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Admissions Review Considering COVID-19 Disruptions
Update on GRE: Cornell Graduate Field of Physics made the decision that both 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 for applicants interested in the specific research sub-fields of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics and Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics.
In our review of applications for Fall 2021 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.
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How to Apply
What We Look For
A Bachelor degree is required. A Physics major is not required, but we expect that students complete advanced-undergraduate level Physics coursework before entering the Ph.D. program, this 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. 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 for applicants interested in the specific research sub-fields of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics and Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics.
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 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:
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.
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 type of financial support includes a stipend to cover living expenses, a full tuition waiver and health insurance coverage. Every effort is made to offer full financial support to all graduate students until they complete their advanced degree. Continuation of financial support after the first year is contingent upon satisfactory academic performance and satisfactory job performance in any teaching or research.
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.
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.
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.
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.