Applying to UPEP
UPEP applicants should apply directly to the Duke Graduate School. All doctoral students must enter the program in the fall.
We welcome applicants from diverse academic, cultural, socioeconomic, and professional backgrounds. Approximately 3-5 students are projected to enter the program each fall, for a total of 20-25 students enrolled at any given time.
Admission to the program is extremely competitive, with less than 10 percent of applicants typically offered admission. Applicants should have a record of high academic achievement and the potential to become leading researchers on environmental policy issues. Although the program’s admissions committee evaluates applicants from a comprehensive standpoint, successful applicants will likely have:
- High GPA and GRE scores.
- Personalized letters of recommendation that attest to the applicant’s scholarly ability.
- Research interests that overlap those of one or more UPEP faculty members.
- A personal statement that explains the applicant’s interest in pursuing an Environmental Policy PhD at Duke and preferred disciplinary concentration, in view of the applicant’s prior education and experience, career objectives, and other pertinent factors.
- Applicants should clearly specify the preferred concentration in the personal statement. Adequate preparation for PhD-level training in either economics or political science is an important consideration in admissions.
Matching with Faculty
UPEP conducts program-level admissions review to evaluate applicants’ backgrounds and interests and find matches with potential advisors. Applicants may contact faculty members individually, but it is not necessary to secure an advising commitment in advance in order to be accepted into the program.
To identify faculty members with research interests similar to yours, consult the active UPEP advisor list in the UPEP Handbook and explore the Nicholas School Faculty Database and the Sanford School Faculty Directory.
Other Areas of Study
Candidates should have a strong interest in either the economic or political aspects of environmental studies. If you are primarily interested in other areas, consider the following doctoral programs instead:
- If you are interested primarily in natural science aspects of the environment, consider applying to the Nicholas School’s PhD program in Environment, PhD program in Earth and Ocean Sciences, or PhD program in Ecology.
- If you are interested in studying marine resource issues from social science perspectives other than economics or political science, consider applying to the Nicholas School’s PhD program in Marine Science and Conservation.
- If you are interested in an applied social science degree without a specific focus on the environment, consider applying to the Sanford School’s PhD program in Public Policy Studies.
UPEP fosters interaction among students, Duke faculty, faculty at neighboring universities (in particular North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and visiting researchers by co-sponsoring two seminar series that meet regularly during the academic year:
- Environmental Institutions Seminar Series (held at Duke).
- Triangle Resource and Environmental Economics Seminar Series (held at Research Triangle Institute).
UPEP runs its own internal biweekly seminar in which mostly students present to the other students and faculty.
Students also participate in numerous other seminars sponsored by the Nicholas School, the Sanford School, the Departments of Economics and Political Science, and other schools, departments, institutes, and centers at Duke and area universities.
Institutes & Centers
Students in the program interact with researchers at several institutes and centers at Duke, including:
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Below you will find our responses to the most common questions asked by prospective applicants.
What is the difference between UPEP and other PhD programs in the Nicholas and Sanford schools at Duke?
UPEP is intended for individuals who are interested in conducting PhD studies in environmental policy with an emphasis on economics or political science, under the supervision of Duke University faculty members who have primary appointments in the Nicholas or Sanford schools.
Other PhD programs at Duke are probably more appropriate for you if you are interested in natural science aspects of the environment, purely disciplinary programs in economics or political science, fields of public policy other than environmental policy, or studying marine resource issues from perspectives other than economics or political science.
If you are still not sure which program to apply to, please contact the faculty members whose research interests you and ask them which programs admit students that they can supervise.
What kinds of careers does UPEP prepare students for?
A variety of organizations hire individuals with PhDs in environmental policy, including universities, research institutes, government agencies, private-sector consulting firms, and NGOs.
Is UPEP an interdisciplinary program?
UPEP is interdisciplinary in the sense of requiring students to learn about two important dimensions of environmental policy—economics and politics—and encouraging them to develop a basic understanding of natural science aspects of the issues that interest them. It emphasizes, however, the development of disciplinary expertise in either economics or political science as applied to environmental policy issues.
What kind of financial aid will I receive if I am admitted?
Details will be provided in your offer letter.
Can you send me a brochure on UPEP?
All information on UPEP is web-based. Please contact the UPEP Director of Graduate Studies Assistant (DGSA, firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are unable to find the information you are seeking on this website.
Does Duke have a Master’s program in Environmental Policy?
