Prospective Graduate Students
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Plan a Visit
If you are interested in applying to our Ph.D. program and would like to visit, please complete this form. A visit schedule will be arranged for you, including meetings with professors in your chosen field of research.
On Mondays during the academic year, the physics community gathers for a luncheon and informal discussion at 12:00 p.m. and reassembles at 4:00 p.m. for a weekly physics colloquium. You are welcome to join us at both.
The Physics Department is located in Clark Hall, which can be found on East Avenue on this map:
You may also wish to participate in a campus tour while you are here. The campus tour schedule and information can be found here.
How to Apply
What We Look For
We look for the following in applicants:
• a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent from a college or university of recognized standing
• adequate preparation for graduate study of physics as witnessed by an academic transcript of undergraduate courses
• fluent command of the English language—foreign students for whom English is a second language should submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
• evidence of promise in advanced study and research
• three strong letters of recommendation, at least two from professors in a position to write about your fitness for graduate work in physics
• the Graduate Record Exam and the GRE Physics Subject Test is required for all applicants
• students of any race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or ethnic origin
A student who has begun graduate study at another university or who has been awarded a master’s degree in physics will only be admitted under unusual circumstances. Graduate students and professors need to know one another well before starting a thesis project together, and the early period of a graduate student’s time at Cornell provides an opportunity for this acquaintance. A student who arrives later in his/her career misses this. Admission to the program at an advanced level is possible only if a research position is available in the appropriate research group. Before submitting a formal application, a student with advanced preparation should contact the professor or research group with which he or she would like to work and determine that a research position is likely to be available.
All application materials must be received by Cornell no later than December 15. All supporting documents, including academic transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation, must be received by this date. It is preferred that you submit all items online. Please do not submit a document more than once. If it has been submitted online, do not send another copy in the mail. The Physics Department will not accept changes or updates to the application after the deadline has passed. The following must be completed when applying:
Grad School Application
Complete the Cornell Graduate School Application on-line. In the section on “Academic Information” indicate that your proposed field is “Physics.” For your major subject area/concentration, indicate either theory or experiment. Your choice is by no means binding. It merely gives some indication of the interests of prospective class members. As described in the Application Guidelines, the Graduate School also asks you to submit a Statement of Purpose, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Follow the physics-specific instructions below for these application materials. The application fee is $105.
Financial Hardship: The Graduate Field of Physics is committed to creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged students. In addition to offering generous funding to all admitted PhD students, we encourage applicants who are experiencing financial hardships to seek an application fee waiver if the cost of the application fee or GRE exam will be a barrier. Applicants who have been granted a fee waiver by the Graduate School may request to have their application reviewed without GRE scores. All successful applications are held to the same high academic standards.
Letters of Recommendation
Select with care the three persons you ask to write letters of recommendation in support of your application. At least two must be professors of physics who are well acquainted with your preparation and fitness for graduate work. Recommendation letters discussing research experience carry more weight than letters regarding course performance. It is preferred that these letters are submitted online.
Statement of Purpose
Write a Statement of Purpose. Your statement should include a description of any previous research or teaching experience, indicating the nature of the work, the institution where the work was performed, and the name and title of the person directing it. Discuss both the overall physics research goals and your particular responsibilities. Also indicate any interest you have in particular areas of physics, and your professional aims after you receive your Ph.D. If your academic record has areas of concern, please address them here. Please do not discuss your early childhood. Your statement must not exceed two pages with 11 point type and 1 inch (2.5 cm) margins.
Please scan and upload one PDF file for each school into the online application. Your transcript(s) should be an official one issued to you by your university and then scanned to make a PDF. It must be legible and provide a course title eg “Phys 4310 Advanced Mechanics“. Please do not send screen shots from an online database. Please do not email fall grades received after the application deadline, unless specifically requested. If you accept an offer of admission, you will be required to submit an official paper transcript prior to matriculation.
Take the Graduate Record Exam AND the GRE Physics Subject test. Ensure that your scores are officially reported by the Educational Testing Service to the Cornell Graduate School (Institution Code #2098, Department Code #0899). Scores are due by the December 15 application deadline. If you are not able to self-report your unofficial scores on the application before the deadline, please email a copy of your unofficial score report to firstname.lastname@example.org , as soon as you receive it. All official scores must be received by the first of January. Please do not wait until December to take these exams. Note: If your name on the exam does not match your name on the application, please notify us of the discrepancy.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required for applicants whose native language is not English. Scores must be officially reported by the Educational Testing Service to the Cornell Graduate School (Institution Code #2098, Department Code #76). Scores must arrive by the December 15 deadline. Note: If your name on the exam does not match your name on the application, please notify us of the discrepancy. Please note that the minimum IBT TOEFL scores required for consideration are:
An applicant will automatically be granted a TOEFL exemption if he or she studied for two or more years in a country where the primary language is English and the instruction was in English. In addition, international students offered admission as a teaching assistant will also be expected to meet the oral proficiency outlines from ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) at the “Intermediate High” level. This test will be administered at Cornell upon matriculation.
A writing sample is not required, though there is space for one in the application.
All admissions decisions for applications for fall will be made by March. The majority of decisions will be made in February. We regret that due to the number of files received and reviewed by the Admissions Committee each year, we are unable to provide feedback on individual applications. All decisions of the Cornell Physics Admissions Committee are final.
The Physics Department admits only as many graduate students as it anticipates being able to support through the Ph.D. Every effort is made to offer full financial support to all graduate students until they complete their advanced degree.
Several students enter the program with fellowship support from Cornell or fellowships from an outside agency. Fellowship recipients may be able to augment their fellowship stipends by teaching part-time. Most fellowship recipients receive a full tuition waiver and university health insurance coverage for the duration of the fellowship award. The Cornell Graduate School has information about both university-sponsored and external fellowships for prospective and continuing graduate students. The school’s Graduate Fellowship Database is a searchable database of more than 500 external fellowships.
The experience of teaching is a valuable part of graduate education and most first- and second-year students serve as teaching assistants for undergraduate courses. It allows you to relearn and reinforce fundamental concepts. It also encourages development of organization, communication, and the kinds of interpersonal skills that are a pre-requisite for success in both graduate school and subsequent careers. In fact, teaching is considered so important that even graduate students who come to the university with a fellowship and do not have to teach are strongly encouraged to do so at some time during their graduate studies.
The typical teaching assistantship (TA) assignment includes a maximum of 20 hours work per week. In addition to classroom time, this includes time to prepare lessons, grade assignments, and hold office hours. While serving as a teaching assistant you will probably enroll in three courses (and be considered a full-time student earning residence credit toward your degree). Teaching assistants receive a stipend, full tuition waiver and university health insurance coverage for the duration of their assistantship.
To help you prepare for your teaching duties, the department holds a two-day TA training workshop in August. Exceptional teachers, both experienced graduate students and faculty, will guide you through a course designed to help you become comfortable with teaching classes and supervising labs. Throughout your time teaching at Cornell, many experienced teachers are available for advice and support.
In your second or third year of study you will probably move from teaching to research and become a faculty member’s research assistant. The appointment is always in an area relevant to your thesis topic: most of the time, it is your thesis topic that you are being paid to work on. The typical research assistantship includes an average of twenty hours of work per week. Research assistants receive a stipend, full tuition waiver, and university health-insurance coverage for the duration of their assistantship.
For first-year and some incoming students, summer support is usually available either as a research or teaching assistant. Nearly all advanced graduate students receive stipends during the summer as fellows or research assistants to pursue their thesis research without interruption.