Preparing students for academic and research careers in political science

The Program

Guide to the Graduate Major in Government

white hall stairwell

The graduate program in Government at Cornell prepares students for academic and research careers in political science. All students admitted to the program are expected to earn a doctoral degree. In exceptional circumstances, students who choose to leave the program or who fail to fulfill the requirements for admission to doctoral candidacy may be granted a Master’s degree. Completion of the Ph.D. program normally requires two-to-three years of full-time course work at Cornell and several additional years of dissertation research and writing.

The Ph.D. Program

The Graduate Program is divided into four subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. To be admitted to doctoral study, students are required to take a comprehensive written exam in one of these fields. For their second field exam, students choose either to take an exam in a second field or to be examined on a Course of Study of their own design. Constructed around intellectual concerns and research problems of the student’s own choosing, the Course of Study is not to be conceived as a specialization within the student’s major field: rather, it should pursue issues which link several fields of study within political science and related disciplines. Students are expected to complete their field examinations by the end of their third year.

We expect our graduates to possess a broad understanding of the discipline, specialized expertise in one or more areas, and competence in social science methods. First-year students are required to take at least one reading course in three of four fields. During their study at Cornell, students must complete 12 graduate-level courses in Government and related fields. (Up to three courses may be transferred from graduate programs at other institutions.)

Doctoral students must demonstrate competence in either a foreign language or statistics and complete at least three major research papers prior to admission to candidacy. In addition, they are expected to serve as teaching assistants for at least one semester. Experience in undergraduate teaching under the supervision of a faculty member is essential preparation for an academic career and an important component of the graduate program at Cornell. Most Ph.D. students serve as teaching assistants for at least two years.

Research Facilities and Resources

Cornell’s library system contains nearly five million volumes and is among the leading university research libraries in the United States.

Cornell offers intensive instruction in virtually all modern languages, including many of those less commonly taught, such as the Andean languages of South America and numerous languages of South and Southeast Asia.

Graduate students are encouraged to participate in Cornell’s distinguished network of interdisciplinary research activities. Those include the programs affiliated with the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies: separate area studies programs in Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and Latin America; Slavic and Eastern European Studies; the Peace Studies Program; the Western Societies Program; Gender and Global Change; and the International Political Economy Program to name only a few. Other important centers for students include: the Institute for European Studies, Center for the Environment (with ten topical programs), the Society for the Humanities; the Women’s Studies Program; the Program on Ethics and Public Life; the Program in Visual Culture; the Africana Studies and Research Center, and the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER), and the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development.

Application for Financial Assistance

Application materials may be obtained online at Application must include full academic transcripts from each institution previously attended, GRE scores (the Government Department does not require the subject test for Political Science), English language examination (TOEFL) scores for persons whose native language is not English, recommendations from at least three professors, a personal statement of the applicant’s reasons for choosing political science as a field of study, and a writing sample. The deadline for all applications with additional materials is December 15. Applicants are informed of the admission decision before April 1 and are expected to notify the field of their acceptance before April 15.

Applications are reviewed and evaluated without reference to financial need. Under normal circumstances, and contingent on satisfactory academic progress, we provide full financial support for five years of graduate study. Regularly admitted students typically receive a full fellowship for their first year and last year. The remaining financial support usually takes the form of teaching assistantships. Students who do field research for their dissertation typically require support from external sources. Several of the area studies programs at Cornell provide fellowships for this purpose on a competitive basis. We encourage and help our students pursue these and other opportunities for outside support.

Graduate Courses
Introduction to Statistics
Comparative Methods
Formal Theory and Modeling
American Politics
Government and Public Policy
The United States Congress
Field Seminar: American Political Organizations, Institutions and Party Systems
Democratic Theory and Institutions
Political Economy of American Development
Social Movements and State Expansion in the 20th Century
American Foreign Policy
Political Identity
Comparative Politics
Comparative Political Ecology
Criminality and the State
Comparative Democratization
Administration of Agricultural and Rural Development
Agrarian Political Economy
Chinese Politics
Comparative Labor Movements (Europe & Latin America)
Comparative Political Economy (advanced industrial countries)
European Parties and Party Systems
Social Movements, Collective Action, and Reform
State and Economy in Comparative Perspective
International Relations
Field Seminar in International Relations
International Political Economy
International Security Politics
Ethical Issues in International Affairs
U.S. Foreign Policy in Perspective
The Politics of Transnationalism
Asian Security
International Strategy
Foreign Policy Analysis
Political Theory
Secession, Intervention & Just War Theory
Modern Social Theory
Theoretical Approaches to Ideology
American Political Thought
Contemporary Democratic Theory
Political Theories of Power
Republicanism and Liberalism
The Western Political Tradition
Language and Politics


Cornell University is situated in Ithaca, a small city in central New York on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. The expansive campus, overlooking the lake and bounded on two sides by deep glaciated gorges, is acknowledged to be one of the most scenic in the world. About 3000 acres of trails, ponds, gardens, and biological research facilities are administered by Cornell Plantations.

Ithaca is a pleasant and livable city of humanscale, with varied and affordable shopping establishments and restaurants (including the world famous Moosewood Restaurant). There are excellent facilities for most indoor and outdoor sports. The area has a lively arts community; year-round concerts, theater, and musical events are presented at Cornell and Ithaca College featuring world-class performers. In addition to the films at numerous commercial theaters, a year-round program from early classics to the most recent avant garde offerings-are presented by Cornell Cinema. Formal lectures, conferences, and seminar series bring to the Cornell campus leading international figures in all the academic disciplines and in public affairs.

Housing for graduate students is available within walking distance of the campus, in residential areas within the city of Ithaca which are served by Ithaca Transit, and in the rural surrounding areas. Excellent medical services can be found in the City of Ithaca and at Cornell’s Gannett Health Center.

Primary Contacts

  • Graduate Field Assistant and Job Placement Coordinator Tina Slater
    212 White Hall
    Ithaca, NY 14853-7901
    tel: (607) 255-3567
    fax: (607) 255-4530

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