In this section, potential students of the Program in Medieval Studies at Cornell can find the information they need to apply for graduate study.
More information about our program can also be found in the Procedural Guide for the Field of Medieval Studies.
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Applications for admission and aid should be made through the Graduate School’s website. Completed applications should be filed by January 15. For inquiries about the online application, contact the Graduate School Admissions Office, 143 Caldwell Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2602 (tel: 607-255-5820).
Candidates should take the GRE aptitude tests (verbal, quantitative, and analytical, plus the subject test if available in their main subject) and have their scores sent to Cornell (code 2098; use the subject code of 2999, “Humanities & Arts–Other”). Applicants should also provide three letters of recommendation (one more than required by the Graduate School), all college and graduate school transcripts, and a writing sample of about 20 pages on a topic that best reveals the applicant’s scholarly abilities, critical acumen, and suitability for advanced medieval scholarship. The university requires foreign students who are not native speakers of English to pass the TOEFL examination with a score of at least 250 (old online version) or 105 (new online scoring), with the following minimum scores: 20 (Writing), 15 (Listening), 20 (Reading), and 22 (Speaking). The TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) is available for most test-takers and is the preferred version. For applicants in regions where the TOEFL iBT is not available, Cornell will continue to accept scores for the paper-based test (PBT). Exam results are reported to the Graduate School. Recommendation letters can be submitted online or in hard copy. Transcripts, writing sample, and any recommendation letters not submitted online should be sent directly to the Medieval Studies Program at the address listed below.
Offers of admission (with financial aid) are usually made by April 1. The Field of Medieval Studies admits only students pursuing the Ph.D. Please address all inquiries to the Director,
Medieval Studies Program
259 Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-3201
Please review the Advice for Applicants section below.
The Medieval Studies Program at Cornell offers a comparative and/or interdisciplinary doctorate. Each student chooses one major and two minor fields of study. At least one of the minor fields must be in either a different language or a different discipline from the major field.
A literary comparatist’s program, for example, might look like this: Major field: Old English Literature; Minor fields: Middle High German Literature and Middle English Literature. An interdisciplinary program might take this form: Major Field: Medieval History; Minor Fields: Medieval English History and Medieval Philosophy. Programs that are both comparative and interdisciplinary are also possible, e.g. Major field: Middle English Literature; Minor fields: Medieval Latin Literature and Medieval Philosophy.
When you apply to our Ph.D. program, we need to know that you possess a good preliminary training in your proposed major field of study. A sound basis in the main languages in which you are likely to work is obviously essential. We are also likely to be impressed by any good indications that you have thought about the comparative and interdisciplinary nature of our degree, and are aware that work towards a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies is not quite the same as a Ph.D. in, say, Philosophy or History or Germanic Philology. We will have different expectations about your course of study and the directions in which we will expect you to branch out. To illustrate this, consider the difference between Medieval Studies with an English emphasis and a specialist English degree. Our program emphasizes the contributions to understanding of context and sensibility that history and archaeology or contemporary literary theory can offer, and will certainly encourage you to read in other medieval literatures, Latin and French especially, but quite possibly Icelandic sagas and Dante too, depending on your needs and interests. In contrast, a specialist English Ph.D. may give you a somewhat greater freedom to pursue English literature more or less strictly defined over a longer period of time.
It will help us if your application gives us a clear indication of the nature of your major interests and what minors might attract you. It is not necessary at the application stage to declare major and minor fields in detail, just to indicate the main direction in which you think you wish to move. We are looking in part for minds open to new scholarly experiences and techniques.
