Application Requirements

Application to our PhD program is made through the Cornell University Graduate School.  General information about Grad School admissions requirements and insights on the process of applying can be found on the Graduate School Admissions website.  They also provide a useful list of FAQs for common questions. You are encouraged to explore these pages for information as you move through the application process. Application requirements for the Field of Biophysics are detailed below.

The deadline for admission is December 1 for Fall admission (we do not admit students in the Spring semester). Applicants to our program must submit their application on-line through Apply-Now, including supporting documents by the December 1 deadline.  Applications can be submitted prior to receipt of all required letters of recommendation, but recommenders should be encouraged (and reminded) to submit their letters by this deadline or within 48 hours after.  The Admissions Committee begins reviewing completed applications shortly after the deadline.

Recommended Academic Background: We welcome applicants from a broad range of disciplines to apply to our program. We most commonly see applications from students with a physics/engineering or biology background. To ensure sufficient preparation, we encourage students to have exposure to both physics and biology before admission. In addition, as math is a foundational component of our program, we strongly recommend applicants have taken Calculus III or its equivalent before admission. If applicants cannot do this before admission, they will be required to complete Calculus III in addition to the graduate biophysics curriculum.

Applicants will be required to supply the following items:

  • Academic & Personal Statement of Purpose (within the application):  The intent of these statements is to provide the Admissions Committee with a sense of you as a whole person and your potential be successful in our program and contribute positively to a diverse and inclusive community.  General suggestions are available by following this link to the Cornell Graduate School admissions website The specific instructions for this section of our application are provided below.

    Please use the Academic Statement of Purpose to describe the substantive research questions you are interested in pursuing during your graduate studies and explain how our program would help you achieve your intellectual goals. Additionally, detail your academic background, intellectual interests, and any training or research experience you have received that you believe has prepared you for our program.

    We suggest that you use headings for the following three sections for the Academic Statement of Purpose: 

  1. Motivation (400-word limit): Introduce yourself, what are your personal motivations to come to graduate school, your short and long-term professional goals. Please describe how your academic and research experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. 
  2. Academic background and preparation (400 words): Describe your academic training, skills, research experience, and accomplishments relevant to your future graduate work. You may also provide the context around any perceived gaps or weaknesses in your academic record. 
  3. Future research (400 words): What research questions would you like to explore as a graduate student? This is in no way binding – it is only intended to give us an indication of where your research interests and approaches are headed. Please identify, if any, specific faculty members whose research interests align with your own interests. Please also describe why you would like to join the Biophysics program at Cornell University.

    Use the Personal Statement to illustrate how your personal background and/or academic, and/or professional experiences demonstrate your ability to be both persistent and resilient especially when navigating challenging circumstances.  You should also describe how you engage with others and have facilitated and/or participated in productive and diverse teams. 

  • Current transcripts for all colleges you have attended must be uploaded into the application. (Note: Official transcripts are not required at time of application). Our Admissions Committee wants to see your full academic background; upload transcripts from all colleges attended even if you did not get a degree unless the courses you took transferred to a subsequent school and are included on that transcript along with the grades. For more information and specific instructions for international applicants, see the Graduate School website.
  • Three (3) letters of recommendation: The Cornell Graduate School has a website with some great tips regarding letters of recommendation. We encourage you to read them. Note that you are able to request more than three letters. However, we would discourage asking for more than three letters with the goal of obtaining three completed letters; you should be confident that your recommenders will upload a letter, since lack of a requested letter will be noticeable in your application. Please request that your recommenders submit their letters through the on-line system unless there are extenuating circumstances that prevent them from doing so.
  • Proof of English language competency: All applicants must provide proof of English language proficiency. This is a Graduate School/University requirement; complete information can be found on the Cornell Graduate School website. Applicants who are not exempt from this requirement by virtue of a standing exemption should self-report their scores in the application; these scores can be used for evaluation prior to the official scores being received.  No offer of admission can be made without official scores where they are required.
    • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS tests are required for applicants whose native language is not English. This is a university requirement, and the Graduate School has set minimum scores for each section of the test: Reading – 20; Writing – 20; Listening – 15; Speaking – 22. To be considered for admission, an applicant must receive at least the minimum score on each individual section of the test. Official scores should be sent from ETS to Cornell University, university code #2098 (department code is not required).
    • Those taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test must score 7.0 or higher. Scores must be sent electronically (e-delivery) to the Cornell University Graduate Admissions, Caldwell Hall e-download account. E-delivery may also be referred to as an e-TRF by your test center.

Research Area/Faculty of Interest:  You are not required to have a faculty mentor/sponsor to apply to our program.  However, applicants are encouraged to indicate faculty and/or a specific area of research that they are interested in pursuing. We recognize that your research interests will evolve throughout graduate school, and this is not a commitment to that research area or faculty person. It is intended to give the Admissions Committee more information about what research areas and questions interest you most now, and also what faculty you consider potential mentors and/or faculty you may like to engage with during the admissions process.

Application Review: Your your application will be reviewed by a select group of faculty and graduate students that form the Admissions Committee.  All members of the Admissions Committee are instructed to respect your privacy rights with regard to information disclosed in your application.

Application Fee Waivers:  The Cornell Graduate School will consider requests for fee-waivers for applicants who are experiencing financial hardship as well as applicants who have participated in specific pipeline programs.  This process is part of the application itself.  More information can be found on the application fee portion of the Graduate School web site.  Please note: the Field of Biophysics is not able to issue fee waivers; requests should not be sent to the Field.

Recruitment Events:  Interviews are an important part of our admissions process, allowing us to interact with you and learn more about you beyond your written application.  Top-ranked domestic applicants (i.e. students who are attending a college in the US) being considered for an admissions offer are typically invited to campus to interview; international applicants (i.e. students who are attending a college outside of the US) are interviewed via Zoom. Should an invited applicant be unable to attend one of our in-person Recruitment Weekends, they will be invited to interview with faculty via Zoom.

Diversity and Inclusion

Cornell University and the Graduate School are committed to providing an inclusive environment for all Cornell students.  The Field of Biophysics strongly supports this mission and, as a result, our graduate student community is a vibrant and diverse one. Biophysics students come from all areas of the globe and all walks of life. We are committed to the equality of educational opportunity and success for all students. The Field actively seeks individuals from underrepresented ethnic groups and participate in many programs on campus to recruit and retain under-represented minorities and diversity students (including first-generation college students).

Students with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply. The Field of Biophysics has established a partnership with the Cornell University Student Disability Services Office. Any student who is invited to our recruitment events and requires special accommodations to participate should contact the GFAs to request necessary arrangements.

Admission Decision Timeline

The Biophysics Admissions Committee is made up of faculty and graduate students.  The Committee will meet shortly after the December 1 deadline to evaluate completed applications. A select number of applicants will be invited to interview at our on-campus Recruitment events. Invitations are extended in December to applicants residing in the US.  International applicants being considered for admission will be offered Skype interviews.  Admissions decisions are made by mid-to-late March, once all interviews have taken place.