Below are answers to common questions for potential applicants to the PhD Program in Cognitive Science.

Program and Training

What is distinctive about the PhD program in cognitive science at JHU?

Our multidisciplinary approach to the study of language and spatial representation takes place in a fully autonomous academic department, which emphasizes intellectual cohesion across traditionally separate disciplines to a degree that is incompatible with the standard model of separate departments for separate disciplines. The training of graduate students reflects our focus on the formal structure of cognition at all levels of analysis. The graduate program emphasizes formal training and the cross-fertilization of diverse research methodologies. In addition to multidisciplinary coursework, students complete two research projects using different methodologies prior to the dissertation. Details can be found under Requirements.

How does the linguistics coursework differ from that of linguistics departments?

For concreteness, let’s consider an example: Kim, a student whose primary area of interest within linguistics is phonology. Through basic courses and many advanced seminars (often designed around students’ research interests), our program—like other top-rated linguistics departments—provides Kim with strong training in theoretical phonology, as well as solid theoretical training in syntax and semantics. But Kim’s remaining coursework will differ substantially from that of a traditional linguistics program, in which Kim would take a number of more advanced courses in syntax and semantics, and courses in historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, and other areas spanning the traditional fields of linguistics. In our department, Kim will take courses such as cognitive development, the cognitive neuroscience of written language, the foundations of cognitive science, and the philosophy of language; Kim will also get solid training in experimental methods, learning how to conduct serious studies of the cognitive processes that underlie, and that interact with, the language faculty. And, as addressed in the next question, Kim will receive serious formal training. The net result is that Kim will be prepared to study phonology as a formal grammatical system, as a system of knowledge used in cognitive processes of perception and production, as a computational system with its own special properties, or as a neural system central to speech processing.

How about training in formal/mathematical, computational, and statistical methods?

The only background presumed of incoming students is high school math. A trademark of our program is that our PhDs have considerable formal, computational and statistical sophistication—but this is largely the result of specially designed courses, unique to our program, that start at square one. Our students learn to program computers in our own courses; they take the same serious statistics courses as PhD students in psychology, and learn more advanced statistics within our own courses; and through a specially designed sequence of formal methods courses, they get solid training in a wide range of mathematical tools that fuel contemporary cognitive and linguistic theories. All this training is conducted within a highly supportive environment dedicated to the success of every student, regardless of background. Students entering the Computational Cognitive Science Track are expected to have programming and math skills that allow them to take the basic computations courses (e.g. experience python or MATLAB, linear algebra, calculus, etc.).

How does this department’s research differ from that of linguistics departments?

Like many traditional linguistics PhD programs, students in our program complete two research projects in their first three years. A traditional formula in linguistics programs is that these two projects must span, for example, both phonology/phonetics and syntax/semantics. In our program, the two projects must span different basic methodologies: For example, theoretical linguistic analysis and experimental linguistics, or computational modeling and neuroimaging, or psycholinguistics and corpus analysis, or neuropsychology and development. We encourage students to direct both projects at a common question, approaching the problem from complementary methodological perspectives. Often these two projects then form the basis of the student’s dissertation. Throughout the process—from designing the research, to carrying it out, to writing it up—the student works closely with faculty from diverse backgrounds who assure that the work meets the high standards of theoretical, experimental, and computational work in their respective fields.

How do this department’s PhD graduates do on the academic job market in linguistics departments?

In recent years, linguistics departments have been opening up to interdisciplinary approaches. Because our students receive both deep training within their area of linguistics and interdisciplinary training that includes at least one methodology outside of traditional linguistics, our graduates have found tenure-track positions in a number of linguistics departments; psycholinguists also have positions in psychology departments. See alumni placements here. Three of our graduates have received the highly prestigious NSF CAREER Award, an honor which is especially exceptional for linguistics faculty, and which we believe is a testament to the value of interdisciplinary training.

Application Preparation

Does the department offer any help with the application process?
The department holds information sessions for prospective graduate students on the PhD program and application process. Our current graduate students also provide one-on-one mentoring about the application process, strongly encouraging applications from underrepresented groups in academia. Please check back on our PhD Admissions website for more information as they become available.

How do I choose which faculty of interest to list in my application? Is it necessary to have the support of a faculty member before applying? Who will be accepting students this year?
Students in our department typically work with multiple faculty over the course of the program and co-advising is common; all students have at least one primary advisor at any time. It is not necessary to have the support of a faculty member before applying, but it is highly recommended to mention all faculty members with overlapping interests, and to mention at least two core faculty members in the “Faculty of Interest” field on the admissions form. (A core faculty member is one who is simply listed as “faculty” in our directory.) If you mention faculty members in your statements, it is recommended to include them in this field as well.