Students in the Medieval Studies Program normally take courses for three years before their A-Exams, though it has sometimes proved possible for exceptionally prepared students to attempt the A-Exam as early as the end of the second year. During this time most students prepare for exams in one major and two minor fields. (Further minors are possible, but naturally entail extra exams.) Literary and linguistic students have to work in several medieval languages. Western historians and philosophers, while they may have less need for medieval vernacular languages, do need to be able to read Latin with some ease. All students need to be able to read at least two and usually three (or more) modern research languages. No medievalist can have too much knowledge of any research language. We require all Western medievalists to have passed the Toronto Medieval Latin Exam at the M.A. level by the end of their third year. All our students must be aware of the need to be able to read the original manuscripts in their field. A Paleography course is therefore the other general requirement prior to the A-Exam. Time is short; preparation important. The better your preparation, the more time you can devote to branching out to new material and to acquiring deeper knowledge in your major field.
Below are some guidelines to our faculty’s expectations about language (and other) preparation for study in a variety of the major fields that we offer. These are guidelines, desiderata, rather than inflexible rules. But they are significant, e.g. it is not realistic to apply to study western medieval history in our program, if you have studied no Latin, and have only one modern research language, or to apply to do work in Old and Middle English, if you have never read any Middle English or taken any medieval coursework in college.
Last, but not least: we would like to see a writing-sample on a medieval topic, if at all possible, either one 20-page paper, or chapter, or two shorter papers. Choose samples that display you at your best; even better if these demonstrate your control of relevant skills, such as close reading of texts or the deployment of evidence.
Advice on Choosing a Special Committee Chair
Before you can start advanced graduate work at Cornell in earnest, you must have a faculty advisor (a Special Committee Chair) who agrees to supervise your work and who will eventually be the primary supervisor of your dissertation. The advisor must be a member of the graduate faculty of the Medieval Studies Program and there must be mutual agreement on the advising arrangement and eventually on the dissertation topic. The advisor-student relationship will be one of the most important for your career. You can change advisors midstream in Graduate School, but doing so after the second year can be difficult, time consuming, and emotionally costly.
If you are a student who is considering applying to the Field of Medieval Studies at Cornell in order to work in an area where there is only one faculty member, you will wish to think seriously now about who your Special Committee Chair would be, since in effect you would be choosing that person as an advisor even before you arrive at Cornell.
In order to make the best possible choice of advisor, we recommend that you meet with the faculty members with whom you might work and that you talk with the students in the Program about the attributes of the various advisors. Assume nothing and ask everything about the faculty. Some things you can ask the faculty member directly; others you should try to ascertain from the senior students. Look up and read some of the publications of your potential advisors. Remember, also, that the faculty members will have their own questions about you, and that this is a two-way street.
You should expect to make trade-offs and compromises in selecting an advisor. For example, many students naturally wish to work with the most famous faculty members, but it is important to remember that these are sometimes also the busiest advisors, who have the least time for their students. It might be wise to work with an advisor who is more demanding of his/her students if that advisor’s students are better prepared and get better jobs than those of another faculty member. The only inviolable rule is that you should always work with an advisor who is expert in the area of research or scholarship that you intend to pursue.
To enable students to accept our offer of admission, the Graduate School and the field of Medieval Studies strive to guarantee five years of full support. At least four semesters of this support come in the form of annual fellowships: one in the first-year and a final one when students are completing the dissertation in their fifth year. While on fellowship, students receive an award of full tuition, given in recognition of their excellent preparation and promise as graduate students. In addition, the field guarantees at least four years of summer support at the going rate.
Support in other years comes from teaching assistantships, which entail working not more than twenty hours a week and provide both a tuition fellowship and a stipend at whatever the current rate may be. The Cornell student health insurance plan provides annual coverage which remains in place even if students should cease to be enrolled as graduates. Individuals who leave the university or are not funded by the university during the spring semester must pay the health insurance premium for that period. The student activity fee (currently $76 per year) is not covered.
All guarantees of support are, of course, contingent upon satisfactory academic performance (as determined by the field of Medieval Studies) and satisfactory performance as a teacher. We also expect our students to apply, as appropriate, for funding from external sources (our students have been quite successful in these endeavors). The Javits Fellowship, for example, is available to first-year graduate students, and provides up to four years of funding. For additional information, see http://www.ed.gov/programs/jacobjavits/index.html.