Prospective Student FAQ | Geography, Environment, and Sustainability

Environment & Sustainability Program

Prospective Student FAQ

This page of Frequently Asked Questions is intended primarily for prospective students in the MSSE (further information our the related certificate programs can be found here). Applicants must also consult The Graduate School’s Guide To Graduate Admissions.

The UNCG Catalog provides the degree requirements for the MSSE, and UNCG Online provides a brochure with an overview. 

We have multiple application deadlines:

  • For the MSSE, the fall deadline is September 15 (for spring semester start) and the spring deadline is February 1 (for fall semester start).
  • For our various certificates (PBCs), the fall deadline is September 15 (for spring semester start) and the spring deadline is April 1 (for summer or fall semester start).

The Application & Admissions Process

We strongly recommend that full-time students enter in the fall semester (application deadline: February 1). A spring entry is possible (application deadline: September 15), especially for part-time study (students may switch between part- and full-time), but we accept most students for fall entry. We do not have a summer entry, although some summer classes are available. If you miss a deadline, you could consider one of our  Post-Baccalaureate Certificate (PBC) options, which have later deadlines (and which can be combined easily with the MSSE).

The only MSSE prerequisite is an undergraduate degree in any discipline from an accredited institution. Students in our program have varied backgrounds, from the sciences to the humanities, from degrees in the liberal arts to those in technical and applied fields. The way the MSSE is structured requires that students have strong skills in written and spoken English. Courses emphasize process and communication over technical content and knowledge acquisition; evaluation is primarily (but not exclusively) via written work rather than exams. Spoken communication is important for group work and for contributing short videos in asynchronous classes. There is no GPA requirement, but a 3.0 minimum is preferred (lower than that requires other mitigating factors). There are no specific classes prerequisite classes required to be on a student’s transcript.

Absolutely! We welcome students from all over the world, and we are excited to learn from you. An excellent command of written and spoken English is essential. For more information see here. International students are not eligible for a visa via the MSSE because it is an online program; such students may want to consider our department’s MA in Applied Geography (including the sustainability concentration option), which is an on-campus program.

No, we do not require any standardized tests (but you may still submit your scores if you have them). We practice holistic admissions, so we do not weigh standardized test scores highly. That said, such scores can be useful to demonstrate your abilities and, potentially, qualify you for assistantships or other scholarships/awards. Moreover, high test scores could counterbalance low GPAs, or vice versa.  (Note that some international students may be required to submit English language proficiency exam results.)

We consider the entire application to determine admission eligibility; we don’t just focus on so-called “objective” items such as test scores, GPA, or other numerical criteria.  The holistic admissions review allows each student to be considered uniquely based on the entire application. In the MSSE, a group of faculty read applications and evaluate candidates based on several academic and personal criteria: academics includes degree background and performance, communication skills (writing and speaking especially, but also creative/artistic), ideas for a final project, and work ethic; the personal includes items such as leadership, extracurriculars, skills/talents (personal or professional, learning differences), culture (background, experiences, geography), and your letters of recommendation.  Our committee members glean ratings for each of these categories from various sources throughout the application. 

The absolute requirements include: 

  • a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, 
  • official transcripts, 
  • a personal statement, 
  • resume (1-2 pages), and
  • two letters of recommendation. 

We would prefer to see at least a 3.0 GPA on your most recent degree, but because we practice holistic admissions, other factors may counterbalance a lower GPA. We do not require standardized tests (except for some international students). 

The personal statement should make it clear why you are applying to the MSSE, what you want to eventually do with your degree, and how we at UNCG can help you succeed. We want to know:

  • Why are you applying to our program?
  • What do you want to do with your degree?
  • How can we help you be successful?

