Majors and Minors


For students in graduate research degrees, earning a “major” or “minor” in a specific subject or concentration is not explicitly linked to the completion of coursework but is instead defined by the student’s special committee. Faculty serving on the student’s special committee each represent a concentration. Because many graduate faculty are active in more than one graduate field or academic discipline, students and faculty should be clear about which concentration will be represented when a committee is formed.


Marcus is a Ph.D. student in the graduate field of chemical engineering. He has a committee chair and two minor members. His committee chair, Dr. Wang, is a member of the field of chemical engineering and is representing the concentration of “polymers” on the committee. This will be Marcus’ major concentration. The minor committee members, Drs. Green and Hernandez, are both in the field of mechanical engineering and are representing the concentrations of thermal science and energy and sustainability, respectively. These will be Marcus’ minor concentrations.

Example of a committee for a Ph.D. student.
Committee memberRoleConcentration
Dr. WangChairPolymers
Dr. GreenMinor memberThermal science
Dr. HernandezMinor memberEnergy and Sustainability

Note that Cornell field structure allows students to identify committee members from all across campus, not just from within their own field. This promotes interdisciplinary scholarship and collaboration.

Students in professional master’s programs more typically earn a “major” or “minor” upon the successful completion of a course sequence within a given subject area, or by completing a capstone project or paper. 



Graduate School Student Services Office