Graduate FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions for Master's and Doctoral Students

General Questions

What kind of financial aid is available? 

The Environmental Studies Program does not administer financial aid, loans, grants, or scholarships. Students seeking these types of aid should inquire with the UO Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. 

Teaching and research assistantships (called graduate employees or GEs) are available within the Environmental Studies Program. All admitted applicants are automatically considered for available GE positions; no special application procedure is required. All GE appointments provide stipends, health insurance coverage, and a waiver of tuition; however, recipients must pay non-instructional fees set by the state Oregon University System. For current fee amounts, see the Office of the Registrar’s Tuition and Fee Structure page. 

The Environmental Studies Program works with focal departments to put together a package of support to offer individual doctoral students when they are accepted into the program. Since funding levels and commitments vary greatly from department to department, our offers of support are determined case-by-case. In general, we try to make our offers comparable to those made to students entering directly into Ph.D. programs in the focal departments. At a minimum, each student accepted into the ESSP doctoral program receives four years of GE support. 

The responsibilities of doctoral GEs are divided between the Environmental Studies Program and their focal department. For our program, GEs serve as teaching assistants for courses in Environmental Studies, advise undergraduate students, work as administrative assistants in the Environmental Studies office, or provide assistance to the Environmental Leadership Program. Some of our graduate students also successfully apply for annual opportunities to design and teach their own courses for our undergraduate Environmental Studies majors. Doctoral GE responsibilities in focal departments may vary, but generally involve serving as teaching or research assistants. 

The amount of stipend depends on the type of appointment (the duties assigned and amount of time that students are expected to devote to these tasks) and on the student’s level of progress through our program. Contact Environmental Studies Graduate Coordinator Ben Hinde ( for the current stipend amounts and other specifics. 

Students seeking additional funding beyond that provided through Environmental Studies may pursue opportunities in other departments, schools, and campus organizations; it is up to the student to research the availability of such positions and make application to the departments or organizations involved. Visit the GE Openings page at the Division of Graduate Studies webpage for a listing of current openings. Some students in our programs are supported by individual grants to specific faculty members, but this is often arranged after the students are enrolled in the program. 

What types of funding are available for international students? 

International students are also eligible for funding through GE appointments. However, international students should consult with the Division of Global Engagement for more information on admissions, orientation, visa issues, funding, and related matters. 

Do I need a science background or a specific degree to apply? 

No. Because our program is interdisciplinary in nature, we admit students from a variety of backgrounds. We do look for continuity and focus, however. For example, if you want to pursue a scientific focus at the University of Oregon, we expect you to have taken undergraduate scientific coursework to prepare yourself for graduate scientific study. In addition, we look favorably on environmental field experience. Many of our students have had some sort of environmental work or volunteer experience with groups such as Americorps, the Peace Corps, or local or national NGOs. 

Doctoral applicants: Since doctoral students must be admitted into the relevant focal department as well as the Environmental Studies Program, it is important to consult with the Graduate Coordinator of the focal department about the background or degrees required to pursue doctoral work in that department. Some focal department require undergraduate or master’s degrees in the relevant discipline or specific course work in order to accept applicants into their programs. 

How long does it take to finish the degree? 

The length of time to complete our doctoral degree varies widely, depending on the focal department and whether the student has completed a master’s degree prior to starting the Ph.D. For more information about time to completion, contact your potential advisors in your focal department. 

Our master’s students generally complete their degrees in two years. Students completing concurrent master’s degrees may take three to four years to finish both degrees. However, funding is usually not available from Environmental Studies for third- or fourth-year master’s students. 

When do classes start and what is the yearly academic schedule at University of Oregon? 

University of Oregon is on the quarter system, with three 10-week quarters in fall, winter and spring, and a summer session with courses of 4 weeks, 8 weeks, or other lengths. Fall term starts in late September and ends in early December. Winter term starts in early January. Spring term starts in late March or early April and ends in mid-June. For specifics, see the Academic Calendar

Most graduate students do not take courses in summer session. Only some (fewer than half) graduate students are supported on teaching or research assistantships in summer session. Most graduate students pursue independent research on their thesis, project, or dissertation; internships; or jobs during the summer. Some students fund their summer efforts through grants and awards from University of Oregon or external sources. Some students take a leave of absence during fall, winter and/or spring terms, at some point in their program, to pursue international or out of town research. 

If I am accepted to the program, is it possible to defer my enrollment? 

