The doctoral program in ENVS gives students the opportunity to pursue a research-based degree situated in a program that prioritizes cross-disciplinary perspectives and problem-oriented scholarship. PhD students are trained to become independent researchers, usually working closely with one or more faculty advisors and committee members. PhD students complete coursework that spans the natural and social sciences, values and ethics, and policy. Students develop an independent line of research through their dissertation project and other collaborations over the course of their graduate career.

What can you do with a PhD in Environmental Studies?

Most of our graduating PhD students go on to pursue research-focused careers. Approximately two-thirds of our recent PhD graduates have gone on to teach or pursue research in academic positions. The rest of our students have  pursued careers in various contexts ranging from museums, state and federal governments, higher ed administration, and consulting.

Program Overview

To earn a PhD in Environmental Studies, students must complete 32 hours of coursework plus an additional 30 hours of dissertation credit hours. PhD degree students have 6 years to complete all degree requirements. Students must successfully complete the major milestones outlined below.

  1. Guidance Committee Meeting - During the first six weeks of a new student’s first semester, a guidance committee of at least three faculty members will examine a student’s past course record (from undergraduate and past graduate work) and devise a program of coursework for that student. In addition to the courses recommended by their guidance committee, students will complete the following required courses:
    ENVS 5000 - Science Policy and Values  ENVS 5003 - Theory and Methods in Environmental Studies 
  2. Preliminary Examination - This written exam tests a student’s understanding of material from the ENVS core classes, as well as the breadth and depth of their knowledge in their chosen fields of inquiry. The preliminary exam is typically taken in the student’s fourth or fifth semester. 
  3. Prospectus Defense - The prospectus defense is designed to evaluate a student’s dissertation research plan. At the prospectus defense meeting, the committee also will review the student’s completion of coursework assigned in previous committee meetings. The prospectus defense should be scheduled in the student’s fifth or sixth semester.
  4. Dissertation Defense. A doctoral student writes a dissertation based upon original investigation and showing mature scholarship and critical judgment as well as familiarity with tools and methods of research. The defense consists of both a public presentation and a closed door meeting with the committee.

Admissions Requirements

  • A Personal Statement
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation 
  • Unofficial Transcripts (official transcripts required after admissions)  
  • TOEFL scores for international students
  • Application Fee ($60 domestic application/$80 international) along with the application

In the online application you will be asked to name one or more faculty members of interest. Please list the faculty member that you have been in contact with so that they will read and evaluate your application. Admission to all our graduate programs is competitive and based on multiple criteria, including undergraduate academic record, letters of recommendation, personal statement, evidence of special accomplishments, and relevant past experience. For more information please contact


  • Fall Application Deadline: December 1, 9:59 p.m. MST. 
    Letters of Recommendation must be received by December 14.
  • For more information about courses and program requirements, visit the CU Boulder Course Catalog.