The personal statement should also demonstrate your communication skills; our curriculum emphasizes written and oral communication, so we would appreciate any evidence you can present for your strengths in those areas. You should certainly discuss relevant aspects of your background (academic, personal, professional) and any experiences (life, work) and activities (clubs, organizations) that have been meaningful to you. If you have leadership experiences, do share them; we would also like to know about your ethical convictions. You might describe some potential coursework that interests you; you should absolutely describe which of the final projects (and on what potential topic) you are considering. We are particularly interested in students who can engage synthetically with the scientific, social scientific, humanistic, and ethical components of environmental and sustainability issues; while you may have expertise or interests in one area (which we would like to know about), we are also looking for your ability and willingness to make connections across all of them. 

Applicants are required to have two individuals who can write about the applicant’s suitability for the program. You should choose carefully your recommendation letter writers: they should not be your friends but should should be individuals who have known you in a professional or academic capacity, such as former professors, advisors, employers, or supervisors. We would appreciate their comments about your strengths (particularly as a student), your communication skills, and any of the areas we evaluate via holistic admissions. 

Yes, assistantship funding is available, although they are limited and rarely provided to fully remote students. Assistantships require some number of hours of work, which may or may not be possible as a remote student (foreign, online students are not eligible for assistantships; foreign students living in the US with the appropriate visa are eligible). We occasionally have partial tuition waivers and scholarships available, but they are few and far between. If you are interested in being considered for funding, then you should submit your application in the February deadline (i.e., for fall semester entry). We will evaluate all such applications automatically for potential funding from the UNCG Graduate School.

UNCG publishes tuition and fee schedules here. Note that MSSE students must pay an additional $100/credit hour in a state-approved “differential tuition” fee.

After Application Submission

We do not evaluate applications on a “rolling” basis; a faculty committee examines all applications together shortly after the spring and fall application deadlines. A complete application should be submitted by the specific deadline (letters of recommendation and transcripts may arrive a few days, up to a week or so, late without problems). You should have results of an acceptance, waitlist, or rejection in 2 months of the deadline. If you don’t hear from us within that time frame, please reach out to the program director or to graduate admissions.

If you have been accepted, you will need to let us know your “intent to enroll” by responding to the emails from the Graduate School. After you commit to attending, you should reach out to the program director via email to initiate the advising process. The program director will be your advisor to begin and will provide you with the code necessary to register for classes. More information on registration is here. Program Orientation (asynchronous, online) for new students entering into an academic-year cohort will take place shortly before the start of the fall semester; additionally, the Graduate School provides some general orientation materials and/or events. 

Our program is small, and we are unable to accommodate all applicants. If you are rejected, then you may certainly apply again! Perusing the advice in this F.A.Q. and revising your application accordingly would be appropriate next steps to take in order to improve your chances of admission. Feel free to reach out to the program director for advice on re-applying.

If you are waitlisted, it means we would like to accept you but simply don’t have space in the program at the current time. In most cases, we are able to forward your application to the next entry cycle, if that is of interest to you. In some cases, a place may become available later in the same admissions cycle, and you may be removed from the waiting list and duly accepted. Sometimes that space is available due to an existing student taking time off or a new student declining an offer to enroll.

After you have applied and been accepted, you can discuss transfer credits with the program director. Transfer credits will need approval by the student’s major advisor and the Graduate School. Only a maximum of 9 transfer credits, generally counted as interdisciplinary electives, can be applied to the MSSE. Hours only, not grades, will be transferred from other institutions. If you have graduate credits at UNCG, they can be applied to the degree provided they are relevant courses (to be discussed with your advisor), and these credits could be more than 9 if they are relevant (because they are not considered transfer credits).

Refer to the UNCG Graduate School HandbookSection III for more information. 

The Program Curriculum & Expectations

The six core classes are entirely online and asynchronous, and we have designed them with rigorous online pedagogical methods. Even as the schedule is very flexible, ours are definitely not “correspondence” courses. The core classes have regular (weekly or bi-weekly) deadlines for assignments, and students occasionally meet online 1-on-1 with faculty and with other students for group work (always on a flexible schedule).  The six elective courses may or may not be online. All MSSE students are allowed to take one on-campus course per semester, provided it fits into their schedule and plan of study. There are numerous options for electives as online synchronous courses, online asynchronous courses, and face-to-face courses. Thus, one student may complete the MSSE entirely asynchronously online, while another student may complete the MSSE taking only half the courses asynchronously online and the other half face-to-face.

