Applicant Frequently Asked Questions
• Global Environmental Policy
• Natural Resources and Sustainable Development
What’s the difference between GEP and NRSD?
The two degree programs share the same core faculty in Washington, D.C. and many of the same courses. Students in the Global Environmental Policy (GEP) program are based at American University, with the option of doing one semester abroad. Students in the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) degree program spend their first semester in Washington at AU, their second and third semesters at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, and their final semester back at American University. Thus, the GEP program provides more access to AU faculty and the wide array of local, national, and global organizations working on environmental topics in and around Washington, DC. The NRSD program provides access to the field-oriented course offerings of U Peace, the opportunity to live and study in a developing country, and close proximity to the fascinating mix of ecosystem protection efforts, resource extractive industries and environmental management policies that mark contemporary Costa Rica and Central America. We often recommend that you consider the GEP degree if you’ve never lived in Washington D.C. or have a strong interest in the role of Washington-area organizations; you might prefer the NRSD program if you have a strong commitment to Latin America or a desire for extended grassroots experience. Many (but not all) Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) choose the NRSD program.
For more information on each program, please listen to the Webinars conducted with prospective students led by Professors Ken Conca and Judith Shapiro. Click here to listen.
Will coming to DC give me access to the Washington environmental policy community?
Absolutely. Most GEP and NRSD students are active in jobs and internships during their time here. The program has a large alumni network, many of whom are involved in area organizations that work on environmental issues locally, regionally and globally. We run a Washington Workshop in which students visit selected area policy organizations—ranging from Greenpeace to the State Department--and receive briefings on organizational strategies and programs. We also maintain a rich events calendar—analysts, activists, and ambassadors are frequent visitors in program events and seminars.
I’m interested in policy, but I want a good foundation in environmental science as well. What are my options?
American University’s Environmental Science program offers a two-course foundation in environmental science, as well as specialized courses on topics such as energy systems, conservation biology, biogeochemistry, or water resources. Both NRSD and GEP students also have access to science courses just a short subway ride away, on the various university campuses that participate in the Washington Consortium, including highly regarded environmental science programs at the University of Maryland and elsewhere. For NRSD students, there is an additional course on Ecological Bases of Land Use and the option to do a science-oriented summer internship anywhere in the world. For GEP students, our new partnership with Norway’s University of Life Sciences in As, near Oslo, offers an additional option with many course options on agriculture & agro-ecology, drylands, coastal zone ecosystems, the tropics, and other sciences.
The courses and faculty bios look great, but I don’t want to be limited to the classroom. What opportunities exist for students to get involved in research, on- or off-campus?
All students complete a research project through either a sole-authored research paper in their final semester or a team-oriented problem-solving “practicum” project. Click here for a list of recent student projects. In addition, many students get involved with research through internship placements with organizations in Washington during the school year, around the world during the summer, or, for GEP students, as research assistants for program faculty.
I want to study the environment, but I’m also interested in development, peace & conflict, human rights, and other program areas in the School of International Service. Can I use courses from those programs to fulfill degree requirements?
Yes. Students in the Global Environmental Policy degree program may take courses in other concentration areas, both across the School of International Service and in other campus programs, including law, filmmaking, public policy, and business. The University for Peace is also very strong in peace studies, international law, gender studies and other related fields, and there are options to take additional elective courses in those areas.
I like the idea of studying in Washington, DC but it’s a big planet—can I study elsewhere as well?
Yes. GEP students may spend a semester at one of our partner institutions including The University for Peace in Costa Rica, the Norwegian University for Life Sciences, or any of the many other overseas programs of the School of International Service. NRSD students spend two semesters at the University for Peace in Costa Rica and may use the program’s required summer internship as an opportunity to gain grounded international experience anywhere in the world. There are also many opportunities for shorter-term travel through study-abroad courses.
Can I manage a job while in this program? Are there options on campus?
The short answer: Yes. GEP and NRSD students manage to combine all manner of employment -- on- or off-campus, part- or full-time -- with their academic studies. Some work in university offices, labs, the library or for an individual professor. Others find internships paid or unpaid. Some even hold full-time professional jobs. Click here to read the experience of one student who held down two campus jobs while taking a full course load.
