Graduate Program


The graduate program in Government at Cornell prepares students for academic and research careers in political science. All students admitted to the program are expected to earn a doctoral degree. In exceptional circumstances, students who choose to leave the program or who fail to fulfill the requirements for admission to doctoral candidacy may be granted a Master’s degree. Completion of the Ph.D. program normally requires two-to-three years of full-time course work at Cornell and several additional years of dissertation research and writing.

The Ph.D. Program

The Graduate Program is divided into four subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. To be admitted to doctoral study, students are required to take a comprehensive written exam in one of these subfields for their major. For their second subfield, students choose to take an exam or complete coursework in a second subfield or a Course of Study of their own design.  Constructed around intellectual concerns and research problems of the student’s own choosing, the Course of Study is not to be conceived as a specialization within the student’s major field: rather, it should pursue issues which link several fields of study within political science and related disciplines. Students are expected to complete their subfield examinations by the end of their third year.

We expect our graduates to possess a broad understanding of the discipline, specialized expertise in one or more areas, and competence in social science methods. Students are required to take at least one reading course in three of four subfields before advancing to candidacy. During their study at Cornell, students must complete 12 graduate-level courses in Government and related fields. (Up to three courses may be transferred from graduate programs at other institutions.)

Doctoral students must demonstrate competence in either a foreign language or methods. In addition, they are expected to serve as teaching assistants for at least one semester. Experience in undergraduate teaching under the supervision of a faculty member is essential preparation for an academic career and an important component of the graduate program at Cornell. Most Ph.D. students serve as teaching assistants for at least two years.

Research Facilities and Resources

Cornell’s library system contains nearly five million volumes and is among the leading university research libraries in the United States.

Cornell offers intensive instruction in virtually all modern languages, including many of those less commonly taught, such as the Andean languages of South America and numerous languages of South and Southeast Asia.

Graduate students are encouraged to participate in Cornell’s distinguished network of interdisciplinary research activities. Those include the programs affiliated with the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies: separate area studies programs in Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and Latin America; Slavic and Eastern European Studies; the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies; the Western Societies Program; Gender and Global Change; and the International Political Economy Program to name only a few. Other important centers for students include: the Institute for European Studies, Center for the Environment (with ten topical programs), the Society for the Humanities; the Women’s Studies Program; the Program on Ethics and Public Life; the Program in Visual Culture; the Africana Studies and Research Center, and the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER), and the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development.

The English Language Support Office (ELSO) provides writing and speaking support to international multilingual graduate and professional students free of charge. This support includes credit-bearing writing and speaking courses; tutoring on writing projects, presentations, and pronunciation; workshops; and a conversation program. To learn more about ELSO’s programs, click here.

Submitting the Application

All application materials are to be submitted online at Questions can be directed to 

Application must include copies of full academic transcripts from each institution previously attended, three letters of recommendation, an academic research statement of purpose, a writing sample, and TOEFL or IELTS scores (if applicable). Applicants are required to submit an academic statement and a personal statement describing how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. This is an opportunity for you to 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 innovate productively and positively together. We do not rank candidates by comparing their personal statements, but we do use them to acquire a fuller, contextual understanding of each applicant's strengths.  We do not require special formatting or page limitations for your writing sample.

Effective 2023, we no longer accept GRE scores.

If your native language is not English, you must submit a TOEFL or IELTS. The minimum scores are Writing: 20, Listening: 15, Reading: 20, Speaking: 22 and an overall band score of a 7.00 higher on the IELTS Academic exam. 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.  For admissions purposes, Cornell University's Graduate School does not require IELTS or TOEFL scores from applicants who meet a Standing ExemptionClick here for additional information on Standing Exemption

The deadline for all applications and additional materials is December 15. This deadline is FIRM, no late applications or additional materials are accepted. 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. Applicants are informed of the admission decision before April 1 and are expected to notify the field of their acceptance before April 15.

