International Applicants for the Master's Programs

As a globally-renowned program, the Nicholas School attracts top-quality students from around the world to its professional Master of Environmental Management and Master of Forestry degree programs. We make it a priority to provide a smooth and enjoyable transition for our international students. Here’s some information to help you get started.


International students apply through the same admissions process as U.S. students. Check out the Application Materials & Deadlines for your program.

Fees are the same for international and U.S. students. Please see our Tuition & Fees page for details. When you apply for your visa, you will need to provide proof of funding for tuition and a minimum of 10 months of living expenses. For MEM and MF students in 2018-2019, these expenses include: $61,181.50 tuition and fees and living expenses, plus student health insurance at the appropriate level but subtracting the loan fees since fees are included only for the federal loans for which international students are not eligible. Students bringing a spouse must provide proof of an additional  $9,095 support for spouse; additional proof of funding for dependents is  $4,547 support per dependent in addition to the spouse. For degrees other than the MEM and MF, consult the tuition and fees information for your specific school or program. Admitted international students will be provided with a budget as part of the visa process.

See our Financial Support page for a list of scholarship opportunities for international students.  


You will need a visa to live and study in the United States. If you enter with an F or J visa, you are required to register with the Duke Visa Services Office, which handles visa processing for international students across all Duke schools and programs. Information about applying for the visa will be sent to you upon receipt of your tuition deposit.

Required Tests (On-campus MEM and MF)
If your first language is not English, you will be required to take written and spoken English proficiency tests to make sure you are ready to do well at Duke. You will receive more information about the language exams prior to your arrival. For additional information, contact Brad Teague, Assistant Dean and Director, English for International Students Director,

Required Courses (On-campus MEM and MF)
All entering students whose first language is not English will be required to undergo written and oral English language testing in the week before orientation. Incoming students are strongly encouraged to study English over the summer in preparation for the testing in August. Depending on the results of the test, incoming students may be required to take one or two English classes to improve their English. These classes will help you get the most out of your Nicholas School experience and better equip you for applying for internships and jobs in English-speaking countries. English speaking and writing classes are offered through the Duke Graduate School.

If you are required to take two courses you may count one course (3 credits) as a general elective credits towards your degree. Students required to take only one course may not count the credits towards their degree.  If you are required to take English courses, you must take the first during your first fall semester and the second, if required, should be taken in the second semester. Students will be billed a separate charge (approximately $1200) per English course that they take.

Honor Code Orientation
All students are required to attend a student-led orientation to the Nicholas School Honor Code. Chinese translations are also available for the Honor Code.


These tips come from our current and past international students based on their experiences here.

Getting Around
Want to reduce your carbon footprint and travel by bus? Durham is connected to the neighboring cities of Raleigh and Chapel Hill by the Triangle Transit Bus Services which are free to Duke Students with the GoPass. Within Durham the DATA buses will take you wherever you wish to go, also free with the GoPass. Visit for more information.

Duke Student Health Services provides information on the type of medical insurance plans international students are required to enroll in, as well as facilities of the Student Health Center.

International House
Duke’s International House (IHouse) is a great resource. During the summer, IHouse hosts virtual online sessions to help new students plan their transition. In the week prior to the Nicholas School orientation, IHouse hosts a Resource Fair and Orientation for international students, which includes an especially helpful session on academic integrity and differences in the style of courses in American universities. IHouse also maintains a Wiki site to put international students in touch with each other before and after they arrive in Durham.

International Students’ Listserv
You will be added to the Nicholas School International Students’ Listserv the summer before you arrive. The address is Use this list to post any questions or concerns you may have and current international students will try to help you find answers. It’s best to use your Duke email address to write to the listserv or your message will be delayed.

Living Essentials
Do you need to open a bank account? Are you wondering where to shop? Are you concerned about your personal safety? Visit the Living Essentials website by the International House and Living at Duke by Student Affairs to find information about everything and anything you need to settle in comfortably in the US.

When to Arrive
Under visa restrictions, international students may arrive no earlier than 30 days prior to the start of their program. Arriving as early as possible within this window will help you get settled in your new home, attend orientations, and visit Duke’s International House and Visa Services Office.

Finding Housing
Duke’s Office of Student Affairs website is a good resource to learn about neighborhoods, housing options, and transportation. International students get priority for on-campus housing until May 10.

Student Groups and Organizations
There are campus groups and student organizations that students may find beneficial for building a network of friends and classmates around similar interests. Some groups are predominantly Nicholas School students whereas other groups have a large contingent of students from other parts of campus.

