Graduate Program in Composition

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The Composition program at Cornell combines private lessons and group seminars, with an emphasis on the development of the student’s personal approach to composition, while attaining the highest possible technical mastery. The D.M.A. at Cornell blends scholarship with artistic work. Like some Ph.D. programs, we require a foreign language and a thesis dealing with a historical or theoretical topic (not with the candidate’s own music), and we expect that all composers will do some seminar work in academic subjects. A principal strength of the program is that, like all Cornell doctorates in the humanities, the D.M.A. program in composition offers the adventurous student the opportunity to study many subjects, including topics outside the field of music, and to meld these into a highly individual course of study.

Students who do not already have a master’s degree in music earn the Master of Fine Arts in the course of their study; but the M.F.A. is not normally viewed as a terminal degree at Cornell, and those wishing to earn only the master’s degree are not usually admitted. All doctoral students are admitted with four full years of funding in the form of 1.5 years of fellowships and 2.5 years of teaching assistantships.

In addition to seminar work and lessons, students will be required to present a public concert of their work comprising at least 30 minutes of music in various media composed during their study at Cornell. As part of the D.M.A. thesis, students are required to complete a single composition or a portfolio totaling at least twenty minutes’ duration. If a single twenty-minute work is submitted, it must be scored for “large forces”; if a portfolio is submitted, it should cover a range of forces and genres, but again at least one work should be for large forces.

The works by doctoral composers are performed by the student-managed Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players, typically three times a year; the Festival Chamber Orchestra (a professional group of fourteen players, modeled on the London Sinfonietta) presents an annual concert of doctoral candidates’ chamber-orchestra scores.

For detailed information regarding the Composition program, please see the Composition pamphlet here.


Academic Requirements:

Students wishing to enroll in the D.M.A. Composition program must have a B.A., B.Mus., M.A. or an equivalent academic background.

Application Deadline:

January 15th for Fall admissions.  (The Fall semester begins at the end of August)

Application Materials:

The following materials must be submitted online via the Cornell University Graduate School online application system:

  • Cornell Graduate School Online Application form

  • Application Fee

  • Personal Statement

  • Transcripts (and English translations if required)

  • TOEFL scores (see Graduate School TOEFL requirements for further details)

  • Three letters of recommendation from faculty members acquainted with your work

  • An essay, term paper, or honors paper dealing with music history, theory, or analysis

  • Scores of two recent compositions, with MP3 recording (over-sized scores that cannot be submitted via the online application, may be mailed to: Graduate Field Assistant in Music, Cornell University, 101 Lincoln Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-4101)


Every student accepted into the D.M.A. in Composition program at Cornell receives four years of guaranteed funding, including financial support for three summers. Every student is given a fellowship for the first year; the remaining semester of fellowship is usually taken in the fourth year, or may be deferred if outside funding is procured by the student. The remaining 2.5 years of funding are in the form of teaching assistantships. Student Health Insurance is provided under fellowship and teaching assistantships. Partners, spouses, and dependants can be included for additional charges.

Although it is possible to complete the D.M.A within four years, most students require more time. When possible the department may offer additional semesters of teaching, but such support is not guaranteed. Many students seek outside fellowships beginning in their fourth third year. There are also a few dissertation fellowships available through various Cornell programs. Entering students are encouraged to apply for Javits, Mellon, or other outside fellowships as another means of extending their graduate support. For a list of external and internal graduate fellowships (searchable by keyword, program name, or deadline) see the Graduate School Fellowship Database.

The Department of Music offers a wide variety of teaching experiences, and students are free to request a specific teaching assignment. The faculty makes every effort to match interest and skill to course offerings. Click here to learn more about teaching assistantships.

Composers' Forum

The Composers’ Forum brings renowned guest composers, artists, scholars, and performers to the campus several times a year.

Forum meetings take place on select Fridays at 1:25 PM in the Alfred E. Kahn Seminar Room, room 316, within the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance (main entrance at 220 Lincoln Hall), except where noted. All meetings are open to the public.