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How to Apply to the PhD Program

The Bren School is a graduate school within the Graduate Division of UC Santa Barbara. Applications to the Bren School are completed through the UCSB Online Graduate Application. Please note that you may apply to only one department at UCSB per admissions cycle. The Bren School’s PhD in Environmental Science and Management program accepts applications for Fall matriculation only. 

Bren's Commitment to Holistic Admissions

The Bren School proudly stands by a holistic admissions process for our graduate programs. Bren's admissions committee looks for well-rounded applicants with excellent academic performance, maturity, work experience, great letters of recommendation, and strong personal statements. Each applicant offers a unique suite of experiences and accomplishments that are fully considered by the admissions committee. Before you apply, please read about Bren's holistic admissions process to understand how we weigh and consider your application materials, as well as how to request an application fee waiver. 

UCSB Graduate Application

Applications to the Bren School are completed through the UCSB Graduate Application Online. The application portal opens September 1 and closes December 15 each year.

Important Dates & Deadlines

Cohorts begin during Fall Quarter annually

Online application opens September 1
Application deadline December 15
Admissions decisions March

Required Application Materials Checklist

  • UCSB Graduate Application (online application)
  • Non-refundable application fee
  • Statement of Purpose essay
  • Personal History and Diversity Statement
  • Resume or C.V.
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • GRE scores* Please note the GRE requirement has been waived for the 2024-25 admissions cycle.
  • Transcripts
  • English language exam for non-native speakers

Application Materials:

Non-refundable application fee

There is a required non-refundable fee for US citizens and Permanent Residents; and all others. View the current fee here. Applications are not processed until the fee is received. This fee can be paid by credit card or with a check/money order using the Check/Money Order Submission Form found on the last page of the online application.

Applying for a Fee Waiver 

Application fee waivers are available to qualified U.S. citizens and permanent residents who demonstrate evidence of financial need or proof of participation in an undergraduate research program. McNair Scholars and Project 1000 applicants are among those eligible. Fee waivers are not available to international applicants.

To apply for a fee waiver, follow this procedure within your online application: click on the Payment Information tab and scroll down to the fee waiver information. Then, select the option relevant to you and upload your supporting documentation.

Do not submit a fee waiver the day before the application deadline; it will not be processed in time and your fee waiver request will not be reviewed. Please submit a fee waiver request at least two weeks before the application deadline.

For more information, read FAQs about the UCSB graduate application fee

Statement of Purpose essay

The Statement of Purpose (SOP) should provide evidence of your promise as a member of the academic community and should summarize your past research experience, discuss the current state of your research, and explain the future work you hope to pursue. It should also address why the Bren School is the most appropriate place for you to pursue your studies. 

The SOP should be at least one page but no more than two. Formatting style (e.g., line spacing, typeface, or font size) is up to the discretion of the applicant. Review UCSB Graduate Division’s statement prompts before applying.

Personal History and Diversity Statement 

UC Santa Barbara is interested in a diverse and inclusive graduate student population. In your Personal History and Diversity Statement, please describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that you feel are important in evaluating your application for graduate study. For example, please describe if you have experienced economic challenges in achieving higher education, such as being financially responsible for family members or dependents, having to work significant hours during undergraduate schooling, or coming from a family background of limited income. 

In your Personal History and Diversity Statement, you may also describe any unusual or varied life experiences that might contribute to the diversity of the graduate group, such as fluency in other languages, experience living in bicultural communities, academic research interests focusing on cultural, societal, or educational problems as they affect under-served segments of society, or evidence of an intention to use the graduate degree toward serving disadvantaged individuals or populations.

It may also be a good opportunity to address any discrepancy in your application (e.g. low grades or gaps in your resume). If you wish, you may discuss any discrepancy in the Personal History and Diversity Statement essay to help the admissions committee better understand what circumstances might have affected your academic or professional performance at the time. If you experienced any challenges related to COVID-19, this section would be an appropriate place to indicate them. Please explain how you’ve addressed the issue(s) and why you are prepared now to be successful in a rigorous graduate school program.

