Program Characteristics
Financial Aid
International Students
The Earth Institute/SIPA Connection
Contacting Students, Alumni, and Visiting Columbia


Program Characteristics

What is unique about this program?
Our program is the only one of its kind to require 12 points (i.e. six 2-point classes) in basic applied environmental science, which ensures that our graduates are able to understand and communicate the scientific issues behind the sustainability issues that they are called to address.

Why is this program offered over a single year?
The one-year structure of the program has several important advantages. It saves students time, allowing them to re-enter the workforce more quickly. It also saves students money, both in terms of tuition and in lost income. The one-year structure also makes for an immersive program, which creates a lifelong camaraderie among the cohort of students who complete the program each year.

What’s so special about studying sustainability in New York City?
Columbia University is located in New York City, the global nexus of sustainability, policy, finance, and technology. For students, the place is an extension of the classroom, offering unparalleled access to leading sustainability practitioners, internships, and job opportunities. New York is also home to Columbia University, an Ivy League institution with a rich 260-year history, vast academic resources, and a dedication to excellence.

Is a thesis required?
No, a 5-credit Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis and Management in the spring semester takes the place of a thesis. In this course, student teams work as consultants to clients in government and the non-profit sector. These teams, working under the supervision of faculty advisors, analyze sustainability problems and recommend solutions. Clients have included the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Natural Resource Defense Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To learn more about the spring workshop course please visit the Workshop section of this website.

Does the program require an internship?
No, 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 a similar professional experience as an internship.

Can I transfer to a Ph.D. Program from the ESP Program?
The ESP program is a terminal Master’s degree, intended to prepare students for professional, not academic careers. Although some ESP graduates go on to pursue doctoral degrees, the program is not designed to prepare students for further academic study.

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). Many ESP students choose to live in International House, an independent residential community just a few minutes away from SIPA.

Are alumni making an impact after graduation?
The ESP program boasts an international network of nearly 800 sustainability professionals. These graduates hold important positions in government, business, and civil society. In these positions, they provide the expertise and leadership, which have been integral in advancing sustainability since the program’s first graduation in 2003. To read about some of our alumni, please visit the
alumni section of this website.


How do I apply?
The MPA-ESP Application is submitted entirely through an online application process on the SIPA Admissions Website. The application for admission in May 2017 is available as of July 8, 2016. Please select the Summer 2017 semester when prompted by the online application system. Apply by November 1st for the Early Decision deadline, and by January 15 to be considered for fellowship support. A fellowship application is included in the application for admission. The final application deadline is February 15.

What are your admission criteria?
We admit applicants based on a combination of factors: grades, course preparation in math and science, standardized test scores, professional experience, familiarity with environmental issues, clarity of goals and experience, and letters of reference. No single factor qualifies or disqualifies an applicant for admission.

Do I need to have a science background to be considered for the program?
A science background isn’t necessary, although a familiarity with biology and chemistry is helpful. The program’s science curriculum is intended to educate sustainability policymakers and managers in basic applied environmental science. The program does not train its students to be scientists. The program draws students who have studied the liberal arts and the social sciences, as well as the natural sciences. Students also have a wide variety of professional experience before enrolling in the program. The cohort nature of the program and the emphasis on teamwork make it so students with science backgrounds often assist classmates during the summer semester of science. These roles are often reversed in the fall semester when the curriculum emphasizes management and policy.

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 is also beneficial.

Financial Aid

Do you offer financial support to attend the program?
The program awards the Dean’s Fellowship, a full-tuition grant and Earth Institute internship valued at about $80,000. In addition, the program offers partial fellowships, ranging from $5,000 – $20,000. In rare occasions, partial fellowship support of up to $50,000 is available. All fellowships are based on academic merit and financial need. In addition to fellowships, the program also offers a small number of Earth Institute internships, valued at about $3,600 per semester; course grading assistantships ($6,000); and financial aid in the form of work-study, and subsidized and private loans. Please review our Tuition and Financing section for more information.

International Students

Are international students required to be fluent in English?
Yes, all students must be fluent in English and have at least a score of 110 on the TOEFL exam. We also encourage international prospective students to use the video feature of our online application system in order to record a response to one of the random questions that the system poses to applicants. In addition, we may require a telephone or Skype interview as part of the admissions process. The program’s rigorous curriculum, which includes group projects, necessitates that all students have excellent verbal and writing skills in English.

Are international students authorized to work in the United States after graduation?
ESP graduates who hold an F-1 student visa may gain experience in their field of study by applying for off-campus work authorization in the United States for a period of up to three years, as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. Often international students are limited to just a one-year work authorization after graduation. But because the ESP offers a rigorous science curriculum, its graduates are able to request “STEM OPT extension,” or Optional Practical Training extension for an additional 24 months. Graduates who seek this work authorization must use the Department of Education Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) code (03.0103).  Please contact the Columbia International Student and Scholars Office for more information about eligibility requirements and how to apply.

Earth Institute/SIPA Connection

What is the Earth Institute’s relationship to the program?
The ESP program is a joint initiative of Columbia’s Earth Institute and the School of International and Public Affairs, which confers students’ degrees. Earth Institute faculty and researchers design the curriculum and teach several of the courses, especially the science courses in the summer semester. In addition, the Earth Institute provides a sustainability-specific professional development program , which supplements the School’s career services. The Earth Institute also offers financial support in the forms of internships and course-related travel funding.

Contacting Students, Alumni, and Visiting Columbia

May I discuss the program with current students and alumni?
Yes, we encourage prospective students to contact students and alumni either with our assistance or through LinkedIn. Please contact Laura Piraino for more information.

Can I visit Columbia to learn more about the program?
We welcome prospective students to visit the campus by attending one of our scheduled Open Houses and Workshop Briefings. We also welcome visitors outside of these events. Campus visits may include meetings with faculty and students, and observing a class. Please contact Laura Piraino for more information.