Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy
How long will it take
me to complete the program?
The program is intended to take two years to complete.
Students enter the program in August (fall semester) and typically graduate
in May of the following year.
How many students are
in the program?
Each new cohort typically consists of about 8-12 new students.
The fall semester you enter the program, you will share some classes with the
exiting cohort. Therefore, we have our largest student numbers in the fall
(about 20-25 students).
What are the ES &
P program’s objectives?
Our goal is to help students develop:
literacy needed to understand environmental processes;
skills necessary to work in the environmental sciences;
literacy needed to understand the environmental policy process;
- creative problem-solving skills
required to deal effectively with environmental issues;
for the history and development of environmental issues;
with current trends in environmental thought in numerous disciplines.
Will all my courses
be taken within the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability?
No, our program involves a significant level of cross-campus
collaboration among a number of different departments and colleges, including
Biology, Politics and International Affairs, History, Communication, Forestry,
Engineering, and Mathematics. Research and teaching often focuses on Arizona
and Colorado Plateau issues, although many students and faculty include an
international component in their work in the program.
How many credits do I
need to graduate?
To complete the degree, you need 34-36 total credit hours.
- 15 credit
hours of core courses; and
- 21 credit hours for the Science and
Policy Emphasis or 19-20 hours for the Paleoenvironmental Sciences Emphasis
How many core courses
are required as part of the degree and what do they cover?
As part of your 36-credit hours, you will be required to
complete the program core (15-credit hours). The core consists of an initial 3
unit course that provides an overview of environmental science and policy,
typically taken in the fall semester; a three unit course in quantitative
analysis; two one-unit courses in research methods and design; and 7 units of
thesis credit where you will work closely with your major professor and others
to conduct an original research project.
What kind of Emphasis
Area courses can I take?
Students in the Science and Policy Emphasis will need to
take 9 credit hours of emphasis requirements, focusing on Water Resources,
Atmosphere and Climate, Land Resources, and Environmental Laws, Regulations and
Policy. Students choosing the Paleoenvironmental Sciences Emphasis will need to
take 19-20 credit hours of coursework in addition to the program core. You will
choose these emphasis courses in consultation with your advisor.
What kind of elective
courses can I take?
Students in the Science and Policy Emphasis can take 12
units of specialized, elective courses at the 500 level or above, chosen in
consultation with your Program Committee.
Is a thesis required
to complete this degree?
Yes, a thesis, based on your own original research, is a key
component of the master’s degree program in Environmental Sciences and Policy.
Students typically develop a thesis proposal during their first year in the
program. The process includes a formal thesis proposal and meeting with your
thesis committee; independent research (usually conducted during the summer and
your second year in the program); an oral defense before your thesis committee
(usually as part of a public program at the end of your second year), and a
final copy of the thesis submitted to the Graduate College.
If I have more
questions about the program of study and degree requirements for the ES & P
program, who can I talk to?
For more information about the ES & P program of study
contact Dr. Jacqueline Vaughn, ES & P graduate coordinator. The program of study form is available on the ES & P website.
When are applications
The graduate committee typically reviews applications to the
program annually beginning in mid-February and makes decisions on admission by
early March. Therefore, to be considered for fall admission into the ES & P
program, we highly recommend that you submit your complete (on-line
application, letters of reference, transcripts) application by February 1. We
encourage students who are interested in applying after February 1 to contact
the graduate coordinator for information about potential options and space
availability in the program.
Can I apply for
admission for the spring semester instead of fall?
The Graduate College typically closes its admissions window
in early spring, and from that point on, accepts applicants only for the fall
semester. Exceptions from this policy are extremely rare, and only in
You may take courses as a Non-Degree student if you have
been admitted to the Graduate College but not to the ES & P program itself.
No more than 12 units of graduate credit earned under Non-Degree status may be
applied to a graduate degree, and only if the coursework is appropriate to your
program of study. Taking coursework does not guarantee admission to the
Is completion of the
Graduate Record Exam (GRE) required for admission into the program?
Yes, the GRE is required for admission. The program requires
that you submit scores for the general test only; the advanced subject test is
How many letters of
recommendation do I need to include with my application?
In order to have a complete application, you should include
3 letters of recommendation. Please seek out referees that can speak to the
quality of your work (e.g., past employers, professors, and/or mentors), as
well as your potential success in graduate school (e.g., past/current
professors). Avoid personal references from friends and relatives. Direct your
referees to submit their letters electronically to the Graduate College.
Is a specific
undergraduate degree required for admission into the program?
No, we do not require that you hold an undergraduate degree
in a particular field for admission into the program. Students from a wide
variety of backgrounds (e.g., environmental science, geology, engineering,
biology, psychology, environmental studies, political science, environmental
policy, business) have excelled in this program. While a science-based
undergraduate degree is not required for admission into the program, we do
recommend that students have some basic coursework in math (e.g., college-level
algebra, quantitative reasoning) and the sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry,
biology) before entering the program.
Is a personal
statement, essay, or writing sample required?
