Disclaimer: this page represents my own personal advice gleaned from my experience in working with graduate admissions at CU.  Thus this webpage is not an official set of rules from the CEAE department or the CU graduate school. Official information can be found on the CEAE and EVEN webpages.

This is an informal page that gives advice for prospective students in Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) at CU Boulder. CEAE is a large department, with many interesting faculty and innovative research. Much of this research spans multiple sub-disciplines in civil engineering. When you are an undergraduate student in civil engineering or a related field, you likely were required to take a large number of courses that span a wide array of subjects.  A graduate degree, on the other hand, requires more specialization. Specifically, this is both in the degree that you take (CEAE, as its name suggests, provides three degrees: civil, environmental, and architectural engineering) and a specific set of courses called a subplan. Below, I go into detail about some specific subplans. But first let's talk about:

Why does my subplan and degree matter?

Great question! First, you have to declare a subplan and degree when you apply to the program. Depending on what you pick, a different individual will read your application and shepard it through the process. Unlike in undergraduate admissions, graduate admissions are a 'local' process within the CEAE department itself, and individual faculty members such as myself are in charge of the process. Some important comments about degree and subplan:

  • The degree and subplan are mainly about your coursework, and the format of exams that you take such as the preliminary exam and defense.
  • Therefore, it doesn't necessarily affect your research. As you'll see below, students in my group for example have been in two different degrees (civil and environmental) and different subplans too. But, you should try as much as possible to align your degree/subplan/coursework to the desired research that you want to do here at CU.
  • You do declare these items when you apply, but you can change them! Sometimes we will identify people who have selected the wrong box on the application and reach out to you directly. This is something you should talk about with the faculty you're in touch with during the recruiting process, as well as your academic advisor when you come into the program.

More About Subplans and Degrees

I have served as graduate committee representative for the Hydrology, Water Resources and Environmental Fluid Mechanics subplan within the Civil Engineering degree, and in the past I've also served in this role within Civil Systems in Civil Engineering. I've also advised students in Environmental Engineering. However in AY 2021-2022, I am on sabbatical and am therefore not answering general graduate inquiries.

The three subplan/degree options are:

Civil Engineering

The civil engineering degrees are most prevalent in my group.  They deal with civil infrastructure systems and the flow and transport of water, with the core disciplines of math, physics, and earth sciences.  The two subplans for which I have advised are:

Hydrology, Water Resources, and Environmental Fluid Mechanics (HWR&EFM): Core courses associated with hydrology, water resources, and environmental fluid mechanics (as the name implies), and an excellent group of faculty that work on computational modeling, fieldwork, and lab applications.

Civil Systems (CS): An interdisciplinary group of faculty in CEAE with interests in civil infrastructure systems, structures, environment, water, and more.  The core courses include an overview of civil systems analysis and life cycle assessment.  Students can choose from one or more domain areas, for example, combining water classes with other disciplines.

Environmental Engineering

Recently, the environmental engineering program began offering a separate graduate degree, for which I have advised students based on my status as EVEN program faculty.  The focus of environmental engineering is more about the quality and chemical processes associated with the environment and environmental pollution, with core disciplines including chemistry and biology.  The general “Environmental Engineering” subplan is the only offering as far as I know for the research degree. But the EVEN program faculty are also creating new professional MS degrees (no research) that are coming online in the next few years.  Although it is possible to select "environmental engineering" as a subplan within a civil engineering degree, this is no longer encouraged.  Learn more about environmental engineering options here.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

I get many inquiries from students that send me a CV and expect that I can unilaterally grant them a position in my research group. However, it doesn’t work like that! And it’s a good thing it doesn’t, actually, because it is much better to have a fair, institutional process where multiple people can vet your application and make sure everything is in order. Therefore, I can only fully judge your application if you complete it using the CU admissions system! Please visit our graduate prospective students page to get started. Also there is no guarantee of admission or funding; admissions are competitive and are based on the recommendations of the entire graduate committee.

Every group/professor does this a little differently, but here is what I have seen typically. The CS subplan doesn’t have a clear policy one way or the other, so you have to consult the individual professor. For HWR&EFM and Environmental, students that apply to the PhD without the MS have two scenarios (i) if they do not find a research advisor and/or funding, they are considered for the MS first. Then, once they find an advisor they can switch back into the PhD easily. (ii) if they find an advisor early in the recruiting process, they are admitted to the PhD directly. For students applying to the PhD with an MS already, they are only admitted if they have a research advisor and/or funding. This is to make sure the PhD students have a viable path to graduate and are not just taking classes and wondering what project they will work on when they arrive. So, if you are interested in the PhD please apply to it. If you get notice that you have only been admitted to the MS, contact your graduate committee representative and ask them what is going on; most likely you have just been admitted to the MS first until you can get the research advisor and funding situation worked out. Speaking of that…

We handle the admissions decisions in two parts. First, we see if candidates are qualified to be admitted. This is based on your application package. For the MS degree, we will admit students without consideration of funding. You can usually expect a decision in the spring, perhaps around January or February. Second, we make funding decisions -- in the form of research and teaching assistance. You will only receive a letter if you are selected for funding; the letter can come at any time but will likely be sent in March. Because of this, the first letter you receive will always be an "admissions letter" that won't talk about funding; the "funding offer" letter, if you're getting one, will come later. If you receive funding before April 15, you have until April 15 to decide. Unfortunately, the timing of professors' research grants is highly variable. Therefore, funding might come after April, and you might be contacted by professors after the deadline. Also many MS students will not get funding in the first semester but will be considered for funding later in the program. More on this below.

We admit students into the MS program based on their professional preparation and their likelihood for succeeding in the program. There are not necessarily "research slots" for every student. But many MS students will do research! In order to find research projects, be proactive. Reach out to professors, develop your research ideas and skills, and make a good effort in your graduate classes. There are also seminars and local conferences that can give you research ideas. Note that to do a MS thesis or report, you need a research advisor. There is a wide variety of research to choose from at CU, though, and remember that you can even go outside your subplan to find potential projects!

Yes! In fact several students in my group are pursuing or have pursued the PhD without having a MS first. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that unlike the MS, the civil engineering hydrology water resources and environmental fluid mechanics subplan, and the environmental engineering group, both only admit PhD students if there is an identified research project and funding for the student. So sometimes, students are admitted into the MS first, and then when they find research they can easily switch back into the PhD. This policy is designed to protect you, the student -- it prevents students who already have a MS from spending time just trying to find a project at the beginning of their PhD.

If you’ve found this website you’re in the right place. Take a look at the all the pages on this site where I explain what we’ve been up to. Also feel free to contact me. If you’re generally interested in hydrology and water resources planning, consider also contacting other members of the CEAE faculty but especially including Profs. Ben Livneh, Rajagopalan Balaji, and Edie Zagona. CU also has a wide array of water research even outside of the CEAE department, and you can learn about that at the Hydrologic Sciences Program webpage. You can also see the material on our group's Resources page.