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The College of Arts Sciences

Graduate Program

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MA/PhD in Performing and Media Arts

The graduate program in performing and media arts at Cornell University offers students an interdisciplinary environment in which to pursue critical studies of various dramatic cultures, theatrical traditions and expressive behavior in multilingual, intermedial and globalizing performance contexts. The program is located within the Department of Performing and Media Arts and comprised of distinguished faculty from across the humanities.

There are two degree programs for the prospective applicant: the PhD and the joint MA/PhD. Students benefit from the unusual flexibility of Cornell's graduate system and the ideals of freedom with responsibility on which that system is based. A course of study is determined in consultation with a student's faculty advisors, and the PhD may be combined with a formal minor in such areas as directing or acting pedagogy, film studies or feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Cornell does not offer either a standalone Master's degree in Theatre Arts or a Master's of Fine Arts degree in Theatre.


Our program seeks applications from self-motivated, independent thinkers eager to benefit from the unique, interdisciplinary structure of graduate education at Cornell. Applicants may or may not have pursued undergraduate training in theatre, performing arts or media, but they must demonstrate a commitment to and preparedness for rigorous study in one or more of these areas. The program is first and foremost focused on scholarly research and writing, while at the same time providing robust opportunities to integrate scholarly work with artistic practice.

Applications for admission in the fall semester must be received by the preceding January 15. (Students are not admitted for the spring.) An application is complete only when all of the following materials have been received: the application form (including the applicant's personal statement of interest), transcripts, at least three letters of recommendation and a 20-30 page sample of the applicant's academic writing. GRE scores are required, with a total minimum of 1300 for combined verbal and quantitative scores. No subject test is required. Foreign applicants who are not currently attending a university in the United States must take the TOEFL exam and meet the minimum score required by the Graduate School. 

Residence Requirements

Residence is calculated in terms of residence units: one residence unit corresponds to one academic semester of full-time study. Two residence units are the minimum requirement for the master's degree; six residence units are the minimum requirement for the doctoral degree. Some transfer of residence may be possible if a student has already completed graduate work elsewhere. Students are expected to complete residence with reasonable continuity. No more than seven years may intervene between the first registration in the Graduate School and the completion of the requirements for the doctoral degree, unless other arrangements have been made with the student's Special Committee and the Graduate School. The Special Committee, a group of faculty advisors, consists of a chair from within the field of Performing and Media Arts and at least two other members, one of whom must be from outside the field. 

Examinations/Foreign Languages

The field of Performing and Media Arts administers three examinations for graduate degree candidates: the qualifying examination, the examination for admission to doctoral candidacy and the doctoral dissertation defense. Admitted students will receive more information about these exams upon matriculation. 

The field of Performing and Media Arts also requires that all graduate students demonstrate reading proficiency in two languages other than English. The languages must be relevant to the student's research, as approved by the student's Special Committee.

Majors, Minors and Special Committee

The field of Performing and Media Arts offers majors in three areas: Drama and the Theatre, Theatre History and Theatre Theory and Aesthetics. Graduate students are expected to declare their major area of study, two minor areas and the composition of their Special Committee upon completion of two residence units. An incoming student will be assigned a committee chair by the director of Graduate Studies until he/she has formed a complete committee. Interdisciplinary programs are easily arranged by taking minors in other fields. Possible minors include (but are not limited to): Africana studies, anthropology, Asian studies, cinema studies, English, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, German, Russian and philosophy.

Coursework/Student Organizations

There are few required courses in the Ph.D. program. However, students are strongly encouraged to take classes that provide a general background in theatre history, dramatic literature, critical and dramatic theory, cinema and media studies and pedagogy.

Cinema & Media Studies Reading Group
This student group meets to discuss recent academic articles and books that have contributed to the field of media studies as well as screen films that have historical or artistic significance.

Association of Graduates in Theatre
Provides opportunities for grad students to share research interests, socialize and network. Ongoing yearly events include The Roundtable and the Play Reading Group.

Career Paths

Our program is focused on preparing students for careers as researchers and professors, with concentrations in drama and theatre, theatre history and aesthetics, and performance studies. Students work closely with Cornell's Society for the Humanities and The School for Criticism and Theory, interdisciplinary centers of intellectual exchange that draw scholars and artists from across the globe. The University boasts one of the best research libraries in the country, which maintains extensive holdings in theatre and performance studies and houses a number of special collections.

Graduate Faculty

The field's faculty members are drawn from the Department of Performing and Media Arts and from other departments, such as Anthropology, Asian Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, German Studies, English, and Africana Studies.

How to Apply

Visit the Graduate School website to learn more about doctoral study at Cornell, including information about our special committee structure and degree requirements. 

To apply, click here.


Professor Sara Warner, Director of Graduate Studies

Director of Graduate Studies

  Professor Sara Warner

  Phone: 607-254-2727