Application rules and requirements

What is the application submission deadline?

All application materials should be submitted by December 1.

How should I submit my application?

In order to apply to the CS Department, you will be required to submit your application online. The CS Department does not mail out hard copy applications. Please do not send any applicatin materials; this will only delay processing your application.

What name should I use on my application?

Please make every effort to use the same name that is on your passport for your GRE, TOEFL exams as well as your application. Names that do not match delay processing of your application as scores need to be manually found in the reports sent from ETS and matched to your application.

What is a statement of purpose, and how do you use it?

For Cornell, the statement of purpose is one of the main criteria used to decide admissions, along with grades, papers or other accomplishments, and the reference letters.  Your statement of purpose tells us about you and your interests, and also helps us understand why you believe that the areas you list (some people just list one, some list several) are important opportunity areas for future research.  Some students are focused on working on one question with one person; others really haven't decided what they would want to work on or with whom, but do have a passion for research and use the statement to talk about experiences that have led them to decide that a PhD is the right step.  The statement of purpose is your way to communicate this information to us.  Each person is an individual, and we can't know you as an individual just from lists of classes you have taken and grades in them.  The statement of purpose shapes our perception of you as a scholar and researcher.

Some things to keep in mind: First, we really do read these carefully, so write the statement thoughtfully.  We also tend to believe what you tell us: if you say that you want to work on the unique games conjecture (an open theory question), or on new algorithms for rapidly training DNNs, we will make sure your application is seen by people who work on those topics.  We wouldn't want to admit a person who was very focused on one opportunity, only to realize that none of our faculty actually work on that question!  Conversely, if you tell us you want to work in machine learning, but actually had in mind the new platforms and programming languages emerging to support ML, we would route your folder to the wrong people.  So it really helps to write in a clear, fairly scientific way (more like a research paper than like a letter to a close friend).  Finally, keep in mind that we are Cornell, and this is a statement about your interest in being a student here: we will use the statement to assess your fit with our department.  Knowledge of the relevant faculty and what they are working on really helps.

Most statements are two to three pages in length, and some include references, although this is definitely not required.  We receive a lot of applicantions and would prefer that you not exceed three pages.  

What is a diversity statement and why is one required?

As noted on the primary application information page, Cornell has a strong institutional committement to inclusion and equity:  Any qualified candidate will receive equal consideration for our program irrespective of their personal circumstances, construed broadly.  This policy also applies to our teaching and other interactive roles.  As a PhD student, you would often have such roles, for example when working as a TA, teaching, giving research talks and working one-on-one with other researchers.  Thus, you will be in situations where your role would require you to embrace our values. The "diversity statement" is required, and should be a very brief statement that you are aware of this policy and comfortable acting in accordance with it when you interact with others.  You are welcome to say more, but this is all that we require. 

We also have some fellowships specifically for diversity students.  The CS department diversity statement is not used to determine your qualifications for those fellowships. To be considered for a diversity fellowship, first, you must be eligible: each fellowship comes with its own eligibility criteria.  You would then apply via a separate "fellowship applications" section on the main graduate school application form.  As part of that application, you should provide a statement specific to that fellowship, which can help the corresponding selection committee understand your qualifications, and see how your strengths will enrich Cornell with respect to its diversity mission.  

Is there any way to get feedback on my application before I submit it?

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.

Can I apply for Spring admission?  Could I defer?

We do not accept applications for admission in the spring semester. We only accept applications for consideration for fall admission.  Some admitted students do defer and start later than in the subsequent fall, but this is not automatic -- you would need to discuss this with the director of our graduate field and get approval.

What are the minimum requirements for all CS applicants?

The CS Department looks for all applicants to be able to meet the following minimum criteria:

For the IBT TOEFL, you must meet the following minimum required scores as determined by the Cornell Graduate School in each of the following sections in order to be considered for admission to our field:

  • 15 - Listening
  • 20 - Writing
  • 20 - Reading
  • 22 - Speaking

If you are not able to meet or exceed the minimum scores in each of the four sections of the IBT TOEFL, you will not be considered eligible for admission to Cornell University. No exceptions will be made.

Please note the following regarding eligibility for a TOEFL waiver:

  1. You may only be considered eligible for a TOEFL waiver if you have studied full-time for two (2) or more consecutive years (a minimum of four (4) consecutive semesters) at a college or university were English is the language of instruction located in a country where English is the native language (including English-speaking Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK).

  2. All other countries, including the India subcontinent, Singapore, the Anglophone Caribbean, Anglophone Africa, Francophone Canada and Puerto Rico, do **NOT**qualify for a TOEFL exemption, as per the Cornell Graduate School.

  3. Graduate School Policy is located here.
  • GPA: Suggested Minimum Grade Point Average: 3.5/4.0 or above
  • Class Standing: Student should be in the Top 5% of their class or above
  • GREs: 500-Verbal, 750-Quantitative, 5.0/6.0-Analytical. (Please note that if any of your three individual scores do not meet the suggested minimums, you are still encouraged to apply.)
  • TOEFL: IBT version of the TOEFL.

