Paula Cohen with students

Application Requirements

Application to our PhD program is made through the Cornell University Graduate School.  General information about Grad School admissions requirements and insights on the process of applying can be found on the Graduate School Admissions website.  They also provide a useful list of FAQs for common questions. You are encouraged to explore these pages for information as you move through the application process. Application requirements for the Field of Genetics, Genomics & Development (GGD) are detailed below.

The deadline for admission is December 1 for Fall admission (we do not admit students in the Spring semester). Applicants to our program must submit their application on-line through Apply-Now, including supporting documents by the December 1 deadline.  Applications can be submitted prior to receipt of all required letters of recommendation, but recommenders should be encouraged (and reminded) to submit their letters by this deadline or within 48 hours after.  The Admissions Committee begins reviewing completed applications shortly after the deadline.

Applicants will be required to supply the following items:

  • Academic & Personal Statement of Purpose (within the application):  The intent of this statement is to provide the Admissions Committee with a sense of you as a whole person and your potential to contribute positively to a diverse and inclusive community.  The Grad School provides general suggestions about the application process on their admissions website. The specific instructions for this section of our application are provided below.

(1) Academic statement (up to 1,200 words): In this section, we would like to learn about you in the following aspects.

  1. Personal background, experience, and motivation: Introduce yourself. What are your personal motivations for coming to graduate school, your short and long-term professional goals, and how did you get where you are today?  Please describe how your background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree.
  2. Academic background and preparation: Describe your academic training, skills, research experience, and accomplishments that are relevant to your future graduate work. You may also provide the context around any perceived gaps or weaknesses in your academic record.
  3. Future research: What research questions would you like to explore as a graduate student? Which faculty members’ research resonates the most with your interests? Specify if you have multidisciplinary research interests. This is in no way binding – it is only intended to give us an indication of where your research interests and approaches are headed. If you have written a proposal for future research (e.g., NSF predoctoral fellowship), those ideas should be included here.

(2)  Importance of community, diversity, and inclusion (up to 400 words): We strive to build a diverse and inclusive community that strengthens our intellectual and collaborative department. Please provide insight into your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect where scholars representing diverse backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and work productively and positively together.

In the above section, you may also include relevant information on any of the following:

  • How your personal, academic, and/or professional experiences demonstrate your ability to be both persistent and resilient especially when navigating challenging circumstances.
  • How you engage with others and have facilitated and/or participated in productive teams.
  • How you have experienced or come to understand the barriers faced by others whose experiences and backgrounds may differ from your own.
  • Your service and/or leadership in efforts to advance diversity, inclusion, access, and equity especially by those from backgrounds historically underrepresented and/or marginalized.
  • If relevant, how your research interests focus on issues related to diversity, inclusion, access, inequality, and/or equity.

Optional Personal Statement: There are several Graduate School recruitment fellowships available to entering doctoral students.  These fellowships are highly competitive and are designed to advance Cornell’s commitment to access, equity, justice, and inclusion, and to enhance the diversity of Cornell’s graduate student population. The fellowships are awarded to accepted students that meet the outlined eligibility criteria; the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) will nominate eligible students after the admissions process has concluded. These fellowships, if awarded, will be offered in lieu of the standard funding offer made to all accepted students. If you are eligible and interested in being nominated for one of these fellowships, please indicate your interest by checking the appropriate box in the application. Accepted students eligible for these fellowships that do not check this box will not be considered for nomination.

You do not need to provide any additional information (beyond checking the box) to be considered for nomination for a recruitment fellowship in support of diversity. However, you will be given the option to provide any additional personal information you would like to be considered during the fellowship selection process. This (optional) addendum to your personal statement (250-500 words) will NOT be available to the Admissions Committee. It will be available only for the recruitment fellowship nomination process, which occurs after all admissions decisions are made.