What career opportunities are available with a degree from this program?
Graduates of the GEP and NRSD degree programs work in a wide range of settings, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, consulting firms, the private sector, activist networks, think tanks, universities, and community groups. Click here for a list of organizations employing our alumni.
What exactly is the degree that I receive?
Students in the Global Environmental Policy program receive a Master of Arts degree in Global Environmental Policy. Natural Resources and Sustainable Development is a dual-degree program with our Costa Rican partner, the UN-mandated University for Peace, meaning that students receive two degrees¬—a Master of Arts in International Affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development from the University for Peace.
What are the admissions criteria? Do I need a particular GPA or score on the GREs?
We consider all elements of an applicant’s file, including but certainly not limited to GRE scores and grade point average. There are no fixed benchmarks or required scores, and no specific necessary background. Competitive files will demonstrate an applicant’s passion for learning, motivation for the proposed program of study, orientation toward service and making a difference, and prospects for success in the program. We believe that the challenges the planet is facing require people from all backgrounds to be engaged in finding solutions; in some cases, people entering our programs are seeking to shift from one professional path to one that is more meaningful to them.
Should I visit? Is there an interview process?
We do not interview applicants. Visits are always a good way to familiarize yourself with the program. The best times to visit are during the semester, which at AU means late August to early December and mid-January through April. Applicants planning to visit should alert both Graduate Admissions and Professor Shapiro and may arrange to sit in on one or more class sessions. After admissions decisions are made, the School of International Service hosts a day-long event for admitted applicants, usually in early April, which provides another opportunity to learn more about our programs.
What about costs, financial aid and funding opportunities?
In the GEP program, applicants compete with other SIS students for a range of awards. International Students with outstanding files are considered for Hall of Nations awards; other students with strong GREs and GPAs are competitive for teaching assistantships and other merit awards. In addition, on-campus employment is sometimes available. For NRSD students, merit aid is shared equally among all members of the cohort on the principle that this builds collegiality among a group that will have an intense shared experience. In previous years, this has been more than $4,000 per year for each of the two years. Please note that the GEP program is a 39 credit degree while the NRSD program is a 42 credit degree to allow for the dual masters credits. Living expenses in Costa Rica are very low, but you will need to budget for relocation expenses and visa fees and will have more limited opportunities to work while you are in Costa Rica. Beyond the awards and assistantship opportunities mentioned previously, U.S. citizens typically pay for their graduate studies through some combination of U.S. government loans, part-time work, and savings. In their second year, many students compete for external fellowships such as the David I. Boren fellowship. The School of International Service is one of the most successful schools in the country in winning Presidential Management Fellowships. We also have a good record with ORISE fellowships at the EPA and with Fulbrights. International students should consider applying for the e8 fellowship and see whether your home country has other grants or funding.
How do I pay tuition in the NRSD program?
The NRSD program is a 42 credit program and you pay all of your tuition to American University, which then transfers tuition to the University for Peace. Tuition is calculated per credit at the standard full time graduate student tuition rate. There are some fees that you don't pay while at UPEACE (such as the AU sports center fee and graduate activity fee) and others that you do (such as a fee for travel insurance). You also need to calculate costs of the Costa Rican visa, which can be several hundred dollars, and airfare. However, living costs are much lower in Costa Rica, about $300-$500/mo for a nice apartment or room with a family, so things do balance out.
For the NRSD program, what level of Spanish is required?
Classes at UPEACE are offered in English as it is a highly international campus. However, the better your Spanish, the more you will get from your Costa Rica experience and the more flexibility you will have to find a meaningful summer internship in the region. Therefore, we offer non-credit but required free Spanish class at American University in the fall and in the spring in Costa Rica. We strongly suggest that anyone with beginner level Spanish take a course or on-tape classes during the summer before you matriculate as there will be only two levels at AU, Intermediate and Advanced. These classes meet for only an hour and a half a week, so try to supplement the instruction through language-exchange or other methods! By taking the two required free classes you are automatically considered to have fulfilled the "Tool of Research" requirement at AU. If you are truly fluent, go to the first class meeting so that Professor Alvarado, a retired IDB official and our language instructor, can certify your fluency. Unfortunately, these classes are open only to NRSD students.