Tips for applying TO the NYU Ph.D. Program in Cognition & Perception
This page provides a guide to help you through the process of applying to the Ph.D. Program in Cognition & Perception (C&P). We begin with the most important points:
- Application deadline: December 1st
- The requirements for an application are listed here.
- We do not require or consider GRE scores.
- We welcome applications from diverse backgrounds, interpreted broadly (race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, first-generation status, socioeconomic status, immigration background, undergraduate major, etc.).
- In May, 2021, we held a Virtual Preview Day to introduce potential applicants to our Programs and give tips about applying to graduate school. The full event, including introductions to several faculty labs and some Q&A with the participants may be viewed here.
- You will need to have research interests aligned with one or more of our faculty.
- If this guide doesn’t answer all of your questions, feel free to contact our Program Coordinator or attend an upcoming webinar (dates for 2021 TBA).
Should I apply to C&P?
We study all sorts of research areas, including categorization and reasoning, language, memory, perception, attention, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive and motor development, emotion, action and neuroeconomics and decision-making.
You should apply to C&P if you’re interested in these topics and you want to work with one or more of our faculty. Our program is centered on basic research in these areas. While some of our faculty have research lines that involve patient populations, we are not a program in Clinical Psychology nor in Neuropsychology.
You should also apply to C&P if you are interested in our faculty located at NYU Abu Dhabi. The admissions process is identical if you are interested in working with these faculty, but the 5-year program differs and is described here.
We believe science is better when it is a collaboration among people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. We strive to increase the diversity of both our student body and faculty. We encourage applications from students with a diverse background, interpreted broadly (i.e., with respect to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, first-generation status, socioeconomic status or immigration background). We admit students who majored in a number of areas, not just in Psychology, including Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience and Computer Science.
C&P has overlap in research areas with several other departments (Center for Neuroscience, Linguistics, Philosophy, Communicative Sciences & Disorders, Applied Psychology, etc.) and many of our faculty have affiliations with other departments. The area of greatest overlap is with the graduate program in Neuroscience (a joint Ph.D. program between the Center for Neural Science and the Neuroscience Institute). The Neuroscience Ph.D. program emphasizes research with animal models whereas C&P exclusively focuses on human cognition, perception, and cognitive neuroscience. Many faculty have graduate students from both programs. To determine which graduate program is best suited for you, consider the faculty and the C&P and Neuroscience curricula, and you might discuss the choice with your potential mentor in the C&P program.
Who is a typical successful C&P applicant?
There is no typical C&P applicant! We admit students who majored in Psychology as undergraduates, and we also admit students who studied Mathematics, Computer Science, Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and so on. We admit students whose interests only became evident after graduating from college. We admit students who attended large research universities and small liberal-arts colleges. Although a strong college transcript is helpful, we can look past some bad grades if you provide evidence that you will be successful in our Program. Each year C&P admits 12-20 out of 200+ applicants, so the process is highly competitive.
Our highest priority in ranking applications is a clear demonstration that the applicant has the creativity, skills, and research interests to do important and innovative research in an area aligned with the interests of our faculty. For all applicants, but especially those coming from another field, the best way to demonstrate potential for success is to have experience with related research (e.g., as a volunteer, research assistant, or other involvement). Each lab has different priorities for skills and experience; whereas one lab may value computational/mathematical skill, another lab may emphasize experience conducting research online, and so on. You are welcome to contact potential faculty mentors before submitting your application to determine whether you are a good fit for their lab.
In C&P, most students are admitted with the expectation that they will join a specific lab. If your interests are broader, you should specify all the faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and that is perfectly fine. But, it is important to clearly indicate in your application the research areas and labs that are of interest to you, because no one is admitted unless at least one faculty member says that they would be interested in having you join their lab.
All students accepted into the C&P Program are guaranteed funding for five years of graduate study. Full funding (academic year plus summer) can come from a mix of funding sources including the graduate school, faculty research grants, student pre-doctoral fellowships and teaching assistantships. NYU offers a minimum annual stipend, but most of our students make additional salary through these other sources.
What will I need to write and gather to apply?
The requirements are outlined here and you can start applying here. We neither require nor consider GRE scores in our evaluation of applicants. You will need official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate schools you attended. The application includes a statement of purpose, an optional personal statement, and your CV.
