Graduate Program

Introduction and Application Requirements

Grad students

Our faculty expertise in the global study of race and Blackness in the traditional disciplines of English, anthropology, literature, history, politics, philosophy, sociology and art history makes Africana studies at Cornell a significant resource for graduate students who want to engage in the interdisciplinary study of Black people in Africa, the African diaspora and around the globe.  There are few departments or programs that match our strengths in:

  • Black political, cultural, philosophical and artistic thought and practice in global perspective
  • Global studies in black popular and mass culture 
  • Race in relation to the study of gender and sexuality

While we have particular expertise in the study of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, we support and encourage the study of black people everywhere in the world. 

Africana Studies offers a Ph.D. program with full funding, which includes paid tuition, health insurance and a stipend.

Application Requirements Summary:

  • All graduate school requirements, including the TOEFL Exam or the IELTS Exam for Non-Native English Applicants (Scores must be sent electronically (e-delivery) to the Cornell University Graduate Admissions, Caldwell Hall e-download account. E-delivery may also be referred to as an e-TRF by your test center.)
  • Statement of purpose    
  • Writing sample
  • Personal Statement
  • Three signed letters of recommendation on letterhead   
  • GRE general test not required
  • Minimum of a 3.0 cumulative GPA 
  • The deadline to apply for the Fall 2024 term is January 15, 2024
  • Cost to apply is $105. For more information, please see the Graduate School website.

To apply now, visit the Graduate School website.


Graduate education at Cornell is designed to accommodate the specific interests, objectives and development of individual students who work out a program of study in consultation with a special committee selected by the student from the membership of the graduate faculty. This procedure, commonly referred to as "the committee system," takes the place of uniform course requirements and uniform departmental examinations and is intended to encourage freedom and flexibility in the design of individual students' degree programs. Such a system requires adaptability on the part of both faculty and students, and requires of each student a high degree of initiative and responsibility.

Required Courses

There are four required courses and a dissertation proposal workshop that introduce students to the field of Africana studies:

Year 1

I.   Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis

II.  Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary and Visual Analysis

III.  Topics class in Africana History or Theory (Chosen in consultation with the DGS)

Year 2

I.   A supporting methods course: Students are required to take a supporting methods course. This course is chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor and may be taken in Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC) or in a related field.

Year 3

Workshop on Dissertation Proposal Development  

8 additional courses:

Students must also complete, by the end of their second year, a minimum of eight additional courses, chosen in their field of research emphasis and selected in consultation with their advisor. Of these eight additional courses, one course per semester must be taken with a core faculty member in the ASRC. Students will develop a program of study within major and minor areas of concentration by their second year. Within each track, students will select a geographic area of concentration, e.g. Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, or emerging studies of the global African diaspora. In regards to course load, in order to remain in good academic standing, students are expected to complete at least three courses per semester. Students are strongly encouraged to enhance their learning and training by striving to complete more than the minimum courses. The ASRC Ph.D. Program will only accept the transfer of graduate courses from other institutions under extremely rare circumstances and after the submission of a petition to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

Required Courses for students who matriculated before Fall 2019

There are two required courses that introduce students to the field of Africana studies: 

  • Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis
  • Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary and Visual Analysis 

Students complete the required seminars during the first year and, in consultation with their special committee, develop a program of study within major and minor areas of concentration over the following year. Within each track, students will select a geographic area of concentration, e.g. Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, or emerging studies of the global African diaspora. Students take a minimum of ten additional courses in Africana studies and related fields before taking the qualifying exam (Q exam) by the end of the second year of graduate study. Students are strongly encouraged to enhance their learning and training by striving to complete more than the minimum courses. The ASRC Ph.D. Program will only accept the transfer of graduate courses from other institutions under extremely rare circumstances and after the submission of a petition to the DGS.

Special Committee

The DGS serves as the student's main academic adviser and provisional chair during the first semester of residence and during that period will assist the student in beginning the process of forming a special committee. Because the special committee is charged with guiding and supervising all of a student's academic work, it is important to establish this committee as soon as possible. The expectation is that a student will select at least one member of their committee no later than the end of the first year of graduate study. The entire special committee should be chosen and assigned in "Student Center" by the end of the fall semester of the second year of graduate study and the chair of the committee will become the candidate's dissertation advisor. The two other members of the committee represent fields of study (the "minor fields") in which the student also has a strong interest and will become competent to teach. The DGS will serve as a temporary member of the student's special committee until there is a full complement of functioning members. Minor members may be chosen from related fields outside the department, but the chair must be in the graduate field of Africana studies. Any changes or additions to the special committee before the A Exam can be assigned through Student Center. A student's special committee chair is charged with certain formal responsibilities: 

