Frequently Asked Questions - Graduate Program

Graduate Program Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply?

All applications are interactive and available on the Graduate School’s website.

GRE scores

Cornell's graduate field of Civil and Environmental Engineering no longer requires GRE scores from applicants, this includes M.Eng., M.S., and Ph.D. applicants. If you submit your GRE score, it will not be considered. 

What are the different graduate programs?

Master of Engineering (M.Eng.); a coursework and project-oriented degree program usually completed in two semesters if started in the Fall. Admission to this program generally requires an undergraduate degree, or equivalent coursework, in STEM or an appropriate field of engineering.

Master of Science (M.S.); a research-oriented degree program usually completed within two years. Admission to this program generally requires an undergraduate degree , or equivalent coursework, in an appropriate field of engineering, although the environmentally-oriented concentrations may be able to accept students who have a strong physical sciences background.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.); an in-depth research-oriented degree program that is usually completed within 3 to 5 years. Those applying for direct admission to the PhD program are expected to have an extensive research background.

What is the difference between M.Eng. and M.S. degree programs?

The M.Eng. degree is set up to be completed in two semesters. No thesis is required; a final written report on the design project replaces the thesis. The program requires a minimum of 30 credit hours of technical graduate-level course work and work on a real-world design project. The project may either be in a group setting or an individual project. The program is intended for those interested in professional practice and engineering.

The M.S. degree is a research-oriented program that usually takes 4 semesters to complete and requires an independently written thesis. There are no credit-hour or specific course requirements. Each student's program (course work and research) is individualized and decided upon in consultation with a Special Committee which the student selects and that is made up of faculty from the student’s major and minor subject areas. The program is intended for those interested in a research or academic career and, generally, continuation into a Ph.D. program. In fact, several of our concentrations will not accept terminal M.S. applications. Those interested in a terminal Master’s degree should apply to the Master of Engineering program; others may apply for the combined MS/PhD program. Competition for these assistantships and fellowships is very keen and in general only about 5% of new M.S. (/Ph.D.) applicants will receive an offer of financial aid. Please note that because there are no credit-hour requirements in the M.S. (or Ph.D.) program, credits earned at another university cannot be transferred to an M.S. (or Ph.D.) program at Cornell.

Both the M.Eng. and M.S. degrees are excellent preparation for a Ph.D. program or for a career. 

What materials should be included in my application?

In addition to the application form and Statement of Purpose, CEE requires a minimum of three letters of recommendation, transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate courses taken, and valid TOEFL or IELTS scores for any applicant whose native language is not English. No exceptions are granted. Although a resume is not required, it is helpful.

Do I have to take the TOEFL or IELTS?

All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. International students demonstrate proficiency by submitting official test scores from TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).  All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. International students demonstrate proficiency by submitting official test scores from TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). As an alternative to the TOEFL, Cornell currently accepts IELTS scores with the minimum overall score being 7.0 score. For applicants in regions where the TOEFL iBT is not available, Cornell will continue to accept scores for the paper-based test (PBT). Although individual graduate fields may require higher scores, Cornell’s official minimum sub-scores for each element of the TOEFL are: 

IBT Version: 

  • Writing: 20 
  • Listening: 15 
  • Reading: 20 
  • Speaking: 22 

Send scores to Cornell University Graduate School, Code # 2098. 

The TOEFL score must be dated within two years of the time the application is reviewed by Cornell. Photocopies of TOEFL score reports will not be accepted. 

Take the TOEFL early enough to have the results submitted at the time of your application. Please note that we cannot confirm receipt of test scores until the student has submitted an online application. Exam dates are posted on the TOEFL web site. 

If you receive your test results and any sub-score does not meet the requirement, you should make arrangements to retake the test. 

An application cannot be considered complete until Cornell receives official scores from ETS. An offer of admissions cannot be made nor can a visa document be issued if an application is incomplete. If your TOEFL score does not meet the requirement, we cannot issue the document, and you will not be able to enter the country. 

What are the institutional and departmental codes for the TOEFL scores?

  • Institutional code: 2098
  • Departmental code for TOEFL: 65

When is the application due?

For FALL admission, the deadline for completed applications, including all supporting materials, is January 5. Applications will not be accepted after January 5, although it is very much to the applicant's advantage (especially international applicants) to apply earlier.

For SPRING admission, the deadline for completed applications, including all supporting materials, is October 15. Financial aid is rarely available in the Spring. No separate application form is required to apply for financial aid; simply check the box on the application form that asks if you wish to be considered for merit-based aid.

How much is the application fee?

The current application fee is $105.

Financial Hardship: In cases where the application fee presents a financial hardship for an applicant, the Graduate School will consider a request for a fee waiver. Please include documentation of need such as a letter from a college financial aid office. If you are not a current student or are unable to obtain a financial aid letter, include a brief description of your financial need and any documentation that supports your request (W2, tax return form, etc.). Please go to the Fee Waiver instruction page OR to the grad school's link Contact Us!  Be sure to include the degree program to which you plan to apply. Please note: fee waiver requests will be processed Monday through Friday, during normal business hours, with the exception of holidays and breaks when the university is closed. Allow up to three business days for your request to be processed.  

