Graduate Program

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, film and media productions, and expressive behavior in multilingual, intermedial, and globalizing performance contexts. The program is located within the Department of Performing and Media Arts and comprises distinguished faculty from across the humanities.

Students benefit from the unusual flexibility of Cornell's graduate system and the ideals of freedom with responsibility on which that system is based. Our small size enables us to offer a generous funding package. 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 pedagogyfilm studies or feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Cornell does not offer a stand-alone Master's degree in Performing and Media Arts.


All PhD degree candidates are guaranteed four years of funding (including a stipend, a full tuition fellowship, and student health insurance):

  • A first-year non-teaching fellowship
  • Two years of teaching assistantships
  • A fourth-year non-teaching fellowship for the dissertation writing year
  • Summer support for four years, including a first-year summer teaching assistantship, linked to a teachers’ training program at the Knight Institute. Summer residency in Ithaca is required.
  • An optional fifth-year teaching assistantship may be available, contingent upon successful progress toward degree.

Students have also successfully competed for Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship, Society for the Humanities Fellowships, Provost’s Diversity Fellowships, fellowships in recognition of excellence in teaching, and grants from the Graduate School to help with the cost of travel to scholarly conferences and research collections.

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 requires each graduate student to consult with their special committee to decide what study, if any, in a second language is most appropriate for a student’s graduate program and scholarly interests. Some special committees will require graduate students to demonstrate competency and/or fluency in one or two languages. When applicable, a graduate student may be asked to demonstrate competence and/or fluency in specific languages by presenting their undergraduate record, taking additional courses in a specific language and literature, or translating and discussing documents related to the student’s work.

Majors, Minors, and Special Committee

The field of Performing and Media Arts offers majors in three areas: Theatre and Performance Studies, Cinema and Media Studies, 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 by the end of their first year of study. 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): acting and directing pedagogy, Africana studies; anthropology; Asian studies; cinema studies; English; feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; German; Russian; and philosophy.


There are few required courses in the PhD 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.

Student Organizations

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.

Graduate Researchers in Media and Performing Arts (GRMPA)

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 theatre and performance studies, cinema and media studies, and theatre theory and aesthetics. 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.


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.

Eligibility: Applicants must currently have, or expect to have, at least a BA or BS (or the equivalent) in any field before matriculation. International students, please verify degree equivalency here. Applicants are not required to meet a specified GPA minimum.

To Apply: All applications and supplemental materials must be submitted online through the Graduate School application system. While completing your application, you may save and edit your data. Once you click submit, your application will be closed for changes. Please proofread your materials carefully. Once you pay and click submit, you will not be able to make any changes or revisions. Applications for admission in the fall semester must be received by the preceding December 15. (Students are not admitted for the spring.)

PhD Program Application Requirements Checklist

  • Statement of Purpose
    Please provide a one- or two-page single-spaced statement describing the reasons you are undertaking graduate work and explaining your academic interests as they relate to your undergraduate study and professional goals.
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
    Please select three people who best know you and your work. Submitting additional letters will not enhance your application. In the recommendation section of the application, you must include the email address of each recommender. After you save the information (and before you pay/submit), the application system will automatically generate a recommendation request email to your recommender with instructions for submitting the letter electronically. If your letters are stored with a credential service such as Interfolio, please use their Online Application Delivery feature and input the email address assigned to your stored document, rather than that of your recommender. The electronic files will be attached to your application when they are received and will not require the letter of recommendation cover page. If circumstances prevent your recommender from submitting a letter electronically, we will accept the letter in paper form mailed to: Graduate Coordinator, Department of Performing and Media Arts, Cornell University, Schwartz Center, 430 College Avenue, Ithaca, NY 14850. Please do not postpone submitting your application while waiting for us to receive all three of your letters. We may not accept recommendation letters that arrive after December 15.
  • Transcripts
    Scan transcripts from each institution you have attended or are currently attending, and upload into the academic information section of the application. Be sure to remove your social security number from all documents prior to scanning. Please do not send paper copies of your transcripts. If you are subsequently admitted and accept, the Graduate School will require an official paper transcript from your degree-awarding institution prior to matriculation.
  • English Language Proficiency Requirement
    International applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting official test scores from TOEFL or IELTS. Graduate School minimum scores are required. For more information, please view the Graduate School’s English Language Requirement.
  • Critical Writing Sample
    Your writing sample must be between 20–30 pages, typed and double-spaced. We accept excerpts from longer works, or a combination of shorter works.
  • GRE General Test
    The GRE General Test is not required, and no subject test is required.  

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. 

Click here to apply


Karen Jaime
Director of Graduate Studies

Graduate Field Handbook

For more detailed information about the Performing and Media Arts Graduate Program, download our Graduate Field Handbook.