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Admission FAQs

What are you looking for in applications to the Public Policy PhD program?

Successful applicants to our program demonstrate a record of academic excellence and potential to conduct high-impact, policy-relevant research. We support applicants from diverse academic, social, and professional backgrounds. It helps to have prior training in the social sciences, either through coursework or research experiences.

Do I need to have a faculty member agree to sponsor my application or provide financial support as a condition of admission?

No. In Brooks, we offer 6 years of funding to all students who are admitted to the program, and this funding is not tied to work with specific faculty. You do not need to have a specific faculty member agree to support your application to be admitted. It is a good idea to discuss how your research interests overlap with the areas of research strength in Brooks in your Personal Statement.

Do I need a Master’s degree to apply?


Can I submit application materials after the Jan 15th deadline?

We can only consider applications that are complete by the Jan 15th deadline. Please reach out to your letter writers well in advance of this deadline, to give them adequate time to write and upload your letters. We also do not consider applications earlier, prior to the Jan 15th deadline.

What are you looking for in the Statement of Purpose? What sets a Statement of Purpose apart? What are common errors?

The Statement of Purpose is a central part of the application. The Graduate School provides excellent guidelines for writing a successful one. In Brooks, we are particularly interested in your academic, professional, and personal experiences that motivate your interest in policy-relevant research, your potential to pursue high-quality independent research, and your fit with the areas of substantive and methodological strength in our program.


Here are some general tips for things to emphasize and things to avoid:

  • How do you fit with THIS specific program – tell us how this program is a good match for your research focus
  • Avoid minor mistakes (e.g., don’t mess up the school name, proofread, don’t name a professor that has retired or moved)
  • Tell us not only the great things you have done in the past, but also what you’d like to do in the future in terms of research areas and skill development

How do Letters of Recommendation weigh in to admissions decisions? What should be highlighted? How should I decide among potential recommenders?

The best advice we can give is to ask people who know you well. This is more important than having a letter from someone who is well known in the field but doesn’t know you as well. Meet with them, tell them your plan for applying, ask for their advice on programs, and ask if they can write you a strong letter. Better for them to say no than for them to provide a nondescript letter.

Provide your letter writer with your draft Statement of Purpose and CV. Letter writers who have interacted with you in coursework or research can highlight your skills and potential for success in conducting independent graduate-level research. They can also help to interpret your transcript — such as what your coursework means if class titles are not standard, if there are gaps or areas of potential concern in your record that you would like them to help contextualize or explain. They can also help to situate your research interests in the broader field, comment on their interactions with you during research projects, and communicate what sets you apart.

It is perfectly appropriate to have a letter writer who is not in academia, so long as they are able to speak to the potential you have for graduate study — things like the ability to work well independently, research aptitude, and specific research skills or training.

What are the expectations for the writing samples?

We are most interested in seeing evidence of your research ability. For example, it is better to send a full research paper with empirical analysis and not just a literature review. It is better to send something that you are the sole or primary author on, rather than something coauthored with many other people. If you need to submit something coauthored, that’s fine – just make sure a letter writer can speak to your specific contributions to the work or include a statement with this information accompanying the writing sample. The writing samples should also be polished – as they are a key source of information about your ability to communicate effectively.

Should I reach out to specific Brooks faculty members prior to being admitted into the program?

It is fine to send an email to Brooks faculty members who share your research interests, to let them know you are applying and to tell them about your shared research interests. We do not recommend asking for one-one meetings, however, as this takes too much faculty time given the large number of requests and it can unfairly place some applicants at an advantage or disadvantage. For most questions about the program itself, it is most appropriate to contact the Director of Graduate studies at

What GRE score/GPA should I have to be a competitive applicant?

GRE Scores are optional for the Public Policy PhD program.  If you submit them, they will be considered as one part of your broader application. If you do not submit them, we will place more weight on your transcript, grades, and other materials to infer your quantitative and verbal skills.

Can I apply to both the Brooks PhD and the Economics, Sociology, and Government PhD programs?

You may only apply to one graduate program at a time. You can, however, list a 2nd choice field for consideration should your application be rejected from your 1st choice field. Brooks works closely with the Economics, Sociology, and Government PhD programs, and students have access to many of the faculty, coursework, and intellectual environments of both Brooks and the disciplinary departments regardless of the degree program.

What opportunities and resources are there for applicants from backgrounds that are underrepresented in graduate programs?

Cornell and Brooks welcome students from all backgrounds and take active steps to support students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in academia. The Graduate School offers fellowship programs and a comprehensive set of professional, mentoring, and social programming to support students personal wellbeing and professional growth. Students in Brooks are actively involved in many of these programs. You can learn more about these offerings. Brooks is also actively working on various diversity & inclusion initiatives.

I have never been to upstate NY or Ithaca before. What is it like?

Ithaca offers a spectacular natural setting, affordable living, and a world-class university. Please see here for more information about Ithaca, housing, and local amenities! Admitted students are also typically hosted by current students during Visit Day, providing an authentic window into graduate student life.

What careers do graduates of the Brooks PhD pursue?

Graduates of the Brooks PhD program pursue a variety of career paths in both academic and in the public and private sectors. Please see here for a list of our student placements.

Is there an interview step to the admissions process?