Program FAQs

Do I need to have a science background to be considered for the program?

At the very least, students should have taken chemistry and biology taught at the Advanced Placement high school level. In the summer semester, students take science classes, including Climatology, Hydrology, Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Toxicology, as well as Ecology and Biodiversity. Therefore a basic understanding of chemistry and biology is necessary.

Do all students have an environmental science background?
No, the students accepted in the MPA ESP program come from diverse backgrounds. Approximately half of our students come from social science backgrounds and half come from hard science backgrounds. Candidates have a wide variety of professional experience before enrolling in the program.

What is the average age of students?
The average age of the 2015-16 class is 27.

Are alumni making an impact after graduation?
Yes. In 2015, the program graduated its 700th alum, making for a strong network of leading professionals, who are making unique contributions to sustainability in government, business, and non-profit organizations. About a third of our alumni work in each of these sectors. Graduates are employed in large and small organizations throughout the world, holding positions as directors of government agencies and non-governmental organizations, sustainability managers, consultants, policy analysts, environmental protection specialists, teachers, and researchers. For more information about our alumni and their accomplishments, please visit the alumni page.

Do I have to do a thesis?
No, a 5-credit Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis and Management in the spring is the equivalent of a thesis for the degree. The spring workshop puts student teams to work as consultants for clients in government or non-profit organizations. These teams, working under the supervision of faculty advisors, analyze environmental policy or management problems facing their clients and make recommendations for solving these problems. Clients have included the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Natural Resource Defense Council, United Nations Division of Sustainable Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To learn more about the spring workshop course please visit our Workshop site.

What do I have to do to prepare for the program?
We advise students who have no previous education in economics, chemistry, or biology, to study these subjects before entering the program. Knowledge of Excel will also be beneficial

Does the program require an internship?
The intensive nature of the Environmental MPA Program requires a great deal of dedication and time, so an internship is not required for the completion of the degree. The 5-credit workshop in the spring semester allows students to obtain the same professional experience as an internship.

Do you provide campus housing?
On-campus housing is available for approximately 40% of incoming ESP students through the University Apartment Housing Office. All incoming students are given access to Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) to assist in searching for housing off campus. Many ESP students choose to live in International House, an independent residential community just a few minutes away from SIPA.

Does the program have a Stem CIP (Classification of Instructional Program) Code?
In May of 2016, the MPA ESP program received a new CIP code, 03.0103 (Environmental Studies) which is a STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classification. This CIP Code was approved as the ESP program is the only MPA program in the United States of its kind, with a rigorous science curricula specifically designed to provide students with the background needed to understand and analyze environmental policy and CSR practice.

A STEM CIP Code allows international students to request a STEM OPT extension for their visa to remain in the United States for a longer period after graduating from our program. For more information please contact ISSO, the Columbia International Student and Scholars Office: