Cognitive Graduate Program

Information for Prospective Students

Application Information

Deadline: December 1 for all applicants

For the details of the application process, please refer to the department’s Graduate Application information page.

Program Information

Areas of Research

Faculty members maintain active programs of research in multiple areas of cognition, including:

  • Executive function and higher level cognition
  • Learning and memory
  • Perception and attention
  • Language processing and reading
  • Semantic knowledge and concepts
  • Cognitive development
  • Emotion and cognition

Information on each faculty member’s research interests is available on the Faculty page. Methods include fMRI, EEG/ERP, neuropharmacological, computational modeling, developmental, behavioral and behavior genetic approaches.

Program Requirements

Joint PhD programs

Cognitive Neuroscience: The PhD in Neuroscience is an inter-departmental program that is entered from a participating Department. Students in the Cognitive Psychology program, whose advisors are participating members of the Neuroscience Program, have the opportunity within your first 2 years of graduate school to declare your intention to obtain a Neuroscience PhD in the Cognitive Neuroscience track. All students in Neuroscience are required to complete a set of common core courses, with the remaining courses being specific to each track. More information is available on the Center for Neuroscience webpage.

Cognitive Science: The Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) at CU-Boulder offers joint PhD and certificate programs in cognitive science. Graduate students may apply to these ICS programs at any time after they are admitted to a graduate program, but they do not normally start course work for the certificate or joint PhD program until their second year of graduate school. Students interested in the Joint PhD with Cognitive Science program must meet course and thesis requirements. At least one of the thesis supervisors must be an ICS fellow. More information is available on the Institute for Cognitive Science webpage.

Cognitive Science/Cognitive Neuroscience Triple Degree: ICS and the Neuroscience Program offer a Cognitive Science/Cognitive Neuroscience/Home Department triple PhD program. Graduate students may apply to these ICS programs at any time after they are admitted to a graduate program, but they do not normally start course work for the certificate or joint PhD program until their second year of graduate school. Students must meet the ICS and Neuroscience course and thesis requirements, and have an advisor who is member of the Neuroscience Program. More information is available on the the Institute for Cognitive Science webpage.

Research Facilities

The various labs in the program maintain state-of-the-art research facilities, including ERP, developmental and behavioral laboratories, and computing facilities for computational modeling. A 3-T fMRI facility is available near campus. In addition, the General Clinical Research Center at the Boulder campus provides facilities for pharmacological studies.

The Computer Laboratory for Instruction in Psychological Research (CLIPR) provides centralized facilities for data analysis, model development and simulation, and many common computing tasks. CLIPR also manages several computer labs in the department, and has a full-time professional staff to assist students and faculty.

Financial Support

Most students who are accepted into the graduate program in psychology at Boulder are provided with financial support for their graduate education. Graduate students are supported by a combination of Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant funding, and are also encouraged to seek external grants and fellowships.

Generally, students TA during their first year. Thereafter, the mixture TA and RA funding varies between labs. Through either funding source, students receive a monthly stipend, tuition waver, and partial payment of health insurance. Students are responsible for paying student fees and the remaining portion of their health insurance premium.

A number of different types of financial aid are administered by the Graduate School. These include University of Colorado fellowships, scholarships, and loans. Students who submit a complete application for admission to graduate study in psychology will automatically be considered for all university scholarships and fellowships for which they are eligible, as well as for teaching assistantships. In addition, if students complete a financial aid application, they will be considered for other need-based monies.


All students complete two semesters of graduate statistics in their first year. In addition, all students must complete the six module Cognitive Proseminar sequence (4 in the first year and 2 in the second year). An integrative cognitive neuroscience approach is emphasized in these courses.

Thereafter, students must take at least one seminar each year. Students pursuing a joint PhD in Cognitive Science or Neuroscience, or a certificate in Behavioral Genetics will be allowed to waive this requirement until the course requirements for those other programs are met. Topics vary each semester, but some recent topics include: language and thought, categories and concepts, applied topics in attention, and fMRI methods.

Additional courses in neuroscience, computational modeling, advanced statistical methods, cognitive science, linguistics, and behavior genetics are also available within the program or through other programs and departments.

Descriptions of Core Courses

This two-semester sequence provides a comprehensive, in-depth survey of statistical methods used in psychology research. Students must also enroll in a laboratory section in which they learn to use SAS to analyze data.


The main topic of this module is research methods in cognitive psychology, with an emphasis on experimental methods. This pro-seminar is designed primarily to help new graduate students get started with their first-year research project and emphasizes the skills and knowledge necessary for them to (a) critically evaluate existing research and (b) design, conduct, analyze, and write up experimental studies of their own in cognitive psychology.


The objective of this section of core course will be to introduce individuals to fundamental issues regarding sensation, perception, objection recognition, and attention. To do so, we will read papers that address critical issues on these topics.


This course is designed to provide beginning graduate students with a basic introduction to (primarily human) memory research. The primary focus of this module is on recent theoretical and empirical developments as well as important (current or long-standing) controversies in the field. In particular, we will examine recent progress in cognitive neuroscience and consider the implications of this approach for models and theories of human memory. Although the course is organized mainly in terms of types of memory (e.g., short term/working memory, episodic memory, semantic memory), the interrelationships among these different types of memories (and other related cognitive constructs, such as attention) will be emphasized and systematically examined.


This seminar will introduce graduate students to fundamental issues in cognitive psychology regarding language. Topics include language and the brain, language acquisition, linguistic relativity and more. We will read and discuss papers that address critical issues on these topics.


This proseminar will introduce graduate students to fundamental issues in the study of executive functions. We will discuss a range of executive functions (including working memory, inhibition, multi-tasking, monitoring, and selection), frameworks for understanding executive functions at the cognitive, neural, and computational levels, changes in executive function across the lifespan, and social and clinical applications of work on executive function.


The objective of this course is to introduce graduate students to fundamental issues in the study of higher-level cognition. Topics include neural and computational architectures, symbolic thought, rational analysis, dual-systems theory, heuristics, conceptual knowledge, analogy, problem solving, embodied cognition, and cultural differences. These topics will be addressed from theoretical, computational, behavioral, and cognitive neuroscience perspectives.



Boulder is a highly-livable city of just over 100,000, including 29,000 students. Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains at 5,430 feet above sea level, Boulder has over 300 sunny days a year, with warm, dry summers and snowy (but relatively mild) winters.

Boulder is surrounded by a buffer of green space, and recreational opportunities abound. There are over 200 miles of public hiking and biking trails, including many within walking distance of campus. Boulder Creek flows past campus and through the middle of town, surrounded by a green belt and multi-use path. Many ski areas are nearby–including Eldora Ski Resort, which is accessible by public bus. Rocky Mountain National Park is also nearby.

The University of Colorado campus is centrally located, and most graduate students choose to live in apartments or shared houses in easy walking, biking or busing distance from campus. An excellent bus system (free with a student pass) provides access to the wider Boulder area, Denver, the airport, and skiing.

More information about Boulder is available from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and City of Boulder websites.