Graduate Program


Admissions Review Considering COVID-19 Disruptions

As part of the Sage School of Philosophy's ongoing practice of performing individualized, holistic review of each applicant to the graduate program, the graduate admissions committee takes into account the significant disruptions and challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants are invited to provide, as part of their application, an account of their individual experiences during the pandemic to provide context to inform the application review process.




The Ph.D. program is completed on average in six and one-half years. Accordingly, students in the program are typically guaranteed full financial support for six and one-half years. The Sage School does not offer a terminal master's degree.

Years 1-2

Coursework: Students are normally expected to complete 12 courses covering a broad range of philosophical subfields. To meet this expectation, 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.

After completion of the 5th semester tutorial, the Special Committee and student determine when to schedule the A-Exam (whether in the 6th semester or in the summer prior to the 7th semester) and notify the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies) of their plan by the start of the 6th semester.  The Graduate School must receive notice of the exam's scheduled date by May 1, or by the beginning of the last month of the sixth semester.   The A-Exam must be attempted before the start of the 7th semester.

Sage Fellowship funding in the following ("dissertation") year depends on passing the A-Exam. 


Year 4 and beyond

Dissertation and B exam: Students spend their fourth year and beyond writing the dissertation. The B exam is the oral defense of the completed dissertation.

Students who have successfully passed the A exam as required by the Grad School are eligible to teach a First-Year Writing Seminar (FWS), for which they must take Writing 7100: Teaching First-Year Writing with the John S. Knight Institute in the summer prior to teaching or concurrently while teaching an FWS.

The Ph.D. 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 up to six 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.

Guidelines and Requirements

The following is a list of the guidelines and requirements for the Ph.D. in Philosophy. (The Sage School does not offer a terminal M.A. in Philosophy.)  Coursework requirements are established by the student's special committee, in light of the student's preparation and plans.  What follows are guidelines that will help the student and special committee in formulating a set of required courses.  These guidelines for planning constitute a set of general expectations for a typical student, and may be set aside at the discretion of the special committee. 

  • Six registration units. One registration unit corresponds to the satisfactory completion of one academic semester of full-time study and research. 
  • Twelve graduate-level courses. Students are expected to complete graduate-level work in each of these four areas. (See the coursework guidelines below for more information.)     
    • History of Philosophy
    • Metaphysics and Epistemology
    • Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy
    • Logic or Mathematical Methods
  • Sage Seminar. In their first semester in the program, first-year students participate in a proseminar (the Sage Seminar), which provides an introduction to selected central issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language.
  • Fifth-semester tutorial. During the fifth semester, students find and begin work on a suitable dissertation topic. Students select a faculty member in the field of philosophy to supervise their research and meet regularly with him/her to gauge progress. 
  • Admission to Ph.D. candidacy (A exam). This oral examination is ideally taken in the sixth semester of residence. It covers the student's dissertation prospectus and relevant literature. 
  • Teaching experience. All students are required to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) during some of their time in the program. 
  • Dissertation. The dissertation must embody the results of original research in a substantial treatment of a single issue or connected set of issues. 
  • Final examination for Ph.D. candidates (B exam). This is an oral defense of a student’s dissertation work given in front of the student’s special committee.

(A student's special committee may also impose additional requirements: for example, languages or courses in related fields necessary for research in the student's area of specialization.)

Coursework Guidelines

Students are expected to complete twelve graduate-level courses distributed as specified in the following four categories:

History of Philosophy   

Students are expected to take at least three courses in the history of philosophy, of which:

  • at least one must focus on some major figure(s) in ancient western philosophy,
  • at least one must focus on some major figure(s) in modern western philosophy through the 19th century, and
  • the remaining course may cover any figure(s) in the history of western or non-western philosophy through the 20th century. 

(Normally, graduate-level Philosophy courses with a second digit of 2 count as history courses.)  

Proseminar in the History of Philosophy:

An annual forum for engaging with current research in the history of philosophy through a variety of presentations by visiting scholars, Cornell faculty, and advanced graduate students. The Proseminar is open to all faculty, graduate students and invited advanced undergraduates working in any area of history of philosophy

Each meeting involves a presentation of a current paper or research project by a different speaker. Students in the course are expected to engage in critical discussion of the work presented and in reflection of the practices and methodologies exemplified in that work. Advanced graduate students in the course are expected to present work of their own. Exposure to a variety of scholars and their work and the opportunity for explicit reflection on scholarly practices will enable students to develop and refine their own research in history of philosophy.

