Guidelines for Graduate Field Academic Handbooks

Executive Summary

Graduate fields develop and disseminate academic handbooks to support their graduate students’ academic progress and to harmonize students’ and faculty expectations by providing clarity on core requirements. Online handbooks are effective recruiting tools, as they provide prospective students with information about the program’s degree requirements, funding, and resources available to support students once admitted.

The information below is designed to help fields develop a new – or update an existing – graduate field academic handbook, especially for doctoral students. These suggestions can be adapted as needed for research master’s degree students and professional degree students.

Handbook Components

Academic field handbooks are most easily understood when presented to students in chronological order so that students can understand the progression of their program and the required milestones to achieve each stage.

Handbooks vary by field in content and scope; the checklist below includes components relevant to most degree programs. It includes suggested language and key questions that should be answered by each section.

Fields that offer multiple degrees should ensure that the handbook makes clear distinctions between the different degree types (e.g., professional master’s, research master’s, doctoral) and that the handbook is divided appropriately based on this. Each degree should provide learning outcomes, field exam information, milestones, etc. Alternatively, a separate handbook can be provided for each degree.

Sample Field Handbooks

These Cornell graduate fields have graduate student handbooks that are useful as examples for their content, scope, and format.

Graduate School Contacts

For assistance updating field handbooks or creating new content, please contact the Associate Dean for Academics Josephine Martell ( or For all other student concerns, please direct students to the Graduate School staff directory, as well as to the Graduate School leadership.