A number of factors (funding, existing lab size, areas of interest, etc.) determine which faculty members are accepting students in any given admissions cycle, so the answer for any given faculty member is not typically a clear-cut yes or no. In addition, the admissions process involves pairing prospective students with multiple potential advisors. We recommend that applicants contact faculty members of highest interest to see if they are considering, likely, or unlikely to accept students at any given point, though this is not required.

Do you offer Spring admissions?
We accept PhD applications for Fall entry, only. Please visit the PhD Admissions website for application deadlines. Also see the FAQ on deferral further down.

Can I apply again if I have been previously rejected from this program?
Yes. If an applicant reapplies, they should be prepared to resubmit all materials and pay the application fee again.

Application Materials

Is submitting GRE scores optional?
Yes, GRE scores are optional for the 2021-2022 cognitive science graduate application cycle. If you are applying to more than one program at Hopkins, be aware that each program may have a different position on the GRE score requirement.

Will my application be disadvantaged if I do not submit GRE scores?
There will not be any negative implications for applicants who do not submit GRE scores in the 2021-2022 cycle.

My school changed its grading system due to COVID-19. How will that affect my application? What if my school does not give letter grades in general?
The vast majority of applicants in the 21-22 (and future) cycles are in a similar situation, and we will not disadvantage any applicants for non-standard grading systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like to highlight specific positive achievements that are obscured because of S/U grading, or a lack of letter grades in general, we recommend that you mention of these in your statements. You could also consider requesting a letter writer to discuss specific achievements. In general, qualitative descriptions of achievements (e.g., of the kind found in such a letter, or on transcripts for schools that do not use letter grades) are more helpful to us than grades.

How much is the application fee, and do you accept fee waiver requests?
A non-refundable fee of $75.00 is required for each application to the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Please see here, under “Required Application Materials”, for more information on fee waiving options.

If I am an international applicant, do I need to submit any visa documentation during the application process?
Visa documentation is not required during the application process. Information about visa requirements and guidance for the visa application process will be provided to successful applicants after admissions decisions have been made.

Can one/all of my recommenders be an employer (instead of faculty)?
There is no requirement that recommenders be faculty members, and it is typical for students not coming directly from an undergraduate institution to have at least one such letter. Because employers without significant academic or research experience may not be able to fully assess suitability to an advanced degree program, we recommend that at most one of the letters be from someone who does not have this experience. However, this is also not a rule, and we understand that situations may vary.

Can I apply or submit additional documentation after the deadline?
We will accept some additional or updated documentation after the deadline. For example, applicants may send updated unofficial transcripts that have new grades posted. Email them to [email protected] and include your full name, applicant ID and the program(s) to which you are applying. GRE and TOEFL/IELTS scores will also be accepted after the deadline, but official score reports must be sent electronically by the test organization directly to Johns Hopkins. Please go here for more information.

I am unable to upload a file into my application, what can I do?
Email [email protected] with the attachment. Include your full name, applicant ID, and the program(s) to which you are applying. Only send materials to this email address if you have already tried uploading them and were unsuccessful. Furthermore, if a recommender has difficulty uploading their letter through the online portal, they may send the attachment to [email protected], including your full name, applicant ID, and the program(s) to which you are applying. 

After Applying

What is the interview process?
Selected applicants are invited for a group visit to meet with current faculty and students.  Applicants are typically notified before February. This group visit is usually scheduled for a Thursday and Friday in either February or early March. International applicants who wish to visit the campus in case they are selected will have to obtain information on visa requirements well in advance of those dates. Note, however, that virtual interviews are also offered as an option.

Do applicants visit the campus?
Johns Hopkins has an open campus; applicants may informally visit the campus if they wish. If an applicant would like a more structured tour, they may join a daily tour or explore a virtual tour. Departmental-led tours are not available. Serious applicants may inquire with their top faculty of interest whether a meeting can be arranged. Early in the spring semester, the department invites selected applicants for a department-funded group visit to campus to meet with current faculty and students.

Admissions & Enrollment

How many applicants are offered admission each year?
We typically make initial offers to somewhere between 4 and 8 students; in most years we use a waitlist mechanism to extend additional offers as applicants make their decisions throughout the Spring semester.

Can I defer my admission offer?
If a student is admitted to a term, but is unable to start in that term, they may discuss with their proposed mentor the possibility of deferring admission by one semester or two semesters. This discussion should happen as early as possible. If an accepted applicant cannot start within a year of the initial start term, they must reapply in a future cycle.

Can I transfer credits from another institution?
Requests to waive degree requirements based on previous coursework may be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) after a student is enrolled in the program. Requests should be submitted as early as possible and should include a brief rationale, a transcript copy, the course description, and course syllabus. If the DGS waives a degree requirement, the academic staff must receive written confirmation of the DGS approval to document in the student’s record.

Graduate Student Resources