  • Approving the student's choice of courses for each semester
  • Recommending at the end of each semester that the student be awarded appropriate residence credit. One "unit of  residence" is awarded for a semester's satisfactory full-time study. Fractions of a unit may be awarded for part time or not wholly satisfactory study.
  • With the other special committee members, conducting the Qualifying Exam (Q Exam)
  • Conducting the Admission to Candidacy Examination (A Exam) with the whole special committee
  • Approving the dissertation with the committee after conducting a formally scheduled final examination (B Exam)
  • Recommending the conferral of the degree. This recommendation must be unanimous. The committee is expected to meet with the student at least once a year.

The Q exam

The goal of a Q exam is to test whether the student has the necessary qualifications for continuation in the program. 

The content of the exam is decided in consultation with the student’s committee chair. Passing the Q Exam is required to remain in good academic standing. 


The process and content for the Q exam should be discussed with second-year Ph.D. students early in the fall semester, and the exam must take place no later than the fourth semester of graduate study. 

The Q Exam is comprised of both a written and an oral portion. Each student, in consultation with his or her committee chair, will choose one of the 20-25 page research papers written during a previous semester at Cornell and work with his or her chair to enhance and revise it in preparation for submitting it to the full committee. This paper will form a significant part of the student's oral qualifying exam that must be taken by the end of the fourth semester of study. The Q Exam itself consists of a presentation by the student and questions from the committee. 

At the conclusion of the exam, the committee offers the student its written assessment of progress in developing the knowledge and skills necessary for a Ph.D. in Africana studies and makes recommendations for further study. At this time, the committee should also take the opportunity to propose how the language requirement is to be satisfied, or whether it has been satisfied already. Committee chairs must report the results of Q-exams to the DGS, along with information about the language requirement. 

This exam will determine whether the student will remain in good academic standing.  Students with incompletes are not eligible to take the exam.

The A exam


No later than the end of the third year, each student will take an “A” Exam (Admission to Candidacy Examination), demonstrating proficiency in one major and two minor fields. Successful completion formally admits the student to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

After two years of coursework, Ph.D. students will take the A exam in the spring semester of the third year.

The examination is taken after a student has earned at least two registration units of credit. Unless special permission is obtained from the Dean, all doctoral students must attempt the Examination for Admission to Candidacy before beginning their seventh semester of registration in the Ph.D. program.

Advancing to the A Exam

In order to advance to scheduling the A exam, the student should first clear their dissertation topic with their special committee and submit a draft of their dissertation proposal to their special committee members.

Outline of the A Exam

The A exam will cover one major and two minor concentrations, and is partly oral and partly written.

This exam consists of written responses to questions from each of the committee members, followed by an oral examination based on the responses to the questions. The content and timing of the A exam is negotiated between the student and their special committee. Although there is variability in each A exam experience – the questions and timing are tailored to the interests and goals of each individual student – the exam is typically a “take-home” exam comprised of a minimum of three separate questions (one from each committee member; if a student has more than three committee members, additional members may choose to collaboratively write an exam question for the student, may write a fourth question, or may substitute the dissertation proposal for a question. The student should consult with their committee chair and the other committee members, who will be charged with outlining how the question from the fourth committee member will be incorporated). The student may have anywhere from two days to one week to respond to each of their committee members’ questions. The response time should be agreed upon at least one month before the exam is scheduled. Students may also be required to submit reading lists, syllabi, and/or a dissertation proposal as part of the A exam.

Protocols for Scheduling, Etc.

Students and faculty must adhere to Graduate School protocols for completing the A exam, including scheduling the exam and submitting exam results. These protocols include policies for Faculty Participation (including expectations for faculty and student attendance and regulations regarding remote participation), Location of Examinations, Scheduling Examinations, and Examination Results. Once a student has received the exam questions and the exam has been scheduled, the student is expected to complete all exam questions during the semester in which the exam is initially scheduled. Any rescheduling that delays the exam beyond the semester in which it was initially scheduled will only be approved under extremely rare circumstances, and the student will have to petition the DGS for permission to do so.

Upon passing the A exam, the student advances to Ph.D. Candidacy status. By the time of the A exam, the student should have identified and explored a doctoral dissertation topic. If the student plans to do fieldwork, a great deal of planning and preparation is necessary. Almost all foreign countries require graduate students to be attached to an institute or agency, so all such arrangements must be completed in advance. Students must also ensure that human subjects protocols are approved if this kind of research is germane to their dissertation research and writing. See the Institutional Review Board for Human Participants regulations at

Similarly, applications for travel and research funds are typically made eight to twelve months prior to the initiation of fieldwork.

