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Department of Philosophy

Department of Philosophy, Cornell University Cornell University Cornell University Department of Philosophy

Graduate Program


Charles R. Lamb Design Sketch for Mosaic in Sage Chapel Honoring Arts and Sciences, 1900

Southeast Corner of Goldwin Smith Hall in Springtime

South Facade of Goldwin Smith Hall in Autumn


Goldwin Smith Hall on the Arts Quad, looking southeast, silver gelatin print circa 1909

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Graduate Program Overview

urn - 290x175The PhD program is designed to be completed in five years. Accordingly, students in the program are typically guaranteed full financial support for five years. The Sage School does not offer a terminal Masters degree.

Years 1-2

Coursework: Students are normally required to complete 12 courses covering a broad range of philosophical subfields. To meet this requirement students enroll for credit in at least three courses per semester for the four semesters constituting their first two years in the program.     

Year 3

Fifth-semester tutorial and A-exam: Students spend the third year preparing for the A-exam, an oral exam based on the student's formal dissertation prospectus and work preparatory for writing the dissertation. Students spend the first semester of the third year (their fifth semester overall) pursuing an individualized tutorial with relevant faculty. The fifth-semester tutorial is the mechanism by which students identify a dissertation area and begin the research necessary for articulating, focusing, and launching a dissertation project. 

Years 4-5

Dissertation and B-exam: Students spend their fourth and fifth years in the program writing the dissertation. The B-exam is the oral defense of the completed dissertation. The PhD is awarded on successful completion of the B-exam and the submission of the completed dissertation.      


There are no formal academic obligations during summers. The typical funding package provides summer stipends for four summers (for more information see FUNDING). This summer funding is intended to free students to pursue their academic work or research. Supplemental funding is usually available to support summer language study or other specialized coursework.      

Special Committee

Each student has a Special Committee of advisors, consisting of at least three members of the Graduate Faculty. The Committee offers general academic advising, approves the student's course selections, and helps the student develop a plan of study that will provide the background needed for research and teaching in philosophy. The Special Committee is charged with recommending the residence credit to be awarded at the end of each semester and administering the A-exam and B-exam. Students may change the composition of their Special Committee and are encouraged to do so as their interests and dissertation plans develop.