The Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.) degree program at Cornell Law School is designed for students who hold a first degree in law as well as an LL.M. (or its equivalent) who want to pursue an academic career. While earning a J.S.D., students conduct original research into specific legal topics of individual interest.
The J.S.D. program at Cornell Law is an exceptional opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of American domestic law, international law, and comparative law, particularly in areas in which Cornell's faculty is world renowned.
As a J.S.D. student, you will be integrated into the academic life of the Law School and have the option of attending the weekly faculty speakers' series and other academic events.
Unlike other law school programs, Cornell Law's J.S.D. is conferred by Cornell University, not the Law School, and is comparable to a Ph.D. This makes the degree more rigorous as the J.S.D. program is run in accordance with Cornell's Graduate School policies.
J.S.D. Application Requirements
Applications to the J.S.D. program are welcomed from applicants who have completed LL.M.-level work. Except in unusual circumstances, however, students are admitted to the J.S.D. program only after earning an LL.M. degree at Cornell Law School, in which they must have received all honor and high honor grades.
Out of an average of 40 applicants, only 1 to 3 J.S.D. students are admitted per year. Admission is based on a holistic review of the entire application including prior academic performance, recommendations, special academic honors received, publications authored or co-authored, and work experience.
English proficiency requirement
Because Cornell Law's J.S.D. program is writing-intensive, all applicants must have exemplary English skills.
International applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
The TOEFL and IELTS tests are offered frequently throughout the world. We accept both the internet-based (iBT) TOEFL and IELTS tests. You must request that the Educational Testing Service send your official TOEFL score report(s) to LSAC using the institution code number 8395. You must request that your official IELTS score report(s) be sent to the LSAC Credential Assembly Service for electronic download using the IELTS system.
Applicants should plan to take either test prior to February. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid only if dated within two years of the program's application deadline.
The English language proficiency requirement may be waived if the applicant meets at least one of these criteria:
- is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, or a citizen of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (except Quebec).
- at the time you enroll at Cornell, you will have studied in full-time status for at least two academic years within the last five years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, or with English language instruction in Canada or South Africa. Even if English was the language of instruction at your school, if you did not study in one of these countries you are not exempt from the requirement. You must submit a transcript that shows you attended college in one of the approved locations, and that your academic program was at least two years in length.
If you meet the criteria, you may request a waiver by uploading an addendum to your online application with the appropriate documentation. Waiver requests are reviewed with complete applications only.
Note: If you are a current Cornell Law LL.M. student, you do not need to submit additional proof of your English proficiency.
How to Apply
Application Deadline: May 1.
All applications must be submitted through the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
LSAC's Credential Assembly Service simplifies the application process by centralizing the collection of application materials and distributing them in an electronic report to all law schools to which you apply. This means that if you are applying to multiple law schools, you will only have to submit application materials once. And because Cornell receives all required materials electronically from LSAC, we can process all applications faster and more efficiently.
Unexpected delays do happen. We strongly advise that you register with LSAC six weeks before the May 1 application deadline, and ensure that application materials are received by LSAC at least four weeks before the application deadline.
The completed Cornell Law School J.S.D. Application form and supporting documents include:
- Résumé/C.V.- All applicants are required to submit a resume or c.v. detailing any applicable work history, educational achievements, community and/or service work.
- Statement of interest-A detailed personal statement of interest (approximately 750 words) is an essential part of the application. The statement should include a discussion of your purpose in obtaining the degree, as well as an explanation of your research and study interests in relation to your previous education and professional goals. Please include your full name on the top of each page of the statement of interest.
- Research proposal-A detailed and footnoted research proposal of no more than 3,000 words.
- Transcripts/degree certifications-Complete official transcripts of all previous college, university, and graduate/professional school study, including work done at Cornell. All applicants must register with LSAC's Credential Assembly Service and utilize both the Document Assembly and International Transcript Authentication and Evaluation Services.
- Letters of recommendation-The committee requires two letters of recommendation but will review a maximum of four letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation must be submitted from faculty members or employers acquainted with your work in the major area of study. If you’ve graduated from school several years ago (two years of more), we would expect you to ask a current or recent employer who can comment on your work ethic and character. The committee is primarily interested in the recommender’s judgment about your academic abilities and professional capabilities.
- Demonstration of English proficiency-Proficiency in English is required for admission and your level of proficiency, as demonstrated by all aspects of the application, is a significant factor in our decision-making process. International applicants must submit an official TOEFL or IELTS score.
- Application fee-Payment of the nonrefundable $80 (USD) application fee.
Documents must be submitted in their original language; documents in languages other than English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Only complete applications will be reviewed by our committee.
J.S.D. Degree Requirements
During your first year in residence, you must take an active part in one required course, the Cornell Graduate Colloquium, in which you will present your research in progress. In addition, you may be required by your Special Committee to take specific courses. Beyond this, no specific courses are required. However, you must meet certain requirements by the end of your first year of the J.S.D. program to be admitted to candidacy for the degree. A minimum of two semesters of residency at the Law School are required, though completion of the degree normally requires six to eight semesters (not necessarily all in residence).
You will work under the direction of a Special Committee of your choosing. Your committee chair and at least one other member must be members of both the Cornell Law School faculty and the Graduate School faculty in the Field of Law. At least three members must be members of the Graduate Faculty. Learn more about choosing your Special Committee here.
During your first year, your Special Committee chair may require that you successfully audit or complete specific courses or seminars deemed useful for your development as a scholar.
You must successfully submit and orally defend a dissertation prospectus before your Special Committee or Special Committee chair and at least one other member of the Graduate School faculty in the Field of Law. The prospectus, which must be completed before the end of the third semester, outlines in detail the structure, content, and methodology of your proposed dissertation.
To earn a J.S.D., you must pursue and complete with distinction the program of study and investigation as set forth in the prospectus, producing a dissertation that constitutes a significant contribution to legal scholarship. Following submission of the dissertation to your Special Committee, you must pass a final examination (usually on the subject matter of the dissertation) and any other examinations that the Special Committee requests. Following the examination and the Special Committee's approval of the dissertation, you must submit the dissertation to the Graduate School of Cornell University.
Contact us to learn more or request a copy of our J.S.D. Field Handbook.