Cornell University

Graduate Degree Programs

218 Ives Hall, 607-255-1522

ILR M.S. and Ph.D. Degree Program Policy

  1. Objectives of the M.S. and Ph.D. Degree Program
  2. Administration of the Program
  3. Admissions
  4. Special Graduate Committee
  5. Residency Requirements: Registration Units
  6. Course Requirements
  7. Grades
  8. Language Requirements
  9. Teaching Requirements
  10. Examinations
  11. Thesis/Dissertation
  12. Recommendations for the Degree

1. Objectives of the M.S. and Ph.D. Degree Program

The Master of Science (M.S.), Master's/Doctor of Philosophy (M.S./Ph.D.), and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) are general research degrees. The M.S. and Ph.D. degree are appropriate for students considering an academic or research career in human resources or labor relations. most applicants apply for both the M.S. and Ph.D. program planning to complete both degrees in ILR.

2. Administration of the Program

Ph.D. study at Cornell University is regulated by the General Committee of the Graduate School and the policies set forth in the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty. This Code of Legislation sets forth the rules governing graduate education as established by the graduate faculty of Cornell University. Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the various regulations that apply to their programs.

3. Admissions

Applicants may apply to the M.S./Ph.D. or Ph.D. program. Most applicants to the M.S./Ph.D. program have a background in the social sciences. Ph.D. applicants typically have advanced academic training in the social sciences, generally in one or more of the following fields: anthropology, economics, government, history, psychology, sociology, or statistics. Ph.D. applicants also typically have a master's degree in a subject related to their intended program and must submit their research based thesis with their application.

M.S. degree candidates in the Field of Industrial and Labor Relations who wish to be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program upon completion of the M.S. degree should inform the chair of their Special Committee well in advance of the final examination for the M.S. degree. If the Special Committee wishes to use the M.S. final examination to determine the suitability of a graduate student for the Ph.D. program, the oral examination must be conducted with an additional member of the Graduate Field Faculty, appointed by the ILR Graduate Committee, present. The additional member shall not have a vote on awarding the M.S. degree, although his opinion may be registered. He shall have a vote in recommending admission to the Ph.D. program, to the ILR Graduate Committee. Decision on admission to the Ph.D. program remains with the ILR Graduate Committee (as representative of the entire field).

Applicants are required to submit a completed Cornell Graduate Application (and application fee); statement of purpose; complete transcripts from all institutions attended; GRE or GMAT Test scores; TOEFL scores from international applicants*; a resume or CV, and 2 letters of recommendation from a college or university faculty member acquainted with applicant's academic work. A writing sample is strongly encouraged. Ph.D. only applicants must submit a copy of their research based master's thesis.

*International graduate students are admitted with the same criteria as US citizens, including the results of the aptitude tests of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting official test scores from a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam that meet Cornell's minimum sub-scores on each element of the TOEFL.

4. Special Graduate Committee

A student selects the members of the special committee, with their consent, from the current graduate faculty. Master's students must have at least two members of the graduate faculty on the special committee - one in the major subject (the chair) and one int he minor subject. When M.S./Ph.D. students complete the master's portion of their programs, the student is responsible for constituting a valid full Ph.D. committee by the deadlines established in the Code of Legislation and must file the online special committee change form. A doctoral student must have at least three members of the graduate faculty on the special committee - one in the major subject (chair) and two in the minor subjects. One of these minor members is required to represent a Graduate Field outside of Industrial and Labor Relations. At least two members of the committee must be general members of the graduate faculty. Students who are unable to constitute a committee with the required number of members cannot continue in the Graduate School.

The approved major and minor subjects for advanced study in Industrial and Labor Relations are as follows:

  • Human Resource Studies
  • International and Comparative Labor
  • Labor Relations, Law and History 
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Labor Economics - Minor ONLY
  • Social Statistics - Minor ONLY
NOTE: Applicants who with to focus in statistics or economics should apply directly to the Graduate Fields of Statistics or Economics.


The special committee, under the leadership of the committee chair, has primary responsibility for developing the student's independence and scholarship. Special committees and students are urged to meet at least twice a year.

5. Residency Requirements: Registration Units

A student's progress toward an advanced degree is determined not only by the quality of work completed (gauged through faculty evaluations and formal exams) but also by the length of time spent in pursuit of the degree. The Graduate School measures this progress in terms of registration units. Following each semester, the chair of the special committee attests the student's registration to the Graduate School. One registration unit corresponds to the satisfactory completion of one academic semester of full-time study and research. An individual is considered a full-time student if he or she is registered (including in absentia), enrolled in courses or engaged in thesis or dissertation work, and in conformity with limitations on assistantships, hourly student appointments, and/or outside employment specified in the Code of Legislation. The fraction of a registration unit granted for a semester of full-time study thus represents an evaluation of the student's academic progress by the special committee chair. Two registration units are the minimum requirement for an M.S. degree. Six registration units, two of them after the A Exam, are the minimum requirement for the Ph.D. degree. M.S./Ph.D. students matriculate first into the master's program and transition to the Ph.D. program when a master's degree is conferred.

If the Dean of the Graduate School and the special committee support the petition, a doctoral candidate (a student who has passed the A Exam) can be awarded up to four registration units for work done at another university after having registered at Cornell. No more than three registration units earned in this way can be counted toward the minimum requirement. Master's degree students may not count study in other graduate schools toward the registration unit requirement. With the approval of the special committee, a provisional or non-degree student whose status changes to regular degree may transfer up to two registration units completed while in provisional or non-degree status. See the Code of Legislation for further regulations regarding registration units.