IELTS: The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS. Please emailgradadmissions@cornell.edu for information about how to send your scores.

Concentrations &. Specialties

Within each concentration we offer multiple specialties (noted below). On your application, please note area of concentration you are interested in, as well as the specialties that best match your interests.

  • Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning, Computer Vision, Robotics, Human-Computer Interaction, Information Retrieval, Natural Language Processing, Knowledge Representation and Reasoning.
  • Programming Languages and Logics: Programming Methodology, Programming Environments, Program Logic and Verification, Automated Reasoning, Compilers, Type Theory and Program Analysis, Programming Language Design
  • Scientific Computing and Applications: Scientific Computing, Computer Graphics, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
  • Systems: Operating Systems, Fault Tolerance, Distributed Systems, Systems for AI/ML, Blockchain, Security,  Database Systems, Machine Architecture, Networks, Parallel Computing, IoT and Applications
  • Theory and Computation: Algorithms, Complexity Theory, Cryptography

Which degree program should I select on the application form?

Regardless of if you will have earned either a Bachelor's or a Master's degree, you should be applying directly to our PhD Program.  At Cornell, PhD students receive an MS degree midway through their studies, when they take and pass the A exam (the exam we use to approve your doctoral thesis proposal).  Thus, a successful Cornell PhD student is in the PhD program from day one, but will graduate with an MS and a PhD.

We also run a separate program that is for students who are only pursuing an MS degree.  Although it is feasible to later transfer from the pure MS program into the MS/PhD program, we prefer that students who plan to obtain a PhD apply directly to our PhD program.

"Who I've been in contact with at Cornell"?

On this line, we find it helpful if you could list Cornell faculty you are interested in working with in this field, even if you have not been in direct dialog with those faculty members.  It is not necessary to discuss your application with our faculty members before you apply, although it is not harmful to do so.

Items to accompany application submission

What items should be submitted along with my application?

All CS applicants are required to submit each of the following items.

You may upload a scanned copy of your transcript into the CollegeNet Online Application System. Please use the following guidelines to do so:

  • Application: You are strongly encouraged to apply online.
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Diversity Statement.  This may be as short as a single sentence, or it could be a longer discussion intended to be considered in light of Cornell's diversity mission and diversity fellowships (see above).
  • GRE scores. GRE scores are recommended, but not required. (scores must be officially submitted by ETS, photocopies are not acceptable)
  • TOEFL/IELTS scores. ALL international applicants are required to submit a either TOEFL or IELTS (TOEFL scores must be officially submitted by ETS, photocopies are not acceptable). Please contact gradadmissions@cornell.edu for instructions on submitting IELTS scores.
  • Official Transcripts: one from each university you have attended. Each transcript must be translated into English and must be an official document from your university - photocopies are not acceptable.
    • Scan at the lowest dpi document (use under 200 dpi whenever possible)
    • Ensure that the institution name and other identifying marks are not missed during the scanning process, and that it is clearly legible and can print on 8 1/2" x 11" size paper.
    • Save your document as a PDF file.
    • Scanning in gray scale or black and white may produce the best results.
    • If you upload a scanned copy of your transcript, you do NOT have to provide an official hard copy version to accompany your application. You will only need to provide an official hard copy transcript if you are made an offer of admission and you choose to accept it.
  • Recommendation Letters: a minimum of three (3) letters are to be submitted, with at least two (2) of them from faculty. Please have your recommenders use the on-line application system.
  • Resume or CV: you can upload your CV to the suplimental materials section in the online application system.

DO NOT submit copies of papers, publications, projects, CD-roms, floppy discs, books, etc. If you have materials that you would like to have our faculty review, please post them online and include a link to them in your Statement of Purpose.

GRE/TOEFL

Are GRE scores required from all applicants?

No.  GRE scores are optional, and in 2021, we expect that many (perhaps most) applications will not be submitting GRE scores.  Should decide to submit GRE scores, please make every effort to use the same name that is on your passport for your GRE, TOEFL exams as well as your application. Names that do not match delay processing of your application as scores need to be manually found in the reports sent from ETS and matched to your application. Please also ensure that your birthdate matches each record.

Should you decide not to submit a GRE score, there is no need to explain your reasons.

What do I need to know about the English Language Proficiency Requirement?

  • As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. (See exceptions.)
  • Cornell must receive official TOEFL or IELTS scores before the university can process your application.
  • TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid only if dated within two years of your program's application deadline.

Where should I submit my GRE/TOEFL scores?

Your scores will be submitted directly to Cornell University, not to the CS Department.

What code(s) should I use to submit my GRE/TOEFL scores?