Duke has a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program, which is administered by the Nicholas School and includes an Environmental Economics and Policy concentration, and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) program, which is administered by the Sanford School.
Does Duke have a joint JD/PhD program in environmental policy?
You can earn both a JD and an Environmental Policy PhD from Duke in the following way. Begin by applying to the three-year JD/MA program, with the MA in either Environmental Science and Policy (through the Nicholas School) or Public Policy Studies (through the Sanford School). Please contact the Duke Law School for more information on the JD/MA program. In the final year of the JD/MA program, apply to UPEP like any other applicant. Depending on the courses taken during the JD/MA program, the number of additional years required to complete the UPEP PhD might be reduced from 5 years to 4 years, but probably not by more.
How long does the program take to complete?
Typically 5 years. You can see illustrative timelines for the environmental economics and environmental politics concentrations in the UPEP Student Handbook.
Are economics and political science the only concentrations under UPEP?
Do I need to decide on my concentration (economics or concentration) when I apply?
Yes. You should state your intended concentration in your application. Applicants who are unsure about their concentration will not be admitted.
What are the requirements of each concentration?
Please see the UPEP Student Handbook for program and curriculum details.
Do I need to identify a prospective advisor before I apply?
No, but your chances of admission will increase if your application indicates that you have identified one or more faculty members in the Nicholas or Sanford schools whose research interests are similar to yours. You are welcome to communicate with faculty members before you apply, but please note that they cannot tell you whether you will be admitted. Admission decisions are made by the Duke Graduate School, as advised by the UPEP admissions committee, not by individual faculty members.
How do I identify faculty members who might be interested in advising me if I am admitted?
Please see the “UPEP Faculty” listed above.
Will I be assigned an advisor if I am admitted?
Yes. You will be assigned an advisor when you are admitted. Your advisor will likely be a faculty member that you have mentioned in your application. Another faculty member will be assigned, however, if none of the faculty members that you mention is available or if another faculty member is deemed to be a more suitable advisor for you. Assigning an advisor at this early point in the program ensures that you will have a faculty member who will take responsibility for advising you on course selection, discussing your research interests, assisting you in obtaining grants and fellowships, and in other ways helping you complete the program successfully.
Can I change my advisor?
Yes. Students interested in changing advisors should contact the UPEP Director of Graduate Studies.
Can I work with only my advisor as a teaching assistant (TA), a research assistant (RA), or on my dissertation research?
No. TA assignments are made independently of advisor assignments, although you will likely serve as a TA for your advisor at least once. RAships depend on funding availability. You can serve as an RA for either your advisor or another faculty member. UPEP students form dissertation committees consistent with Duke Graduate School rules, and members of the committee other than your advisor often play a large role in supervising aspects of the research.
How do I apply to UPEP?
You apply through the Duke Graduate School.
When is my application due?
The application deadline is posted on the Duke Graduate School website. Late applications are generally not considered.
Can I enter the program during the spring semester instead of the fall semester?
No. All students must enter during the fall semester.
Do I need to visit Duke before I apply?
No. If you are interested in visiting, please contact the faculty members whose research most interests you and arrange a time to visit when they are available. You will be responsible for making and paying for your own travel arrangements. If you are admitted to UPEP, then you and other admitted students will be invited to visit Duke in mid-March, with the costs of that visit being covered by Duke up to a budgeted amount.
How are admission decisions made?
UPEP has an admissions committee, which meets in early January to review all of the complete applications submitted to Duke Graduate School. Incomplete applications are not reviewed. Based on the admission committee’s findings, the UPEP Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) provides recommendations to the Duke Graduate School as to which students should be admitted. The Graduate School makes the official admission decisions.
When will I find out if I have been admitted?
Typically by the middle of February.
When must I decide whether to accept Duke’s offer of admission?
This information will be in your offer letter. The date is typically in mid-April.
If I am admitted to the program, can I defer admission?
Ordinarily no, but deferrals may sometimes be granted for medical reasons.
Will I automatically be considered for other PhD programs at Duke or for a Master’s program if I am not admitted to UPEP?
No. Your application to UPEP is only for UPEP.
If I am not admitted to UPEP, should I enter another program and then apply for a transfer to UPEP?
You are welcome to do this, but there is no guarantee that it will increase your chances of admission. You will be required to reapply through the normal process, and your application will be reviewed with along with those from first-time applicants.
I applied to the program last year but was not admitted. I would like to reapply. Can Duke transfer my scores, transcripts, and other materials to this year’s application?
No. You must submit a new application.