  • Current transcripts for all colleges you have attended must be uploaded into the application (Note: Official transcripts are not required at time of application). For more information and specific instructions for international applicants, see the Graduate School website.
  • Three (3) letters of recommendation: The Cornell Graduate School has a website with some great tips regarding letters of recommendation. We encourage you to read them. Note that GGD will allow you to upload more than three letters. However, we would discourage asking for more than three letters with the goal of obtaining three completed letters; you should be confident that your recommenders will upload a letter, since lack of a requested letter will be noticeable in your application.
  • Proof of English language competency: This is a Graduate School/University requirement and may only be waived under very specific circumstances, which are listed on the Cornell Graduate School website. Applicants should self-report their scores in the application; these scores can be used for evaluation prior to the official scores being received.  No offer of admission can be made without official scores.
    • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS tests are required for applicants whose native language is not English. This is a university requirement, and the Graduate School has set minimum scores for each section of the test: Reading – 20; Writing – 20; Listening – 15; Speaking – 22. To be considered for admission, an applicant must receive at least the minimum score on each individual section of the test. Official scores should be sent from ETS to Cornell University, university code #2098 (department code is not required).
    • Those taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test must score 7.0 or higher. Scores must be sent electronically (e-delivery) to the Cornell University Graduate Admissions, Caldwell Hall e-download account. E-delivery may also be referred to as an e-TRF by your test center.
  • Resume

Research Area/Faculty of Interest: Applicants are encouraged to indicate a faculty person and/or a specific area of research that they are interested in pursuing. We recognize that your research interests will evolve throughout graduate school, and this is not a commitment to that research area or faculty person. It is intended to give the Admissions Committee more information about what research areas and questions interest you most now, and also what faculty you consider potential mentors and/or faculty you may like to engage with during the admissions process.

Application Review: Your your application will be reviewed by a select group of faculty and graduate students that form the Admissions Committee.  All members of the Admissions Committee are instructed to respect your privacy and FERPA rights with regard to information disclosed in your application.  (As noted above:  if you provide additional personal information (an addendum) to be considered during the Diversity Fellowship selection process, this material will not be visible to the entire committee; only the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), the Chair of the Committee and the Graduate Field Assistants (GFAs) will have access this optional uploaded material, which will be used exclusively during the nomination and selection process for recruitment fellowships after all admission decisions are made).

Application Fee Waivers:  The Cornell Graduate School will consider requests for fee-waivers for applicants who are experiencing financial hardship and also applicants who have participated in specific pipeline programs.  More information on application fee waivers can be found on the application fee portion of the Graduate School web site.  Please note:  the Field of GGD does not issue fee waivers.

Recruitment Events: Interviews are an important part of our admissions process, allowing us to interact with you and learn more about you beyond your written application.  Top-ranked applicants being considered for an admissions offer are typically invited to campus to interview. Should an invited applicant be unable to attend one of our in-person Recruitment Weekends, they will be invited to interview with faculty via Zoom or Skype.

Diversity and Inclusion

Cornell University and the Graduate School are committed to providing an inclusive environment for all Cornell students.  The Field of GGD strongly supports this mission and, as a result, our graduate student community is a vibrant and diverse one. GGD students come from all areas of the globe and all walks of life. We are committed to the equality of educational opportunity and success for all students. The Field actively seeks individuals from racial and/or ethnic groups historically underrepresented in the life sciences, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds (including low-income families), first-generation college students, military veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The Field participates in many programs on campus to recruit and retain students with a range of identities and/or experiences.

The Field has established a partnership with the Cornell University Student Disability Services Office. Any student who is invited to our recruitment events and requires special accommodations to participate should contact the GFAs to request necessary arrangements.

Admission Decision Timeline

The GGD Admissions Committee will meet weekly after the application deadline (December 1) to evaluate completed applications. A select number of applicants will be invited to interview at our on-campus Recruitment events in February. Invitations are extended in late December. Those who are unable to attend our Recruitment events (i.e. some international applicants residing outside the U.S.) are offered virtual interviews.  Admissions decisions are made once all interviews have taken place, usually by mid-to-late March.