This page covers two topics of interest to prospective Ph.D. students:

For general information about the Ph.D. program, please see the Ph.D. program overview. The Ph.D. Applicant FAQ also answers many common questions. The Ph.D. program, similar to the department, operates in both Ithaca and New York City, with students and advisors located on both campuses. Each CS faculty member is based either in Ithaca or in New York City.  All Ph.D. students spend their first two semesters on the Ithaca campus; afterwards, they are generally based in the location of their principal advisor.  

FAQ with further information about the two campuses.

Applying for the Ph.D.

A successful application will include the following:

Students apply online using the admissions site of the Cornell Graduate School. You should not mail any application materials; this may delay your application. Any additional materials beyond those above, such as research paper manuscripts, may be uploaded to the online application system as “writing samples”.

Our application asks you to identify your area(s) of research interest.  This information is important to us, for the following reason.  Whereas some PhD programs allow individual professors to admit their own students, at Cornell admissions decisions are made by a committee.   We generally admit students only if we can identify faculty members who they might later work with.  The areas you list will help us identify those faculty members and to determine the relevant capacity for new students.   All of these steps ensure that the people you might love to work with will be equally enthusiastic about working with you!

Most students arrive on campus with a strong interest and demonstrated talent in some area of research, but no certainty about which group they will join.  Reaching out to a faculty member who is doing work you find exciting is not a problem, but you should not assume that the professor you contact will be involved in admissions.  Once you have been admitted, we will make sure that you have ample opportunity to meet the faculty members who work in the area(s) of research you indicated in your application.

Starting in 2020, the Cornell CS Student-Applicant Support Program aims to assist underrepresented students as they apply to Cornell’s CS PhD program.  Subject to capacity limits, a graduate student volunteer will provide one round of meaningful feedback on an applicant’s resume and statement of purpose. To apply, please fill in this form by 11:59PM EST on October 31, 2020. All demographic questions are optional.  The information you provide will be aggregated and anonymized to evaluate the impact of this program, but individual responses will be deleted at the end of this application cycle.  Participation is not a guarantee of admission.

Deadlines

The department accepts applications for the fall semester only. The deadline for the fall semester is December 1st. Applying early is strongly advised. Because the TOEFL or IELTS is required for foreign students, you may submit your application before taking those exam(s).  Nonetheless we strongly advise that you ensure that your application will be complete by December 1st.  Delays in receiving your scores will delay the the review of your application.

Cornell University requires all applicants to complete their application materials without the use of paid agents, credentials services, or other paid professional assistance. The use of such services violates University policy, and may lead to the rejection of application materials, the revocation of an admissions offer, cancellation of admission, or involuntary withdrawal from the University.

Evaluation Process

There is no formula that guarantees admission. We will carefully evaluate all the above components of your application. We tend to look for the following:

  1. A coherent body of coursework with a high average grade in the A− to A+ range.
  2. Adequate mathematical background including freshman and sophomore calculus and at least two other courses (e.g., linear algebra, abstract algebra, analysis, statistics).
  3. Basic background in computer science including evidence of research potential.
  4. A strong statement of purpose.  Our committee reads your statement of purpose carefully and it shapes our perspective on who you are and what your interests are.  The most compelling statements of purpose center on the research areas that fascinate you and your experience working in or learning about those areas.
  5. Strong letters of recommendation.  The most compelling letters are those written by people who know you well and who can attest to characteristics such as your intellectual potential, creativity, ability to overcome challenges, work ethic, and motivation."

It is important to stress that these are only guidelines and not a rigid policy. An applicant whose record is weaker in some respect (e.g. a low grade in some course) may still be admitted if strength is revealed in some other respect (e.g., exceptional letters of recommendation).

Commitment to Diversity

Fostering an inclusive environment is a core value of the Computer Science Department and Cornell as a whole. In line with Cornell’s historical commitment to educating “… any person … in any study…”, we seek candidates who will create a climate that helps attract and is inclusive of all students, including students from historically underrepresented groups, and students who have overcome personal challenges. 

As a member of our community, all of our graduate students find themselves in student-facing roles such as teaching, other TA activities, and advising research.  With this in mind, we are asking all applicants to explicitly express a committment to Cornell's guidelines for equity and inclusiveness.   A brief statement will suffice.