The ES & P program application requires that you submit
both a short personal statement of your interests and goals in applying to the masters
degree program, and a sample of your written work. The personal statement is an
opportunity for you to provide information about yourself that is not already
included in your transcript or letters of recommendation. You may want to go
into more detail about the reasons you are applying to NAU, any irregularities
in your academic record, or the faculty you have spoken or met with in
considering the program. While we do not expect you to have decided on a
specific thesis or research agenda prior to applying for admission, you should
include examples of environmental problems, issues, topics, or processes that
are of interest to you.
If you have recently received, or soon plan to receive your
undergraduate degree, the writing sample should reflect your work in a
classroom setting, such as a research paper or critical thinking/reflective
work you submitted. If you are a non-traditional student who has been away from
the classroom for awhile, the writing sample might consist of a memorandum or
report you have written, a short publication, or similar document. Most writing
samples are under 5 pages in length, and submitted primarily to demonstrate
your writing ability rather than subject matter knowledge.
Do I need to identify
a potential faculty advisor, or talk with faculty as part of the admissions
Yes, we strongly encourage you to contact faculty members
whose interests mirror yours prior to submitting your application to the
program. Because we try to match up faculty and incoming students based on
their potential research goals and program of study, it is advisable that you
set up a telephone or in-person interview if possible. This list of our faculty
outlines their areas of expertise and research interests. When speaking with a
faculty member, be prepared to discuss your background, specific areas of
interest, and career goals.
After I apply, when
will I hear back if I am accepted to the program?
You should hear back on whether you are admitted to the
program by the end of March. Applicants should expect all communication to be
electronic and sent to the email address provided with your Graduate College
application. Some applicants may be placed “on hold” while the graduate
admissions faculty wait to hear from the first round of students that have been
accepted into the program once we reach capacity. We will make every attempt to
keep you informed about your status throughout the process.
Do I need Arizona or
in-state residency to be admitted into the program?
No. All applicants are classified at the time of admission
as either a residents or non-residents based on the information provided in the
application. In addition, the ES & P program is part of the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which allows some out-of-state students (non-residents)
to qualify for in-state tuition rates. For more information, see the link above
and the information below under the FAQs for “financing your degree”.
Do I need to be U.S.
citizen to be admitted into the program?
No. International students applying for admissions into NAU
graduate programs, however, have additional admission requirements, including
financial guarantee statements, submission of official transcripts, and
submission of TOEFL test scores or the equivalent. Go to the Graduate College
website or contact the Graduate College (Graduate@nau.edu; 928-523-4348) for
English is not my
first language; will I be able to do well in this program?
Non-native English learners have succeeded in this
program. The small class size of many of
NAU’s graduate classes offered, along with the opportunity for many group and
team learning activities can assist international students in their learning.
The University requires a minimum TOEFL score of 80 on the Internet-based test,
or 550 on the paper-based test. The minimum IELTS score is 7.0. Refer to the
Graduate College webpage for more information.
I haven’t had much
work experience; will this impact my ability to do well in this program?
Many students go on to get their master’s degree directly
out of their undergraduate studies. Others may have entered the Peace Corps,
traveled, had volunteer or military experience, worked for a local, state, or
federal agency or nonprofit organization, or raised a family.
Is there a minimum
GPA or GRE score required for admission to the ES & P program?
No, there is no minimum threshold for admission. The
admissions committee considers an applicant’s total package in recommending
acceptance, which includes their undergraduate GPA and coursework; letters of
recommendation; GRE scores; and personal statement, along with any
extracurricular and work experiences.
If I have more
questions about my application/admission into the program, who can I talk to?
- If you are having trouble with the
on-line application or have additional questions about general admission
requirements for NAU, please contact the Graduate College.
- If you have questions about where to
submit letters of reference or whether we have received your application
materials, please contact the SESES office.
- If you have additional questions
about the specific admission requirements for the ES & P program, please
contact Dr. Jacqueline Vaughn, the ES & P graduate coordinator.
How much will my
degree cost me?
The cost of attending graduate school includes tuition and
fees, as well as books, room and board, transportation expenses, etc. Refer to
this link for an estimate of annual cost of graduate school at NAU.
Do I qualify for
in-state tuition rates?
To qualify for in-state tuition rates, students must be a
resident of Arizona. Proof of residency is required. In addition, the ES &
P program is part of the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which allows
some out-of-state students to qualify for in-state tuition rates. Students
classified as non-residents by the Admission Office may petition to change
their residency status. However, it generally takes at least 12 months of
physical presence in Arizona to establish residency.
Is there financial
Limited tuition assistance (e.g., tuition waivers) and
Graduate Assistantships (GA)(e.g., teaching and research assistantships) may be
available to ES & P students. Tuition waivers are available for both
Arizona and out-of-state students but do not include the cost of student fees,
or incidental costs such as parking permits. The availability of tuition
waivers and assistantships varies and will be awarded on a competitive basis.
