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Program Length

The ILR MS program is designed to be completed in two academic years.

Special Committee

Students in the ILR MS program will nominate a two-person special committee consisting of:

  • chairperson representing their major area of specialization, matched by the program coordinator at the beginning of the program
  • a minor member representing one of the other areas of specialization within the ILR School, nominated by the student by the end of their second semester

Working closely with their committee, students will select appropriate courses, develop a thesis topic, and a full master’s thesis approved by the student’s committee members.

Governance and Requirements

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.

Cornell Graduate School Requirements

Master's Thesis

For the MS thesis, students will work with their 2-person special committee to produce an empirically-based research study that offers original insight grounded in the students’ internship experience or other proposed and accepted research/work. The thesis should demonstrate the student’s ability to collect and analyze data, engage with the relevant literature, and draw conclusions contributing to the field of study. The form and scope (as well as the topic) should be related to the student’s ‘career path’.

The two-person special committee will convene for a Master’s Thesis defense at the end of the fourth semester. Students must complete the defense by the end of the exam period of the fourth semester.


A student’s committee will assist them in creating a unique curriculum based on career focus areas, such as:

  • Labor and Employment Policy Research
  • Labor Union Research, Strategic Campaigns, and Collective Action
  • International Labor Standards Research, Monitoring, and Enforcement

It is recommended that students and committees follow a suggested curriculum consisting of core courses, career path courses, regional and language expertise courses, internship and research.

The curriculum will focus on applied research, policy analysis, and dispute resolution skills, but also developing a ‘global mindset’ that allows students to draw on international best practices and engage with (or work within) global firms, global unions, and international organizations (e.g. UN, ILO, European Union, global NGOs).

This curriculum responds to student needs in the labor field. It is designed to be student-centered and flexible. It allows students to take a select “core” of classes and specialize in topics and regions of their interest.