GREs - You need to use the Institutional Code of 2098 for Cornell
TOEFL - You need to use the Institutional Code of 2098 for Cornell

I've taken the GRE/TOEFL/IELTS more than once. Which set of scores will be reviewed?

The CS Department will receive all of your scores.

If I've already taken the GRE/TOEFL/IELTS, how long are my test scores valid?

GRE scores are valid for up to five (5) years from the original date of the exam. TOEFL/IELTS scores are valid for up to two (2) years from the original test date. In order to ensure your scores are both valid and up to date, contact ETS directly.

I'm an International Applicant. Do I have to submit an IELTS or TOEFL score with my application?

If you come from a country where English is not the native language, you MUST submit TOEFL scores from an exam taken within the last two (2) years.

How do I know if I qualify for an IELTS or TOEFL exemption?

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

  • is a 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 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.

What is the deadline for submission of GRE/TOEFL/IELTS scores?

All official GRE/TOEFL scores must be submitted by December 1. It is the responsibility of the APPLICANT to ensure that official scores are submitted by the deadline date. Be sure to self-report all available scores on your application and have the official scores sent immediately by ETS!

Available Funding Opportunities for Applicants

What types of funding are available for applicants?

There are three types of funding available that are awarded to our best applicants. Each of them include a full tuition waiver, an academic year stipend and a Student Health Insurance package provided through the University. We are actively recruiting students from Under-Represented Minority groups, and some generous donors have provided special funding to assist us in this effort.

Fellowships: Generally, our fellowship offers will be made to our very best applicants and for the most part last only one (1) year. Stipends for fellowships tend to be slightly higher for the first year only. Applicants who are awarded fellowships enter the program without any formal obligations such as teaching or research for a specific group.

Diversity Fellowships: Computer Science offers several Diversity Fellowships and encourages our applicants to apply for them, if they qualify (US Citizens or Permanent Residents only). Included are a Colman Fellowship, a Sage Fellowship, and simply a Diversity Fellowship. Each of these funding opportunities is geared towards providing aid for applicants that meet the following criteria:

  1. A history of overcoming disadvantage
  2. First-generation college student
  3. Raised in a single-parent household
  4. Member of an underrepresented minority group (American Indian or Alaskan Native, Black/African American, Mexican American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Puerto Rican, Other Hispanic)

If you meet the criteria listed above, we would encourage you to submit a supplemental essay in your online application that clearly demonstrates how any of these eligibility criteria apply in your case. Please be sure to include at least a sentence or two at the conclusion of your Statement of Purpose that you have submitted this essay and that you hope to be considered for this Fellowship opportunity.

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

Teaching Assistantship (TA): TA offers come directly from the CS department. 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.

How do Ph.D. admissions really work behind the scenes?

Admissions decisions at Cornell (and, incidentally, other top-5 schools) are made by a committee. The committee admits students into the department; the department guarantees funding and provides a stipend; the students typically spend a year or so taking classes; and eventually the students gravitate towards different advisors. Committee-based admissions give you maximum flexibility as a student: you can switch areas and advisors if you need to. It also ensures that everyone around you has been subject to the same standards, ensuring that your peers are as equally bright and well-versed in computer science as you are.

At some schools, individual faculty will make their decisions independently and admit students specifically to their group. A student showing up at such a school is expected to work with the professor who admitted him/her. This is not what we do at Cornell for many reasons. Committee-based admissions, as we do at Cornell, fosters an open, collaborative environment of equally matched peers.  Our approach ensures that every student will have time to meet all the faculty in their areas of interest before making any committment.

What does the admissions committee look for in a candidate?

The admissions committee does not apply a magic formula. The committee evaluates the entire application packet. Every item that is a required part of the packet is examined carefully. A weakness in one area (say, GPA or GRE scores) can be compensated for through demonstrated strength in another (say, real implementation experience, or research publications, or recommendation letters). The department posts the minimum required criteria for all graduate applicants. If your scores are below these levels, your application will not be considered.

Can you tell me my chances of being admitted to Cornell if I send you my CV?

No one can tell any prospective student's chances of admission from just a resume. Your recommendation letters, your scores on standardized tests, and all the other items that go into the full application packet are required for a good reason.  Some students who ask this question are doing so out of concerns about the cost of applying to Cornell.  See this link to learn about fee waivers that can be requested in the application cost represents a burden for you.

My application has some weakness (E.g., a C- in a core CS course, all Fs in one semester but with extenuating circumstances, or a low score on a component of the GRE). Do I still have a chance?

You can compensate for a weakness in one area through demonstrated strength in another. Every application that satisfies the minimum required criteria receives full consideration. The committee consists of actual human beings who take extenuating circumstances into account. If your packet satisfies the minimum required criteria (if you are applying from a non-US school, check the criteria carefully), you should just apply.

Contact us

Whom should I contact if I have further questions about the Cornell Ph.D. program that are not answered here?

The Director of Graduate Studies can be contacted at phd@cs.cornell.edu.