Application fee waiver: In cases of financial hardship, the Graduate School will consider a request for a fee waiver. Fee waivers can be requested on the application. You will need to provide a brief but well-considered explanation of how the application fee presents a financial hardship for you. Relevant factors include unemployment or underemployment, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from a recent FAFSA, economic conditions in your home country, etc.  More information on fee waivers is available through the Graduate School website.

Applications are reviewed and evaluated without reference to financial need. Under normal circumstances, and contingent on satisfactory academic progress, we provide full financial support for five years of graduate study. Regularly admitted students typically receive a full fellowship for their first year and last year. The remaining financial support usually takes the form of teaching assistantships. Students who do field research for their dissertation typically require support from external sources. Several of the area studies programs at Cornell provide fellowships for this purpose on a competitive basis. We encourage and help our students pursue these and other opportunities for outside support.

Graduate Courses


  • Introductory Probability and Statistics
  • Advanced Regression Analysis
  • Comparative Methods
  • Formal Theory and Modeling
  • Foundations of Social Sciences
  • Experiment and Survey Design

American Politics

  • Government and Public Policy
  • The United States Congress
  • Field Seminar: American Political Organizations, Institutions and Party Systems
  • Democratic Theory and Institutions
  • Political Economy of American Development
  • Social Movements and State Expansion in the 20th Century
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Public Opinion

Comparative Politics

  • Comparative Political Ecology
  • Criminality and the State
  • Comparative Democratization
  • Administration of Agricultural and Rural Development
  • Agrarian Political Economy
  • Chinese Politics
  • Comparative Labor Movements (Europe & Latin America)
  • Comparative Political Economy (advanced industrial countries)
  • European Parties and Party Systems
  • Social Movements, Collective Action, and Reform
  • State and Economy in Comparative Perspective

International Relations

  • Field Seminar in International Relations
  • International Political Economy
  • International Security Politics
  • Ethical Issues in International Affairs
  • U.S. Foreign Policy in Perspective
  • The Politics of Transnationalism
  • Asian Security
  • International Strategy
  • Foreign Policy Analysis

Political Theory

  • Secession, Intervention & Just War Theory
  • Modern Social Theory
  • American Political Thought
  • Contemporary Democratic Theory
  • Republicanism and Liberalism
  • The Western Political Tradition
  • Language and Politics

Life in Ithaca

Cornell University is situated in Ithaca, a small city in central New York on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. The expansive campus, overlooking the lake and bounded on two sides by deep glaciated gorges, is acknowledged to be one of the most scenic in the world. About 3000 acres of trails, ponds, gardens, and biological research facilities are administered by Cornell Arboretum.

Ithaca is a pleasant and livable city of humanscale, with varied and affordable shopping establishments and restaurants (including the world famous Moosewood Restaurant). There are excellent facilities for most indoor and outdoor sports. The area has a lively arts community; year-round concerts, theater, and musical events are presented at Cornell and Ithaca College featuring world-class performers. In addition to the films at numerous commercial theaters, a year-round program from early classics to the most recent avant garde offerings-are presented by Cornell Cinema. Formal lectures, conferences, and seminar series bring to the Cornell campus leading international figures in all the academic disciplines and in public affairs.

Housing for graduate students is available within walking distance of the campus, in residential areas within the city of Ithaca which are served by Ithaca Transit, and in the rural surrounding areas. Excellent medical services can be found in the City of Ithaca and at Cornell’s Gannett Health Center.

Click here for more information on planning a visit to the Cornell University campus and the Ithaca area.

Graduate Faculty

Cornell’s graduate field of Government has a large and diverse faculty representing the major theoretical, methodological, and substantive areas of contemporary political science. The ratio of faculty to graduate students is excellent; students have the opportunity to work closely with one or more members of the faculty. The faculty makes a special effort to place successful Ph.D. candidates in their first professional position in what has become a highly competitive and very selective academic market.

Click here for a directory of our graduate field faculty.

Graduate Awards

Our graduate students have won a number of prestigious awards, grants and fellowships. Click here for a list of recent award winners.