6. Course Requirements

There are no regulations of the graduate faculty governing the number of courses, grades, or specific content of instruction to which special committees must subscribe. The student's special committee is the sole judge of whether the student can efficiently prepare to fulfill degree requirements through formal or informal participation in courses. In principle, graduate students may enroll for any course offered by Cornell University. Students not enrolling in specific courses must enroll for thesis or dissertation research.

7. Grades

The student's Special Graduate Committee reviews his or her degree progress and determines if academic warning or action is needed. In general students at this level of study are expected to maintain no less than a B average.

8. Language Requirements

International applicants must submit official TOEFL test scores that meet Cornell's official minimum sub-scores for each element of the TOEFL to qualify for admission to the program.

9. Teaching Requirements

Teaching is a requirement for the Ph.D. degree in this Field. The specifics are determined by the candidate's Special Committee.

10. Examinations

1. Required Examinations
For the M.S. degree with a thesis, the graduate faculty requires the Final Examination for the Master's Degree. The graduate faculty requires the Examination for Admission to Candidacy (the "A Exam") and the Final Examination for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree (the "B Exam")

a. Final Examination for the Master's Degree with a Thesis
A master’s student takes the final exam upon completion of all requirements for the degree but no earlier than one month before completion of the minimum registration unit requirement. This oral exam covers the topic of the master's thesis. If the M.S. degree is a prerequisite for the Ph.D. program, the Final Examination for the Master's Degree may be combined with the Examination for Admission to Candidacy, subject to special committee approval.

b. Examination for Admission to Candidacy (A Exam)
A student is admitted to doctoral candidacy after passing a comprehensive examination administered by his or her special committee. This exam is either oral or written and oral, as determined by the special committee. The passing of this examination certifies the student is eligible to present a dissertation to the graduate faculty.

The A Exam may be taken after two registration units have been accumulated in a Ph.D. degree program or in a master's program leading to an M.S./Ph.D. degree in the same field. All doctoral candidates must attempt the Examination for Admission to Candidacy before beginning their seventh semester of registration in the Ph.D. program.

c. Final Examination for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree (B Exam)
A doctoral candidate takes the Final Examination upon completion of all requirements for the degree but no earlier than one month before completion of the minimum registration unit requirement. A minimum of two registration units must be earner between passing the A exam and scheduling the B exam. This oral exam covers the general subject of the dissertation.

2. Qualifying Exam
In addition to the PH.D. examinations required by Graduate School legislation, the Field of Industrial and Labor Relations requires a qualifying examination for candidates for the Ph.D. degree. The qualifying examination should be administered as early in the period of residence as possible, preferably in the first semester after admission to the doctoral program. The examination serves to assist the Special Committee to determine the academic strengths and weaknesses of the candidate in his major and minor subjects and on the basis of its assessment to plan the content and sequence of the candidate's program of study. To achieve these purposes, the following procedures should prevail:

  • The qualifying examination should be rigorous and be designed to explore the potential competence of the candidate as well as knowledge of this Field. One part of the qualifying examination should be designed to determine the research capacity of the candidate.
  • The qualifying examination may be oral or oral and written, at the discretion of the Special Committee.
  • The Special Committee is encouraged to use the assistance of non-committee members in the qualifying examination, whether or not such persons are members of the University Faculty.
  • The candidate will be advised of deficiencies and of what is expected in future work.
  • The final examination for the master's degree MAY NOT be substituted for the Ph.D. qualifying examination or the Ph.D. A Exam because of the different purposes of these examinations.
  • In appropriate instances the qualifying examination may terminate a candidate's enrollment in the Ph.D. program if it is determined the student does not meet the qualifications at this point.

11. Thesis/Dissertation

The award of all research degrees is contingent upon the completion and submission of a thesis or dissertation constituting an original contribution to knowledge.

Final versions of all theses and dissertations must conform to the seven core formatting requirements and be approved by the Graduate School. Formatting requirements can be found in the Thesis and Dissertation Guide.

A student for the degree of M.S. with thesis, or Ph.D. must submit a complete draft of the thesis or dissertation to all members of the special committee at least six weeks before the Final Examination, unless the special committee modifies this requirement. At least five business days before a Final Examination, a student must give each member of the special committee the thesis or dissertation, complete in all respects and editorially acceptable for final approval. This version of the thesis or dissertation may require modification following the Final Examination. The thesis or dissertation must be submitted to the Graduate School within 60 days of a Final Examination. Students who miss this deadline will be charged a fee.

After the degree is awarded, rights to publication of the thesis, dissertation, or related material belong to the author. The graduate is expected to acknowledge in the publication that the thesis or dissertation on which the publication was based was accepted by the graduate faculty in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree. One copy of each thesis and each dissertation becomes an official record of the University, held in the University Library.

12. Recommendations for the Degree

Submission of the final approved and bound thesis to the Graduate School signifies that the student has satisfactorily completed the degree requirements. The graduate faculty meets to vote on degrees in August, January, and May, immediately following the degree deadlines. The graduate faculty recommends degrees for all students who have fulfilled the academic requirements. A majority vote suffices for granting a degree.