Prospective Graduate Students

Program Eligibility

Bachelor Degree
A Bachelor degree is required at the time of matriculation. Applicants can apply in the Fall of their senior year in college. A physics major is not required. International Students please refer to the International Degree Equivalences for eligibility.

Advanced Undergraduate Physics Coursework
A Physics major is not required, however some of the advanced coursework we look for includes courses in analytical mechanics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, optics and wave motion, electronics, and some advanced laboratory work in physics. Familiarity with ordinary and partial differential equations, vector calculus, Fourier analysis, and linear algebra is also expected, while some experience with computing is highly desirable.

Undergraduate Research Experience
Successful applicants typically have significant undergraduate research experience, and recommendation letters from research supervisors form an important part of the application package. Research experience may be in Physics or a related field like Chemistry or Mathematics, and does not need to be in the same area as the proposed area of specialization in grad school.

GPA
There is no GPA cutoff and all applications will be considered.  The typical GPA of applicants is >3.5 with A's in most Physics courses.

TOEFL/IELTS
All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. The minimum IBT TOEFL scores required for consideration are: Writing: 20, Listening: 15, Reading: 20
Speaking: 23.  For the IELTS, an overall band score of 7.0 with a minimum speaking subscore of 7.0.

GRE
GRE scores are not required and all applications will be considered. Submitting general and/or subject GRE scores is recommended but not required for applicants interested in the specific research sub-fields of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics and Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics. If you choose to submit your GRE scores, they will only be used when it raises the overall ranking of the application.

Transfer Students
A student who has begun a Ph.D. program at another university will only be admitted under unusual circumstances. Applicants who have completed or are finishing a terminal Master's degree program will be given full consideration.

Financial Support

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 provide all graduate students in good academic standing full financial support for 6 years (or until they complete their advanced degree if earlier.) Continuation of financial support after the first year is contingent upon satisfactory academic performance and satisfactory job performance in any teaching or research.

All yearly financial support packages provide:

  • A 9-month academic year stipend to cover living expenses
  • Full cost of tuition
  • 12-month health insurance coverage

Support is provided through the following financial sources:

Fellowships 
Some 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.

Teaching Assistantships 
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, students may enroll in up to three courses (and be considered a full-time student). Teaching assistants receive a stipend, full tuition waiver and university health insurance coverage for the duration of their assistantship.

To help students prepare for their teaching duties, the department holds a two-day TA training workshop in August. Exceptional teachers, both experienced graduate students and faculty, will guide new students through a course designed to help them become comfortable with teaching classes and supervising labs. Throughout the time teaching at Cornell, many experienced teachers are available for advice and support.

Research Assistantships 
In the second or third year of study students 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. 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.

Summer Support
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.

Application Requirements

All required application materials and supporting documents must be submitted online and received by Cornell no later than December 15. The Physics Department will not accept materials, changes, or updates to the application after the deadline has passed. Please do not submit a document more than once or send a copy in the mail after you have submitted it online.

Please refer to the How To Apply section below for detailed descriptions of the required and optional materials.

Required Materials:
      - Cornell Graduate School Application
      - Three Letters of Recommendation
      - Statement of Purpose
      - Transcripts
      - TOEFL/IELTS
      - Physics Course Supplement

Optional Materials:
      - GRE
      - Writing Sample

How to Apply

Application Deadline
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. The Physics Department will not accept changes or updates to the application after the deadline has passed. 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 following must be completed when applying:

Grad School Application
Complete the Cornell Graduate School Application on-line (Apply Here). 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 will be a barrier. 

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
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, specific research groups at Cornell 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 1,000 words.

Transcripts
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.

GRE
The general GRE and the subject GRE will be optional for all applicants to the Physics Ph.D. program, starting with admissions for Fall 2022.  Submitting general and/or subject GRE scores is recommended but not required for applicants interested in the specific research sub-fields of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics and Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics. If you choose to submit your GRE scores, they will only be used when it raises the overall ranking of the application.

TOEFL/IELTS
All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. International students demonstrate proficiency by submitting official test scores from TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). TOEFL scores must be sent electronically (e-delivery) by the Educational Testing Service to the Cornell University Graduate Admissions, Caldwell Hall e-download account School (Institution Code #2098, Department Code #76). E-delivery may also be referred to as an e-TRF by your test center.   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:
Writing: 20
Listening: 15
Reading: 20
Speaking: 23

The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS.The Physics Department requires a minimum speaking subscore of 7.0. Please contact your test center and request that your scores be sent to the following IELTS e-download account: Cornell University Graduate Admissions, 143 Caldwell Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. We will not accept paper IELTS test report forms unless a test center is unable to transmit your scores electronically.

An applicant will automatically be granted a TOEFL/IELTS 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.

Physics Course Supplement
Please list all of the college or university Physics and Mathematics courses you have taken to date, are now taking, and plan to take before graduation. Organize the courses by discipline and list in order taken from oldest to most recent. List each course individually. For “Primary Text”, list the author and title of the primary textbook used in each course. For “Semester Completed”, list the term and year (e.g. “Fall ’17”, “Winter ’19”, etc.) For “Grade”, enter your final grade in the course. If you audited the course without receiving a grade, enter “AUDIT”. All final grades provided here must ALSO be noted on your official transcript. If any of the requested information is not applicable in some situations (e.g. the grade for a course in progress, a course did not use a textbook, your university does not use course numbers, etc.), simply leave the corresponding box blank.