If English Is Not Your First Language
Your time at the Nicholas School can be a great opportunity to improve your English and prepare to apply for internships and jobs in English-speaking countries. Here are some tips:

  1. Choosing Courses

    • When picking your first-semester courses, try to avoid taking many classes that have heavy reading and writing requirements (e.g., policy, law) or classes for which grading is based largely on oral presentations. This will give you a chance to adjust to the English language before taking such courses.
  2. Everyday English
    • Speak English at school (even with others from your home country)
    • Live with English-speaking students
    • Take advantage of English language partners and English classes
    • Listen to news programs in English
  3. Taking Notes/Participating in Lectures: If You’re Having Trouble
    • Ask the instructor to write out key vocabulary words
    • Ask permission to tape-record the lectures
    • See if there are lecture notes available on the course web page or from the instructor
    • Ask to borrow notes from an American student
    • Go to office hours of the instructor and/or teaching assistant to clarify your notes
  4. Study Groups/Group Projects
    • Join groups that include American students
    • If you are having trouble organizing a group, ask the instructor to help set up groups
    • Be sure you are clear on what work (e.g., homework problems) can be done in groups and what must be done individually
    • Ask American students to help proofread written work for group projects
  5. Exams
    • Ask instructor if any accommodations for non-native speakers are acceptable (e.g., more time, use of English-native language dictionary, use of “bullet points” instead of complete sentences)
  6. Written reports
  7. Oral Presentations


We understand that some students may want or need to work during their time at the Nicholas School, and many of our students seek U.S.-based internships or post-graduation jobs. The Nicholas School's Career and Professional Development Center and  other offices at Duke are here to help you navigate your job search and prepare the necessary documentation.

Applying for a Social Security Card
If you have a job offer from an on-campus employer, you will need to apply for a Social Security number once you arrive in the United States. The International House can provide you with more details about the application process; IHouse also provides transportation to the Social Security office once per week in the early part of the semester.

Working during School
Your Nicholas School coursework will be a full-time job in itself, particularly during the first semester. Be cautious about taking a job that requires you to work more than 8 hours per week (including any assistantship work you may do in the Nicholas School). Although many on-campus jobs prefer to hire work-study students (and international students are not eligible for work-study), international students do often find jobs on campus, including at the library and at the Nasher Art Museum.

Internships (CPT)

If you are on an F student visa, you can take an internship in the United States while you’re a student (e.g., in the summer between academic years) if it qualifies as curricular practical training (CPT). Duke’s Office of Visa Services, International House, and the Nicholas School’s Office of Student Services can assist you with this process. You will need to complete a CPT Application and prepare a letter explaining how your internship fits into your academic program.

Jobs (OPT)
Optional practical training (OPT) applies to international students on an F student visa who are planning to seek employment for 12 months in the U.S. following graduation. OPT does not guarantee employment in the U.S., but it is necessary documentation for accepting a U.S.-based job offer. Start your application a few months before your graduation date and do your best to anticipate when you are likely to start working in a U.S. job (because your 12 months of permitted work using OPT will start on that date whether you actually have a job then or not). Duke’s Office of Visa Services, International House, and the Nicholas School’s Office of Student Services can assist you with this process.

International Applicants to the Online DEL-MEM

The DEL-MEM program requires students to participate in five (5) place-based sessions. Four of these sessions take place at Duke University in Durham, NC and one place-based session is held in Washington, D.C.  Duke University and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security now require non-U.S. citizens entering the United States to participate in the DEL-MEM program place-based sessions to enter the United States on an F-1 student visa (business or tourist visas will no longer be sufficient). 



An F-1 student visa MUST be acquired in order to participate in the program, earn credit for classes taken, and graduate. This process (completion of Part II of the web form) must be completed for EACH place-based session (5 times) as the I-20 will cover only the time you are in the U.S. for each place based session (a new I-20 will be required for each place-based session).  Please note that you may incur additional expenses associated with obtaining a new I-20 and visa stamp for every residency. Proof of funding is based on the estimated cost of each place-based session (plus tuition). 

Step 1: Determine Status

Who is required to apply for an F-1 visa?

If you are a non-U.S. passport holder living outside of the United States you are required to apply for the F-1 student visa. Please send an email to to request access to the web form. You will receive an email with a web link and temporary login information.

Who does NOT need to apply for an F-1 visa?

  • Non-U.S. passport holders living in the United States with a work visa (H-1b or L-1). H-1b and L-1 visa holders still need to complete the web form but do not need to apply for an F-1 visa.  Please send an email to to request access to the web form.
  • Legal Permanent Residents or ‘green card holders’ do not need to apply for a visa, but must show their green card to the Visa Services Office upon arrival to the program (this is required each time you arrive on campus)
  • Employment Authorization Card (EAC) holders (those in the process of applying for a green card) do not need to apply for a visa, but must complete the web form and submit the original signature page and a copy of their EAC. Please email to request access to the web form. EAC holders must show their card to the Visa Services Office upon arrival to the program.