The Personal History and Diversity Statement must be written in narrative (essay) form without duplicating content from the Statement of Purpose (SOP) and it must have a minimum word count of at least 250 words.

Writing tips: Writing the Personal Statement

The UC Berkeley Graduate Division provides an online resource called Writing the Personal Statement which is especially helpful in guiding applicants on the Statement of Purpose and the Personal Achievements/Contributions Essay.

Statement Length Guidelines

There is no specified word limit for the Statement of Purpose or the Personal History and Diversity Statement; however, the prompt does say "brief statement" and the average document size we see is around two pages in length so it is recommended to not make it too much longer than that. UC Santa Barbara accepts PDF and Microsoft Word (.doc and .docx) documents for upload in the online application. The maximum file size allowed is 4 MB per document. You can see more document specifications from the Graduate Division:

Resume or Curriculum Vitae

Applicants should include all relevant research or professional experience, as well as any publications produced, grants secured, or labs/courses taught.

Letters of Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation (maximum of four) are required as part of your application. For the PhD program, it is beneficial if an applicant can provide at least two letters from faculty members who are familiar with his or her academic abilities. We realize that this may be difficult for applicants who have been out of school for a number of years. If this is not possible, students are requested to provide letters from professionals in supervisory or managerial roles who can attest to their scholarly ability and potential, creativity, dedication, and work performance, among other attributes. 

Letters of Recommendation should be uploaded electronically by the recommenders onto the applicant's online application. You will be asked to supply the name, email address, and current institution/organization of each recommender. Once supplied, the online application will provide instructions to each of your recommenders via email. 

If you are using a Letter Service (such as Interfolio or a university career center) to submit one or more letters, you will be able to indicate this information within the recommender profile. UCSB needs a rating on our rating scale from each recommender you indicate. If the letter will come from a letter service, we will only request the necessary rating from your recommender. 


Please note the GRE requirement has been waived for the 2023-24 admissions cycle. The Bren School will not be accepting any GRE scores at this time. The requirement will continue to be evaluated on an annual basis moving forward.


You will be required to upload transcripts from all institutions you’ve attended to your application. These uploaded transcripts are required to be official documents created by the university but can include "unofficial" transcripts that are generated by an online student portal -- as long as the transcripts include the name of the student, the institution, the grades, and a grading scale. For more details, view the UCSB Graduate Division's details and tips on uploading transcripts.

If you are admitted and decide to attend the Bren School by submitting a positive Statement of Intent to Register (SIR) with UCSB, you will be required to send official transcripts directly from the institution(s) attended to the UCSB Graduate Division (not the Bren School). The only exception to this requirement is for admits who attended UCSB as an undergraduate, in which case official transcripts are not required since UCSB can verify academic records using their student data-tracking systems. 

Transcripts for International Students
If you have received your degree, please include your degree certificate within the same file as your transcripts. The uploaded document must include both the original language transcript and the certified English translation. English transcripts are required and must be a complete, exact and literal translation of the original transcripts. English translations must be provided by the school or an official agency.

English language exam for non-native speakers

If your native language is not English, then you are required to complete the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, or the Duolingo English Test (DET). TOEFL ITP Plus, TOEFL Essentials, IELTS One Skill Retake, and other exams not specifically noted in the Graduate Division's English Language Examination admissions requirements will not be accepted. Exams scores must be within two years of the date of application. The University requires a minimum score of 550 (paper test) or 80 (computer test) for the TOEFL exam, a minimum overall band score of 7.0 or higher for the IELTS exam, and a minimum total score of 120 for the DET exam. Be sure to check the above Graduate Division's webpage for more information before you apply.

Exceptions to English language proficiency exams may be granted to applicants who have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree at an institution whose primary language of instruction is English. If you think you qualify for this exception, you will need to upload unofficial transcripts from your institution and indicate on the online application that it is an English instruction-only institution. There are no additional forms or steps necessary at the time of application.

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