Graduate Admissions Procedures

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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.

Joint Program in Sociology & PAM

In addition to the regular PhD in Sociology, the Field offers a joint PhD program in Sociology and Policy Analysis and Management (PAM). Through this program, students apply to Sociology, and, if admitted, become part of the Sociology cohort, complete all the requirements for the Sociology PhD, and form a special committee made up of of Field members in any department. (This is true for all Sociology PhD students.) However, these students’ funding comes from PAM, and most of their TA and RA assignments will be with Field members in PAM. The joint program is ideal for students who want to earn a PhD in Sociology with a policy focus.

How are Applicants Chosen?

The Graduate Admissions Committee decides who to admit each year from among the applications received by the Graduate School. The admissions committee consists of three or four Sociology faculty members, including the Director of Graduate Studies, and a representative from PAM. 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 typically reaches its decision by making two passes through the pool of applicants. In the first pass, the committee rates all applicants on the basis of GRE scores, TOEFL scores, grades, and other “objective” measures of accomplishments. This yields a long list of 60-80 applicants. In the second pass, the committee’s focus shifts to a careful and holistic assessment of writing samples, statements of purpose, and letters of recommendation. Finalists are chosen based the committee’s assessment of their potential for engaging in systematic and rigorous sociological research in one of the areas represented in the Field. Occasionally, the committee will interview applicants via Skype or telephone prior to extending an offer of admission.

Applying to the Program

At the Graduate School, you will need to submit online:

  • your application form
  • a statement of purpose
  • college transcripts
  • two (2) letters of recommendation
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
  • a sample of written work
  • if necessary, TOEFL test scores

The Graduate School charges a nonrefundable application fee of $95, although this can be waived in special circumstances.

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 are required of all applicants. You don’t need to take the advanced test in sociology.

You should take the GRE in October so that scores arrive by the January 15 deadline and can be considered with the rest of the application materials. The institutional code to have GRE scores sent to Cornell is 2098, and the department code is 2102.

If your native language is not English, you must take the TOEFL language proficiency test before you apply. The Graduate School’s official minimum sub-scores for each element of the TOEFL iBT are:

  • Speaking: 22
  • Reading: 20
  • Listening: 15
  • Writing:20

The TOEFL score must be dated within two years of your program’s application deadline. Photocopies of TOEFL score reports will not be accepted. Take the TOEFL early enough to have the results submitted at the time of your application . Exam dates are posted on the TOEFL website. 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. The institutional code to have TOEFL scores sent to Cornell is 2098, the department code is 96.

If your file is missing one or more of these components, you will be at a disadvantage in the selection process. We encourage you to make sure your letter-writers send their letters of recommendation promptly.


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 January 15. Application decisions are typically made in late January or early February, and all of the intramural fellowships are filled by mid-February. However, we occasionally make offers later in the spring if it looks like yield rates are unusually low or if additional funding from the Graduate School or Arts College comes in.

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 in whose research you are especially interested, or the chairs of the Graduate Student Association.

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.