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MA in Global Environmental Policy

In the Global Environmental Policy MA program students explore the causes of
environmental degradation and the social, cultural, economic and political
mechanisms that advance environmental protection. This interdisciplinary program
builds a foundation in global environmental policy by integrating the study of
environmental politics with natural science and economics.

During this two-year program, students master theoretical and conceptual frameworks for analyzing environmental problems, gain experience in the practice of policy formation and implementation, and develop research, writing and professional communication skills to enable them to participate in the global environmental policy process.

Recent graduates have undertaken career tracks in government agencies, non-governmental organizations, multilateral lending institutions, environmental activist groups, consulting firms, and for-profit entities.

The Global Environmental Policy program is comprised of courses in global policy studies, environmental science, economics, international environmental politics, and environmental law. The policy component includes both classroom and experiential learning opportunities that build a strong foundation in the legal and political dimensions of policy formation and implementation. The natural science component consists of a two-semester sequence of environmental science courses in which students study the biophysical dimensions of environmental challenges. The economics component aims to provide a general overview of economic theory plus a specific awareness of the relationships among economics, natural resources, and the environment. Elective courses drawn from a rich selection of offerings permit students to deepen their expertise in particular areas of global environmental policy.

Depth of knowledge is ensured through the relatively small size of the Global Environmental Policy program and the fact that most classes are seminars, providing frequent opportunity for student-faculty interchange. As students proceed through the Program, they work closely with individual faculty members to develop their own substantive area of interest.


Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.30 (on a 4.00 scale). Students should normally have several years of professional or practical experience. All applicants whose native language is English or those whose degrees are from an accredited institution where the language of instruction is English are required to submit results of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Non-native English speakers are required to submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) unless they hold a degree from a US-accredited institution (before enrollment at SIS). The minimum TOEFL score for full admissions consideration is 100 on the Internet-based test (IBT), 250 on the computer-based test, or 600 on the paper-based test. The minimum IELTS score is 7.0. Fall applicants should plan to take the appropriate test no later than December to ensure full consideration of the application by the January deadline. 

All applicants must submit two letters of reference evaluating undergraduate academic performance and suitability for graduate study in international affairs, at least one of which should be from an academic source. A resume should be included in the application. Applicants must submit transcripts from all institutions attended. Cultural factors are considered in evaluating transcripts and examination results.

Requests for the transfer of a maximum of 6 graduate credit hours from other accredited institutions to be applied to a master's degree are considered after successful completion of 9 credit hours in the graduate program at American University. A minimum grade of B in each course is required for transfer. Transfer courses must have been completed within seven years of admission and must fulfill stated requirements of the degree program.

The application deadline for fall admission is January 15; for spring admission October 1 (September 15 for international students). Admitted students may defer matriculation for no longer than two semesters provided that a written request for deferment is submitted to and approved by the SIS Graduate Admissions Office.

Degree Requirements

  • 39 credit hours of approved graduate course work with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.00, including 18 credit hours in the core, 9 credit hours in a concentration, 6 credit hours in research methods, 3 elective credits, and a 3 credit hour capstone
  • Capstone experience: demonstration of critical thinking, research and writing skills through the completion of a master's thesis (original research project intended for students planning to pursue doctoral work), a substantial research paper (research or policy paper: scope and topic vary by program), or a practicum. All courses taken to fulfill this requirement must be passed with a grade of B or better.
    • Thesis: 6 credit hours (3 credit hours of thesis credit and 3 elective credit hours) and submission of the thesis
    • Substantial research paper requirement: 3 credit hours
    • Practicum: 3 credit hours
  • Evidence of professional experience in the field. Relevant work or internship experience must be certified.
  • Proficiency in a modern foreign language. Research competence in English and another language relevant to the student's career objectives must be certified.

Course Requirements

Core (21 credit hours)

Theory (6 credit hours) 

  • SIS-660 Environment and Politics (3) 
  • One of the following:
    • LAW-618 International Environmental Law (3)
    • SIS-620 Studies in Global Environmental Politics (3) (topics)
    • SIS-649 Environment and Development (3)

Economics (6 credit hours) 

  • ECON-579 Environmental Economics (3) 
  • ECON-600 Microeconomics (3) or ECON-603 Introduction to Economic Theory (3)

Science (6 credit hours)

Two courses from the following:

  • ENVS-500 Ecohydrology (3)
  • ENVS-505 Energy (3)
  • ENVS-580 Environmental Science I (3)
  • ENVS-581 Environmental Science II (3)
  • Another approved science course

Concentration (9 credit hours)

  • 9 credit hours in a focused area selected in consultation with advisor.


  • May be used for skills institutes, internship for credit, as part of the Master's Thesis requirement, or any other elective course.

Research Methodology (3 credit hours)

6 credit hours from one of the following:

  • CSC-610 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (3)
  • ENVS-575 Environmental Risk Assessment (3)
  • PUAD-601 Quantitative Methods for Policy Analysis (3)
  • SIS-600 Quantitative Analysis in International Affairs (3)
  • SIS-619 Special Studies in International Politics: Advanced Statistics, Research Design, and Research Methods for International Affairs (3)
  • SIS-620 Studies in Global Environmental Politics: Policy ANalysis for Global Environmental Policy (3)
  • SIS-680 Topics in Research Methods in International Affairs: Qualitative Methods and Methodology (3)
  • 3 credit hours of approved SIS skills institutes
  • An approved research or professional methods course

Capstone Experience (6 credit hours)

  • SIS-797 Master’s Thesis Supervision (3 research credits and 2 elective credits) 
  • or 
  • Substantial research paper or practicum requirement 


Combined Bachelor’s Degree and M.A. in Global Environmental Policy

This program enables qualified students to earn both an undergraduate degree (in any field) and an M.A. in Global Environmental Policy. The combined program can be com¬pleted with four years of undergraduate study plus 12 months of additional study (fall and spring semesters plus a summer of research or internship). The program offers students an op¬portunity for strong training and careers in environmental policy.

Admission to the Program

Undergraduates should apply for admission to the com¬bined program by the end of the junior year. At a minimum, students must have a minimum overall grade point average of 3.00, a year of laboratory science (BIO-110/210 General Bi¬ology I/II, CHEM-110/210 General Chemistry I/II, PHYS-105/205 College Physics I/II or PHYS-110/210 Uni¬versity Physics I/II), and a year of calculus (MATH-221/222, MATH-211/212). Applications must be accompanied by two letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Gradu¬ate Record Examination (GRE) scores are not required for admis¬sion to the combined program. Students should discuss their interest in the program with the environmental studies coordina¬tor before submitting an application.


  • All requirements for a B.A. or B.S. (in any major) at American University. Undergraduate students may apply up to 9 credit hours of approved graduate-level course work to satisfy the requirements for both degrees. ENVS-580 Environmental Science I and ENVS-581 Environmental Science II are recommended.
  • All requirements for the M.A. in Global Environmental Policy, including a minimum of 24 credit hours completed in residence in graduate status after the undergraduate degree has been awarded.