The requirements are 36 credits / 12 classes in two categories: core (18 credits / 6 classes) and electives (18 credits / 6 classes).  A full-time student typically takes 9 credits / 3 classes per semester. The core includes two foundations courses (on sustainability and on environmental studies) and four rotating topics classes (on environmental sciences, equity & society, development & economics, and ethics & aesthetics). The electives include three courses from our GES department and three from any other department(s), all subject to approval. At least one of the GES electives must be your final project. Electives may be anything relevant to the student’s plan of study (subject to approval); consult the Catalog for all of UNCG’s course offerings and the Schedule for offerings by semester. 

All master’s programs at UNCG require a final project, which may take many forms. A thesis is one option, but it is not the required one. In the MSSE, we allow our students to choose one of three options: internship (3 credits), capstone (3 credits), or thesis (6 credits). Further info (intended for current students) is here. If you are interested in the thesis option, before you submit your application, you might reach out to potential professors in our program to discuss the topic or possibility of working with them; you should then discuss, however generally, your thesis ideas in your application. (In your personal statement, we would like to read about your tentative ideas for doing the final project, thesis or otherwise.)

The MSSE is a skills-based program emphasizing the evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of sustainability and environmental problems and solutions. Students are equipped with knowledge and skills that they demonstrate through the creation of  professional oral, visual, and written communication. In that sense, it is a liberal arts program (not technical training); it is about professional development and preparation for careers in any field (not specific jobs in particular industries). In general, the program considers human-environment interactions in broad and particular ways. To learn more about our program learning objectives, see here.

Yes, the six core courses each make use of all or part of three books: Critical Skills for Environmental Professionals (2020); Companion to Environmental Studies (2018); and Sustainable Solutions (2020). Additionally, instructors provide free/reserve materials in the core classes (but you may need to purchase occasional additional materials). We also require all students to use Zotero.

Workload is dependent on which and how many classes you are taking. Full-time students typically take 3 courses (9 credits), while part-time students may take 1 or 2 courses (3 or 6 credits); all MSSE core classes are semester-long courses, but some electives may be offered in half-semester or summer versions, which may be shorter and more intense.

In the MSSE core, there are two categories of classes: foundations and topics. The foundations courses are more demanding: they involve more assignments that are due more frequently, and the pace is faster than in the topics courses. The topics courses all begin with a few weeks of general materials before spending the bulk of the semester (10-12 weeks) diving deeper into a topic. Both types of courses involve reading and writing as well as group work; foundations courses involve more testing (quizzes). Elective courses vary significantly in their workload.

Online courses are distinct from in-person courses: while they offer greater flexibility in terms of schedule and allow for more time to think and engage materials, they do not necessarily result in less time spent on work. It’s easier to “get away” with certain things in an in-person course: if you don’t do the reading, you might hide in the back or not volunteer your thoughts or not raise your hand to answer questions. But in an online course, such “hiding” is not really possible! 

As we teach in the MSSE, the online courses are not about “delivering information” but instead about developing your thinking, communication, and writing skills based on key readings/viewings/information. Sometimes crafting the required videos, discussion posts/replies, essays, and group assignments takes considerably more time than you might expect.

All the MSSE core classes involve requirements to meet 1-on-1 with faculty, and most require you to work in groups with your classmates. The groups typically involve rotating membership so that you can meet other students to build connections, learn from each other, and have some social experiences in an otherwise asynchronous, online program. Additionally, there are departmental colloquia and other events organized that allow online participation. And if it fits your schedule, you can take one on-campus class per semester. Get to know some of our current students here.

UNCG is accredited by SACSCOC.

For further information on the MSSE, see also the article by UNCG News, the blog post from UNCG Online, the official university brochure, and the many links on this page to other websites as well as other parts of the Program website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the program director.