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Program Requirements

Master's Thesis

Students who are admitted to the MS/PhD program must complete a Master’s thesis that is approved by their members of their Special Committee, composed of:

  • a chairperson, representing their major area of specialization (Labor Relations, Law and History, Human Resource Studies, International and Comparative Labor, or Organizational Behavior), and
  • a minor member, representing one of the other areas of specialization within the ILR School.

Students work closely with their committee members in selecting appropriate courses and developing a thesis topic. The thesis is normally completed within the first two years of the program. Upon approval by the committee, the student is admitted formally to the PhD program.

Completion of PhD

To complete the PhD degree, the student will need to add at least one additional minor member, representing a field outside ILR, to their Special Committee. For a PhD, Cornell's Graduate School requires:

  • six semesters of registration, two of them after the A Exam,
  • satisfactory work in a major and two minor subject areas, as determined by the student's Special Committee, and
  • the successful completion of the admission-to-candidacy examination, which is taken before the start of the seventh semester.

Following this examination, students complete a PhD dissertation, which must be approved by the Special Committee members. Cornell's MS and PhD degree programs are governed by the Graduate School. Please visit their website for additional, in-depth information regarding academic requirements.

Applicants who wish to have statistics or economics as their major area of specialization should apply directly to the Graduate Fields of Statistics and Data Science or Economics. They may choose to have a minor in one of the other the areas of study within ILR.

Program Admissions

The MS/PhD program at ILR is very selective, with less than 15% of applicants accepted. Application and supplemental  are accepted once a year, for a fall matriculation. Students apply by submitting an online application.

Application and supplemental material deadline for Fall matriculation is December 15. This program does not offer Spring matriculation. Students may apply by submitting an online application.

General application requirements include:

  • Academic Statement of Purpose
    The academic statement of purpose is one of your primary opportunities to help the admissions committee understand your academic objectives and determine if you are a good match for the program.
  • Personal Statement
    The personal statement allows you to provide the admissions committee with a sense of who you are as a whole person, and you should use it to describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree.
  • Two Letters of Recommendation
  • Transcripts
  • Upon submission of your application, you must upload unofficial transcripts from all colleges or universities you've attended. You must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, or an equivalent international degree. (See Cornell's list of International Degree Equivalencies) There is no specific minimum grade point average used as a cut-off, although undergraduate coursework and grades are a factor in the admission decisions. Please note that admitted applicants who accept their offer will be required to submit official electronic transcripts to the Graduate School Admissions Office.
  • Resume or CV
  • Writing Sample
  • GRE (school code 2098) or GMAT (school code 5JW-7J-88)
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (school code 2098)
    Visit the Graduate School Admissions site for more information regarding the English language proficiency requirement, including standing exemptions.

Many applicants have an undergraduate or master’s degree in the social sciences (e.g., anthropology, economics, government, history, psychology or sociology), although this is not a prerequisite.

The Graduate Admissions Committee, composed of representatives from each of the areas of academic specialization within the ILR School, makes admissions decisions for the MS program. These decisions reflect consideration of both applicants’ academic record (grades and standardized test scores), and whether applicants’ academic interests, as expressed in their statement of purpose, can be pursued effectively at ILR, given the interests of faculty members.

Financial Support

Admitted MS/PhD students receive full funding (tuition, stipend, and health insurance) for five years by serving as teaching or research assistants to the faculty. MS/PhD students are still responsible for the student activity fee, for finding their own housing, and working out additional costs of living expenses beyond what the stipend provides. There may be opportunities for advanced PhD candidates to teach their own class, under faculty supervision, before they graduate.

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