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Graduate Field of Development Studies

Field-leading social scientists & development practitioners

The Graduate Field of Development Studies (previously known as Development Sociology) provides rigorous training for aspiring academics and development professionals. Our graduate curriculum builds off the foundation of classical sociological theory, integrating diverse frameworks and methodologies to fuel investigation, analysis, and evaluation of social phenomenon.

Whether through ethnographies, statistical analyses, or participatory action research, our students are trained to produce the highest quality social science research in areas including:

  • Inequality across health, class, and gender
  • Impacts of social policy including health and education
  • Governance, community development, and civic organization
  • Food systems, food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture  
  • Migration and demographic change
  • Political ecology and land use change

Ph.D. in Development Sociology

The Graduate Field of Development Studies offers a single Ph.D. degree track in Development Sociology. With an acceptance rate of 15%, our cohort of 45 Ph.D. candidates come from backgrounds including journalism, natural resources, environmental studies, sociology and more.

The Department of Global Development works together with the Cornell Graduate School to process applications. Required documents must be submitted online via the Graduate School online application and requested test scores must be sent through the testing agency.

Application deadline

January 1; no spring admissions

Before You Begin

  • Graduate study at Cornell is organized using a field structure. You can familiarize yourself with this structure to gain a better understanding of which faculty members might serve on your dissertation committee.
  • The application will ask for your major concentration. The options are Population and Development, Rural and Environmental Sociology, and State, Economy, and Society. Here you will find an overview of the concentrations as well as a list of core and affiliate faculty associated with each concentration. You can also review the Student Handbook
  • You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with faculty members' research areas before applying and to identify in your personal statement faculty members with whom you are interested in working. It is appropriate to email faculty members to see whether your interests and goals align, though this is not required.
  • Please contact the aeb238 [at] (graduate field coordinator) if you are interested in visiting campus before you apply.

How to Apply

Submitted by the applicant via the online application

  • On-line application form
  • Statement of purpose (upload PDF)
  • Unofficial transcripts from all universities listed on the application (upload PDF)
  • Official transcripts will be required upon matriculation
  • Academic CV (upload PDF)
  • Short writing sample (under 10 pages, upload PDF)

Submitted by recommenders via the online application

  • Three letters of recommendation must be on business letter and contain a signature of the letter writer, two of which must be from academic recommenders

Submitted by the testing agency to the Cornell Graduate School upon applicant’s request

  • GRE general test scores are optional. All official test scores should be reported directly to Cornell University’s institution code 2098. Department codes are not needed for matching scores to applications. If ETS requires you to select a department code, you may choose “0000 undecided.”
  • TOEFL Exam scores are required of applicants from countries where the native language is not English; see the Cornell Graduate School website for requirements and exceptions.


Contact Allison Barrett, Graduate Field Coordinator in the Department of Global Development, at aeb238 [at]

Those admitted to the Ph.D. program are guaranteed 5 years of funding. This includes tuition, health insurance, and a stipend.

Stipends for academic year 2022-23 are $30,088.  For 2022, the estimated living expenses are:

  • Rent and utilities:  $1,500 - $2,000/month
  • Food:  $300/month
  • Student Activity Fee:  $86/Year
  • Health Insurance for spouse/domestic partner:  $3,612/year; for one child: $3,612/year; for two or more children: $7,224
  • Optional dental plan: $271.15*
  • Optional vision plan:  $4.65/monthly*

*Coverage available for spouse/domestic partner and children at additional cost

Application Fee Waiver

In cases of extreme financial need, the Graduate School will consider a request for a fee waiver.  If you think you are eligible for a waiver, please submit your application and the fee waiver request at the same time, right in the application form.  The Graduate School reviews waiver requests and notifications are sent within one to three business days.  Whenever possible, please submit your application with the fee waiver request at least three days before your application deadline.  If your request is denied, you will receive a notification asking you to revisit your application and pay the fee.  Please visit the Graduate School Application Fees website for additional information on fee waivers.

Cornell offers several fellowships for newly admitted students, including the CALS Excellence Award and the SUNY Diversity Fellowship.  These are determined by the department at the time of admission.

Teaching and Research Assistantships

  • determined on a yearly basis
  • include tuition, a stipend and student health insurance
  • students are expected to work about 15 hours per week

For the academic year 2022-23, tuition is $20,800, the stipend is $30,088 and student health insurance (or SHP) is $4,046.  Summer and conference travel grants are available for students to apply to.

The Graduate School offers more information on available fellowships for Cornell students.

Cornell Graduate School Travel Funding

The Graduate School is pleased to provide research degree students (M.A./M.S., Ph.D., J.S.D., D.M.A., M.F.A.) with financial support for travel that is linked to research and scholarship.  Eligible students are encouraged to apply for grant funding related to professional conferences, research travel, or summer language education. Ph.D. students are eligible for travel grants starting in their first semester until the end of the fourteenth semester of enrollment.

Visit the Graduate School Travel Funding Opportunities page to learn about the following: 

  • Conference Grant 
  • Research Travel Grant 

  • Intercampus Travel Grant 

  • Summer Foreign Language Grant 

Department Conference Travel Grants

  • Graduate students will be eligible for up to two conference grants of $400 during their graduate career.  A student must be making an oral presentation at a conference in order to be eligible for an award.  Graduate students who wish to use conference grant funding from the Graduate School or any other source and conference grant funding from Global Development must demonstrate a financial need by presenting a budget to the graduate program coordinator for review and approval.
  • Travelers should review Cornell’s Travel website.

Mario Einaudi Center grants

Dissertation Research Grant

The Ronny Adhikarya Niche Award (RANA)

  • The R-Adhikarya “Niche” Award (RANA) empowers students to pursue innovative thinking in their studies and careers. This $10,000 annual prize to a graduate student in Global Development recognizes young visionaries who dare to think differently. 

The Cornell Graduate School hosts a database containing over 700 funding opportunities. Here is a list of common sources of funding for Development Studies students, based on the previous five years:

Other funding sources:


Lecturer Sarah Giroux and graduate student Anthony Poon discuss research

Population & Development

Focuses on theoretical, methodological and applied aspects of population and development in both developing countries and the United States from a social demography perspective emphasis on links between population, food and environmental sustainability, fertility, and population movements.

Rural & Environmental Sociology

Emphasis on environmental equity and rural sustainability, social carrying capacity and the nexus between poverty and resource allocation, access and use, and devolution of power and responsibility.

State, Economy, & Society

State, Economy, & Society combines themes of political and economic sociology, within macro- and micro-comparative and historical approaches, emphasizes general training in the social change and development area to enhance students' credentials for general sociology programs, and views development as less the analysis of the Third World, and more the analysis of global and local processes with broad variation.

Our Experts

Rachel Bezner Kerr headshot
Rachel Bezner Kerr


Department of Global Development

Director of Graduate Studies

Department of Global Development

Rachel Bezner Kerr
Food And Agriculture
Headshot of Allison Barrett
Allison Barrett

Graduate Field Coordinator

Department of Global Development

Allison Barrett