Master's Degree Requirements

Student Measuring


“Amazing faculty, well-rounded coursework, and rigorous research methods definitely prepared me to pursue my PhD in Botany at the University of Wisconsin.”

— Kristin Hageseth-Michels, Graduate Student




Contact the Graduate Program Coordinator

For more information about the Master of Science degree in Environmental Studies, please contact the Graduate Program Coordinator, Dr. Rachel O'Malley, at





Thirty (30) units of approved coursework are required for the Master’s degree, and must include the following:

Required Seminars (9 units total)

Students should plan to take ENVS 250 their first Fall semester, and ENVS 200 and 297 their first Spring semester, unless conditionally classified.

  • Fall
    • ENVS 250: Seminar: Environmental Thought and Philosophy  (3 units)
      An in-depth critical analysis of significant works in the field of Environmental Studies.  Topics covered include preservation versus conservation, biocentrism, environmental justice, eco-feminism, deep ecology, and environmental activism. 
  • Spring
    • ENVS 200: Seminar: Environmental Methods  (3 units)
      A rigorous analysis of methods used by social, physical, and natural scientists in assessing a region's natural resources and quality of environment; application of such techniques as field methods, maps, social surveys, and project evaluation.
    • ENVS 297: Research and Proposal Development  (3 units)
      Students develop their thesis topic through extensive literature research.  The product will be a draft thesis proposal to be circulated among potential committee members.


Advisor-Approved Electives (15 units total)

Electives can include courses in Environmental Studies or related fields selected with advisor's approval within the following limits.  In general, the purpose of elective courses is to help students complete their thesis research.

  • Must be 100- or 200-level courses
  • At least 3 units must be in ENVS
  • At least 9 units must be field methods, analytical methods, laboratory work (in ENVS and/or related departments), as approved by the Thesis Chair and Graduate Coordinator
  • Up to 6 elective units may be taken as Credit/No Credit

Thesis Units (6 units total)

Once a student has advanced to candidacy (see "Advancement to Candidacy" below), they are required to complete a total of six (6) thesis units (ENVS 299: Master's Thesis or Project) under the direction of the Thesis Chair and Graduate Coordinator.  Students admitted as conditionally classified may be required to take additional prerequisite courses to fulfill departmental requirements.


1290R - Continuous Enrollment Course

Once a student has completed all program coursework (including 6-units of ENVS-299), they have the option of taking a continuous enrollment course (ENVS1290R) at a reduced tuition cost. While this course is housed in the Environmental Studies department, it is run by Graduate Studies, and has unusual registration procedures. Graduate Studies will send all eligible students a registration appointment for the course after the official last day to add classes. This is a bit counter intuitive, and requires a bit of patience from the student's standpoint. For more information on the course please see the Graduate Studies website at the following link: 1290R


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Students are encouraged to engage in internships that help them complete their thesis research.  Internships may include paid or unpaid work and are an important entryway into many environmental careers.  Course credit will be given for internships and can be used as elective course credit.


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Conditionally Classified Status

Students who are admitted as conditionally classified will have received a list of prerequisite courses that they must take prior to fully entering the graduate program.  Students should plan to complete these courses within their first and second semesters.  Once these courses are completed, the student submits a Change of Classification Form [PDF] first to the Graduate Coordinator and subsequently to the GAPE office.


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Choosing Your Thesis Chair

The collaboration between graduate student and Thesis Committee Chair can be profoundly creative and prolific.  While many graduate students enter the program with a good idea of who their chair will be, others are not certain, or may need to change Chairs during the course of their study.  Each incoming graduate student is assigned an interim advisor that will advise them on campus resources during their thesis proposal writing stage.  For many students this faculty member may ultimately serve as their Thesis Advisor, but that is not made official until a student's thesis proposal is confirmed by the advisor of interest.  The following tips can help:

  • Take the time to study the research program of each Faculty Thesis Advisor.
    • Schedule appointments with potential Thesis Committee Chairs.  Remember, it is equally important that your potential Chair be impressed by you as it is for you to be impressed by them, so come prepared!
  • Talk with other graduate students about their experiences with their Thesis Committee Chairs.
  • Ultimately, it is the student's responsibility to find an appropriate Thesis Advisor and convince them to serve on the committee.

Once the Thesis Committee Chair has been confirmed, students are to consult with this faculty member on each part of their academic plan.


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The Thesis Proposal

Prior to beginning work on their thesis project, each student must produce an in-depth proposal including extensive literature review and detailed methods.  This proposal must be submitted and approved by the Thesis Committee Chair and the rest of the Thesis Committee and then submitted to the Graduate Coordinator.


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The Thesis Committee

The first step on the road to completing the Master of Science thesis is the recruitment of a faculty Thesis Committee Chair and a Thesis Committee.  The Thesis Committee Chair must be a tenured or tenure-track member of the Environmental Studies Department.  In addition to the Thesis Committee Chair, the Thesis Committee includes two other members.  The second member of the committee must be a SJSU faculty member with a Ph.D.  The other member can be drawn from outside of the university, but must hold at least a Master of Science (or equivalent) degree in the student’s field of study.  Have any outside Thesis Committee members read and sign the Thesis Committee Member Form and Information [PDF] document.


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Advancement to Candidacy

A student may advance to candidacy after they have completed the three required seminars (ENVS 250, ENVS 200 and ENVS 297), and have completed a proposal signed by all three of their committee members. In order to advance, a student must submit their signed thesis proposal and a  Petition to Advance to Candidacy [PDF]*, signed by their thesis chair to the Graduate Coordinator. Once approved by the Graduate Coordinator the document will be submitted to the Graduate Admissions and Program Evaluations (GAPE) department for further approval. This application should be submitted a year prior to your expected graduation date.

*Note: The Graduate Writing Assessment Requirement [GWAR] on the Advancement to Candidacy form is fulfilled by ENVS 297


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Completing the Master’s Thesis

After advancing to candidacy, the focus of the program turns toward the completion of the Master of Science thesis.  Conducting research and writing the thesis can be one of the most enjoyable, and yet one of the most difficult tasks, a graduate student undertakes.  To facilitate student progress, the department requires that graduate students remain enrolled during the entire thesis process.

Students are encouraged to begin planning their thesis work as soon as they enter the program.  For some students, thesis research begins the moment they set foot on campus and they are able to complete the process by the end of their second year.  Others use the first year as an exploratory period, during which they may be completing prerequisites and considering various research questions.  These students may complete the thesis during or after their third year of study.

The process of developing and completing the thesis includes the formation of an original study question, extensive literature review, data gathering, data analysis, and the writing of the thesis.  Once the thesis is complete it will be reviewed by the Thesis Committee and revised by the student.


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The Oral Thesis Defense

Once the Thesis Committee has reviewed and accepted a candidate's written thesis, the student must publicly present an oral defense of the research.  In order to schedule your thesis defense, contact before the beginning of the semester in which you plan to defend.  If the Thesis Committee determines that the work has been satisfactorily defended, the Verification of Culminating Experience Form (only graduate advisors have a copy of this form, which they submit on the student's behalf) must be submitted.


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Applying for Graduation

Approximately two weeks after a student has been approved for advancement to candidacy by the GAPE office, eligible students can apply for graduation through MySJSU. Students are responsible for checking the GAPE website for deadlines.


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Academic Standing

All graduate students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA or risk being placed on academic probation.


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Leave of Absence

If a student plans on not registering for more than one semester, a Request for Leave of Absence must be approved prior to the second semester that will be missed.


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GAPE Deadlines and Forms

Deadlines frequently change and students must check the GAPE website to ensure that they meet all deadlines.  Please check the following links:


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