Step 2: Complete and submit the web form and supporting documents

Use your temporary login to complete Part II of the web form (Student Services will complete Part I for you). Instructions for completing Part II can be viewed here and a quick PowerPoint presentation oulining the steps is available here. Please sign the final page of the form and sign it. Once you have completed the web form and supplied the necessary supporting documents, we will initiate the I-20 process. The I-20 is a required document that is used when applying for your student visa at the U.S. Consulate in your home country.

>>  Please send the following documents in one package to:  Duke University/Nicholas School of the Environment/Student Services Office/Box 90330/Durham, NC 27708

We STRONGLY encourage you to mail your visa documents via Express Mail to ensure prompt delivery.  

  • ORIGINAL signature page from the web form
  • ORIGINAL supporting financial documentation* - detailed instructions can be found here:
  • If you are being supported by your family, an employer, etc. then the sponsor will also need to submit an ORIGINAL signed letter stating the specific dollar amount to be provided and the connection to you*
  • Photocopy of your passport showing the biographical data, picture, and expiration date
  • Photocopy of any former UNITED STATES VISA(s) (if applicable). Does not include guest/tourist visas
  • List the complete mailing address where you prefer to receive your I-20

*The Visa Services Office recommends obtaining two (2) original copies of your financial documentation (send only one original to the Student Services Office) because you will most likely need an additional set when you apply for your visa at the U.S. Consulate in your home country. Visa Services will NOT return the financial documentation that you provide to obtain your I-20.

Student Services cannot request an I-20 for you until ALL of the previously listed documents have been received.

Step 3: The I-20

Once all of your materials are received by the Student Services Office, please allow 20 days for your I-20 to be processed. The Visa Services Office at Duke University will send your I-20 to the address you have listed in your web form. During this time, please visit the website for the U.S. consulate in your home country to determine what additional materials you will need to apply for the F-1 visa. In addition, consulate regulations vary from country to country - some may require you to make an appointment to apply while others may have specific walk-in hours during the week.

IMPORTANT: The Visa Services Office at Duke University strongly recommends that you DO NOT schedule an appointment with the U.S. consulate until you have received your I-20.

While the Student Services staff will do everything possible to assist you in this process, please understand that it is your responsibility to obtain the student visa prior to your arrival in Durham. You may begin the visa application process within 120 days of your scheduled arrival in the United States.

Please direct questions you may have to

F-1 Student Visa: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Will applying for an F-1 visa put my current business visa at risk of being terminated?

A: No.

Q: Can I have more than one U.S. visa at a time?

A: Yes. A person may have several U.S. visa stamps in their passport (B-1, F-1, H-1b, etc), but they can only enter the U.S. in one of those statuses. For example, a student may already have a B-1 visa stamp valid for 5 years but they can still apply for the F-1 visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate abroad, and then enter the U.S. using the F-1 visa stamp.  In this case, the student should present their I-20, valid passport, and valid F-1 visa stamp to the port of entry official in the United States.  Although the student has a B-1 and F-1 visa stamp, the student will only have one immigration status while in the U.S., which would be F-1 in this case. The student will be given an I-94 card at the port of entry, which is how the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security records your entry and in what visa class.

Q: What happens if I am denied an F-1 visa?

A: There is always a risk of the F-1 visa (or any visa) getting denied. It is important that you prove “non-immigrant intent,” which means that you provide proof that you intend to return to your home country upon completion of the program at Duke and are not intending to immigrate to the U.S.  We can never guarantee that a student will be approved for the F-1 visa stamp.

Q: What if my spouse/children will be traveling with me to Durham?

A: If the F-1 student would like their dependents (spouse and/or children) to come to the United States, then the dependent has two options:

Option 1: The dependent applies for the F-2 visa (visa status for a dependent of an F-1 visa holder).  If the dependent enters on an F-2 visa stamp, then the Visa Services Office at Duke University would have to issue an I-20 to the dependent. In most cases, this is done at the same time as the F-1 I-20, but dependents can be added later. Upon receipt of the I-20, the dependent would have to apply for an F-2 visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate abroad. The F-1 student would have to show sufficient liquid funds in order to add the dependents to their F-1 record.

Option 2: The dependent applies for a tourist visa (B-2).  If the dependent decides to enter on the B-2 visa, then Visa Services does not issue any documents and the F-1 student does not have to verify funding.  Foreign nationals entering on a B-2 visa are only permitted to be in the U.S. for a short period of time.  This option fits well for dependents of DEL-MEM students since they are in the US for 3-7 days.

Q: How long can I stay in the United States on my F-1 visa?

A: When you enter the United States on a student visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. 

For a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, F-1 students may stay an additional 60 days, to prepare for departure from the U.S. or to transfer to another school. That means you may stay as long as you are a full time student, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in the United States.

For more information about the F-1 visa, click here>

>>  Please send the following documents in one package to:  Duke University/Nicholas School of the Environment/Student Services Office/Box 90330/Durham, NC 27708