Please also visit the Graduate School website for more detailed information regarding application fee waivers (

My transcripts are not in English. Will you accept them?

No, transcripts must be in English.

How do I pay my application fee?

The application fee is paid on-line within the application form.

Can I update my online application after it is submitted?

Unfortunately, once you submit your application, you will not be able to make further adjustments or changes. We ask that you review all application materials before submission. To ensure we are maintaining a fair and holistic review of all applications, we will not be uploading application documents for applicants upon request, and will only consider materials that were submitted with the application.

Can I apply and delay my enrollment, if I decide to begin my studies later?

We do allow deferrals up to two times for medical emergencies, family matters, or visa delays. We do not allow more than two deferrals per student and will ask that you reapply for the program. 

Is there an interviewing process for admission?

Applicants will be asked to respond to a few questions within the admissions system. Specific instructions will be provided while applying. Having a camera accessible on your computer will be required.

How much is tuition?

Tuition rates for the current academic year are listed by the Office of the Bursar. Please note that tuition rates are subject to change in future academic years.

  • Tuition for M.S. and Ph.D. programs in an endowed college are listed under “Doctoral and Other Professional Degrees.”
  • Tuition for in-person M.Eng. programs is listed under “Master’s Degrees.”
  • Tuition for M.Eng. Distance Learning programs is on a per-credit basis, and the rate is listed under “Other Tuition Fees.”

Is financial aid available?

Ph.D.: All Ph.D. students are fully funded for the duration of their program, regardless of financial need. Students are often funded through GRA, RA or TAships, and some students are awarded Fellowships.

M.S.: The M.S. program is a self-funded program. Many M.S. students are able to secure outside fellowships or sponsorships to fund their degree. We encourage applicants to seek other sources of support, including fellowships offered by both privates and government organizations, or support from current or potential employers.

M.Eng.: The M.Eng. program is a self-funded program. We do not offer Financial Aid, however there are limited M.Eng. Fellowships that are awarded to incoming students for the Fall semesters based on merit. We also encourage applicants to seek other sources of support, including fellowships offered by both privates and government organizations, or support from current or potential employers.

Admission and fellowship decisions will not be made without benefit of a complete and formal application. Decisions are based on the applicant’s Statement of Purpose, letters of recommendation (3 required), transcripts of all universities attended, TOEFL scores for applicants whose native language is not English, and any other supporting documentation the applicant feels will benefit his/her application (please do not send us copies of research theses, reports, etc.). All admission and fellowship decisions are made as a group, not by an individual faculty member, therefore resumes to individual faculty members requesting teaching/research positions or assessments of the applicants chances of receiving admission/aid cannot be considered.

Are international students considered for financial aid?

Our department does not offer funding based on financial need. All students are considered for funding and/orfellowships based on their degree. 

When are fellowships awarded?

All Ph.D. fellowships are awarded in the Fall and must be awarded to new incoming in a Ph.D. track program (M.S./Ph.D. or Ph.D.). All fellowships are for one year only with the additional years covered by TA and/or GRA appointments. Fellowships cover full tuition, full health insurance, and a 9-month stipend.

M.Eng. Fellowships are awarded to new incoming students in the Fall semester. Fellowship decisions are based on merit and are limited in number.

What is an assistantship?

Includes teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and M.Eng. assistantships. All awards are based on merit, not need, and we never have enough funding ourselves to offer to all worthy applicants. Full-time (15-20 hour per week work commitment) assistantships are offered to M.S. and/or Ph.D. students only. They pay full tuition, full health insurance, and a 9 month stipend. MEng assistantships are part-time only (7 ½ hours per week work commitment). They usually include a ½ tuition fellowship and a stipend equal to ½ the amount of a full TA or GRA.

Is tuition covered by a fellowship or assistantship?

(Please see Fellowship & Assistantship definitions above)

Is there housing available for graduate students?

Many off-campus options are available. Visit the Graduate & Professional Student Communities website for more information.

May I reach out to faculty as a perspective student?

We welcome perspective students to email faculty members to gain insight on their research to see how it may align with their interests. 

How do I schedule a visit?

Visit the How to Visit.

How long does it usually take to finish an MS degree? 

It takes an average of 2 years to complete a M.S. degree.

How long does it usually take to complete a PhD degree?

The Ph.D. program is usually completed within 3 to 5 years (3 years is the minimum; 4.9 is average).

Who do I contact if I have further questions?

For general inquiries, you can contact the Assistant Director of Graduate Programs at 607-255-7560 or at Please do not email transcripts, cover letters, or resumes as these materials will all be considered in the application portal.