Metaphysics and Epistemology     

Students are expected to do work in at least two areas in this category. This category is construed as including Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Science, Art, Mathematics, Language, Mind, and Religion. (Normally graduate-level courses with a second digit of 5, 6, 7, or 8 [in the four-digit course number] satisfy this guideline.)     

Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy     

Students are expected to do work in at least one area in this category. (Normally graduate-level courses with a second digit of 4 [in the four-digit course number] satisfy this guideline.) 

Logic or Mathematical Methods

Graduate students in Philosophy can fulfill this guideline in two ways.

  1. Demonstrating understanding of classical 1st-order logic (of at least the Boolean connectives, universal and existential quantification), including understanding of deduction, basic model theoretic concepts and facts, soundness, and the completeness of a formalization of at least classical 0th-order logic.
  2. Demonstrating competence with some of the mathematical concepts, methods, theories and logics that play a role in the philosophical literature, e.g. basic set theory, semantic theory, intensional logics, probability, decision theory, game theory and social choice theory.

Logic or Mathematical Methods Prerequisite: Students will be allowed to take graduate-level courses in logic only if either (1) the logic committee has agreed that they have done previous work equivalent to the content of PHIL 2310, or (2) they have successfully completed 2310, (3) they have learned the material covered in 2310 and have taken the preliminary and final examinations (in take-home form) for 2310 or (4) they have special permission from the logic committee. The faculty members who teach PHIL 2310 will set and administer the relevant examinations. Students who choose option (2) may not count 2310 as one of the 12 required courses. Students are expected to complete this logic/mathematical methods prerequisite by the beginning of their third term in residence.

Graduate work done elsewhere     

Students may request credit for graduate-level work completed elsewhere. Such credit is limited to two residence units (i.e., two semesters of full-time course work). Credit for work done elsewhere is not granted automatically, and no decision about whether to grant such credit is made until a student has completed at least one semester of graduate study at Cornell. In some cases the decision is deferred until the end of  the first year of graduate study at Cornell.


Teaching experience is required for the Ph.D. in the Sage School, and graduate students normally receive part of their funding package in the form of teaching assistantships. Sage School teaching assistants typically assist a professor in a lower-level undergraduate course, lead one discussion section per week for about 25 students, and are responsible for grading the work of those 25 students (a commitment of approximately 15 hours per week on average over the course of the academic year).       

Advanced graduate students typically have the opportunity to teach their own course on a philosophical topic of their own choosing in Cornell's First-Year Writing Seminar Program. First-year writing seminars enroll a maximum of 17 students and emphasize the development of writing skills within the context of discipline-specific subject matter. Graduate students often find teaching first-year writing seminars especially rewarding.

In addition to establishing English-language proficiency at the time of their application, international students must pass a test administered by ITAP (International Teaching Assistant Program) at Cornell prior to receiving a TA-ship in the 2nd year. Typically these tests are taken in the 1st year or immediately preceding their initial arrival at Cornell.

Link to ITAP information



The Sage School typically provides full support for all of its graduate students for six and one-half years. Full support includes:

  • Full tuition in the Graduate School
  • A living stipend for the academic year
  • A summer fellowship (for six summers)
  • Student health insurance


Typically two of the academic years — the first year and one other year (normally the fourth) — are non-teaching fellowship years. During fellowship years, students are freed from other obligations so that they may focus exclusively on their coursework or research. Students may use the second of their two fellowship years to pursue training or research-related activities elsewhere. 

Teaching Assistantships

Support for the remaining years typically comes in the form of teaching assistantships. (For more information, including required English language competency, see section on TEACHING.)

Equal, Secure, and Non-competitive Financial Support

All students receive essentially the same financial support package guaranteeing full support for six and one-half years (contingent on satisfactory academic performance and satisfactory performance in any required teaching). Students in the program do not compete for ongoing funding.

Additional Support

After 14 semesters, the Graduate School requires students to petition for an extension, and funding beyond the fourteenth semester is typically not possible.

Additional support for specific purposes such as summer language study, travel to participate in conferences and research-related expenses is often available through at least the sixth year of study.

All students are urged to seek any outside support for which they are eligible.

Admissions Process

The Sage School admissions process is conducted once a year, January-March, for admission in the fall of the following academic year.

Application Deadline

January 6 for fall admission in that year. (The fall semester begins at the end of August.)

