PhD Admissions

Our PhD program provides training and close mentorship in various areas of cognitive science and in the formal methods that pertain to them. We apply a holistic approach to the review of applications and give careful consideration to all the credentials presented by applicants, including academic qualifications obtained in a wide variety of institutions, skills, and experiences that facilitate degree completion and a successful postgraduate career. This results in a diverse group of graduate students, with a sample of different profiles exemplified below:

  1. Candidates holding baccalaureate or master’s degrees in cognitive science or one of the traditional sub-disciplines (psychology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, and philosophy). Such candidates have typically engaged in previous research in one of those sub-disciplines. They are strongly theoretically oriented and their interests in cognitive science are broad. In addition to perfecting their training in one of the sub-disciplines under a close mentorship, they also wish to be trained in methodologies of other sub-disciplines and to produce an integrated body of interdisciplinary research.
  2. Candidates with no degree in cognitive science or one of the traditional sub-disciplines but one in a formal discipline, such as mathematics, physics, applied mathematics, etc. Such candidates have some knowledge of what cognitive science is about and wish to apply their formal training to an interdisciplinary study of the mind. Upon admission, they are encouraged to do some background readings before the fall of their admission year. Such students typically take a relatively heavy range of courses across the cognitive sciences during their first year in the PhD program to fill in their background.
  3. Candidates with no degree in cognitive science or one of the traditional sub-disciplines but one in a related or applied field (e.g., education, foreign languages).  Such candidates have some knowledge of what cognitive science is about and may, for example, have done a summer internship in a psychology-related lab or have taken a few linguistics courses at a summer institute. Upon admission, they are encouraged to do some background readings before the fall of their admission year. Such students typically take a relatively heavy range of courses across the cognitive sciences during their first year in the PhD program to fill in their background.

Admissions Prerequisites

The Computational Cognitive Science Track of the PhD program in Cognitive Science minimally requires students to have programming and math skills that would allow them to take the basic computation courses (e.g. experience with python or MATLAB, linear algebra, calculus, etc.).

Otherwise, there are no set minimum admissions requirements for the PhD program in Cognitive Science. Competitive candidates tend to present the following credentials among their application materials:

  • Previous research experience (or significant work experience demonstrating skills that facilitate degree completion)
  • Letters of recommendation from people familiar with the candidate’s potential in graduate school, providing detailed evidence of research potential in the sub-disciplines of cognitive science and/or mathematical sciences
  • A focused and detailed statement of interest
  • International students – TOEFL scores above 600/paper or 250/computer or 100/IBT OR IELTS bandscore of 7 or better

We strongly encourage candidates from traditionally marginalized or underrepresented groups to apply.

Application Deadline: December 1, 2020

Online Application

How to Apply

All required application materials must be submitted online, on time, and in English to be reviewed for admission.

Top applicants will be invited to visit Johns Hopkins in the spring for a group visit to interview with faculty, meet the current graduate students, and tour our department’s facilities. Final admissions decisions are made soon after the visit.

Duo-degree candidates: If you are interested in pursuing a dual graduate degree in both cognitive science and another department, you should contact possible mentors in both departments prior to applying and be sure to review the required admissions materials for both departments carefully, as they may often differ. In your statement of purpose you must indicate both disciplines you hope to study. See details further down.

Required Application Materials

Visit the graduate application process web page in addition to reviewing the following information. The details below elaborate on general graduate admissions processes and requirements to explain  department-specific expectations. Applicants should read through both sets of information and are responsible for meeting the application requirements laid out therein.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our academic program coordinator.

The following materials are required for the PhD in Cognitive Science application. All materials must be submitted in the online application. Do not send any paper copies via mail.

  1. Transcripts
  2. Statement of Purpose
  3. Sample of Written Work
  4. Three Letters of Recommendation
  5. GRE Scores
  6. TOEFL/IELTS Scores
  7. Application Fee

Faculty of Interest: In the online application, name the primary cognitive science faculty member(s) with which you are interested working in the appropriate field provided. You will find a list of our primary faculty at the top of our directory page. You may additionally list one or two secondary or joint faculty of interest.


One unofficial transcript must be uploaded for each higher education institution you previously attended or are currently attending. All transcripts must be in English; if translation is required it must be from a professional third-party service, then both the translation and the original language transcript must be provided. If admitted, you will be required to submit final official transcripts to the graduate admissions office.

Statement of Purpose

This document should detail specific interests you wish to pursue in our program and your qualifying background. Interests should include primary and secondary research areas of interest (see below), and particular primary department faculty you would wish to study under. If you are interested in the Computational Cognitive Science Track, indicate that in this statement. Incorporate your relevant background, previous experience, and mentors’ names. For example, candidates wishing to pursue computational approaches to cognition are encouraged to discuss their math background; cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, and language processing candidates their laboratory experience; and linguistics candidates their background in generative linguistics. For candidates with no previous background in cognitive science, the statement should convey your formal background, your previous exposure to cognitive science issues, your particular interests in the field, and why our program is an appropriate choice for your study and research. Duo-degree candidates must explicitly mention the relevant dual disciplines they hope to study.

Areas of Interest

  • architecture of the grammar
  • cognitive development
  • cognitive neuropsychology
  • cognitive neuroscience
  • cognitive psychology
  • computation in cognition
  • computational linguistics
  • deep learning
  • formal linguistics
  • functional neuroimaging
  • language acquisition
  • language and thought
  • language learning in aging, stroke, and neurodegenerative disease
  • language processing
  • machine learning
  • morphology
  • neurocognitive mechanisms of language recovery
  • neurocognitive mechanisms of word learning
  • optimality theory
  • orthographic processing
  • philosophy of mind
  • phonetics
  • phonology
  • psycholinguistics
  • representation
  • scene perception
  • semantics/pragmatics
  • spatial cognition
  • special populations (Williams Syndrome)
  • speech perception
  • syntax
  • theoretical linguistics
  • visual cognition

Sample of Written Work

This document can be a research paper, writing sample, thesis, conference poster, etc. The purpose of the sample of written work is to demonstrate your analytical thinking. (Average: 10-20 pages)

Letters of Recommendation

Exactly three letters of recommendation are required. They should be detailed, address the applicant’s suitability for research in cognitive science, and—if relevant—provide an evaluation of the candidate’s previous research experience and future promise. The recommenders should include their contact information and submit online through the provided instructions sent by the application system.

GRE Scores

Official GRE scores need to reach us no later than two weeks after the application deadline and must be sent by ETS. When ordering a score report, direct them to Institution code 5332 (no departmental code is needed). Unofficial GRE score reports submitted by applicants do not satisfy this requirement.


Non-native speakers of English must submit TOEFL or IELTS scores. Unofficial copies sent directly by students will not be accepted. All international applicants should read information regarding credential evaluations, minimum score requirements, and how to send official scores. Some international applicants may qualify for an English proficiency test waiver.

Non-Refundable Application Fee

This fee must be paid before submitting your application. Reference the graduate admissions process for fee details as well as qualifying waiver candidates.