Ph.D. FAQs

Frequently Answered Questions for the graduate programs in the Fields of Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, and Theoretical & Applied Mechanics.

Degree Questions

Can I apply for a terminal Masters of Science degree?

The Field of Mechanical Engineering offers a Masters of Science program, Aerospace and Theoretical & Applied Mechanics do not.

Can I apply for a Ph.D. degree even if I will only have a B.S. degree?

Yes. This is the typical application path.

Which degree program should I select on the application form?

If you have currently earned or will be earning an Undergraduate Degree (BS, BTech, etc.) only and are interested in applying for a Ph.D., you should apply for our PhD Program. If you have currently earned or will be earning a Graduate Degree (MS, M.Eng., MTech, etc.) and are interested in applying for a Ph.D., you should apply for our Ph.D. Program. We do not have funding for M.S. only degrees. If you are interested in earning a Master's Degree only please review our M.Eng. Program or our terminal M.S. Program in Mechanical Engineering.

Can I complete the M.Eng. or M.S. degree and transfer into the Ph.D. program?

This is rare (less than one per year), but can happen. The student must still complete the full Ph.D. application process to do so. This typically only occurs if a student has completed a strong M.Eng. or M.S. degree, with high grades in courses and a good project/thesis with a faculty member.

Application Questions

Where do I apply?

On-line at

How many Areas of Interest can I select, and does this mean I have to work in these areas?

The Areas of Interest on the application are roughly aligned with the areas of research described above. You have to select at least one area, but can select up to three. These areas give us an idea of what areas you are most interested in studying. While the Areas of Interest are typically aligned with the area(s) you will eventually work in, this is not a requirement and can change if/when you come to Cornell.

May I waive the application fee?

There are two circumstances in which an application fee can be waived.

  1. Financial Hardship: You will need to provide a brief but considered an explanation of how the application fee presents a financial hardship for you. Relevant factors include unemployment or underemployment, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from a recent FAFSA, economic conditions in your home country, etc.
  2. Pipeline Program Participation: The Graduate School is pleased to offer application fee waivers to qualified participants of programs designed to provide educational and/or career support to students from historically underrepresented identities. Fee waivers are available to participants of the following programs.

For more information about the application fee waiver, please refer to the Graduate School Admissions page.

Are there minimums on the GREs or GPA?

No, there are no set minimums. However, the application process is quite competitive such that most students have a GPA>3.5 (4.0 scale), and GREs are at least 153 (500) Verbal, 160 (760) Quantitative, and 5.0 Analytical.

Are there minimums on the TOEFL?

Yes, please see the graduate school website for the minimums.

What is the timing for Ph.D. applications?

Applications are due on December 1. Initial decisions are made by the end of February, and all decisions are complete by April 1. Students must notify Cornell of their acceptance decision by April 15.  All applicants will receive an admission decision via email.

Must I have a specific undergraduate degree to apply for the Ph.D. program?

No. Students in the Mechanical and Aerospace Fields have undergraduate degrees in all areas of Engineering, and Mathematics and Physics.

Can I apply for Spring admission?

No. We do not accept applications for admission in the spring semester. We only accept applications for consideration for fall admission.

Can a recommendation letter be from a supervisor instead of a faculty member?

Yes, you can use a professional reference for your application. It is preferred that at least two of your letters be academic references since faculty are more familiar with the type of information graduate programs are looking for in a recommendation letter. A professional reference is fine if you feel they can provide you a stronger letter than a faculty member can.

Funding Requirements Questions

What are the funding options for Ph.D. students?

The field only admits applicants with funding, and that funding will continue for the full time the student is in good standing with the field. Students are admitted with either a one semester fellowship or a Teaching Assistantship in their first semester in order to allow them to find advisors. A smaller percentage of students come in on funded Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) positions and immediately start working with a faculty advisor. After the first semester, students are funded typically with one of three ways: 1) Fellowship (NSF, NDSEG, Sloan, Cornell, Hertz, etc), 2) Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA), or 3) Teaching Assistantship (TA).

Degree Requirements Questions

Is there a Teaching Assistantship requirement?

Yes, each Ph.D. student must serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for two semesters during their program. Students typically do not serve more than two semesters.

What courses are required to complete the Ph.D. degree?

There are no specific course requirements. The selection of courses is a joint decision between the student and their Special Committee, including their Minor advisor.

What are the degree requirements for a Ph.D.?

See the Field Rules for details. But, to summarize: 1) passing the Q-, A-, and B-exams; 2) Serving as a TA for two semesters; and 3) Completing at least one minor.

Now that I am here, I have questions about Concentrations, Minors, Special Committees, and Q,A,B exams. Who do I ask?

To start, please see the Rules for your Field. Next, you have multiple resources, including: 1) Marcia Sawyer, the Graduate Field Programs Coordinator, 2) the Director of Graduate Studies for your Field, 3) your advisor, and 4) fellow students, including the SIGMA organization.

Miscellaneous Questions

What is a Field?

A field is a Cornell unique entity that can be considered a "Graduate Department". There are typically more members of a field than the associated department, and fields can easily add new members. This allows faculty and students much flexibility in choosing their Special Committees.

What are Areas of Interest?

Areas of Interest are the areas of research under each field. You select 1-3 Areas of Interest when you apply, which gives us an idea of what areas you are most interested in studying. You are not required to study in these areas when you come to Cornell.

Contact Questions

Should I contact a faculty member about their research interests?

It is recommended that you look over the faculty websites and papers to answer as many questions as possible, and to gauge interest in the faculty member's research. If you have specific questions for a specific faculty member that you cannot find answers to on the Web, then ask. However, most faculty members receive several inquiries each day from prospective students, so many faculty cannot answer all of these. So, please do not get discouraged if you do not get a response. Many faculty members focus their recruiting efforts in the Jan-Feb time frame only.

Can I send a resume to a faculty member or Director of Graduate studies to inquire about my admission possibilities?

No. We can only evaluate full application packages, which include letters of recommendation, grade reports, GRE and TOEFL scores (if required) and statements of interest.

Is there anyone I can contact about additional questions I have?

Please contact:

Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
343 Upson Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
(607) 255-5250