Application Materials

The following  materials must be submitted online via the Cornell University Graduate School online application system:

  • Biographical information
  • Academic information (including unofficial transcripts)
  • If applicable, TOEFL or IELTS scores (GRE scores are not needed) need to be submitted to the Cornell Graduate School
    • More information on English language requirements and exceptions here
  • Recommender information
  • Three to five letters of recommendation; a total of five letters of recommendation will be accepted (submit all online), but only three are required*
  • Financial support information (if required)
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Writing sample in philosophy (typically 15 but no more than 30 pages long)
  • Application fee
    • A fee waiver request is available directly within the application itself, on the payment page

*All letters should be submitted online.  Contact the Sage School at  if this is not possible. 

Notification of Application Status

Application status and receipt of transcripts and letters are reported via the online application; if anything is lacking during admissions, the Sage School will reach out for the information.

Admissions Notification

Notification of admissions decisions will be made by email on or before March 15th.

Frequently Asked Questions

View the FAQ page

Application fee waivers are available for qualified persons.  The waiver application is part of the online admissions system.  How to apply for a Cornell Graduate School application fee waiver

Applicants can write to for additional information.

Admissions Criteria

The Sage School admissions process is highly selective. We receive approximately 200-250 applications each year for approximately five places in our program. As a result, we look for students with outstanding potential for graduate work in philosophy. In our admissions process, we give considerable and roughly equal weight to three parts of an applicant's file:

  • Academic record
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Writing sample 

The applicant's personal statement is also given some weight in the process.  

We use no particular numerical criteria (no minimum grade point average, for example), and we neither require GRE scores nor give them any significant weight when they are provided to us. We try to identify candidates with very strong general academic backgrounds and special skill or talent for philosophy in particular.   

Academic Record

We look for a strong general undergraduate record and very strong indication of philosophical ability. The latter is often (but not always) demonstrated by a record of achievement in philosophy courses. We normally expect applicants to have a background in philosophy at least the equivalent of what a Cornell undergraduate philosophy major would have. Many of our applicants come from Master's degree programs or have done some other sort of graduate work before applying to Cornell.

Letters of Recommendation

We require three letters of recommendation, and will accept as many as five. It is best if they are written by people who know the applicant well and can provide some concrete and detailed assessment of his or her work. At least one should be from a philosopher or philosophy instructor; it is better if two are (but an additional letter from a philosophy teacher who is not well acquainted with the applicant may be less helpful than a letter from a non-philosopher who does know him or her well).

Writing Sample

We look for a substantial, polished piece of writing that shows the applicant's philosophical abilities and skills. Typically, term-paper length (about 15 pages) is appropriate. Writing samples longer than 30 pages are unlikely to be read in their entirety. Something written for an upper-level philosophy course is generally appropriate.       

Personal Statement

We look for some insight into a person's general intellectual character and interests as well as some indication of how the person's abilities and interests fit with our program. We are particularly interested in candidates for whom our resources are especially well suited and who bring something interesting to our intellectual community.


One of the aims of the graduate program in the Sage School is to help students compete favorably in the academic job market. Each year a member of the faculty serves as placement director, whose role it is to oversee and guide students through the process of looking for jobs in philosophy. Among other things, the placement director assists each candidate with the preparation of their application dossier (writing sample, research statement, teaching dossier, CV, etc.), coordinates the gathering of letters of reference, invites guest speakers to provide advice about particular sectors of the job market, organizes practice interviews and job talks, and is there to offer guidance and support through the job market process.

The placement director for academic year 2023-2024 is Professor Nico Silins.

The Cornell Graduate School also provides assistance and seminars to help those who want to pursue careers outside of academia.  Non-academic placements of our graduates have included healthcare, investing, biotechnology, and actuarial science.

Click here for details, including a table with initial and current placements of our recent graduates.

For more information, email the department or Professor Silins.

Department Workshops

Friday Workshops & Work-in-Process ("WIP") Workshops:

Click here to view a listing of department workshops which have been held in the past.


Graduate Handbook

The Graduate Program in Philosophy Handbook contains a wealth of information about our graduate program. (Last updated:  May 2024)

Grad Minor in Philosophy for Other Fields

A graduate student in a field other than Philosophy may pursue a graduate minor in Philosophy. Students pursuing the graduate minor must have a faculty member in the field of Philosophy as their minor advisor. (This advisor would thereby become a minor member of the student’s special committee.) To complete the minor, the student must develop a significant competence in relevant areas of philosophy.  Normally, to meet this objective, students will select, in consultation with their minor advisor, and successfully complete at least four courses with PHIL numbers at the 5XXX-level or above that do not have a second-digit 9. Depending on the student’s philosophy background, a student's minor advisor, in consultation with the Philosophy Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), may recommend some deviation from this norm. Students hoping to pursue a graduate minor in philosophy who have little background in the field should consult with a prospective minor advisor before registering for their first philosophy course.