Skip to main content

Admissions and Financial Aid


*Students in Economics may only start in the Fall semester. The field of Economics no longer accepts paper application materials. Please use the online application.

*There is no preadmission application in Economics. 

*The Ph.D. program in Economics does not require an applicant to have completed an undergraduate degree in economics or in mathematics for admission.


Applications, including letters of reference, GRE and TOEFL/IELT scores, should be completed online by January 15th. Admissions are generally announced in mid-March.

Cornell University, like most prominent American graduate schools, is a member of the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States. Most Canadian graduate schools have also accepted the Council's application and admission guidelines. As a member of this group, Cornell may not consider an acceptance (of admission and/or aid) from a student to be binding until after April 15th. (The applicant may renege on the acceptance of any school's offer by writing that school before April 15th.) Because early acceptance of an offer from a university is not binding on the student, we make most financial aid offers in mid to late March.


Course Requirements    

The first-semester courses presume a thorough knowledge of microeconomics at the level of a rigorous treatment of undergraduate intermediate theory. More economics background is preferred, but an economics major is not required.

The student must have a minimum of four semesters of calculus and linear algebra and at least two semesters of advanced mathematics including a course in analysis. This is an absolute minimum and is rarely seen as competitive for a financial aid offer. There is a strong admissions and financial aid bias towards students with more mathematics: differential equations, real or complex analysis, mathematical probability and statistics, optimization, topology, and stochastic differential equations, among many others. Many successful applicants are double majors in economics and mathematics.

Courses called "Mathematics for Economists," "Mathematics for Social Scientists," and "Econometrics" are not a substitute for formal mathematics.

As part of the admissions process, the indicated mathematics and economics courses should be completed prior to the application deadline in January. If courses in mathematics or microeconomics are completed after the application transcript has been sent, the student is strongly advised to send an updated transcript (a copy or unofficial version will do) showing the grades in these courses. Updated admissions material may be sent directly to the GFA (Rachel Lukens,

A three-week mathematics review course is offered before classes begin. In our experience most entering students can benefit significantly from that course, though it is not required.


Reference Letters

Three letters of recommendation are required. Applicants should ask their references to address not only their academic prospects in their letters, but to also address their prospects as a teacher and research assistant. Academic references should preferably be from professors in one’s major subject and possibly from a mathematics professor in an advanced mathematics class. If others would know more about the applicant’s prospects as a teacher or research assistant, supplementary letters can be provided from professors for whom one has taught, given oral presentations, or done research.


Applicants are required to have taken the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). As a practical matter a high score on the GRE Quantitative examination is very important for both admission and financial-aid considerations. GRE subject examinations are optional.

  • The graduate school must receive all scores prior to the application deadline.
  • All official test scores should be reported directly to Cornell University.  Please be sure to use the exact spelling of your name on both your application and test score report.
  • The GRE institutional code is 2098. Department codes are not used for matching scores to applications.
  • GRE test scores are valid for five years from the test date.

Foreign Applicants

The TOEFL or IELTS examination is required of all applicants from countries where English is not the official native language, unless the applicant meets one of the Graduate School's two exceptions.

Please consult the English Language Proficiency Requirement page. Please note that the field of Economics cannot admit candidates who do not meet the Graduate School's English language requirements. These are minimum required scores; most accepted students have TOEFL IBT scores over 25 in all four categories. If your English-language degree has not been awarded by the time of application, you must take the TOEFL. Do not request exceptions. None will be granted.

Non-native English speakers are strongly advised to get supplemental letters of reference from native English speakers if at all possible.

These letters should address your likely "presentational skills" in English (e.g., potential for success as a teaching assistant or presenter of a scholarly paper). The writer need not be one of your professors; in practice these letters often come from visiting American academics, sometimes visiting departments other than Economics at your school for a seminar or a semester whom you have asked to have a conversation with you for the purposes of such a letter. Further, many Universities have English language departments with American (or British) faculty members.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is not "need-based." All applicants are considered for financial aid awards based on academic merit and potential success as a teaching or research assistant.

Financial aid packages for incoming students are typically guaranteed, given satisfactory performance, through the Spring semester of the fifth year of study (if five years are actually needed to complete the degree). Most of the aid packages are in the form of fellowships/assistantship combinations (approximately 15 per year). The normal package includes one fellowship year, which must be used during the first year of study. The first-year fellowship enables the student to focus on the core program. Subsequent financial aid normally takes the form of graduate research assistantships and teaching assistantships.

Graduate research and teaching assistantships also cover the tuition as well as an academic year stipend and medical insurance. Those without full funding are required to purchase medical insurance. 

Some successful students with self funding in the first year may be funded in subsequent years if they are likely to be outstanding teaching or research assistants. A key criterion for a teaching assistantship is teaching excellence; those who are deemed to be unlikely to excel in teaching in English will in most cases not receive financial assistance. (I-20 visa guarantees are taken seriously, only a few self-funded non-native English speakers will receive financial aid.)

Research assistantships may be available from individual faculty members. These are awarded to qualified graduate students whose research interests are clearly similar to those of the faculty member with the research funding, and generally to students with strong academic performance and/or special skills (e.g., programming).

Aid decisions for many students are contingent upon the acceptances or rejections of those who have the initial aid offers. The aid market, therefore, is very active between April 1st and April 15th. Applicants are advised to make certain we know how they can be reached quickly (by e-mail, or if necessary fax or telephone) during that time.

Teaching Assistantships (TA)

One of the primary concerns at Cornell is teaching excellence. This is desirable in its own right, and it is valuable for the student to be able to establish excellence in teaching for the job market. We have a variety of programs available to assist students in becoming good teachers. Some of these programs are required, others are voluntary supplements.

All students who will be serving as teaching assistants for at least the first time are required to arrive at Cornell for training about ten days before the semester starts. Incoming student teaching assistants for whom English is not their native language are generally required to show up in early August for additional training, for which there is a stipend supplement for the additional living costs. (All teaching assistants are required to arrive five days in advance of classes and to remain on campus until all course grades are completed.) Students with undergraduate degrees from countries where English is not the official language are required to take an oral examination prior to being employed as a TA. This assessment is administered by the Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence. Depending upon the results of this assessment, international students may have additional training requirements designed for non-native English speakers.

Related Links

Main Office
Department of Economics
404 Uris Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y. 14853
Phone: (607) 255-4254
Fax: (607) 255-2818