Graduate Admissions Procedures


Admission to the Sociology Graduate Field is restricted to students who plan to complete a PhD in Sociology. Students can, in consultation with their Special Committees, take a Master’s degree on the way to a PhD. A terminal Master’s is also available, but is reserved for students who decide they are no longer interested in doctoral studies, or who, in the view of the Special Committee and other Field members, are not making good progress toward doctoral-level research.

Admissions to the program is extremely competitive, with relatively few offers made each year. You do not need to have an undergraduate or Master’s degree in Sociology in order to apply or to be competitive in the admissions process.

How are Applicants Chosen?

The Graduate Admissions Committee decides who to admit from the pool of applicants to the doctoral program in Sociology at Cornell. The committee is appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Each year, the committee consists of three to five Sociology Field faculty members, including the DGS, and a current graduate student. The committee’s decisions are collective, and offers of admission are not allocated on the basis of a match between a specific faculty member’s need or desire for a student and a specific applicant.

The Graduate Admissions Committee conducts careful, holistic review of applications with attention to a wide range of factors including applicants’ educational background, research experience, research aims, demonstrated abilities in writing and analytic approaches, intellectual alignment with the program, and potential for contributing to our diverse and inclusive community. Finalists are chosen based the committee’s assessment of their potential for engaging in systematic and rigorous sociological research in one or more of the areas represented in the Field. The committee also takes into account the extent to which the Field Faculty will be able to support the student’s scholarship and professional development. Occasionally, the committee will interview applicants via Zoom or telephone prior to extending an offer of admission.

Applying to the Program

Students interested in the Cornell Sociology PhD Program should apply through the CollegeNet ApplyWeb online application system maintained by the Graduate School. There are several components to the application, which are listed and then described in further detail below. If your file is missing one or more of these components, you will be at a disadvantage in the selection process.

Components of the application include:

  • Application Form
  • Academic Statement of Purpose
  • Personal Statement
  • Writing Sample
  • College Transcript(s)
  • Resume or CV
  • Two (2) Letters of Recommendation
  • GRE Scores 
  • TOEFL test scores (if applicable, see below)
  • Nonrefundable application fee of $105 (see below regarding fee waivers)

Academic Statement of Purpose. The statement of purpose should focus on your academic preparation, your research interests, and your intellectual goals. We ask that you respond to the following prompt:

Please use the Academic Statement of Purpose to describe (within 1000 words) the substantive research questions you are interested in pursuing during your graduate studies, and explain how our program would help you achieve your intellectual goals. Additionally, detail your academic background, intellectual interests, and any training or research experience you have received that you believe has prepared you for our program. Within your statement, please also identify specific faculty members whose research interests align with your own interests.

Further guidance on preparing your academic statement of purpose is available through the Graduate School

Personal Statement. The personal statement will be used for both the admissions process, and to inform the nomination and selection process for Diversity Fellowships. For this statement, we ask that you respond to the following prompt:

Please describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Additionally, provide insight on your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect where scholars representing diverse backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and innovate productively and positively together.

Domestic students who indicate an interest in being considered for a Diversity Fellowship will also be provided with an opportunity to submit an Optional Addendum to the Personal Statement. The Optional Addendum is intended to provide applicants with the opportunity to provide additional personal information would not be accessible for admissions purposes (e.g., highly sensitive information or information that is traumatic in nature), but would be accessible to the DGS and the Fellowships.

Writing Sample. The writing sample should be a short paper, published or unpublished, that will help the admissions committee understand your analytic abilities, communication skills, and potential as a sociologist. Co-authored papers are discouraged, unless your contribution to the joint effort is clear. The paper need not be in sociology.

GRE Scores. Students should do so by October, so that scores arrive by the December 15 deadline and can be considered by the admissions committee. Your scores should be submitted directly to Cornell using Institution Code 2098; more information is provided here. You do not need to take the advanced test in Sociology.

We will conduct our first-round review of applications with the GRE scores completely masked and will use GRE scores in conjunction with other aspects of the application. We do not employ GRE “cutoffs” to automatically eliminate applicants. Instead, we use a holistic review of each application to assess quantitative, writing, and analytical skills. 

TOEFL. International applicants must demonstrate proficiency with the English Language by submitting TOEFL or IELTS scores. There are few exceptions to this requirement for international applicants.

Our field requires an overall band score of 8.0 or higher on the IELTS or the following minimum scores for the TOEFL iBT:

  • Speaking: 28
  • Reading: 24
  • Listening: 22
  • Writing:24

The TOEFL score must be dated within two years of your program’s application deadline. Photocopies of TOEFL score reports will not be accepted. Students must take the TOEFL early enough to have the results submitted before the application deadline, and use Institutional Code 2098, with Department Code 96.

Please note that we cannot confirm receipt of test scores until an applicant has submitted an online application. If you receive your test results and any sub-score does not meet the requirement, you should make arrangements to retake the test.

Application Fee. The Graduate School charges a nonrefundable application fee of $105. However, this fee may be waived in cases of financial hardship or for qualified participants of certain special programs.


We accept students into the graduate program just once a year, in early spring for a fall matriculation.

You need to submit your application, including all supporting documentation, in time for us to receive it by December 15. Application decisions are typically made in early February, and all of the intramural fellowships are filled by mid-February. However, we also keep a short waitlist and occasionally make offers later in the spring if granted permission by the Graduate School. 

You will be notified by a letter from the Director of Graduate Studies of the status of your application once all of the admissions decisions have been made. Because letters of admission contain legally binding information about the funding package, they need to be cleared by the Graduate School before we can send them out. Please be patient with us (and them)!

If you are admitted, we ask that you make your decision no later than April 15.


Additional information about the admissions process can be found on the Graduate School’s web site. If after reading this site you still have about the admissions process, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant.

If you have more general questions about the Graduate Program, feel free to contact the Director of Graduate Studies, individual faculty members or individual graduate students whose research is of interest to you.

Your letter of admission will indicate the date of Visit Day. We try to chose a Visit Day when the most faculty will be available, and when it does not overlap with the visit days at peer programs.  We encourage you to visit on this day, if you can, but we understand this isn’t always possible. If you wish to visit Cornell, whether on Visit Day or some other date, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant. She will help you arrange your visit, and schedule appointments with faculty members and students while you are here.