A Note on Failing the Exam

ASRC adheres to the Graduate School policy outlined in the following link:

Language Requirement and Registration Units

Language Proficiency

All students must demonstrate proficiency in one language other than English. This requirement can be satisfied by taking a proficiency exam or by taking the relevant language course. 

Registration Units

Ph.D. candidates at Cornell must complete at least six registration units. One registration unit is equivalent to one semester of fulltime study. Students entering the Ph.D. program may be granted a maximum of two registration units for a master's degree earned at another institution if that degree is relevant to the doctoral program. However, no commitment regarding transfer of registration units may be made until the special committee has had an opportunity to judge the student's accomplishments.

Teaching Requirement

Teaching Assistant

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree in Africana studies must complete at least three semesters of carefully supervised teaching as a teaching assistant during their third and fourth years. Following admission to candidacy, students will have the option of teaching in the undergraduate writing seminar program.

Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) 

First CTI Requirement:    

In the second year of Africana Ph.D. program, candidates are expected to complete the Cornell Teaching Assistant Online Orientation

The TA Online Orientation includes essential information to accelerate new TAs on the path to success in their teaching roles, as well as details about campus teaching support resources. It should take approximately 4-5 hours to complete all 5 modules in the orientation. 

The Orientation is comprised of the following modules:

  • Module 1: Welcome to Cornell 

An overview of teaching at Cornell and the roles of teaching assistants at the university. 

  • Module 2: Getting Ready to Teach

Preparing for the first day of class, warming up the learning environment, and tips for working with a teaching team.

  • Module 3: Teaching Essentials 

Strategies for engaging students, leading discussions, implementing group work, assessing student learning, and grading. 

  • Module 4: Cornell Policies and Resources

Introduction to Cornell University policies and resources related to teaching. 

  • Module 5: Next Steps

Opportunities for developing your teaching skills and preparing for your future career. 

Second CTI Requirement: 

Candidates must also complete either 

  • The University-Wide GET SET Teaching Conference in the Fall Semester


  • One of the Institutes on Special Topics offered in the Spring Semester

Other Requirements


Doctoral candidates will be required to give a departmental colloquium/presentation in the early stages of dissertation research and writing and a public colloquium/presentation at a later stage. Students must also defend the final dissertation in an oral exam

Graduate School Requirements

Plus, all graduate school requirements

Annual Student Progress Review

In the spring semester of each academic year, Ph.D. students in the Africana studies program will complete a Student Progress Review (SPR)  Using the SPR form, students are asked to reflect on their recent accomplishments, identify challenges, and set goals. Committee chairs then review their students’ SPR forms and enter constructive feedback. Chairs indicate whether progress has been excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement, or is unsatisfactory. Feedback that is documented on the SPR will be made available to the student, all members of the student’s special committee, and the DGS/GFA of the student’s field. Students in years one to two should also include an updated description of research interests. 

Advanced students will update the DGS on progress towards formulating a dissertation question/problem or, if they are far enough along, progress on writing/defending a dissertation proposal or the completed dissertation. If a student has incompletes, the evaluation must include the names of the courses, dates of enrollment and plans for resolving the incompletes. In addition, the self‐evaluation should include a description of published work, conference presentations and/or grant/fellowship awards for the academic year. 

The review will be based on the students' grades, papers, presentations, Q and A exams, publications and teaching in order to determine if they are making satisfactory progress toward the completion of the program. 

Visit the Grad School website for more details on policies.

Africana Studies Ph.D. Assessment

Faculty assess student performance through a variety of direct and indirect measures; these include:

  • Assignment of registration units, which record student progress semiannually
  • Official milestones such as qualifying exams (Q exam), administered early in an academic program, admission to candidacy exams (A exam) which assess breadth and depth in the discipline, the defense of the thesis (B exams)
  • Public presentations of scholarly work
  • Fellowships and special acknowledgements such as student awards for their work and travel grants
  • Evaluation of student skills by TA supervisors or field experience supervisors, undertaken in a systematic way and with notes recorded consistently
  • Annual Student Progress Review
  • Annual faculty supervisor ratings from chairs and TA supervisors of knowledge, skills, and progress
  • Student satisfaction with their learning and career preparation, collected through surveys, focus groups, or exit interviews

To learn more about Africana Studies Assessment Plan, go to Learning Outcomes and Associated Assessments