination scores.
- IELTS score, for non-native speakers of English.
- A curriculum vitae or resume
I submit supplemental application documents?
Mail hard-copy application documents, and all supplemental documents
with sensitive information, such as transcripts, to:
77 Massachusetts Ave., E40-367
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Unfortunately, admissions questions sent via e-mail cannot be accepted. Please ask your question during
admissions office hours.
How do I apply if I am already a student at MIT?
MIT undergraduates applying for the doctoral program should apply using the procedure outlined above. Current students only
are eligible for an application fee waiver, which they can request from ESD's Academic Office during
admissions office hours. While all applications to the doctoral program are reviewed by the Admissions Committee, the Admissions Committee expects
successful applicants to the doctoral program will have an
MIT GPA of 4.7 or higher.
MIT master's students seeking a doctoral degree
should apply using the procedure outlined above. Current students only are eligible for an application fee
waiver, which they can request from ESD's Academic Office during admissions office hours.
Additionally, current graduate students do not have to submit GRE scores, but it should be noted that standardized
test scores submitted to MIT in the past may be uploaded into our system, and be available to the
Admissions Committee. While all applications to the doctoral program are reviewed by the Admissions
Committee, the Admissions Committee expects successful applicants to the doctoral program will have an MIT GPA of 4.7 or higher.
What are the required GRE scores? Is there a reporting code?
While all applications to the doctoral program are reviewed by the Admissions Committee, the Admissions
Committee expects successful applicants to the doctoral program will meet or surpass the following minimum Graduate Record
Examinations (GRE) percentile scores (comparing a test-taker to the pool of all test-takers):
- 75% on the Verbal section (45% for non-native speakers)
- 75% on the Quantitative section
- and 50% on the Analytical Writing section.
Use the MIT reporting code: 3514 and the department code: 1699.
All applicants not already in MIT graduate school are required to take the GRE general test. Subject tests are not
We recommend that even expert writers review the expectations for the GRE's Analytic Writing section. The criteria the ETS applies to scoring these essays may not always match the standard writing conventions used within some technical disciplines or at some institutions.
How do I demonstrate that my English proficiency is at or above the required level?
All applicants who are non-native English speakers must demonstrate that their English proficiency is sufficient to
participate in the regular activities of an ESD student. Standardized tests for English proficiency will automatically
be waived for applicants who electronically
submit a supplemental statement affirming that they have completed their entire secondary education (high school),
or four consecutive years of post-secondary education, at a school where the language of instruction is exclusively
English. Otherwise, applicants must submit a recent academic format International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score.
If your score is more than two years old then the Admissions Committee requires new exam scores in
order to assess your current capabilities. Also note that exam scores "expire," i.e. the testing service will not
report scores taken before a certain date. Check the testing service's web site to find out when your scores expire.
What is the required IELTS score?
The minimum score on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) academic format is 7.5.
Should I report my unofficial test scores?
To speed up the processing of your application, we urge all candidates to self-report test scores within their applications. This will allow the ESD
Admissions Committee to process applications more quickly. Candidates must arrange with the testing institution to
have official test scores forwarded to MIT and these will be checked against the self-reported scores. Applications with
blatant discrepancies will be automatically rejected.
I am concerned that my scores might be lower than they should be. What should I do?
If you have reviewed the statements above on minimum scores, and are worried your scores may be too low, the best advice
we can give any applicant is to practice and retake the exam.
Here is our philosophy: A characteristic of ESD students is their
ability to plan for and manage challenges. Hence, successful applicants
tend to allot sufficient time to preparing for the exams, documenting
any relevant disabilities with the testing institution and planning
accommodations, taking the exams, and having their scores reported.
Admissions are competitive, and publishing minimums and general
advice is the fairest thing we can do for all of our applicants.
Remember, the Admissions Committee also reviews transcripts, congruence
of applicant interests with faculty capabilities and interests,
evaluations from faculty and professionals who can
validate the candidate's capabilities, and maturity in approaching
Does ESD admit a large number students knowing that many of them will have to leave before they earn their PhD?
No. We have the expectation that all of the students admitted, either directly to the PhD Program or through the Predoctoral Path, can successfully complete their program.
How will I be
notified that my application is complete?
You will be notified via e-mail of the status of your application at different stages of the admissions process.
If you have not heard from us in a while, it is permissible to check in once a week during
admissions office hours until your application is designated "complete." Once your application is
complete, then in all likelihood the next contact you will have with us is your admissions decision. Given our lean admissions staffing, fielding too many requests
for status updates interferes with checking-in materials, sending out notifications, and processing applications.
We appreciate your patience.
When will I be notified of your admissions decision?
Applicants will be notified by March 31st.
GETTING TO KNOW US
Where can I read
more about ESD?
The ESD web site has materials
to get you started. In particular, the ESD
Strategic Report is a good orientation. Don't miss the research,
the library of resources,
news & events,
student, and alumni
How can I arrange a visit?
Prospective students may visit MIT at any time. Visits are self-arranged but the
MIT Information Center provides tours of the campus. For current ESD
events, some of which are open to the public, check News & Events. For a
closer look at ESD, we encourage local prospective students to attend the ESD Open House, an opportunity for local
prospective students to learn about ESD programs from faculty, current students, and
staff. The Open House normally occurs in November. Check News
& Events for details as they are available.
Is it a good idea to get in touch with ESD faculty members to personally tell them about my application?
No. If you have never met the faculty member you are seeking to contact, it is not a good idea to try to get in touch.
ESD's admissions process routinely admits external applicants who do not have prior MIT experience or contacts.
Does ESD offer financial assistance?
ESD assists its current and admitted students in obtaining financial assistance, but ultimately, the graduate student is
responsible for finding and maintaining the financial support they need to sustain their MIT education. Most ESD
graduate students are able to support their MIT education by working as
graduate assistants throughout MIT. These jobs pay for tuition and a living stipend.
Students are encouraged to secure funding from external sources. The deadlines for many fellowships are
much earlier than the typical deadline for university applications. The Office
of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) maintains an extensive list of fellowships and grants.
Student Financial Services is another resource for answering financial questions.
Can I pursue an ESD SM and PhD simultaneously?
Yes! You should apply through the Predoctoral Path.
Is there a distance learning component to the ESD PhD?
No. Doctoral students must be full-time students. MIT doctoral students are required
to be local for four regular (i.e. Fall or Spring) terms, although in rare cases this may be shortened. Generally and
practically speaking, doctoral students are best served by living locally, although students are not required to live
in on-campus housing.
What should I do if I have more questions about the application process?
A careful reading of the FAQs is a great first step! We know that admissions practices vary across the globe, but
the only way to be admitted to an ESD program is by submitting a thoughtful and carefully constructed
application. This means that the majority of successful applications can be submitted using only the instructions
available here or embedded in the application itself. If your specific question is not covered here, please get in touch
during admissions office hours.
I have a general question that should resonate with my fellow prospective applicants. Where should I post it?
Here! Our forum for general questions by prospective students is powered by Google Moderator. Content is driven by you! We'll do our best to answer questions with broad relevance.
When are admissions office hours? How should I get in touch?
Admissions office hours are 2PM to 3PM,
Monday – Friday (October 15 – December 15). Applicants and prospective students with
substantial time zone or work schedule mismatches may set up an alternate appointment by Skype, instant message, or phone.
phone: [+1] 617-253-1182
Google Talk: email@example.com
Windows Live Messenger: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yahoo! Messenger: MITesdAcOffc
Unfortunately, admissions questions sent via e-mail cannot be accepted.