This page contains responses to the most common questions asked by prospective applicants.  They are grouped under the following headings:

General  |  Program requirements  |  Applicant qualifications
Advisor  |  Admission process  |  Miscellaneous


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.  Please see the “Why UPEP?” page for links to these programs.  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.  As a new program that admitted its first class in fall 2010, employment statistics are not yet available, but we expect that the ratio of graduates pursuing academic vs. nonacademic careers will be about 1:1.

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.  For general information, please see the “UPEP Financial Aid” page.

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, dgsa@nicholas.duke.edu) if you are unable to find the information you are seeking on this website.

Program requirements

How long does the program take to complete?
Typically no more than 5 years.  You can download illustrative timelines for the environmental economics and environmental politics concentrations on the “UPEP Overview and Requirements” page.

Are economics and political science the only concentrations under UPEP?
Currently, yes.  More concentrations could be added in the future.

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 Overview and Requirements” page.

Applicant qualifications

How many students are admitted to UPEP?
UPEP expects to admit 5-6 students per year.  Approximately 10% of applicants were offered admission in 2010.

Am I qualified to be admitted to UPEP?
Admission to UPEP is highly competitive.  Please see the “Applying to UPEP” page for information on the typical qualifications of a successful applicant.

Can someone in the program review my CV and transcripts and let me know my chances of being admitted?
No.  Decisions on the admissibility of applicants are made solely by the UPEP admissions committee, and not until after the application deadline and after all application materials have been received.  Your chances of being admitted are higher if your qualifications are as good or better than the ones described on the “Applying to UPEP” page.

Can I enter UPEP directly from an undergraduate program?
Yes, but you might be at a disadvantage compared to applicants who have post-graduate experience pertinent to a Ph.D. in environmental policy (for example, a Master’s degree or work experience related to the environment or public policy).

Do I need to have studied economics or political science previously in order to apply?
There is no need to have majored in economics or political science.  However, you are much less likely to be admitted if you have never taken any courses in your chosen concentration.

Do I need to have studied environmental science in order to apply?
No, but during your PhD program you may be required to take some environmental science courses related to the policy issues that interest you.  The level and content of such additional training is flexible and will be worked out in consultation with your advisor and doctoral committee.

Do I need to know exactly what I want to conduct my dissertation research on when I apply?
No.  We expect that your research interests will evolve during the initial years of your program, when you will be exposed to new ideas through your coursework, discussions with faculty and fellow students, and participation in seminars and conferences.  In your application essay, however, you should be able to describe the types of environmental policy issues that interest you, why they interest you, and why you think Duke is the right place for you to learn how to conduct research on them.  This helps the admissions committee determine whether Duke has the right kind of faculty resources to supervise your research.

I am an international student.  Is my English good enough?
The Duke Graduate School has information on English proficiency requirements for all doctoral programs at Duke, including UPEP, on its “Application Requirements” page.


Do I need to identify a prospective advisor before I apply?
No, but your chances of admission will be increased 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 and Students” page.

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.  You can serve as an RA for either your advisor or another faculty member, but most likely you will serve as one for your advisor.  Most UPEP students (especially those in the economics concentration) write a dissertation that consists of a collection of three essays, and faculty members other than your advisor can play a large role in supervising your research on one or more of the essays.

Admission process

How do I apply to UPEP?
You apply through the Duke Graduate School.  For more information, please see the “Applying to UPEP” page.

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, but visits are encouraged to ensure that Duke is the right place for you.  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.  There is an important exception: 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.


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.