We should note that this same expectation also extends to Cornell's faculty members, and you may also find it interesting to consult Cornell's faculty diversity web page, which provides additional detail about Cornell's commitment to diversity at the faculty level, inclusion and equity.  The Computing and Information Sciences web page describes some CIS activities in this area. 

Our FAQ includes a list of fellowships for which you can apply, including several intended specifically to support Cornell in achieving its diversity goals.  Some students may wish to apply for one of these diversity fellowships. It is important to realize that the department's required diversity statement is not used for this purpose.   If interested, you would provide a longer statement that would be used by the relevant fellowship selection committee.  In that statement, we recommend that you offer insight into your background and experiences and discuss how these shape their potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect.  The required diversity statement is not supplied to the relevant fellowship selection committee, but they will see the remainder of your PhD application.

The Graduate School offers admission fee waivers to qualified participants in pipeline programs that provide educational and/or career support to students from underrepresented identities.  For the current list of approved programs and eligibility details, please visit this link. To request a waiver send the following information to grad_assoc_dean@cornell.edu: name, date of birth, name of the undergrad summer research or other grad school prep program you participated in and date of participation, name of the field to which you are applying at Cornell. You will receive an email reply with a fee waiver code and instructions for how to use it.  Please note: fee waiver requests will be processed Monday through Friday, during normal business hours, with the exception ofholidays and breaks when the university is closed. Allow up to three business days for your request to be processed.

Transcripts

Your application should include complete and scanned transcripts of all previous college and university work, including any work done at Cornell. If you are submitting unofficial transcripts, the Graduate School will require that you submit official transcripts should you be accepted into the program. In this case, please make sure your transcript has your name, birthdate, and the name of the attended university.

Applicants should scan their transcripts and upload the documents into the on-line application themselves as part of the submission process. For students who are subsequently admitted and accept the offer of admission, an official paper transcript will be required prior to matriculation; students will be reminded of this requirement on the “response to offer of admission” form.

International Credentials

All transcripts or academic records must be official documents provided in the original language. If that language is not English, they must be accompanied by certified translations into English. If not issued by the college or university as original documents, they should be notarized, full-sized photocopies. They should include grades received in each subject each year, and the number of weeks and hours per week that each subject was studied. Courses must be described in detail. The general subject name (e.g., “mathematics”) is not sufficient. The particular subject (e.g., “differential equations,” “algebraic topology”) must be identified.

If you are admitted into the program and you accept our offer of admission, the Graduate School will require an official transcript. They will contact you directly about this requirement.

Grade point averages

If your school uses a GPA scale other than 0–4.0, just leave this field blank when submitting your application. If you feel you must, you may enter 0. We will review your transcript and will rate your performance on the grades you received, not the number you enter into this field.

How to scan transcripts

  • Scan at the lowest dpi that results in a legible document (we recommend less than 200 dpi if possible).
  • Ensure that the institution name and other identifying marks are not missed during the scanning process and that your scanned copy is clearly legible and can print on letter-size paper (8½"x11").
  • Save your document as a PDF file.
  • Scanning in “gray scale” or black and white may produce the best results.
  • If the scanned file is too large, make a photocopy first (experiment with different settings until you find one that results in the smallest file size) then scan the photocopy.

If all the above fails, please send the scanned document (no larger than 2MB) to phd@cs.cornell.edu. Please name the file as follows:
FirstName_LastName_SchoolName_Transcript.

Statement of Purpose

You should think carefully when writing your statement of purpose. Express your plans and interests in Computer Science in a concise and clear manner. It may be helpful to include a list of some of the principal reasons why you consider yourself a strong applicant to our program. Please note what area(s) of research you are excited about, and any specific faculty you might be interested in working with during your graduate studies at Cornell.  

Letters of Recommendation

Your application must include three letters of recommendation. The letters should be from professors or other researchers who have supervised you or evaluated your work.  Such a person would normally know what your specific contributions were if the work was part of a group effort, and can personally testify to your potential as a researcher in Computer Science. Once you have submitted your application, a notification will be sent to your recommenders within 48 hours. These letters are a very important part of your application, and you should ensure that they are submitted into the electronic application system by December 1st. We discourage mailed letters of recommendation as this delays the processing of your application.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

The GRE exam is optional.  For many applicants, the pandemic has made it challenging to arrange to take the GRE exam, or to prepare for it.  You do not need to explain your reasons if you do not submit a GRE score.  The lack of a GRE score will not harm your application.

