Graduate Education in Environmental Studies and Sciences
The landscape of graduate programs in environmental studies and sciences is complex, but we can offer the following general guidelines for choosing a graduate program. For more information, consult with the Environmental Studies faculty.
Preparation: General Considerations
In general, a student intending to go to graduate school should aim for a GPA of 3.00 or better; 3.5 or above may be necessary to get into the most competitive programs. Most programs will also require that you take the GRE general test, and some may require subject area tests as well. (There is no subject area test in environmental studies or sciences.)
Most environmental graduate programs will expect 1-2 terms of college-level natural science — either chemistry, biology, or physics (or some combination thereof). The majority require at least one term of calculus. Familiarity with statistics is usually desired if not strictly required—but be aware that virtually all graduate programs in environmental studies and sciences will demand strong statistical skills. Economics is sometimes required, and is always useful as a foundation for graduate-level public policy courses.
PhDs are usually required for careers centered on research. These include teaching at the college level or working as a researcher for a policy institute or private corporation. A PhD can also be a valuable credential for teaching at the secondary level.
Getting a PhD usually takes several (five, six, or even seven) years, a great deal of self-discipline, and a true passion for scholarship. Many programs offer financial support in the form of fellowships, teaching or research assistantships, but you will nevertheless forgo substantial earnings while in school.
If you decide to pursue a PhD, you will have to decide whether to choose a traditional discipline or enter one of the relatively new interdisciplinary environmental graduate programs.
Traditional Disciplinary PhD Programs
Many traditional disciplinary graduate programs offer students the opportunity to do interdisciplinary coursework and research. For example, Michigan State University offers a “graduate specialization” in Environmental Science and Policy. Graduate students in any department can pursue such a specialization. You should investigate individual programs to find out how welcoming it is to interdisciplinary projects.
Interdisciplinary Environmental PhD Programs
Interdisciplinary environmental programs usually involve coursework in environmental science and social science, particularly those social science disciplines related to public policy (economics, policy analysis, and political science). Most programs require students to focus on a more or less narrowly defined area, like conservation biology, environmental justice, risk analysis, environmental informatics, land-use planning, etc.
Masters and other Professional Degrees
A master’s degree can prepare one for a PhD program, but most of these programs focus on preparing students for specific careers. An interdisciplinary environmental master’s degree can be a useful credential for a career in public policy, business consulting, or teaching. It usually takes 2-3 years to get a master’s degree. In addition to interdisciplinary environmental masters degrees, you may want to consider a masters of public policy (MPP), a law degree (JD), or a degree in landscape architecture or engineering.
Before investing in a masters or professional degree, make sure to investigate your desired job to find out which kind of degree is the most valuable credential for that job.
Choosing a school
Given the variety of interdisciplinary environmental programs, it may be difficult to know how to choose one. There are no national rankings of programs, but some have been around long enough to develop a good reputation. Some well-respected programs are:
- University of Michigan School of Natural Resources
- Yale School of Forestry and the Environment
- Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment
- UC-Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management
- University of Colorado-Boulder Graduate Program in Environmental Studies
- Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs