Ph.D. Program FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – Ph.D. Program

The following FAQs address questions that prospective applicants have raised about Cornell's Ph.D. program in Operations Research and Information Engineering. We are happy to respond by email to specific questions not covered in these FAQs and to engage in email dialogue where clarification is needed. These FAQs are informal listings; in the event of conflicts with official publications, those documents govern.


What is the typical length of the Ph.D. program?

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The Ph.D. program normally requires four or five years of study and research.

Do I need an undergraduate degree in Operations Research or Information Engineering (ORIE) for preparation of the Ph.D. program?

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Ph.D. students should have a strong background in engineering, mathematics, computer science, mathematical economics or one of the physical sciences. An undergraduate calculus-based probability course is advisable and students should have some background in computing.

Do you accept pre-applications for the Ph.D. program?

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No, we do not pre-screen candidates for admission. You will need to formally apply via the Graduate School’s online application.

Can I have the application fee waived?

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In cases of extreme financial need, the Cornell Graduate School will consider a request for a fee waiver. A letter of request for a waiver, and documentation of need, such as a letter from a college financial aid office, must be submitted to the Graduate School's student service representative prior to submitting the application.

The Cornell 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 several pipeline programs.

Does ORIE offer an M.S. degree?

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We do not offer an M.S. program. Students admitted directly to our Ph.D. program are awarded a Special Masters degree by recommendation of their Special Committee upon passing of the Admission to Candidacy exam, typically taken during the third year of study.We do offer an M.Eng. program (a non-research program). Please refer to that degree program for more information.

Should I contact Cornell faculty that I am interested in working with?

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Some prospective applicants contact professors directly to inquire about research opportunities. Such contacts do not usually enhance the applicant's chances of admission, and research assistantships are generally not awarded to first-year Ph.D. students. Sending emails to multiple faculty members is particularly disadvantageous.

Do I need to be concerned with selecting an advisor?

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No, temporary advisors are assigned to our incoming Ph.D. students. During their first year of study, they will have access to First Year Ph.D. Colloquiums to help them become familiarized with the faculty and their research areas. Many incoming students think that they are required to provide their own topic of research – that is not the case. All of our faculty members here are happy to provide and discuss available projects.

Is financial aid available to international students?

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Yes, almost all students admitted to our Ph.D. program receive full financial aid in the form of a fellowship, research assistantship, or teaching assistantship, and admissions are based solely on academic merit.

When will I learn whether or not I have been admitted?

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Applications are not reviewed until all your transcripts, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, application form, and test scores have been received. If you apply by the January 5 deadline, decisions will be finalized by April 15.

Can I transfer credit from another institution?

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We do not accept transfer credit from other institutions for this program.

What are the average GRE scores and GPAs of applicants who are admitted to the Ph.D. program?

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Average scores of applicants admitted are:

  • Undergraduate GPA 3.90/4.00
  • TOEFL iBT110
  • GREV 162
  • GREQ 168
  • GREA 4.28

Can I apply to more than one field at Cornell at the same time?

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You may submit only one Cornell application for a given term, selecting one field; multiple applications will not be processed. If you are not offered admission, you may contact one different graduate field and ask to have your application reviewed. If the new field's deadline has not passed and that field is willing to review your application, you should contact your original field and request that they forward your materials.

Who should I ask to write letters of recommendation?

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The ideal recommender knows you and is known (by reputation, position, or previous contact) to the admissions committee. We prefer to have letters of recommendation from a faculty member/instructor who knows your capabilities. Recommendations from employers or work supervisors should be as specific as possible about what you have accomplished. Recommendations from peers are usually of less value.

Where do students live?

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Cornell has graduate student housing for individuals and for families. Campus Life provides the most up-to-date information about housing and residential programs and Ithaca-area resources. Many students live in private apartments or rooms at various distances from the campus, often sharing with roommates. A housing packet with information about Cornell and private housing opportunities is sent to applicants who accept admission.

Am I required to serve as a Teaching Assistant?

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Incoming Ph.D. students who are not supported by fellowships are generally supported by teaching assistantships. All students are encouraged to serve as TAs. TA positions are also available for our summer courses. This is definitely an invaluable experience, especially for a possible academic career.