The statement of purpose should describe why you are applying to our Ph.D. program. This might include experiences that inspired your interest in cognition and perception, such as a description your research experience. This should not just be a list, but a description of the research question, how to draw a conclusion from the results, and your involvement in the work. You should include a clear indication of your current research interests, including the faculty member(s) with whom you are most interested in working. You might also mention your goals beyond the Ph.D. The statement is typically two double-spaced pages.
The optional personal statement is more personal than the statement of purpose. If you wish, you can describe your personal journey that led to your application to our program. You can describe personal events or background (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration history, first-generation status, socioeconomic status) that shaped you as a learner, motivated your research interests and goals or affected your intellectual journey. The personal statement is intended to provide context and to help us get to know you and gauge your motivation and prospects for success in our program and field. The personal statement is typically two double-spaced pages.
The CV is a resume of where you’ve been and what you’ve done. It should include your education, employment, research experience (paid, volunteer, coursework), and skills (e.g., in data collection, analysis, computer packages, programming languages, areas of mathematics, etc.). It should list research talks you’ve given or posters you’ve presented at school or scientific conferences and any publications (published, under review, or in preparation). To illustrate your research experience, you may attach a paper or poster to your application. Of course, many successful applicants will not have publications or talks to list, but if you have them, please include them.
You will also need to include at least three letters of recommendation. Letters are most effective if they come from someone who can talk about your abilities in a research environment (e.g., your faculty mentor or research supervisor). A professor from a course in which you did well is less effective, because we are more interested in your ability to move on to independent research than in your skills in taking a class. Letters from an employer in a non-research, non-academic setting are the least useful. If you worked mainly with a doctoral student or postdoc in a larger lab, a letter from this person, perhaps co-signed by the lab faculty member, can be very effective. Although we prefer letters from faculty in our field, if you did research in another field (e.g., Biology), a letter from that mentor will still provide evidence of your ability to do research, read the literature, work independently, and so on. Finally, make sure that your recommenders follow through and upload their letters.
What do successful essays look like?
Here is a collection of successful essays from previous applicants to NYU’s Psychology Ph.D. programs.
Where can I get further help in crafting my application and getting answers to my questions?
- Contact the Program Coordinator Michael Landy.
- Ask for a consultation with one of our faculty or graduate students
- Join us for a Zoom webinar on admissions: The webinars for 2021 admissions are over; check back in early Fall 2021 for next year's dates
What happens next?
After applications arrive on December 1st, we strive to have at least 2 faculty look at every application. We typically receive over 200 applications. In the first stage, we try to decide on a smaller number of applicants (30-50 or so) that we will concentrate on further. Their applications will be examined by more faculty (often those they indicated as being interested in working with), some initial online interviews may take place, and then we decide on whom we will invite to our two Open Houses. Usually, these are visits to New York on two Fridays (the 2021 Open Houses have already taken place) and those who can't visit (typically international students) are asked to join several online interviews instead. This year, these events will be fully online. The dates will be announced here shortly. Invitations are usually made in mid-December, although this can happen in early January as well.
The Open Houses are an opportunity for us to get to know you better and vice versa. There will be an introduction to the Program, interviews with several faculty members (usually three such interviews), meetings with students and postdocs in your research area and meetings specifically with lab members of a lab you are considering joining. In a normal year there will be times to socialize in person with current graduate students and with faculty. This year, we will try to approximate that as best we can online.
Once the second Open House is over, we meet as a faculty to determine whom to ask the graduate school to offer admission. We are limited by the graduate school on the number of applicants we are allowed to admit (based on financial considerations within the department, i.e., by comparing the number of continuing students we have to the available funds to support students from the graduate school and existing supports for current graduate students from faculty grants, training grants and students' pre-doctoral fellowships). We choose whom to admit subject to those constraints, as well as selecting other applicants who will remain on a waiting list. Given that there are often many more qualified applicants than we have space to admit, those on the wait-list are equally qualified as those offered first.
Admitted students have until April 15th to let us know whether they will accept our offer. Those on the waiting list will only be admitted once we hear that a sufficient number of others have turned us down. As such, offers to those on the waitlist, if they happen at all, typically don't materialize until early April.