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group of students in the rainforest of Costa Rica while doing their year abroad at the University for Peace
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Sustainability, justice & peace: A different vision for the planet

How can we address the root causes of environmental degradation and underdevelopment? The Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) program travels from Washington, DC, to Costa Rica to investigate how to alleviate poverty while protecting the environment. Our interdisciplinary perspective highlights inequality in access to resources—key drivers in environmental conflict and global environmental change. The NRSD dual degree provides the opportunity to gain a broad, big-picture perspective on sustainable development theory in Washington, DC, at American University's School of International Service (SIS) and to explore sustainable development in practice at the University for Peace (UPeace) in Costa Rica. You'll earn an MA in International Affairs from American University and an MA in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development from the University for Peace.

You'll pair your passion for social justice and ecological sustainability with the knowledge and skills needed to work in government, environmental NGOs, or sustainable development-focused private sector organizations around the world. The program prepares you to become a visionary leader in stewarding the Earth's resources for the benefit of all.

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Student Cohort

The NRSD degree requires 39 credit hours that can be completed in two years (full-time) or up to six years (part-time). In the fall, you take courses at American University. In January, you join the United Nations-affiliated University for Peace outside San José, Costa Rica. There you'll be immersed in sustainable development theory and practice for two semesters, with the summer devoted to professional experience, additional coursework, employment, or travel. The final semester at AU includes three electives and a sustained research project or Practicum. The core of the NRSD experience is the chance to engage both in the classroom and beyond, at the center of US policymaking and in a developing country that is a model of sustainability. This is a decidedly different experience from what any US-only program can offer.

Explore degree flexibility options

Full degree and admission requirements

NRSD faculty have a wide array of research interests and contribute to scholarly and policy debates through essays in popular media outlets, academic articles, and full-length books. They speak and present their work at regional, national, and international conferences. Nearly 20 core, adjunct, and associate professors at SIS, in addition to a faculty of scholar-practitioners at UPeace, make the NRSD degree one of the strongest of its kind anywhere in the world.

Faculty devote full attention to master's students in the NRSD degree program; doors are rarely closed, and professors often find ways to involve students in their work. Small class sizes mean students develop relationships with their professors that lead to mentorship, friendship, and academic collaboration.

For students interested in studying environmental protection and international development in both the Global South and the Global North, NRSD offers a dual-degree in partnership with the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. You'll earn an MA in International Affairs from American University, a top-10 international affairs school located at the heart of environmental politics and policy in Washington, DC, and an MA in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development from the University for Peace. Located in a nature reserve in the mountains above Ciudad Colon, about 30 minutes from San José, UPeace is a small, graduate-level, English-language university with students and faculty from all over the world.

The Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) degree is housed within the Global Environmental Politics Program at the School of International Service. Students pursuing their MA in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development collaborate and work closely with students pursuing the MA in Global Environmental Policy, NRSD’s sister degree.

Top employers: The US Agency for International Development (USAID), UN World Food Programme, and the US Environmental Protection Agency

Striving to Conserve Working Lands

Jes Walton, SIS/MA '14

I capture stories at the intersection of rural livelihoods and conservation.

At the Central Colorado Conservancy, we conserve and protect working lands to ensure they stay in agriculture but also serve wildlife and local water needs. There are both social and environmental aspects to this work, and the NRSD program very much focused on those two elements. The diverse perspectives that I was exposed to in my coursework and interactions with students and teachers now serve me in this role, as I work with community members from different backgrounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

The application deadline for the Fall semester for all applicants of the NRSD degree is January 15. Students are not able to start during the Spring semester.

Required application materials

Missed a deadline but still interested in applying? Email the SIS Graduate Admissions office.

NRSD graduates 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. Our extensive alumni network is eager to help new graduates find positions.

Recent NRSD graduates have found jobs at employers including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Farm to School Network, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Afristar Foundation, and UN World Food Programme. Within six months of graduation, 89% of graduates are working or continuing graduate studies.

Looking for more information or help? SIS has a dedicated career development center to assist current students and alumni.

Classes at UPEACE are offered in English, as students come from all over the world. However, the better your Spanish, the more you will get from your experiences in Central America. If you are a beginner, you should start working on your Spanish as soon as you decide to join the NRSD program, even if on line. Once you are at UPEACE, you will have free mandatory language classes with the amazing Roxana, unless you are already fluent. You will also be able to live with a host family if you wish.

The School of International Service offers merit-based aid in the form of scholarships and fellowships at the time of admission. All NRSD students receive a small merit award.

Financial aid information for prospective students

Natural Resources and Sustainable Development students may choose to research other relevant fellowship opportunities.

Need-based aid is available through AU Central Office and generally takes the form of a federal low-interest loan package.

Federal loan and work study information for graduate students

Still have questions? Send us an email with program-specific questions at

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