The Environmental Studies Program generally does not confer deferrals. However, we recognize that family emergencies or unforeseen complications may arise. We are willing to review a written explanation of your situation if you feel you must postpone attending the graduate program, but there is no guarantee of a deferral. If we do not grant you a deferral and you still want to enroll in the Environmental Studies Program the following year, you must reapply. No special consideration is given to those who have previously applied and been admitted. 

Is your program or the university affiliated with any research facilities available to students? 

The University of Oregon has a wide diversity of research centers and institutes. Research centers of particular interest to environmental studies students are listed on our Interdisciplinary Opportunities page. Interested students may contact individual centers to learn about research opportunities. 

Where are Environmental Studies Program alumni now? 

Almost 100% of our doctoral graduates have gone on to faculty or research associate positions at colleges and universities. Of our masters' graduates, about 30-40% go on to work for nongovernmental organizations, and the remainder are split between government agencies, consulting and business, teaching, and further graduate study. 

If I plan on visiting your program before I apply, is there someone that I should contact? With whom should I meet during my visit? 

Prior to your visit, please contact Graduate Programs Coordinator Ben Hinde ( Ben will be happy to help you plan a productive visit and to meet with you to discuss the application process and degree structure. 

You are also encouraged to contact current graduate students and faculty who are working in your areas of interest to schedule appointments with them directly. Our students are the heart of our program, and they are very willing to answer questions or to meet with prospective students. 

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Application process questions 

How do I choose preliminary advisors for the application? Do I need to contact professors in advance? 

The best way to identify faculty members you would like to work with is to consult the list of faculty on our website (advisors may be either “core” or “affiliated” faculty). We suggest choosing someone whose interests seem parallel to your own. Keep in mind that choosing faculty members for the application is preliminary; many students identify other advisors after they have been in the program for a term or two. 

For doctoral applicants, the relationship with an advisor is very important to your success in the program. We recommend that you research potential advisors and contact them when you are preparing to apply. 

For masters applicants, at this stage you do not need to consult with faculty members or ask them to work with you. However, you may want to talk with some faculty members about their research or the program in general, and this may help you improve your application. Contact them by e-mail. 

What is a focal department and a secondary concentration for doctoral (ESSP) applicants? Do I need to contact a focal department before I apply to the Environmental Studies doctoral program? 

Our ESSP doctoral program is different from many others in that it requires that you identify a “focal department.” This can be any Ph.D.-granting department on campus. Applicants should contact potential advisors in their planned focal department before submitting an application. Because students are admitted from a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds, previous course and degree requirements vary according to the applicant’s chosen focal department. For example, some focal departments require that doctoral applicants have a master’s degree from an accredited institution; other focal departments do not require the master’s degree prior to admission for doctoral work. Focal departments may also have additional application requirements, such as portfolio or writing samples. Please contact the  director of graduate studies for the prospective focal department for more information concerning specific degree and application requirements. 

Do not send any application materials to focal departments. The Environmental Studies Program will provide focal departments with copies of relevant application materials, including those materials required only by the focal department. 

Admission to the Ph.D. program must be approved by both the Environmental Studies Program and the focal department. All applicants are reviewed independently by admissions committees in both academic units. Only candidates accepted by both committees are eligible for admission. Final admission decisions are made by the Environmental Science, Studies, & Policy program. For more information, see our Ph.D. Degree Requirements page. 

The secondary concentration is a set of sixteen credits (usually four courses) that are not in your focal department, and not in Environmental Studies (with a few exceptions). The secondary concentration adds intellectual breadth to your program. They must be graduate-level credits (500 or 600). They may all be from one department, or they may come from more than one department. You should give your secondary concentration a name that describes its theme to the admissions committee. 

Your research direction (as stated in your personal statement), focal department, and secondary concentration should form an integrated, complementary intellectual theme that you explain and justify in your personal statement. 

What exactly is a concentration area for purposes of the Master’s program? What courses can I use for the concentration areas? 

Each master’s student completes two concentration areas, with a minimum of 12 graduate credits (500-600 level) in each area. Students tailor their concentration areas to meet their own interests, and courses may be drawn from any program or department at the university that offers graduate courses. Students may select a concentration area that comes from one department, or an interdisciplinary concentration area that draws from more than one department. Concentration areas of past students have included such themes as environmental history, watershed ecology, women and sustainability, environmental law, landscape theory and planning, environmental economics, global issues in sustainability, perspectives on marine environments, environmental justice, political ecology, Latin American Studies, etc. You may devote a concentration area to the acquisition of an important skill, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), statistics, or not-for-profit management. For more information about possible courses, consult the UO course catalog

You should give each of your concentration areas a name that describes its theme to the admissions committee. Your concentration areas should be representative of your overall academic goals and indicative of how you plan on advancing those goals during your course of study. Explain your choices in your personal statement. 