No additional applications or forms need to be completed or submitted in order
to be considered for a tuition waiver or Graduate Assistantship. Students
awarded a Graduate Assistantship must enroll in a minimum of 9 credit hours
Graduate students in the ES & P program generally
receive four semesters (two years) of support, regardless of its source, as
long as they are making satisfactory progress toward completion of their degree
requirements and receive satisfactory job performance evaluations. Satisfactory
progress and performance are measured by the student’s Program Committee and
the graduate coordinator for the ES & P program.
In addition, we encourage our students to apply for
competitive scholarships within and outside of the university. Refer to the
website for more information. Additional scholarship and assistantship
opportunities may be available through NAU; please refer to the Graduate College website for more information.
Am I eligible for
If you are concerned about financing your degree, we
encourage you to contact the financial aid office to learn more about current
loan rates and scholarship opportunities.
Can I work while I am
enrolled in the program?
The ES & P program is an intensive program and is not
conducive to part-time study. Therefore, full-time employment while enrolled in
the program is not advised. However,
some students choose to seek part-time or summer employment to help cover
tuition and living expenses. Students awarded a 20 hour per week Graduate
Assistantship are not permitted additional employment while on contract for
What if I need to
take time off from the program?
Life happens. Students may apply for a leave of absence from
the program. The conditions of leave of absence petitions are negotiated on a
case-by-case basis. Be sure to contact your advisor and/or the Graduate
Coordinator if circumstances require you to reduce your course load, or
withdraw from classes during the semester. Failure to do so may affect your
financial aid eligibility for subsequent semesters, or delay your graduation.
If I have more
questions about financing my education, who can I talk to?
- For general questions about financial
aid, on campus financial resources, and on-campus employment, go to the
financial aid website.
- If you have additional questions
about the availability of competitive tuition waivers and assistantships,
please contact Dr. Jacqueline Vaughn, the ES & P graduate coordinator.
What is Flagstaff
Flagstaff is located in Northern Arizona at 7,000 feet and
is situated within the largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest in North America. Only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon,
Flagstaff is a four seasons, mountain community of 68,000 people. There is
plenty to do outdoors including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and
camping. Flagstaff has consistently been rated one of the best places to live
in the West.
Flagstaff is about one hour north of the red rock scenic
area of Sedona, and about three hours north of Phoenix. The city has a historic
downtown area with dozens of unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
There is also an airport serving Phoenix, and an AMTRAK train station, along
with regularly-scheduled bus service. Local bus service is available linking
the Flagstaff community with the university, the Flagstaff Mall, and downtown.
What is the cost of
living in Flagstaff?
Students have a variety of on-campus and off-campus housing options as part of their NAU experience. Refer to the Graduate College website
to get an estimate of annual living costs.
If I have more
questions about living in Flagstaff, who can I talk to?
Contact the Graduate College (928-523-4348) and/or visit the
NAU Graduate College student resources webpage. Current ES & P students may
also be available to meet with you or discuss Flagstaff life by email or
The masters degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy
provides an advanced education for scientists and managers in the
interdisciplinary environmental sciences. In-depth study of the environment has
become increasingly dependent upon knowledge of the interactions between the natural
world and human society. Today, organizations, agencies, and corporations are
looking for people who can solve problems, understand, explain, and implement
programs by going beyond a single field of study. Many of our ES & P
graduates work with local, state, federal, and tribal governments or agencies
as research scientists or in the field as ecologists, conservation biologists,
wildlife monitors and technicians, or as land managers. They may be employed
with the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service,
Arizona Game and Fish, the Navajo Nation, or other public entity. Others are
employed as agency policy analysts, program managers, or work with nonprofit
groups helping plan sustainable communities, developing conservation strategies,
or advocating policy and political change in Washington, DC or in other cities,
or work on a global level with international organizations. Still others may
choose a career in the private sector, working with a company that seeks to
understand environmental regulations or to establish a reputation for corporate
social or environmental responsibility.
ES & P graduates seeking to influence policy and decisions may
choose law school.
Some of our graduates even go on to earn their Ph.D. in
science or policy-related fields, going on to careers in college or university
teaching. In general, the need for individuals with joint expertise in science
and policy is growing, and there are many job opportunities for individuals
graduating from programs like ours. Refer to our alumni page for more
information about where our graduates are working now.
How do I decide which
career path to take?
One of the unique aspects of the Environmental Sciences and
Policy program is the close relationship that develops between the student and
his or her advisor—a relationship that begins immediately after acceptance.
Because of the small number of students granted admission in each cohort,
faculty work one-on-one with the student, not only providing guidance about courses,
but also mentoring and recommending potential careers, showing how to network
professionally, encouraging students to attend professional conferences, and
co-authoring published work. The program seeks to prepare students for a
variety of interdisciplinary careers, enabling graduates to move beyond a
narrow focus or job title.
If I have more
questions about what this degree prepares me for, whom can I talk to?
For more information about the ES & P program curriculum
and coursework, contact: Dr. Jacqueline Vaughn, the ES & P program Graduate