Frequently Asked Questions

What is the process?

All applications must be turned in by December 1 (writers of letters of recommendation have until December 15 to submit their letter). We invite a small set of applicants for a video-chat interview with one or two faculty members (usually about eight weeks after the application deadline). We send notifications within a few weeks of the interview.

How do you decide whom to admit?

Our program evaluates candidates for academic preparedness and potential, motivation for study, and fit with the field’s goals, among other factors. Admission to our program is very competitive. Faculty use the whole application to make decisions including what we learn in the interview.

An important question we ask is: are you ready to start a Ph.D. program and could you excel at academic research? While many applicants are very smart and capable, not all are prepared or have the same potential to succeed within a research oriented Ph.D. program. We pay attention to classes relevant to your proposed area of study, your grades in those courses, your letters of reference, and your writing sample. Letter writers should be people who can comment on your potential as researchers. Your writing sample and academic statement of purpose should illustrate your ability to do research-quality writing and demonstrate your familiarity with theoretical ideas and research methods. A clear, compelling academic statement of purpose can also demonstrate your familiarity with theoretical ideas or research methodologies. Your personal statement can also put areas of your transcript or background in context.

Your reasons for seeking a Ph.D. are also important. A doctoral degree is a multi-year journey of learning, inspiration, and perseverance. Research breakthroughs and publications often take place years after the initial inspiration for an idea. We want to learn why you want a Ph.D. and whether you are able to see it through. We are especially guided by your personal statement and letters of recommendation from people who know you well. Your CV may also demonstrate your ability to pursue long term intellectual projects.

We are looking for candidates whose interests are well suited for training in our program. We want to know: can you flourish, find success, and contribute to our program? While the goals of individual faculty vary, the overall goal of the Field of Communication at Cornell University is to cultivate excellent researchers and teachers who bring diverse perspectives to important communication questions. Your background may not always tell the story of why you fit with our program, so we need you to make this clear in your application, especially in your academic statement of purpose and your personal statement.  Before you apply, read our materials very carefully and make sure that Cornell's program is really the one you want to attend. We are looking for evidence that you really understand our program and have given some sincere thought to how your goals could be achieved here.

Should I reach out to a faculty member before applying?

A good fit between faculty member and student in terms of research interests and goals is important. Prospective students are encouraged to investigate faculty members’ research areas before applying, and identify those faculty members with whom they might be interested in working. Before applying, students may wish to email these faculty members to see if the student's interests and goals align with the current interests of the faculty member, but this is not required.

How do I get an application fee waiver?

The Graduate School handles all requests for application fee waivers. Please read through their policy.

Why are applications rejected?

Our program is very competitive. Many candidates are excellent in many respects but are edged out because there are other candidates who appear a bit stronger. Keep in mind that we depend on the materials you provide. If your application is clear, compelling, and comprehensive, it will be easier for us to see your potential.

My academic record was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you accommodate that?

Recognizing the serious challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic for student learning, faculty teaching, and academic performance assessment, the Field of Communication strongly supports and has adopted the principles for admissions review that consider COVID-19 disruptions as described by the Graduate School at Cornell University.

I had poor grades for another reason. How much will that hurt me?

Grades are one way that we evaluate your ability to do academic work. While they are important, they do not tell the whole story. Your personal statement and letters of reference can put lower grades in context, allowing us to see your broader academic preparedness and potential despite a particular grade, or even set of grades. Importantly, then, students with weaker grades will need to use the other materials to demonstrate your strong preparedness and potential.

What about the GRE?

In light of both recent concerns about the availability of the GRE for students across the globe related to COVID-19, and broader concerns about the inequities inherent in this standardized test, the Field of Communication will not accept GRE scores from applicants. We will review all applications blinded for GRE scores. Please do not make any reference to a GRE score in your personal statement or academic statement of purpose. We will review all applications for such references and will not accept statements that make reference to this test anywhere in the application.

What about financial aid?

Graduate students in the Field of Communication are supported for the most part on Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships (additional information about assistantships). Some students do seek out external funding and we absolutely encourage it, though it’s not a requirement to enter our program with outside funding. If you’re interested in seeking external funding, please see the Graduate School's website for additional fellowship information.

Is a Master's degree required to get into the Ph.D. program?

A Master’s degree is not required. Typically, those who enter the program without a Master’s degree take five years to go finish as they spend an extra year taking courses and preparing for their A exams.

Is the Ph.D. program offered online?

No. All students admitted must study on campus in Ithaca.

Can I get a list of communication graduate courses?

Please see the Courses of Study for a list of courses offered at Cornell, both in and outside of the Department of Communication.

Can I apply for spring admission?

No. We only admit students for the Fall semester.

Is there a minimum TOEFL score? How about IELTS?

Yes. The Graduate School sets the policy, so please read through their page on the language proficiency requirement.

If I studied at a school where the language of instruction was English, do I have to take the TOEFL?

Possibly. Please see the Graduate School’s for further specifications concerning the language proficiency requirement and exceptions.

Can non-U.S. students get teaching assistantships?

All Ph.D. students admitted to our program are considered for research and teaching assistantships. Many of these assistantships require very high levels of skill in written and spoken English; particularly in public speaking and writing classes. Additionally, anyone receiving a graduate assistantship must be eligible to work in the United States. Please see the Office of Global Learning's website for additional information about working in the United States.