Please upload this completed form with your application. 

Writing Sample
A writing sample is not required, though there is space for one in the application.

Admissions Decisions

What We Look For
Successful applicants demonstrate the potential to master physics concepts at the graduate level, and show the creativity, initiative, attentiveness, and determination to succeed in research. Students with less preparation but demonstrated potential have the opportunity to fill knowledge gaps by taking one or more undergraduate level courses in their first year

Timeline
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.

Review Considering COVID-19 Disruptions
In our review of applications for Fall 2022 admission, as well as future admissions cycles, we will respect decisions made by individual students and/or by their academic institutions with regard to the enrollment in or adoption of Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, Pass/No Record, Credit/No Credit, Pass/Fail and other similar grading options during the pandemic disruptions.  Applicants are invited to describe their individual experiences during the pandemic to provide context to inform the application review process.  We strive to form future graduate student cohorts composed of intellectually strong, diverse, and resilient individuals who will make the most of their graduate education opportunities at Cornell University.

Questions about this statement may be directed to gradadmissions@cornell.edu.

Recruiting & Admissions Events

We invite you to attend one of the following session where we will be available to discuss our Ph.D. program and help answer your questions:

Cornell Virtual Graduate School Fair
Friday, October 8th
11:00 - 2:00 pm ET (exhibit hall will remain open 30 days after event)
Register Here

BlackInPhysics Career Fair
Friday, October 29th, 2021
1:00 - 5:00 pm ET
More Information Here

Cornell STEM Preview Event
Saturday, November 6, 2021
1:00 - 4:00 pm ET
Register Here

Application Workshop
Current graduate students will be hosting an application workshop on Saturday, November 13th, with a follow-up session on Saturday, December 4th.  The workshop that will feature advice on the application process, tips for writing your statement of purpose, and the opportunity to be paired with a graduate student mentor to help review your application.
Register here

 

 

Contacts

Questions regarding our Ph.D. program and application process may be directed to physadmissions@cornell.edu

Sarah Winters, Graduate Admissions Coordinator
Csaba Csaki, Director of Graduate Studies

FAQ's

Program Information

Do you offer a Master Degree in Physics?
We do not offer a Master’s program in Physics. All admitted students are enrolled in a doctoral program and most students are awarded a Master’s degree at the time of advancement to candidacy, as an in-progress degree.

What does a typical timeline for the PhD program look like?
Please visit https://physics.cornell.edu/about-graduate-program#route-to-the-ph.d.

Do you offer scholarships or funding for the PhD program?
Yes. We provide 6 years of full financial support for all graduate students in good academic standing. Please see https://physics.cornell.edu/prospective-graduate-students#financial-support for further details.

Program Qualifications

Can you tell me if my credentials are strong enough to apply to your program?
We are unable to review prospective student’s qualifications prior to applying to the program. We do encourage those students who meet the program eligibility requirements to apply. An application fee waiver can be requested in the event of financial hardship or extenuating circumstances.

What is the average GPA of successful applicants?
There is no GPA cutoff and all applications will be considered.  The typical GPA of applicants is >3.5 with A's in most Physics courses.

Is research experience required to apply to the program?
Yes. Successful applicants typically have significant undergraduate research experience. Research experience may be in Physics or a related field like Chemistry or Mathematics, and does not need to be in the same area as the proposed area of specialization in grad school.

What level degree do I need to apply to the program?
A Bachelor degree or an equivalent International Degree. A physics major is not required, although students should complete advanced-undergraduate level Physics coursework before entering the Ph.D. program.

Am I exempt from the language exam if English was the language of instruction in my school?
You are exempt from the language exam if you studied in full-time status for at least two academic years within the last five years in one of the following countries: United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or with English language instruction in Canada or South Africa. Even if English was the language of instruction at your school, if you did not study in one of these countries you are not exempt from the requirement.

Do you accept transfer students into your program?
A student who has begun a Ph.D. program at another university will only be admitted under unusual circumstances. Applicants who have completed or are finishing a terminal Master's degree program will be given full consideration.

Applying to the Program

How do I apply?
Apply online at https://gradschool.cornell.edu/admissions/apply/

When is the application deadline?
All application materials must be received via the online application by December 15.

Can I apply to the Physics program and another program concurrently?
No. In filling out your application you will need to select a first-choice program and have the option of indicating a second-choice program. Your application will be reviewed by the first choice program and if you are not offered admission you may contact one additional graduate field and ask to have your application reviewed. If the new field’s deadline has not passed and that field is willing to review your application, you can ask your original field to transfer your materials to the new field.

How do I request an application fee waiver?
Please review the criteria and the request process on the Graduate School’s Application Fees page.

Can I send updated or revised versions of my application materials?
We will not accept updated or revised application materials after the December 15 deadline.

Admissions Decisions

What do you look for in applicants?
Successful applicants demonstrate the potential to master physics concepts at the graduate level, and show the creativity, initiative, attentiveness, and determination to succeed in research. Students with less preparation but demonstrated potential have the opportunity to fill knowledge gaps by taking one or more undergraduate level courses in their first year.

What is your acceptance rate?
Since there are many determining factors, we do not provide statistical information on admissions to the program. However, in a typical year we receive close to 600 applications which results in an incoming cohort of approximately 26 students.

When will I be notified if I was accepted into the program?
All admissions decisions will be made no later than March 15th.

I wasn’t accepted into the program. Can you provide me feedback on my application?
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.

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