The potential advisors and course plan that you submit on your application are tentative; we anticipate that you will refine your proposed course plan and concentration areas in consultation with your advisor after admission to the program. 

Is there a preferred format for the statement of purpose? How important is the statement of purpose in the application? 

Each piece of the application is weighted equally, so the statement of purpose is not per se weighted more than other elements of the application. However, most successful applicants have high grades, so the statement of purpose becomes very important in discerning which applicants are best suited for the program. 

The statement of purpose should be three to five double-spaced, typewritten pages that clearly express your reasons for applying to this program. The statement of purpose should support your applicant course plan, indicate how your past achievements make you a good candidate, and describe how your experience will complement your ambitions. For doctoral applicants, some discussion of your research interests and motivation is important. For master’s applicants, some discussion of the theme you have in mind for your thesis or terminal project is important. This is your chance to make your case to the admissions committee. We suggest that you take your time to make the statement of purpose as effective as it can be. 

My undergraduate GPA does not meet the program’s stated minimum of 3.0; is there any way around this? Can I be accepted into the program even if I don’t meet the minimum GPA? 

The undergraduate GPA minimum is flexible, although past course work is often a good indicator of ability to succeed in a rigorous academic environment. If your GPA is lower than the stated minimum, we suggest that you attempt to strengthen other parts of your application as much as possible to demonstrate that your potential for success in the program is higher than indicated by your GPA. 

Is the GRE necessary?  

NO. The GRE is optional to include, we do not require a GRE. Our current policy is to review every application holistically that is complete by the deadline, regardless of a GRE submission.  

Do my letters of recommendation need to come from professors? Are my referees required to use the form that you provide? Should I send letters of recommendation along with my application, or do they need to come directly from the referee? 

It is not required that all letters be provided by professors. In some cases, letters from employers, supervisors of internships or volunteer work may be appropriate to document your skills and preparation for graduate study. However, it is also important that your letters of recommendation document your academic excellence and outstanding potential for success in a rigorous interdisciplinary program. 

May I transfer from a graduate program at another school to yours? If so, what is the application process? 

The application process for our program is the same whether or not you are currently in a graduate program at another university. You may be able to transfer in a maximum of 15 graduate-level credits if they fit into your degree plan, and if they are approved by your advisor, our program director, and the UO Division of Graduate Studies. You cannot begin this process until you are admitted into our program. 

What are concurrent degree programs or certificates? Do I have to apply to both programs at the same time? 

Environmental Studies students may obtain concurrent degrees with majors in law, economics, business, planning, public policy and management, geography, biology, or other disciplines. Students must apply separately and be accepted to the Environmental Studies Program as well as to the school, department, or program offering the major for the other degree. If you choose ENVS as your first degree, you are required to complete the full 57-credit program. The department you choose for your second degree may waive certain credits; check with that department for their policies and procedures. If you choose ENVS as your second degree, we will waive certain requirements, dropping the required credits to 45. We recommend you do not apply to both programs at the same time, as generally each program will have core classes you must take in the first year, and if you start both programs in the same year, scheduling conflicts can arise. In most cases, students complete one year of study in one degree before applying for admission to another degree program. Completing a concurrent degree usually requires at least one additional year of study. 

Some Environmental Studies graduate students have completed requirements for a graduate certificate, such as Nonprofit Management, while pursuing their degrees. For a list of available graduate certificates, see the Division of Graduate Studies website. 

Is it a good idea to move to Eugene before I apply? Will that make any difference for acceptance or for my residency status? 

Moving to Eugene will not make a difference in the way the committee views your application, as all applications are given equal consideration. 

It generally takes one year of residency in the state prior to enrollment as a student to establish residency for tuition purposes. If you enroll as a non-resident, your status will not change during the time you are enrolled at UO. More information on residency is available through the Office of Registrar. 

The university does have a unique program called the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE). RARE is full-time employment opportunity in rural Oregon communities. Upon completion of the program, students receive nine graduate-level credits and they qualify for in-state tuition. Several of our graduate students have participated in RARE before, during, or after their studies. 

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Other Questions 

Whom should I contact for answers to questions not addressed here? 

Direct any additional questions to Ben Hinde, the graduate programs coordinator for Environmental Studies. Ben can be reached at (541) 346-5052 or by e-mail at