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How to Apply

Applying to the Public Policy PhD Program

Admission to the Public Policy PhD program is based on academic merit, research potential, and fit with the topical strengths of the public policy graduate field. The Public Policy Admissions Committee, comprised of a rotating set of faculty members that span different disciplines and subfields, takes a holistic approach to graduate admissions – one that considers academic records and test scores as only one part of a broader application that includes letters of recommendation, writing samples, personal accomplishments, and prior research and professional experiences. It helps if you have a background in public policy or related social science disciplines such as economics, political science, and sociology as well as research methods. We typically matriculate 6-7 students per cohort, allowing for a personalized and close-knit graduate experience.

To apply, please visit the Graduate School’s application portal


Application Requirements

Applicants to all PhD programs at Cornell apply online through the Graduate School, which provides detailed information regarding the online application applicable to all graduate fields. Students are only admitted to start in the Fall term and applications are due by January 15th each year. We cannot review incomplete files.

Documents required for the completion of your application file are:

  1. Completed online application form. Use ‘Public Policy PhD’ as the proposed field of study. You may also list a 2nd choice field, to which your application will be forwarded if you are not accepted into the Public Policy Ph.D. program.

  2. Statement of Purpose. Use your statement of purpose to describe why you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy. Effective statements typically include information about prior academic preparation, research experiences and skills, and personal and professional accomplishments. They also typically discuss one’s areas of research interest and fit with areas of expertise in Public Policy. Please see here for a more detailed list of tips for preparing your Statement of Purpose.

  3. Transcripts. Scan all transcripts and save as a single pdf file, then upload into the online application. If there are any aspects of your transcripts that you wish to address, please feel free to do so in your personal statements or letters of recommendation.

  4. Letters of Recommendation. Two letters of recommendation are required. Recommenders need to upload their letters into the online application.

  5. Writing Sample. A writing sample illustrative of your independent research. If the writing sample is co-authored, your specific contributions should be clarified.

  6. GRE scores. The GRE is optional.

  7. $105 Application Fee. Cornell offers fee waivers in cases of financial hardship and for those involved in academic pipeline programs for underrepresented scholars.

  8. If you are a foreign applicant, Cornell also requires proof of English proficiency, defined by the Graduate School. Please see here for more information about language proficiency requirements.

Please note: Cornell University expects all applicants to complete their application materials without the use of paid agents, credentials services, or other paid professional assistance. The use of such services violates University policy, and may lead to the rejection of application materials, the revocation of an admissions offer, cancellation of admission, or involuntary withdrawal from the University.

Admissions Timeline

The application file must be completed by January 15th for Fall admission. We cannot review incomplete files. After the January 15th deadline, a committee of Public Policy faculty members reviews all applications, with input from additional field members. In Public Policy all students are admitted to the program collectively and fully funded – meaning individual faculty members are not required to support a specific student for them to be admitted.

Offers of admission are typically made in mid-February each year, followed by an on-campus “Visit Day” in late March that is funded by the program. During the Visit Day, students participate in an orientation to the program, individual meetings with faculty, campus and community tours, and informal opportunities to connect with current students and learn about the program, Cornell, and Ithaca.

Admissions decisions are due on April 15th. Cornell University, like most prominent American graduate schools, is a member of the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States. As a member of this group, Cornell may not consider an acceptance (of admission and/or support) from a student to be binding until after April 15th.

Funding Packages

Students admitted to the Public Policy PhD program are guaranteed funding for 6 years, which includes a stipend, tuition, and health insurance. The form of that funding can include a combination of fellowships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships. Assistantships require a work commitment of 15 hours per week. These details are spelled out in each student’s offer of admission. Summer funding is also guaranteed. Students are also admitted with funding that they secure from foundation and government sources. We have a robust set of opportunities for internal and external fellowships, described in more detail here, based on academic merit and in support of diversity. All financial support is conditional on maintaining good academic standing.

Connections to Economics, Sociology, and Government

The Public Policy Graduate Field maintains close connections with the graduate fields of Economics, Sociology, and Government. Students admitted to the Public Policy PhD program often take core coursework in the 1st year course sequences of those disciplines (or other disciplines, by petition) and many seminars, courses, and other events are cosponsored between Public Policy and these fields.

Additionally, it can be possible for students admitted to the Economics or Sociology PhD programs to be funded by Brooks, if their interests are in the discipline with a policy focus. This arrangement makes it possible for the student to work with Brooks faculty as teaching assistants or research assistants, while completing the academic requirements of their degree granting program.


Public Policy Graduate Field Office
2301 MVR Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853