PhD Programs

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Your New Skills

The PhD track in Environmental Studies trains students for careers in the academic, public, private or nonprofit sectors. Graduates will have:

  • The ability to deal with real-world problems;
  • The ability to evaluate policy goals in the context of competing societal objectives;
  • Fundamental knowledge of the relevant environmental sciences to be intelligent users of scientific information;
  • The ability to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines to define and address science and/or policy problems;
  • An understanding of the local, state, and federal decision processes that shape environmental issues;
  • The ability to think critically, creatively, and holistically about environmental issues;
  • The ability to work in interdisciplinary teams; and
  • Skill in public speaking and writing for non-specialist audiences.

Coursework and Other Requirements

The degree requires completion of 32 course credit hours as follows: a common core consisting of two broad introductory three-credit courses (ENVS 5000, Science Policy and Values and ENVS 5100, Theory and Methods in Environment), two semesters of ENVS Colloquium (2 course credits), one of three secondary core areas, each of which includes 12-15 credit hours (4-5 courses), and 9-12 credits of electives chosen to broaden and deepen the graduate training.

The PhD also requires 30 hours dissertation credits and successfully preparing and defending the doctoral dissertation. There are three major examinations requiring committees along the way:

  1. Preliminary Examination
  2. Prospectus Defense
  3. Dissertation Defense

Faculty Advisor

Because of the potential for individually tailoring one’s graduate degree work in ENVS, it is essential to establish and maintain a relationship with one’s faculty advisor. All graduate faculty members, if willing, are eligible to be ENVS faculty advisors.

Transfer Credit

Transfer credits from accredited institutions are accepted by CU Boulder only after approval by the faculty advisor and ENVS Graduate Director. A maximum of 21 transfer credits are accepted towards the PhD degree. Transfer credit is defined as any credit earned at another accredited institution, credits earned on another campus of the CU system, or credits earned as a non-degree student within the CU system. Students earning a master’s degree at CU Boulder may apply all 5000 level or above course work towards their PhD electives with the approval of the ENVS Graduate Committee.  Course transfer credit from courses taken at other universities or for online courses taken at the University of Colorado cannot be counted toward the fulfillment of Common Core Requirements, Secondary Core Requirements, or Required Interdisciplinary Electives.

Time Limit

PhD degree students have 6 years to complete all degree requirements. Students who fail to complete the degree in this six-year period may be dismissed from their program with the concurrence of the advisor. To continue, the student must file a petition for an extension of the time limit with the Dean of the Graduate School.

Preliminary PhD Examination

The goal of the preliminary examination in ENVS is to offer an academically rigorous exam that will test the student on the intellectual themes of the ENVS Graduate program.
Preliminary Exam description

Admission to Candidacy

During the semester in which a student plans to defend the dissertation prospectus, an Admission to Candidacy application must be completed and approved by the faculty advisor and Graduate Director and submitted to the Graduate School.  This form is required to change your student status (and reduce your student fees) and will be sent to the Graduate School after successful completion of the dissertation defense.  The Graduate Coordinator also will submit a Doctoral Exam report with the exam date and committee composition.  The form is available in the Doctoral Packet.  You should submit the names of your committee members to the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks prior to your exam date to allow enough time for the Graduate School to approve the committee.

PhD Prospectus Defense (formerly "Comprehensive Examination")

See the Prospectus Defense page for detailed information.

Doctoral Defense Committee

With the assistance of the student’s advisor and the Graduate Director, the student should have his or her doctoral defense committee approved by the Graduate School before proceeding with the PhD prospectus. The student should inform the Graduate Coordinator about the composition of the committee in time for the Graduate School to approve it (at least three weeks before the exam). Please see the Graduate School Policies for additional information.

Online Graduation Application

Students must apply online to graduate. To do this, logon to On the Student tab, select the Apply for Graduation link under Academic Resources. This notifies the Graduate School and your department that you intend to graduate, and it provides necessary information to the Commencement Office for ordering and shipping diplomas. If you do not complete requirements for the graduation you indicate on the online application, you must apply online to graduate for the new graduation date. You must apply to graduate online whether or not you plan to attend the ceremony.

Dissertation Defense

See PhD Dissertation and Defense for more information.

Doctoral Dissertation

See PhD Dissertation and Defense for more information.

Graduation Forms & Information

The Graduate School has gathered all important information required for graduation on its website. A deadline sheet and admission to candidacy form are included. Students should consult this website starting the semester before graduation in order to avoid missing important deadlines that will delay graduation.