How many years does it take to complete a PhD?



I am  a  student at a university in the south and am currently completing a dual enrollment program consisting of a Middle Grades Education Masters degree with a concentration in English and an undergraduate degree in English Secondary Education with a minor in Psychology. 

I have noticed that the doctoral programs at Cornell are interdisciplinary and seem to be specialized for each student. I was wondering with my current degrees what my options might be for a doctoral program, how many years it would take to complete it, and if I would be able to focus on English, Education Administration, or Psychology applied to children/adolescent.

I thank you for taking the time to read my email and I hope to hear from you soon. 

--Curious Prospective Student


Dear Sydney,

Thanks for your interest in Cornell.  You are correct that our graduate field structure does allow students to interact with faculty across a range of disciplines and specialties.  Students often use this flexibility to find new ways of exploring research questions with guidance from experts across several related fields.  Successful applicants to Cornell PhD programs come from many different backgrounds so it’s hard to say which programs would be the best fit for you, we do have several tools online that could help you explore your options.

Because PhD students work closely with faculty members I encourage you to use the search tool on our “Field of Study” to identify individual professors who are conducting research in the area(s) that most interest you.  (  In the example below, you’ll see that I searched for the term “adolescent” and found several faculty members in the field of Human Development who are doing work that may align with your interests.  Once you identify the faculty you’d like to work with you can see which programs they are affiliated with.

We also publish a number of interactive dashboards that allow students and applicants to view the median time it takes students to earn a degree in each field.  If you look at the data for the field of English Language and Literature, for example, you’ll see that the median time to earn a PhD is just shy of 6 years.

I hope this information is helpful to you as you consider applying to graduate school!  We’ll post a modified version of this Q&A to the “Ask a Dean” page.

Best regards,


Jason Kahabka, associate dean for administration