If you do wish to submit a GRE score, please arrange to have scores sent directly to Cornell University (institution code 2098) from the Educational Testing Service.  Few of our applicants submit a GRE subject exam in computer science, and we do not consider GRE subject scores when making admissions decisions.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

International applicants must demonstrate competency in the English language. Acceptable proof of competency is:

  1. Internet-based Test (iBT) version of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Each section (writing: 20, Listening: 15, Reading: 20, Speaking: 22) has its own minimum score as noted. Applicant scores must meet the minimums set by the Graduate school. A cumulative score is NOT the correct measure and is NOT sufficient for an offer of admission.
  2. The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS. Please email gradadmissions@cornell.edufor information about how to send your scores.

In some cases, international students who are admitted will be required to take a remedial course in English.

Please see the Graduate School's link for the TOEFL requirements.

Exceptions:

The TOEFL requirement may be waived if the applicant meets at least one of these criteria:

  • is a native citizen of the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (except Quebec). Applicants who are citizens of India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, or Singapore, are not exempt from the TOEFL requirement.
  • studied in full-time status for at least two academic years within the last five years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, or with English language instruction in Canada or South Africa. You must submit a transcript that shows you have attended college in one of these approved locations.

Funding

Admission into the doctoral program in the Field of Computer Science is based purely on academic merit. All Ph.D. students in Computer Science are fully supported during the academic year as long as they remain in good academic standing. Support from Cornell includes tuition, health insurance,and stipend. Support is available in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships. For students entering in the fall 2020 semester, a Teaching Assistantship (TA) or a Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) covers full tuition ($29,500), and pays a salary of $28,036 for nine months.  Health insurance is also provided ($3420). Fellowships also cover these costs, but generally pay a higher stipend (salary) than the TA or GRA stipend. Summer support is often available, and pays an additional salary of approximately $9,700.

Teaching Assistantships

Each TA is assigned to a course with an average time commitment of 15 hours per week helping the course instructor. TA assignments typically involve grading homework, holding office hours, preparing assignments, or teaching recitations.

Research Assistantships

A GRA is given to a student whose research interests coincide with a sponsored research project. Typically, the work of a Gradaute Research Assistant is an integral part of his/her dissertation research. The faculty member in charge (your advisor)of the project grants a GRA. GRAs are generally given to continuing, rather than incoming, students.

Fellowships

Applicants are also encouraged to apply for external fellowships, such as NSF, Hertz, Facebook, NDSEG, or DOD Fellowships. These fellowships are highly prestigious, and they free the student of the responsibilities of an assistantship. Whenever possible, the department helps students in the fellowship application process.

In 2015–16, approximately 20 of the department's graduate students hold fellowships, some of which are granted by NSF, NDSEG, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, IBM, NSERC, and Cornell.

The following is a partial list of fellowships available to graduate students in computer science:

  • National Science Foundation NSF fellowships are available to United States citizens or permanent residents, and only to incoming or first-year students. Support is for three years. The deadline for application is mid-November. You can obtain an application from your undergraduate institution, or from the NSF directly (Fellowship Office, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20418). Also, see their Web site, http://www.nsf.gov.
  • Hertz Foundation This fellowship is open to United States citizens only. It provides support for up to four years. The deadline for application is November 1. You may obtain an application from your undergraduate institution or from the Hertz foundation directly (Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, P. O. Box 5032, Livermore, CA 94551-5032). Also, see their Web site, http://www.hertzfoundation.org.
  • Cornell Fellowships The Graduate School awards a number of one and two-year Cornell fellowships to incoming graduate students. Your application for admission automatically serves as the fellowship application. However, your application and all supporting credentials must be received by December 15 in order to be considered for a Cornell Fellowship.
  • IBM This fellowship is open for continuing students. The department nominates the candidates for this fellowship.
  • Facebook This fellowship is open for continuing students. The department nominates the candidates for this fellowship.
  • Google This fellowship is open for continuing students. The department nominates the candidates for this fellowship.
  • Microsoft This fellowship is open for continuing students. The department nominates the candidates for this fellowship.

As noted earlier, some generous donors have endowed an additional group of fellowships that are specifically designed to assist the department in pursuing its diversity objectives.  These are discussed in more detail (including the procedure for applying) on our FAQ page.